In a stunning turn of events for most of the world this week, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation effective February 28th, 2013 due to the lack of "strength" to continue with his responsibilities as pontiff. I did some reading and found that other pontiffs in the history of the Catholic Church resigned as well, but not all of them were voluntary. From what I can find three other pontiffs have voluntarily given up the top post in the Roman Catholic Church.
Some sources list the first pope as having voluntarily given up the head of the church as Saint Clement I who presided in the first century of the Church. He was supposedly appointed as a successor to Saint Peter acknowledged as the founder of the Christian Church as designated by Jesus Christ during his ministry. Clement I was martyred by the Romans after converting slaves to Christianity. Legend states he was banished from Rome and sent to work on a quarry. When the prisoners there complained of a lack of water, he prayed and then hit the ground with a pick axe which released a stream of clear, clean water converting large numbers of prisoners and pagans. This made the Romans quite annoyed and I suppose they found a fitting punishment to be tying Clement I to an anchor and taking him out into the middle of the Black Sea after which they tossed him overboard.
Moving ahead about 12 centuries or so, the next man to abdicate the papacy was St. Celestine V. He assumed the chair after a two year impasse in which the college of cardinals was unable to elect a successor to Nicholas IV. He originally was a Benedictine monk but adopted severe penitential practices and adhered to an extremely strict lifestyle which led to the founding of the Celestine order in 1244. He arranged after much maneuvering to have the order approved as part of the Benedictine branch.
When Nicholas IV died in 1292, the cardinals debated and deliberated for two years without reaching a consensus on who should be the next pope. This impasse which must have been frustrating for the church as a whole and Pietro di Murrone who was to become Celestine V is said to have sent warning to the cardinals that God revealed in a vision that they had four months to decide or He would act in severe chastisement toward the church. This pronouncement probably flustered the exhausted cardinals which resulted in one nominating Murrone as the Pope. The college unanimously agreed and sent the good news to Murrone.
Murrone however did not see it as good news. In fact at first he refused to accept the job. He contemplated fleeing and eventually a large contingency of church fathers and two kings convinced Murrone to become the pope. He adopted the name Celestine V when he relented and assumed the role on August 29th, 1294. One would imagine the moment he became pope, he was probably already scheming to leave the office.
He was not happy in the position and soon realized he did not have the skills to handle the politics of the job. He was manipulated by King Charles II and appointed members of his inner circle to papal offices. His orders of appointment of office were refused as well as appointments of three cardinals. After five short months, Celestine V submitted one order that was obeyed. His order declared his right to resign from office and he did exactly that. His influence was so lackluster that no one in the seven hundred plus years since his resignation has taken the name Celestine.
Moving ahead in history, the Catholic Church split in two when the college of cardinals first elected Pope Urban VI and found him unstable leading to the election of a second pope, Clement VII. Urban would not leave without a fight and this created a divide that lasted from 1378 until 1414. In that year the college of cardinals convinced Pope Gregory XII and antipope John XXIII to step aside in a spirit of Catholic unity. The college elected Pope Martin V to end this division in the church. This seemed to usher in centuries of popes holding office until death that is up until Monday.
Pope Benedict XVI thus joins a rather exclusive group of pontiffs to resign voluntarily from office. Interestingly enough, his name shares the name of the order from which Celestine V came forth, but Pope Benedict XVI was not a Benedictine monk. There have been other popes forced from office who do not qualify for this short list, but I suppose four leaders in two thousand years is pretty impressive. Celestine V is credited with formalizing the resignation process by the way, a feat that does not surprise me having read his history.
On a paranormal note, I found it quite odd that later in the day after Benedict XVI announced his intention to resign on the last day of February, a bolt of lightning struck the Vatican. I first heard about it on Coast to Coast Monday evening and was highly skeptical until I searched and found scores of pages showing the photograph and several reviews that found it to be genuine. While it could be entirely coincidental, it does bring pause and contemplation as to whether God really does exist and if so, was he not pleased with the Monday announcement. Only time will tell.
Til next time….