9 Things You Should Know About the Papacy

Early this week, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was elected as the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Here are nine things you should know about the papacy.

1. The most well-known title for the head of the Roman Catholic Church—”pope” (from the Latin papa, a child’s word for father)—does not appear in the official list of titles given in the Annuario Pontificio (Italian for “Pontifical Yearbook”). The Pope’s official list of titles are Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, and Servant of the Servants of God.

2. Popes have come from every continent except for Australia, Antarctica, and North America. Catholics believe that at least one person who became pope (St. Peter) was ethnically Jewish, though others (e.g., Evaritus, Gregory VI) may have been too. Because race was not a category considered relevant, it is unknown whether the popes from Africa—Victor I (c. 189-201), Miltiades (311-14), and Gelasius (492-496)—were black.

3. Prior to 1059, the pope was elected in various ways, though usually by the clergy of the diocese. (In 236, a man named Fabian—who was not even a candidate—was chosen as pope after a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, landed on his shoulder.) In 1179 the College of Cardinals was given the exclusive right to choose a new pope, and a two-thirds majority was set as the threshold for a winning vote (later changed to two-thirds plus one). In 1970, Pope Paul VI ruled that cardinals who were more than 80 years old when a pope died could not take part in the voting process for his successor.

4. Technically, any baptized male can be elected pope. However, the last pope who was not a priest when elected was Leo X (1513-1521). He was only a cardinal-deacon, a position that at the time did not require priestly ordination, and had to be ordained before taking office. Current Catholic Church law require that popes be bishops. The last cardinal elected pope who was not a bishop was Bartolomeo Cappellari, a monk who became Pope Gregory XVI in 1831. He was made a bishop four days after his election and then became pope.

5. Upon being elected, the pope takes a new name. The custom began in 533 with the election of Mercurius, who had been named after the Roman god Mercury. He decided it inappropriate for a pope to be named after pagan deities and so took the name John II. Adopting a new name became customary in the 10th century, and every pope since the 16th century has taken a new regnal name. There is no set system for choosing a name, though it is usually symbolic and based on a saint or previous pope. The most commonly taken name has been John (used 23 times), followed by Gregory and Benedict (both taken 16 times). Only two popes have taken two names (John Paul I and John Paul II) and no pope has yet taken Peter II.

6. Papal infallibility does not mean the pope can never make a mistake. Rather it is a Catholic dogma which states that, in virtue of the promise of Jesus to Peter, the pope is preserved from the possibility of error “when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church.” Technically, a pope can change Catholic customs (e.g., abstinence from meat on Fridays) but not doctrine.

7. Although papal infallibility had been defended during the medieval era, it wasn’t formally adopted as Catholic dogma until the First Vatican Council of 1869-1870. (The pope isn’t the only one considered infallible. The Catholic Church believes that their bishops, when united with the pope in an ecumenical council, are also infallible when issuing decrees on matters of faith and morals.)

8. Papal protocol is that the the pope does not eat in public.

9. The informal name for the pope’s car is “Popemobile” (Italian: Papamobile). The precursor to the popemobile was the gestatorial chair sedia gestatoria which was a chair carried on the shoulders of a number of papal attendants. This mode of transport fell out of use following the incumbency of Pope Paul VI in 1978. Currently, there are at least 20 Popemobiles housed around the world, with six of them at the Vatican garage. The model developed by Mercedes-Benz (price tag: about $530,000) is armor-plated, bullet-proof, and capable of speeds up to 160 mph (though when the pope’s on board it usually travels at 6 mph). The vehicle registration plate of the popemobile reads “SCV 1″—short for “Status Civitatis Vaticanae”, the Latin name for Vatican City.

  • http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/ William Birch

    Thanks, Joe. I didn’t know some of those facts! That was fun to read this morning.

  • David

    “A chair carried on the shoulders of a number of papal attendants. . . . fell out of use.” This put a humorous image in my mind.

  • JVC

    Wait, nothing about their propensity for killing Anabaptists…?

    • Joe Carter

      While I knew some popes killed their predecessors, I didn’t find anything about them going around murdering Anabaptists. Maybe the Anabaptists were able to outrun the sedia gestatoria.

  • http://www.transformingwords.org/wordpress Don Sartain

    “..capable of speeds up to 160 mph (though when the pope’s on board it usually travels at 6 mph).”

    Wait, six miles an hour??? That’s a VERY good reason to stay in the Vatican.

