Feb 18, 2013
Medieval Mondays: Previous Popes Who Have Resigned
It's unclear who the first pope was who resigned. The records for the early popes are sparse and unreliable. It's said the first Pope to resign was Pontian, who served from 230-235. He was exiled and forced to work in a mine during the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Maximinus Thrax and is said to have resigned so a new man could serve as pope in Rome. Pontian died in exile.
Pope Marcellinus (296-304?) may have resigned during the persecutions of Diocletian. Some sources say that under pressure, he offered up sacrifices to the pagan gods and then resigned in disgrace. Other sources deny this. Pope Liberius (352-366) may also have resigned in order to clarify the succession with a rival who claimed the papacy, but this is also disputed. Another dubious claim says that Pope John XVIII (1004-1009) resigned in order to live as a monk.
We're on firmer ground with Pope Benedict IX. He became pope in 1032 and led a dissolute life, conducting orgies in the Vatican and bumping off political rivals. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia calls him a disgrace. He was kicked out of Rome in 1036 but had powerful political allies and soon returned. In 1044 he was kicked out again, but returned the next year. More pressure was put on him and in 1045 he was bribed to resign. Benedict decided he liked the power that came with the Papacy and clawed his way back the next year.
The pressure on him proved too great, however, and he was driven out of the Lateran Palace by irate German troops. In 1049 he was excommunicated. His tomb in Grottaferrata Abbey, Italy, is shown in this Wikimedia Commons image.
Tune in next week to learn about the other Popes who have resigned!