Thursday, June 4, 2015

Celestine V - keep quiet or they'll make you pope

Pope Celestine V wasn't cut out to be pope. In fact, he never wanted to be pope. In 1292 AD (BC was not a popular time to be pope) there was no pope. For 2 years, no consensus had been reached as to who the next pope should be. At that time, a Benedictine hermit named Pietro Angelerio sent a letter to the cardinals which warned of divine vengeance if they did not quickly elect a pope.

This was a bad move because the cardinals decided, what the heck, we can't agree so let's just elect Pietro. Apparently the squeaky wheel gets the papacy.

Pietro wasn't interested. He refused and tried to flee, but a bunch of cardinals, along with the kings of Naples and Hungary, convinced him to take the job.

Given his total lack of political experience, it is not surprising that he was exceptionally weak and incompetent in the role he had been forced into. After about 5 months of helplessness, he talked it over with Benedetto Caetani (his eventual successor) and decided that he would make a papal decree declaring the right of resignation. Shortly thereafter he resigned.

His plan was to go back to his old uneventful life of solitude, but that was not to be. The new Pope Boniface VIII thought others might use Pietro as an antipope, so he ordered him to go back to Rome. Pietro tried to escape and actually hid in the woods and then attempted to escape by sea. This failed and he was captured and imprisoned in the castle of Fumone near Ferentino in Campagna.

He died 10 months later at the age of 81. This certainly seems suspicious, but the historical evidence is lacking as to whether or not the current pope had him executed.

Celestine V seems to have gotten a pretty bad rap. There is general consensus that Dante sees him as a shade in hell:
I saw and recognize the shade of him
Who by his cowardice made the great refusal.
--Inferno III, 59-60
Pope Celestine V is often referenced as the first pope to retire, but this turns out not to be true. There were a few others that retired before, including one that had retired 250 years before Celestine V. After him, no other pope retired until 2013 when Pope Benedict XVI retired.

There was also the case of Celestine (II) who was elected pope in 1124, but resigned a few days later. He isn't included in the official list of popes. This guy is not to be confused with Celestine II who was elected in 1143 and died 5 months later.

Historically, the position of pope seems quite precarious and dangerous. The list of popes includes a decent number of folks who died of unnatural causes.

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