Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Papal resignation and conclave - 1

Today's Photo's:


Pope Benedict XVI visits the tomb of Pope Celestine V who resigned the papacy in 1294.


Papal resignation and conclave - 1


I have already been asked by several people to share my thoughts about the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. So between now and the election of the new pope I will add a few posts to the blog on the subject. My opinion about the resignation is very much in line with what I have been reading in the press. I think it was a courageous decision and one that was made for the good of the Church.


I did, however, read of one dissenting voice in the crowd, and an important one at that. It came from Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the archbishop of Krakow and former long-time personal secretary of Pope John Paul II. He wanted to remind us, as if we needed to be reminded, that the Polish pope persevered to the end amid much suffering. The now famous and dramatic phrase was often used in the last few years of Karol Woityla's life when public suggestions were made that he step down: Dalla Croce non si scende (One does not come down from the Cross). According to the cardinal, the decision of John Paul whether to step down or not was even discussed with Cardinal Ratzinger.


In any case, the decision of Benedict should not be equated with the same decision of six other popes over the past centuries. But who were these six men who decided for one reason or another to abdicate? Here is a short sketch of each one. Remember, these were different times!


Clement I: 97 A.D. – Clement was the fourth bishop of Rome, a native of the Eternal City, having been born in the area of the Colosseum. He was among the first people in Rome to be baptized by St. Peter. We do not have a lot of reliable information about these very early popes, but it is known that he resigned, probably forced out by external forces.


Ponziano: 235 – Ponziano was a victim of the persecution of the emperor Alessandro Severo. He was deported to Sardinia and subjected to hard labor and intense suffering. Shortly before his death he renounced the papacy so that the Church of Rome might have an active bishop.


Silverio: 537 – Another near-death abdication came from Silverio. Here indeed was a plot between the empress Teodora and a Roman deacon named Virgilio who aspired to become pope. Silverio was arrested on false accusations and sent into exile. He is believed to have abdicated the papacy shortly before his death. Virgilio was then elected, thanks to the subterfuge and bribery of Teodora.


Benedict IX: 1045 and 1047 - This case was a real scandal. This Benedict became pope in 1032 at the age of 12, thanks to his father Alberico who was the most powerful man in Rome at the time. He was eventually forced from the papacy (he did not resign) in 1044 because of his blatantly immoral lifestyle. He managed to get reinstated in 1045. Later that year he was forced to resign, for the same scandalous reasons. Incredibly, he bounced back to hold the office for the third time in 1047. Finally, thanks to the wise counsel of a saintly abbot named Bartholomew, he definitively renounced the papacy for the second time, repented and retired to that monastery where he died and was buried . . . once and for all!


Celestine V: 1294 – This is probably the most famous and well-known case of a papal resignation. Celestine was a simple hermit living in a cave near L'Acquila. After the death of Nicholas IV in 1292, the cardinals were unable to come to an agreement on any one candidate. This dragged on for two years until finally, even the saintly old hermit Celestine grew weary of an empty papal throne in Rome. He wrote a letter to the cardinals begging them to make a decision for the good of the church. Incredibly the cardinals decided to elect Celestine himself (Pietro del Murrone)! He first refused the election, but then accepted in the hope of reforming the Church. All of his attempts at reform were rebuffed by the very cardinals who elected him. Celestine turned for advice to Cardinal Caetani (the worst possible choice he could have made!), a very astute and ambitious politician. Caetani practically compelled him to resign, immediately after which Celestine was forced into exile and kept a prisoner in a castle. There his health began to decline because of the harsh treatment to which he was subjected. To nobody's surprise, Cardinal Caetani was elected pope as Boniface VIII (1295-1303). After a year of imprisonment and maltreatment, Celestine died, violently many believe, by order of Boniface.


Gregory XII: 1415 – When Gregory was elected in 1406, he was 80 years old. Unfortunately, he had to deal with an antipope, Benedict XIII. The cardinals decided to depose both men and elect someone new, who took the name of Alexander V. Gregory, Benedict and Alexander all continued to claim to be the rightful pope. When Alexander died in 1410, his followers elected a successor who took the name John XXIII, thus continuing the unfortunate and confusing situation of three men claiming to be the lawful pope. Finally, in 1415, the cardinals demanded a resignation of all three of them, but only Gregory, the lawful pope, accepted the proposal. After his resignation, Gregory retired to the town of Recanati where he died in 1417. In that same year Martin V (Colonna) was elected pope. During his long papacy (1417-1431), Martin began to move the Church out of the Middle Ages and into the early Renaissance.


Well, times have certainly changed in the Church, and the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI is a far cry from those earlier, tumultuous resignations. His name, however, will ever remain on that list as the seventh pope in history to resign the papacy. 


To those of you who managed to continue on to the end of this little exposé, I promise that the next post will deal with the current situation, perhaps a little more interesting to all of us than the distant past.


Post a Comment