  • Colin Kennedy

    Nothing says, “I have faith” like 3 inches of bulletproof glass! :)

  • Colin

    Sorry but I’m confused as to what the papacy has to do with The Church, the gospel or with The Gospel Coalition itself . While I recognise that this is supposed to be a ‘fun’ article with interesting facts, I think you have a responsibility to separate yourselves from error and those who preach it.

    • http://stephencswan.wordpress.com/ Steve, Winnipeg, Canada

      It’s relevant to current events this week. Is that a good enough reason?

      I’m a little surprised there hasn’t been more commentary on Francis I’s election on TGC.

    • Chris

      Hey, Colin,

      Like Steve said, it’s relevant to current events this week and so equips us to dialogue with people around us who are talking about it.

      Also, though, I think it’s important to have an accurate understanding of what 1.2 billion people on the planet (who claim to be the true church) accept and advocate to other people, especially on a matter about which you and I have a serious disagreement with them.

      I don’t think it’s just a fun and interesting article. I feel better equipped to talk about it with others, now.

  • Colin

    I didn’t think this was a current events website. The premise of this blog is…

    “TGC’s blog features a community of voices who promote gospel-centered ministry for the next generation. We discuss the Bible, theology, church history, books, culture, and more, so join in the conversation as we seek to glorify God in what we do and say”.

    Admittedly it mentions “culture and more” as topics for the blog but the points of note for me there are the promotion of “gospel-centred ministry ” and “…glorify God”. All I’m really saying is that I just don’t get how the apparent legitimisation of an organisation that is opposed to the true gospel is fulfilling those particular criteria.

    I’m just stating my disappointment in what I thought was a christian website that was an alternative to growing number of sites who are buying into the whole ecumenical movement. I guess my search goes on….

    • http://www.natalietrust.com Natalie Trust

      Colin, are you saying that Catholics aren’t Christians? It sounds as if you are implying that when you say, “I’m just stating my disappointment in what I thought was a Christian website that was an alternative to growing number of sites who are buying into the whole ecumenical movement. I guess my search goes on….”

  • God Seeker


    Where was “the Church” for 1600 years? The time period from Christ Jesus until Martin Luther? The entire Church was under the authority of the Pope and the bishops in union. Catholic Doctrine was beleived universally. You have to contemplate on how offensive it might be to God that you think Christ has been building a fallen church for 1600 years.

    And before you think of the small number of elect, the outnumbered persecuted remnant that was always on the run, in hiding, living in caves, etc,etc…. Many of those sects also believed in Catholic Doctrine.

    • Colin

      God Seeker, please read my comments in reply to Natalie, but more importantly, please don’t let my words confuse matters. If you read what it says in Colossians Chapter 1, particularly verse 18

      15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

      The Pope has never been, nor ever will be the head of the true church of Jesus Christ who are bought and saved by the shedding of His precious blood. Perhaps this clarifies my point to Natalie that the true church and the RC church are 2 different things.

      The Pope is the head of the his RC church and Jesus Christ is the head of His church.

      Hope this clarifies my standpoint.

      • Darren Blair

        As an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints?

        I do, indeed, meet a lot of mainline Christians who possess an attitude such as yours.

        It never ends well for them.

        You see, because they have the same attitude as you, they don’t bother to actually do independent research about the faith before coming after me. Instead, they just rely on arguments gleaned from someone else… arguments that I’ve seen before (including a few that I’ve researched out *at length*) and so dismantle in seconds before turning the tables on them and asking them questions about their faith tradition that they can’t answer.

        In other words, an attitude such as yours is actually *a hindrance* to the growth and development of mainline Christianity as it leaves people unprepared to defend the faith.

        • Mags

          Hi Darren , I agree with you that it’s best not to just requote others when discussing the beliefs of another. However when one goes straight to the horse’s mouth as it were, regarding Roman Catholicism, one can clearly see that their definitions of grace and salvation do indeed differ from that which the Bible teaches (having done my research)
          I think Colin has a point in that Roman catholicism actually teaches another Gospel. It is fact that salvation, according to R.C tradition, is not obtained without adhering to the sacraments of the church which is completely unbiblical. By the way, what is ‘mainline christianity’?

          • http://www.natalietrust.com Natalie Trust

            Mags, what sources are you referring to? If I may direct you to the Catechism of the Catholic Church – Grace and Justification http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a2.htm

            I’m confused as to why you believe that they teach another Gospel.

