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Feb 25, 2013

Medieval Mondays: Previous popes who have resigned, part two

Last week, I talked about the early popes who resigned, or at least are said to have resigned. The records are scarce for the early Papacy. In this second of my two-part post, we're on firmer ground in the Middle Ages.

The most colorful pope from the last post was Pope Benedict IX, who turned the Vatican into a giant block party and got bribed to resign in 1045. The guy who bribed him, who then became Pope Gregory VI, soon had to resign himself. While everyone appreciated his getting rid of Benedict, he had committed the sin of simony--paying for holy offices. So in 1046 he had to go.

For a time the Popes managed to keep their office until their death. There wasn't another resignation until Pope Celestine V in 1294. Celestine only spent five months on the throne of St. Peter before he decided the job wasn't for him, issued an edict saying it was OK for popes to resign, and left to live the life of a hermit.

His successor, Pope Boniface VIII, worried that he might change his mind and so he threw Celestine into prison, where the hermit-turned-pope-turned-hermit died ten months later. Celestine was later canonized and Boniface was lampooned by Dante in his Divine Comedy.

The next resignation came when Pope Gregory XII stepped down. This was a time of deep schism in the Church. Two rival popes had set themselves up at Avignon and Pisa. Both had considerable support. Kingdoms lined up to put their weight behind one pope or another. World War One looked like it would break out 500 years early.

The Church Council of Constance met in 1414 to avert disaster. Gregory and the pope from Pisa agreed to step down in 1415. The Avignon pope refused and was excommunicated. The Council then elected Pope Martin V.

From then on no pope has resigned, until this week.

Image of Pope (later Saint) Celestine courtesy Marie-Lan Nguyen.


  1. Almost made it six hundred years without a resignation.

  2. Kinda like having a monarch abdicate the crown? Why can't they just murder the Pope's like every other regal system does :)