The phrase is used when in the ceremony of assigning a new pope, and can be interpreted in many ways.

A translation would be: "So pass the worldly glories."

How would you interpret its meaning, think of its context being used in religion and, possibly, some esoteric circles as well.

EDIT: To clarify, I know the translation and the instance in which it is used; I also saw the the wikipedia page. What I'm looking for is if there is some contextual knowledge, regarding (the history of) the latin language that would add to the symbolic, historical or ethical meaning of it. Thanks though for all the answers so far.

2 Answers 2


I've also answered the cross-posted version of this question on the Christianity Stack Exchange.

During papal coronations, these words are spoken to the pope while a cloth is burned in front of him. Janos M. Bak interprets:

Pater sancte, sic transit gloria mundi [...] is supposed to remind the pontiff of the temporality of even his power.

In that vein, though your literal translation is on track, perhaps a more idiomatic rendering would be "worldly glories are fleeting."

This is a common biblical theme (see my parallel answer and passages like James 1:9–11 and 4:14), but the statement is not a direct biblical quote. Still, its language is reminiscent of the Vulgate's in several places, particularly Matthew 4:8 and 1 John 2:17.

First, Matthew 4:8, where Satan tempts Christ by showing him the kingdoms of the world:

iterum adsumit eum diabolus in montem excelsum valde et ostendit ei omnia regna mundi et gloriam eorum (Vulgate)

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. (ESV)

And 1 John 2:17:

et mundus transit et concupiscentia eius qui autem facit voluntatem Dei manet in aeternum (Vulgate)

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (ESV)

Reliance on the Vulgate, of course, makes sense, given its ubiquity in the medieval and early modern church. If Thomas à Kempis is the originator (o quam cito transit gloria mundi), or even if he isn't, it's natural that this phrase, given its Christian context, would correspond in some ways to biblical language.


Sic Transit Gloria Mundi is literally translated as So passes the glory of the world. The associated Wikipedia article includes some further detail about its use in the papal coronation ceremony from 1409 to 1963:

As the newly chosen pope proceeded from the sacristy of St. Peter's Basilica in his sedia gestatoria, the procession stopped three times. On each occasion a papal master of ceremonies would fall to his knees before the pope, holding a silver or brass reed, bearing a tow of smoldering flax. For three times in succession, as the cloth burned away, he would say in a loud and mournful voice, "Pater Sancte, sic transit gloria mundi!" ("Holy Father, so passes worldly glory!") These words, thus addressed to the pope, served as a reminder of the transitory nature of life and earthly honors.

The phrase probably originates from Book 1, Chapter 3, Paragraph 6 of the Imitatio Christi of Thomas a Kempis, as he discusses the death of former teachers. In context it reads:

O quam cito transit gloria mundi. Utinam vita eorum scientiæ concordasset eorum, tunc bene legissent et studuissent. Quam multi pereunt per vanam scientiam in hoc sæculo, qui parum curant de Dei fervitio. Et quia magis diligunt magni esse quam humiles, ideo evanuerunt in cognitationibus suis. Vere magnus est qui in si parvus est et pro nihilo omne culmen honoris ducit. Vere prudens est qui omnia terrena arbitratur uti stercora ut Christum lucrifaciat. Et vere bene doctus est qui Dei voluntatem facit et suam voluntatem relinquit.

The phrase is a commentary on the vanity of worldly glory: a kind of memento mori (remember, you shall die) or vanitas vanitatum (vanity of vanities, cf. Ecclesiastes).

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