Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Other Popes Who Quit

Pope Celestine V might have needed Cardinal Benedetto Gaetani to find a justification for him to resign, but papal resignations had taken place previously. The 11th century saw two papal resignations that might have saved a little time in the 13th century, had they been remembered.

The Chair of Peter
One of them was largely a political pawn—albeit probably a willing one. Phasanius became pope in January 1004, taking the name John XVIII.* Like several decades of popes prior to him, he owed familial allegiance to the head of the Crescentii clan, a patrician Roman family who wielded great power in Rome, controlling much of the City as well as the popes. Unlike Celestine V, John XVIII was an administrator, and the records of his papacy show that he worked at various initiatives: he established a base, the See of Bamberg, from which to begin christianizing the Slavs to please King Henry II of Germany. He confirmed archbishops, including Elphege of Canterbury. He arbitrated disputes between religious figures. Even in Constantinople he gained Eastern Orthodox recognition as the Bishop of Rome; it is assumed he somehow reached out to the Eastern Church and established (however briefly) some kind of détente.

Details of his departure from the Throne of Peter are missing. A catalog of popes lists him as having been a monk at St. Paul's near Rome at his death in June 1009. At some point he must have stepped down; perhaps he wasn't doing enough for John Crescentius III, the had of the Crescentii clan. He was replaced by Pietro Martino Buccaporci (Peter Martin Pigsnout), who was no doubt glad to take the name Pope Sergius IV. Sergius and John Crescentius both died in the spring of 1012, and the Crescentii influnce over the papacy faded away.

About the same time that Sergius and John Crescentii were dying, Theophylactus of Tusculum (c.1012-c.1056) was born in Rome. Son of the Count of Tusculum, he achieved the papacy as a young man in 1032 through the efforts of his father, taking the name Benedict VIII. He clearly had no qualifications for being pope; it was said of him that he "feasted on immorality" (St. Peter Damian) and that "a demon from hell in the disguise of a priest... occupied the chair of Peter and profaned the sacred mysteries of religion by his insolent courses." (Ferdinand Gregorovius)

It can be said that he left the papacy several times, some of them of his own volition. He was driven from Rome in 1036, but returned with the help of Emperor Conrad II. He was driven out again in 1044 and Pope Sylvester III was elected, but Benedict returned again in April 1045 and drove out Sylvester (who never stopped calling himself pope). In May 1045, Benedict resigned in order to get married; he sold the papacy to his godfather, Fr. John Gratian, who took the papal name Gregory VI.

Papal coat of arms
He changed his mind, however, and returned to Rome months later, taking back the throne by force until July 1046. For most residents of Rome, however, Gregory VI was the true pope now. It did not help when Sylvester III pushed his own previous claim forward. King Henry III of Germany intervened, and at the Council of Sutri in December 1046, it as decided that all three popes were to be replaced. A bishop from Germany named Suidger became Pope Clement II. Clement died less than a year later, however, and Benedict tried to seize power again but was driven away by German troops. Poppo of Brixen was elected Pope Damasus II, and things finally started to settle down.

*Note: although he was the 18th pope to take the name John, he is officially considered the 17th John, because John XVI (pope from 997-998) has been declared an antipope and does not count in the true reckoning of popes. The historical numbers taken by the popes has never been "corrected."

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