            • Mags

              Hi, Natalie, the following is a quote from Catholic.org “One must acknowledge, therefore, the divine nature, hierarchical structure, and evangelical mission of the Catholic Church: “Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the [Vatican II] Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, IS NECESSARY FOR SALVATION.” and again http://www.catholic.org/clife/prayers/sacrament.php “the sacraments are NECESSARY for salvation”.
              The Bible however teaches that it is not the church or sacraments that lead to salvation.
              John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me’.”

              Romans 10:9 “That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.”

              2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

              Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
              Ephesians 2:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

              The focus should be on Jesus, not the church. Humans are fallible, Jesus is not. He tells us that He is THE door by which we enter into eternal life. He is the Shepherd, the Way, the Truth and the Life and NO Man comes to the Father EXCEPT through Him. There is only one Way, one Door and one Gate and that is Jesus, not the church. He is the head and those who are His are the body.
              1 Timothy 2:5 tells us “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” . The Roman Catholic Church has it’s own extra Biblical teachings such as the following regarding Mary http://www.catholicplanet.com/CMA/ Yet the Bible teaches that “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.”(Matthew 6:7) regarding the Rosary.
              I am not here to bash, but if it is not made clear that the Roman Catholic church teaches another Gospel, then those who are ‘the faithful’ within her, may be amongst those who are deceived.
              There is a lovely man called Richard Bennett who was a priest for 22 years before he realised that the church teaching differed from Bible teaching. His story is found in the following article. http://www.biblebelievers.com/XRCCPRIEST.html He can also be heard speaking on youtube and is a humble and lovely man who genuinely loved his church.

            • http://www.natalietrust.com Natalie Trust

              Mags, thanks for your response below, and for listing some of the sources that contribute to your ideas about the Catholic Church. If you’re interested to know what the Church actually teaches, I would encourage you to read the section in the catechism on grace and justification.

              I don’t need to convert my Protestant brothers and sisters, but I also don’t need them stating that I believe in another Gospel. It simply isn’t true.

            • Sensible

              Hi Natalie,
              I happened upon this discussion and felt the need to add another Christian’s two cents. I am glad you posted a link to the catechism…I found it to be interesting reading…a more nuanced image of Catholic belief than the caricature presented by some Protestants and atheists alike. I hope other readers (at least those interested in conducting fair, legitimate research) take a look at this first before going to sites like “catholic online” or “catholic planet.” Thank you for sharing,

            • Mags

              Hi Natalie, Thank you for supplying the link to the Catechism. I read through it with interest and found that there were a couple of things which caught my interest. One was that there are mentioned different types of grace, including ‘Habitual’ and ‘sanctifying’. I am somewhat confused by these terms as I am not aware that the Bible teaches this. My understanding of grace is the simplicity of Ephesians chapter 2 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
              9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.” or as in Romans chapter 3. “3 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

              24 Being justified freely by his grace THROUGH
              the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

              25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

              26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

              The other is the references to justification.The catechism states ” Justification is CONFERRED in Baptism”

              Yet the the Bible teaches that justification is by faith.As the Roman Catholic definition of baptism applies to babes,how can they have faith? Romans 5 says “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

              2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”


              “But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;

              25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”(Romans 4)

          • Darren Blair

            “mainline Christian” = “member of a non-Restorationalist (Mormon, JW, Quaker, SDA, et cetra) body of Christianity, encompassing Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants alike”

            Because we’re on the religious fringe, a lot of pundits within the “mainline” Christian denominations regard us as easy targets. As a result, there’s a presumption that we tend to be ignorant and can be “saved” with a stock series of arguments. Instead, as far as us Mormons go we’ve long since assembled such a large body of apologetic work as to have effectively countered the vast majority of extant allegations and arguments concerning the faith. Even Evangelical voices like Carl Mosser and Paul Owens have had to admit that those within the “counter-cult” movement need to reconsider their strategies and double down on their independent research (http://www.cometozarahemla.org/others/mosser-owen.html).

            As far as the issue with Catholics goes, the truth of the matter is that it’s rare for me to see any Protestant critics go deeper than “they require sacraments” when alleging that the RCC requires that people are saved by works. This raises the prospect of a rebuttal being formed via James 2 (wherein one must actively live their faith or it is counted as being dead) and those scriptures that the RCC deems as the basis for their respective rites and sacraments.

