Propaganda and the Pope

Most people wouldn't associate Pope Francis' recent historic visit to the U.S. with propaganda. But a dig into history reveals that it was a pope who actually gave rise to the word—four centuries ago. Beginning as a Latin term to describe the reproduction of plants and animals, "propaganda" took on a somewhat different meaning in the 17th century when Pope Gregory XIII established the "De Propaganda Fide," a commission comprised of three cardinals whose mission was to spread, or "propagate" Catholic doctrines to Christian lands. Under Pope Gregory XV, the organization became formally know as the sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide (Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith). Through the 18th and most of the 19th century, the term was used in a religious context before it became used for commercial or political purposes, such as it was during World War I. Edward Bernays used Propaganda as the title for his 1928 book about public relations. The word didn't have a derogatory meaning until it was used for mass manipulation by the Nazis in the 1930s. (left: Pope Gregory XIII, right: Pope Gregory XV)