Thursday, February 21, 2013

Papal Resignation: A Not So Unprecedented Move?

Even though the last time an incumbent pope resigned was almost 600 years ago, are there other popes that have voluntarily stepped down?

By: Ringo Bones

Speculations and conspiracy theories aside, the other still to be divulged reasons on why Pope Benedict XVI resigned might be reserved for posterity, but what is now considered common knowledge is that the decision for Pope Benedict XVI's resignation is not a so unprecedented move because there are other popes before him that have resigned. Though the last time it happened was almost 600 years ago, Pope Benedict XVI's resignation is still a not so common Vatican event for the rest of us who still gawk at ecclesiastical matters and the over a billion Catholics, both young and old, around the world.

Believe it or not, it was due to the Papal Decree of  Pope Celestine V that made possible for popes to resign voluntarily while their decision still respected by the Vatican's Holy See. Back in 1294, Pope Celestine V issued a solemn decree declaring it possible that a pope can resign during his tenure if he so wishes. After only serving five months as pope, Pope Celestine V abdicated but not before issuing a papal decree to end any debate over whether a pope can justify standing down during his lifetime. After his resignation, Pope Celestine V lived the rest of his life as a hermit and was later canonized. Thus he became known as Saint Celestine V and some books on the list of popes used this canonized title.

Strange as it seems, before Pope Celestine V issued his papal decree to allow incumbent popes to voluntarily step down, there are two other pontiffs who have done so. Our current outgoing pope's namesake, Pope Benedict IX, stepped down in 1045 and his successor Gregory VI the year after in 1046.

With Pope Benedict XVI resignation to fully take effect in February 28, 2013, the last time a pontiff resignation occurred was almost 600 years ago when Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415. Pope Gregory XII stood down to end the "Western Schism" which threatened to shatter Roman Catholicism. Pope Gregory XII's resignation helped unite the Church at the Council of Constance in 1415.

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