Friday, February 15, 2013

Of Papal Abdications

File:Benedykt XVI (2010-10-17) 4.jpg
Pope Benedict XVI.

This week, the Supreme Roman Pontiff, and Successor of St. Peter the Apostle, Pope Benedict XVI, announced that effective 20:00 on 28 February 2013, he would abdicate the See of Rome.

Here is a link to the full text of the resignation announcement:

Here is video of that same announcement at the consistory of Cardinals in the original Latin, and without commentary (you may need to listen to this with headphones or speakers):

This article, by Dr. William Fahey, President of Thomas More College of New Hampshire, puts the resignation in splendid perspective:

Here are some good comments by Francis Cardinal Arinze, Cardinal-Bishop of Velletri-Segni, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation of the Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, and Archbishop Emeritus of Onitsha, Nigeria:

Some historical background, then, on such a resignations, with the four popes that have done so in the last 1,000 years:
 Gregory XII (1406-1415)
The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII in the midst of the Great Western Schism.  Some background: in Rome, Pope Gregory XI, who brought the papacy back to the Eternal City from Avignon, died in 1378.  The conclave that followed would be a controversial and sad one.  In the end, an Italian, Urban VI (1378-1389), was elected.  Problem: a mob encouraged them to get on with it.  The French cardinals, later to be alienated by Urban, then claimed coercion and invalidity of the election.  Their second election, in which they chose the Cardinal of Geneva, gave the world “Clement VII,” (1378-1394) to be anti-pope in Avignon.  In the end, for Urban: Empire, England, Papal States, Poland, Hungary, Portugal; for Clement: France, Spain, Naples, Scotland.    These two rival “popes” would each appoint cardinals, nominate bishops, and generally rule as true pope.  When they each die, their loyalists elect replacements to continue this Great Western Schism.  Time would pass until “Benedict XIII” (1394-1423), though he continued as the Avignon anti-pope, had lost the support of France in 1398.  Seventeen of his cardinals left him, leaving only five.  His support, then, focused on Spain.

There was an attempt to 1409 to resolve this situation, once and for all, and a council was convened in Pisa to resolve the schism.  The bishops assembled proclaimed Gregory XII (1406-1415) in Rome and “Benedict XIII” both deposed, and elected in their place, “Alexander V,” (1409-1410).  This was, of course, not a valid course of action, and introduced a third claimant and second anti-pope.  Most nations, however, rallied to support the counciliar anti-pope!  Gregory found his support in much of Italy and parts of Germany, while “Benedict” retained the allegiance of Spain and Scotland.  With the death of “Alexander” in 1410, the counciliarists elected in his place, Cardinal Cossa, now called “John XXIII” (1410-1415).

Sigismund (1410-1437), King of Hungary, and Margrave of Brandenburg, was himself elected King of Germany in 1410. He would prove a politician – shifting allegiance to the conciliarist anti-pope for political power.  Nevertheless, Sigismund was a driving force behind solving the schism problem.  He had thrown his support behind “John XXIII” to get elected, but he wanted to solve to crisis.  He organized another council – this would succeed – at the city of Constance in 1414.  It met just before Christmas, and all agreed to take part!  Both John “XXIII”(although he fled) and the true pope, Gregory XII, agreed to resign and step aside to elect a new, unanimous, pope – and approve the council.  This occurred in the summer of 1415.  "The Council of Constance finally put an end to the intolerable situation of the Church. At the fourteenth session (4 July, 1415) a Bull of Gregory XII was which appointed Prince Charles of Malatesta and Cardinal Dominici of Ragusa as his proxies at the council. The cardinal then read a mandatory of Gregory XII which convoked the council and authorized its succeeding acts. Hereupon Malatesta, acting in the name of Gregory XII, pronounced the resignation of the papacy by Gregory XII and handed a written copy of the resignation to the assembly. The cardinals accepted the resignation, retained all the cardinals that had been created by him, and appointed him Bishop of Porto and perpetual legate at Ancona."  At the same time, De Luna, "Benedict XIII" would not budge.  By December, however, Spain and her kingdoms dropped him, and backed the Council.  The way was paved.  In 1417, the Council of Constance finally proceeded to elect the new pope – needed approval of both colleges of Cardinal, as it was arranged!  That they did: Cardinal Odo of Colonna, was elected as Martin V (1417-1431) in November 1417!  The council ended in 1418, Martin V approved the acceptable parts, and the new pope recognized Sigismund as Holy Roman Emperor and King of Germany.

 St. Celestine V (1294)

The previous resignation case, and perhaps more similar to that of today than Gregory XII, was that of Pope St. Celestine V in 1294.
This is a more simple case: The death of Nicholas IV (1288-1292), a Franciscan and patron of the arts, led to a very long conclave (the earlier strict rules of conclave had been suspended, so the cardinals could come and go).  Nicholas IV having died in 1292, the conclave to elect his successor only included 12 cardinals, of which 8 were required for election.  The rival Orsini and Colonna families each controlled 3, France had 2, and there were 4 “independent” Italians, including Cardinal Gaetani, the future Boniface VIII.  The deadlocked cardinals finally selected short-reigned St. Celestine V, a hermit and certainly politically non-aligned, Peter of Moroni, in 1294.  Unfortunately, he would be under the domination of King Charles II (1285-1309) in Naples throughout his short pontificate and would be taken advantage of by unscrupulous types.
"The thought of abdication seems to have occurred simultaneously to the pope and to his discontented cardinals,... whom he rarely consulted. That the idea originated with Cardinal Gaetani the latter vigorously denied, and maintained that he originally opposed it. But the serious canonical doubt arose: Can a pope resign? As he has no superior on earth, who is authorized to accept his resignation? The solution of the question was reserved to the trained canonist, Cardinal Gaetani, who, basing his conclusion on common sense and the Church's right to self-preservation, decided affirmatively."