            Remember – by training, I’m an MBA with a minor in marketing and a limited amount of education in regards to law, criminal justice, and the social sciences. As a result, it is, perhaps, my natural tendency to not only require references and specific examples in arguments but to also play “devil’s advocate” in exploring issues. I’m also a toy collector, meaning that I have experience with “pulling things apart to see how they work and making adjustments as needed in case something doesn’t work right” (Ever spend half an hour filing down excess plastic on a toy robot so that it could transform properly? Yeah; I once did that).

            As an aside, thank you for being so courteous; it is rare for me to be afforded such a courtesy in religious discussions.

            • Colin

              Hi Darren, I hope my posts can be included as courteous as you mentioned, or at the very least not discourteous. My posts here have not been meant as disrespectful or inflammatory but I do feel passionately (as do all the other participants in this discussion) about God’s Word and the simplicity of the Gospel.

              The different denominations you mentioned ‘mainline’ or otherwise are self imposed titles either taken on or given. In my reply to Natalie, which for some reason the moderator has declined to allow after several attempts to post, I suggested what I believe about the true Church. The beauty of it all is that the Church and the gospel transcend the titles we seek to impose on ourselves.

              I believe that those who confess their sin and their fallen state before the Lord and as Mags posted “if you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and shall believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead you shall be saved” Romans 10 v 9.

              So I can be a Catholic, a Protestant a whatever other name, sect or denomination you care to mention and be saved & part of the true church. Those who don’t do these things aren’t saved and are not part of the true church, the head of which is the Lord Jesus Christ as stated in Colossians chapter 1. It really is that simple. As I said…. The Gospel transcends all our self imposed names and religion.


            • Colin

              Hi Natalie, you said …

              “I don’t need to convert my Protestant brothers and sisters, but I also don’t need them stating that I believe in another Gospel. It simply isn’t true”.

              I’m not sure that that’s what’s being said. It really depends on your personal view of what The Gospel is. As I’ve been trying to say, The Gospel isn’t what a man or a church or a religion says it is. It is what God’s Word says it is.

              Just curious as to what you think the Gospel is? Perhaps we’re on the same track without knowing it. As you may have gathered, I’m not a big fan of organised religion as I believe God and The Gospel is above all that and He is certainly not bound by what we say or do or write. I can be your brother and you can be my sister while one of us is Protestant and the other Catholic.


            • Darren Blair

              Colin –

              The problem with “faith alone” is that you have people who feel that once they’ve made the declaration then they’re set for life.

              Some believe that “faith alone” excuses inaction on their part. Think of the people who consider “showing up for church 2 – 3 times a year” and “wearing a cross and/or other Jesus bling” to be good enough but who are fully capable of doing more. Problem is, the cross in and of itself is just a symbol; I could go down to the local Dollar Tree, drop $0.50 in the vending machine by the front door, and get a cheap kinda-sorta metal cross delivered to me in a plastic bubble. It’s what the cross *means* that these people so often forget.

              Others believe that because they’re supposedly “saved”, nothing they do can be counted as sin. These people tend to be modern-day Pharisees, excusing their sins and those of their friends but exaggerating the least offense of their theological opponents; they claim the grace of the cross for themselves, but neither understand what it means nor allow the same grace to others. For example, I frequently catch critics of the LDS faith presenting material out of context in an effort to deceive their audiences, only to play innocent when challenged about their actions (“You took one passage of text that was several paragraphs removed from the other passage, inverted the order of the passages, and presented them as a single paragraph; that’s *not* a mistake.”)

              Go to just about any LDS congregation and you’ll hear stories about people who have been burned by the sloths and the Pharisees. In fact, one of the most common arguments used against the LDS faith is… “If you’re Christian, then where are the crosses?”. These people are so affixed on surface actions, images, and declarations that they can only see what’s right there. (In reality, a lot of modern LDS chapels are designed so that the front section of the sanctuary looks like the empty tomb, thereby drawing attention to the resurrection. Furthermore, the leadership has consistently affirmed that members should hold themselves to such a high moral standard as to make physical symbols redundant.)

            • Mags

              Hi Sensible. Apologies for using the catholic websites mentioned, I did so in good faith believing that they represented a true picture of the catholic faith, which I still believe they do. In one of the sites, I referenced that the church was necessary for salvation. I went directly to Vatican 11 to check this in light of your post and found that in fact it was true. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html Section 14 states “14. This Sacred Council wishes to turn its attention firstly to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism(124) and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.” Baptism may be “the door” through which men enter the church, but there is only one door through which men gain salvation and eternal life. Jesus said that He is the door by which men are saved.

