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Monday, February 11, 2013

What the Pope Gave Up for Lent

Normally, as soon as I get a moment on Mondays, I write a post. But today is certainly not normal. Our Holy Father has resigned. It is only the second time in the 2013 year history of the Church that this has happened. 

 We've been in shock all day. Usually if anything is going on with the Pope we, meaning we, the public, hear something. I was asked dozens of times if/why/when Pope John Paul II might step down in his waning years. And I always answered, "Popes simply do not do that."

Except for Pope Celestine V.

The strangest part for me, personally, is that I just finished this book yesterday. Yesterday! It's a book about Pope Celestine V, the only man to step down from the Papacy!

Yes, I heard on NPR today, some historian talking about the Pope who stepped down to heal the Great Schism in the 15th century. He doesn't count, as I see it. That was when we had two Popes (three at one point). The Papacy had moved from Rome to Avignon, France and stayed put. Some people wanted the papacy back in Rome and so they got their own Pope in Rome.  The fight went on for years and years. St. Catherine of Siena wrote reams to both Popes, begging them to resolve the issue, for one of them to step down. Finally, in exasperation, someone said, "Okay, neither of you are Pope...we'll have this other fella as the Pope." No one budged and there were three Popes because the third fellow wouldn't step down either. So that's what this man on NPR was talking about. It's really not the same thing.

As this.  And Celestine V.

Peter Morrone, who became Celestine V had been a very charismatic and deeply holy monk who founded monasteries and oratorios and the Celestine order of monks and had many, many followers because he walked the walk.  He wore no shoes and a ragged robe. He lived in a cave by himself,up in the mountains. St. John the Baptist was his hero.

Back then there were only about 12 Cardinals around to elect a Pope.  They'd all go off to some really nice place and take their sweet time because the food and wine was terrific. That's why they finally got locked in a room that they couldn't leave until they elected someone, called a papal conclave.  

This time they dithered for two years,  and still couldn't come up with a good candidate.  How in the world did they come up with the idea of a man who lived far away in a cave? Peter Morrone had written them a letter about their foot dragging and said that their behavior would incur the wrath of God. It caused one of the Cardinals to exclaim that Peter was the best choice.

Then they all traveled over to the cave on the mountain where Peter lived. He refused the robes and the crown and the Vatican. He had his coronation procession on a donkey and lived in a castle of Charles II.  He was Pope for five months. During the five months he became more and more reclusive, eventually building a cell for himself in the basement where he signed anything anyone put in front of him. 

But ironically, two of his papal decrees are still with us. One is that the Pope will be elected by locking the cardinals in a room until they elect somebody. The other, that a Pope should be allowed to abdicate.

And here we are. Celestine explained his resignation citing  the desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of his own physical strength, his ignorance, the perverseness of the people, his longing for the tranquility of his former life.  

We pray for Pope Benedict XVI.  Pope Celestine V was chased down by his predecessor and locked in a dungeon where he died. He was canonized in 1313.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why was Pope Celestine V canonized? Also, his behavior sounds like mental illness...could this have been possible?

Danielle said...

You were the first person I thought of when I heard the news. You make no mention of being upset about it. So that's good. One of my cousins joked about him giving up poping for lent,but that does suggest he'll be back. It'll be interesting to see who's next. There are some interesting contenders. Are you rooting for anyone in particular? Are you allowed to root?

Maureen said...

Fascinating post - I've ordered the book.

Claudia said...

I think he must have a really bad health diagnosis for him to resign like that. Only time will tell for that one.

Arkanabar said...

There is NO cross so heavy that it absolutely can bar a man from sainthood.

Papa Ben intends to voluntarily retire to a cloister in the Vatican's basement, once his successor is in place. He clearly feels and in all likelihood has felt from the beginning of his pontificate a connection to Pope St. Celestine V. I saw that connection from the beginning -- like Peter Morrone, Joseph Ratzinger pricked the conscience of the College of Cardinals during a Papal election, and also like Peter Morrone, Joseph Ratzinger got elected for his troubles.

The Cagles said...

Good read and goodness on the irony!

Reduced Shakespeare Company said...

Sister -

I too thought of you first and sought your reaction to this news.

I read that many Catholics are upset with this Pope and are glad he's stepping down. If Catholics are so upset with a pope and his alleged crimes, can't they demand his resignation? In fact, SHOULDN'T they?

Is it wrong to ask why Catholics continue to support a hierarchy that is, at best, so out of touch and, at worst, guilty of criminal misconduct? At what point do these heinous actions become, in the words of the great philosopher Liz Lemon, a deal breaker, ladies?

I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you, Sister.

Danielle said...

I heard more news today that his health is actually fine, and that he does not feel adequate to be the Pope. What do you make of this, SMM? I heard he is going to just resort to a conclave in the basement of the vatican until he dies. Kind of sad. I wish we knew the whole story.

Paige said...

Gregory XII also stepped down in 1415, though that might be considered differently as there is debate as to whether it was "voluntary" due to the schism.

Paige said...

And whoops,I should read the ENTIRE post before I comment. Sorry, sister.

Anonymous said...

Shakespeare @ 12:20
Please tell me what heinous actions and criminal misconduct you believe our pope is guilty of besides being a tradional man as opposed to being "progressive" (read liberal).
He has not participated in the scandalous coverups, he has delt with the bishops who did. The persons who want him to step down are generally desenting Catholics and anti-Catholics using a crisis to promote their own agenda.

Mph said...

I don't think Pope Celestine's behaviour sounds like mental illness at all, any more than John the Baptist's behaviour.

Reduced Shakespeare Company said...

Dear "Anonymous" -

I'm not sure this is the appropriate forum for a debate, and I'm not sure how I feel debating a person who won't sign his/her name.

But all the evidence seems to suggest that not only did pre-Pope Cardinal Ratzinger participate in the child abuse coverups, he was in CHARGE of them.

Are you trying to argue that child abuse is "traditional" and attempts to root out who is responsible for covering it up is progressive and liberal? Then yes, I'm guilty of being untraditional.

Respectfully,

Austin

Gigi said...

I'm glad that most Catholics are concerned for him but happy that he will have the retirement he was about to embark upon when he was elected. It seems he had a pacemaker fitted last year and it wold need continually maintenance if he was to continue with long haul flights and tours. This decision must have taken a lot of strength. x

Callen said...

"Resort to a concave in the basement of the vatican until he dies.." - please google conclave to understand what it means - I think you mean monastery - and its not going to be in the Vatican at all

Anonymous said...

I'd rather have a Pope who resigns than one who remains and stews about it, or goes about leaving himself in as a reduced, sickly leader. JP II knew he had a rock solid Lieutenant in Cardinal Ratzinger, and remained in office with his Parkinson's until death as a teaching to a world happy to abort or euthanize that life is sacred from natural birth to natural death. The Christian world was quite stable enough in the early 2000's to handle this.

I doubt there is any secret maneuvering or conspiracy to root him out; it's his decision. And I don't think he takes his commission granted by the Holy Spirit lightly, or resigns because he thinks his election to office was wrong. He's handled the Papacy for six hard years, and was quite active in a lot of matters related to Vatican II, regaining lost faithful esp. Anglicans, and making stronger ties with the Orthodox. Not too shabby for a man they called a physically decrepit, lame duck placeholder.

I'm rather surprised there is no provision for declaring a Pope removed if he's captured by an enemy army, let's say a Muslim or atheist government that would love to make sport of him, or in a coma or senile and the church's government freezes for years, and empty bishop seats abound as there is no Pope to name new ones.

I'd see a universal Council as a remedy, but boy would that be a major undertaking.