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Monday, February 11, 2013

Benedict resigns: Shades of Celestine?

Pope Celestine V (Public Domain)
Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world today by announcing his resignation - effective February 28, 2013.

According to Reuters, he explained that because his "strength of mind and body" have deteriorated within the past several months, he no longer feels able "to adequately fulfill the ministry" entrusted to him.  The Pope therefore stated:  For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter.

Reuters also reports that "the last Pope to resign willingly was Celestine V in 1294 after reigning for only five months…"  Known for his asceticism and penitential practices, Celestine had become a Benedictine monk at the age of 17.  Wikipedia states that he had also shown "great intelligence and love for others" since childhood.  During his
brief reign, Celestine issued a decree declaring "the right of any pope to abdicate the papacy."  He soon afterwards exercised this right, 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 his people, his longing for the tranquility of his former life…"

Because of this resignation, Celestine is said to be "the nameless figure" that the epic poet Dante Alighieri "saw" in the "antechamber of Hell."  These lines are from Dante's Inferno III, 59-60:  I saw and recognized the shade of him   Who by his cowardice made the great refusal.

The great medieval "Father of Humanism" Francesco Petrarch (aka "Petrarch"), however, did not view Celestine as cowardly.  He lauded Celestine's historic decision as "a virtuous example of solitary life."    


Copyright February 11, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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