Religion Magazine

What Did Previous Popes Think About Resignation?

By Fadi Bejjani @DrFadiBejjani

Most modern popes have felt resignation is unacceptable. As Paul VI (whom I personally met in Rome in 1969) said: Paternity cannot be resigned. St Peter followed his ministry to the end and of course so did Jesus and more recently John Paul II. We still have the image of his feeble bent over body etched in our memories, probably because it evoked the calvary with Jesus bent over under the weight of the cross. John Paul II had Parkinson's and severe arthritis, what is Benedict's ailment? Old age! This is 2013, people live to be 100. Did he loose his mental acumen secondary to Alzheimer? Is there anything more sinister that we do not know of...yet?  I do not dare speculate and I pray not! 

Two other Benedicts resigned (a total of 3 in 2000 years. No other papal name comes close except for 2 Gregory Popes): 

-   Benedict V (964): After one month in office, he accepted deposition by Emperor Otto I (Holy Emperor of Rome, first German to be called Emperor of Italy).

-   Benedict IX: Sold the papacy to his godfather Gregory VI and resigned in 1045. Gregory VI (1045-46) was then deposed for simony by Holy Emperor Henry III The Pious. Not a proud chapter of Christianity.In April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI discussed the influence Saint Benedict of Nursia  (480 - 547) had on Western Europe. The pope said that “with his life and work St Benedict exercised a fundamental influence on the development of European civilization and culture” and helped Europe to emerge from the "dark night of history" that followed the fall of the Roman Empire. 

Honored by both the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church as the patron saint of Europe and students, St. Benedict contributed more than anyone else to the rise of monasticism in the West. His Rule was the foundational document for thousands of religious communities in the middle ages. To this day, The Rule of St. Benedict is the most common and influential Rule used by monasteries and monks, more than 1,400 years after its writing.

The Cross of St Benedict is also notorious for its exorcism qualities (I have one around my neck!). One of the famed inscriptions on it reads VRSNSMV, which stand for "Vade Retro Satana, Nonquam Suade Mihi Vana" ("Begone Satan, do not suggest to me thy vanities") 

I wonder what St Benedict would have to say about Pope Benedict's resignation. Is it courage and humility or is it weakness and cowardice. Does it matter? All this does is confirm that the Pope is also human, some more human than others, at least the 10 who resigned in 2000 years. About 80 Popes acceded to Sainthood, out of them one Benedict, Pope St Benedict II (684-85) the 81st Pope - short tenure. Up to Benedict II, almost every Pope was a Saint, after Him, much fewer! 

The questions remain: What will be the fate of the 266thPope and how will History treat outgoing Benedictus Sextus Decimus Pontificus Maximus?

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