The man who convinced the otherworldly pontiff to resign, Boniface VIII (1294-1303), became pope, then, in 1294.  He is famous for being put in Hell by Dante (some think St. Celestine V, too, is there, as being the "one who made the great refusal."), his disputes with the kings of his day, and for his hard-hitting papal bull, Unam Sanctam of 1302:

Of course, today, the feast of St. Celestine V is on 19 May.

 Benedict IX (1032-1045)  & Gregory VI (1045-1046) 
The previous two pontiffs that resigned did so in rapid succession, and in unpleasant circumstances:
Benedict IX, 1045AD, and Gregory VI, 1046AD.
These resignations are in a situation of complexity, intrigue, nepotism, and a host of abuses.  Rome, and, at times, the papacy, from the late 800s through the mid 1000s, was dominated by a set of rival Italian families that, far too often, placed unworthy members of their own family on the Throne of St. Peter.  Marozia Theophylact, wife of both Duke Alberic I of Spoleto, then Duke Guy of Tuscany, went so far as to put her own son on the Papal throne: Pope John XI (931-935), who then gave her a dispensation to marry King Hugh of Arles.  Her death only passed the family habit to her son, Alberic II, who had his immoral son elevated to the papacy in 955, as Pope John XII (955-963).  Eventually, another member of the family, Benedict VIII (1012-1024) would redeem the family name a bit with hopes and plans of reforming the Church, but his death saw his brother, John XIX (1024-1032), a weak man who did little to stop abuses, take his place.  Reform would wait.

The death of John XIX in 1032 brought his young nephew, yet another Theophylact family member, to the chair of Peter as Benedict IX (1032-1045).  Sources differ in his age, certainly no older than in his twenties, but they all agree that he was immoral and a scandal to the church (though he never taught heresy or denied the Church's teaching on Faith or Morals).  "Taking advantage of the dissolute life he was leading, one of the factions in the city drove [Benedict IX] from it (1044) amid the greatest disorder, and elected an antipope (Sylvester III) in the person of John, Bishop of Sabina (1045 -Ann. Romani, init. Victor, Dialogi, III, init.). Benedict, however, succeeded in expelling Sylvester the same year; but, as some say, that he might marry, he resigned his office into the hands of the Archpriest John Gratian for a large sum. John was then elected pope and became Gregory VI (May, 1045)." http://www.newadventcathen/02429a.htm.

As for Gregory VI, who succeeded his godson, he began his pontificate well, but "when the bishops of the synod had convinced him that the act by which he had become supreme pontiff was in itself simoniacal, and had called upon him to resign, Gregory, seeing that little choice was left him, of his own accord laid down his office. A German, Suidger, Bishop of Bainberg (Clement II), was then elected to replace him. Accompanied by Hildebrand [Later, Pope St. Gregory VII], Gregory was taken by [Holy Roman Emperor] Henry [III] to Germany (May, 1047), where he soon died."

This Church at that point stood on the edge of great reform -- even as it was in the pits of one of its darkest eras.  Clement II (1046-1047) was consecrated on Christmas 1046 with St. Odilo of Cluny at this side.  He then proceeded to crown the King of Germany, Henry III (1039-1056), as Holy Roman Emperor.  Henry was then given the authority to choose the next pope himself by Pope Clement – without the customary election of the clergy of Rome!  This was a canonical procedure that would not last very long.  Clement seemed a reform-minded man, and even conferred with St. Peter Damian (+1072) – the great writer and preacher against the abuses of the day.  But, Clement died before he could do much – this in 1047.  Emperor Henry named another German (Bavarian) to the papacy: Damasus II (1047-1048).  At the same moment Benedict IX (anti-pope 1047) returned with bribes and local noble support to get the papacy back -- he was now an anti-pope!  Emperor Henry threatened Benedict's base of support, and the matter folded.  So did Damasus, as he died in a month after his consecration.

A council was convened in 1048 in Germany (Worms) by Henry III to discuss who should be the successor.  Two men were proposed, both holy bishops, but Bruno, from Alsace-Lorraine, was chosen.  He was horrified.  The honor and office was too much – he made a public confession – but they wanted him even more after he did.  He then accepted on the condition that the Romans choose him.  Henry agreed.  Bruno stayed for Christmas, then traveled to Rome.  He entered Rome as a barefooted pilgrim and went immediately to the tombs of St. Peter.  The clergy and people were impressed, and he was installed in February 1049 – taking the name Leo IX (1049-1054).  While the year of his death, 1054AD, is associated with schism, the pontificate of Pope St. Leo IX marked the start of the great Gregorian reforms so very much needed in the Church of that time.

[My historical sources for these summaries: Church History by Laux; The Glory of Christendom by Carroll; the Columbia Encyclopedia; and my links to the Old Catholic Encyclopedia which I quote directly]

As we head, then, toward interregnum at 20:00, Rome time, on 28 February 2013, here are a few website resource recommendations:

This site at EWTN has some good general resources about interregnum and the conclave that will follow:

The Catholic Hierarchy site is a treasure trove of information on the College of Cardinals who will be charged with choosing the next pontiff in conclave:

Finally, you might also note this excellent site on the College of Cardinals:

This blogger will, as the date of the conclave approaches, present some more information on papal elections.
Live well!

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