            • Mags

              Hi Darren, I had to smile when I read about how you like to take toys apart and examine them. I have a brother who used to do that when he was younger, not always his own either! Interestingly enough, he now takes computers apart, but I digress. :D
              Firstly I would like to say that there is no benefit to not being courteous in a discussion. It saddens me that you say that this is a rarity, but aggression and rudeness get one nowhere. I enjoy a discussion which challenges my beliefs and I hope that others do likewise which is why I am here.
              I see what you are saying about mainline Christianity, but arguments and facts even ,save no one. It is not something which can be coerced, but is only by the work of God’s Spirit within the heart of a man.
              You mention James chapter 2 as being the basis for the ‘works-based’ gospel of Roman Catholicism, however verse 19 says that even devils believe there is a God. Belief that God exists is not enough. James is explaining this.Belief IN Him and trust IN Him and obedience TO Him are what counts. Faith is EVIDENCED by works. Matthew chapter 7 expounds this and says that bad trees don’t produce good fruit likewise good trees don’t produce bad fruit and that by their fruit ye shall know them.The fruit is the evidence of the status of the tree.
              When God is put first in one’s life then obedience to Him is paramount then that faith leads to it being acted out. James 2 tells of great men and women of faith who put their faith into action by obeying. Abraham believed and obeyed.Rahab believed and obeyed. Their actions were proof of the faith that God would provide and God would honour that faith. He did.Anyone can say “I believe” but unless one steps out in faith and acts upon that belief then it means nothing. If I am asked if I believe that a parachute will prevent me from falling to the ground like a stone, then the only way that my faith in that parachute will be realised is if I actually step out in faith and jump from the plane. my actions are proof of my belief.This is what is behind James 2.

              I recently lost an Aunt. A Roman Catholic. I went to the funeral and witnessed the mass which was said for the repose of her soul.
              I struggled with this as it is my belief that salvation and justification which are by faith are for the living. The bible teaches that it is appointed unto men once to die but after this judgment.I have found no mention of salvation being attained after death.Regards

            • Darren Blair

              Mags –

              Sadly, the presumptuousness I’ve noted above sometimes leads to an attitude of superiority and even “might makes right” when dealing with us Mormons. As you can imagine, this hasn’t exactly helped inter-denominational relations.

              As far as salvation for the deceased goes, I’ll have to find it but at one point famed LDS scholar Hugh Nibley authored a paper indicating that vicarious baptism for the past was known to have taken place among some early Christian groups, indicating that there was concern for the salvation of the deceased even before the turn of the first millennium and that at least some groups held that the actions of the living could work on behalf of the dead. If we regard his facts as being sound, then there is precedent to argue that prayers and other such actions have historical grounding as well.

              As far as bad funeral services go, Catholics don’t have a monopoly. A few years ago, a friend of mine was killed in a home invasion that went wrong. Although an agnostic who spent what were his last few years actively investigating different religious groups, his family asked a Protestant minister to officiate. While the minister was a close friend of the parents, he knew precious little about my friend… and it showed. Rather than honor my friend, the minister ultimately alternated between “getting his facts wrong about my friend’s life” and “shilling for Jesus”. I recall spending the entire service in a seething rage because of it, a sentiment shared by some of our mutual associates.

              In regards to the concept of “faith alone”, see my post to Colin above yours.

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  • http://www.christcentred.co.uk Tim Wilson

    I find it absolutely incredible how late it was that papal infallibility became doctrine. Amazing. It’s really useful to know our facts so that we can argue our case from knowledge and not just protestant mythology. Thanks for this!

    • http://www.natalietrust.com Natalie Trust

      While it is true that the doctrine was articulated during the nineteenth century, it didn’t originate from that time period. Many Protestants and Catholics would agree that God endowed the authors of the Scriptures with the grace of infallibility.

  • Bob

    So doctrine can’t change but tradition can? That must mean infallibility is a tradition, not doctrine, right?

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  • Theo K
    • Colin

      Thanks for your input Theo. Some very good articles there particularly the one distinguishing imparting & imputing.


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  • Sean

    Hey Joe, I really appreciate your “9 Things” posts. This one on the papacy is excellent. I would love to read a “9 Things” on the new pope Francis.

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