Preposterous Universe

Monday, April 04, 2005

My favorite historical Pope is Celestine V, one of the Bad Popes described so entertainingly in E.R. Chamberlin's book of the same name.

In 1294 the Papacy wielded a great deal more power than it does today, and the great families of Rome were constantly jockeying to put their own upon St. Peter's throne. Deliberations by the College of Cardinals would often drag on interminably, and this time was especially bad, having reached eighteen months as a deadlock between the Colonna and Orsini families seemed unbreakable. In frustration, one of the Cardinals nominated Pietro di Morrone, a holy hermit who preferred to live in small, dirty mountain caves, even as he grew in renown among the most devout. In even greater frustration, the rest of the College agreed, and Pietro was dragged out of his cave to become Celestine V.

But not dragged back to Rome; he refused to go, and (encouraged by King Charles of Naples) set up court at Castello Nuovo in the South. He had a small wooden cell constructed, resembling a cave, where he could hide himself. His followers rejoiced that the dominance of sin and corruption was at an end, to be replaced by a reign of love guided by the Holy Spirit. But Celestine was an awful pope; he issued contradictory orders, granted any request he received, and allowed the papal bureaucracy to crumble into disarray.

Finally, listening to the urgings of Cardinal Benedict Gaetani, Celestine took the unprecedented step of resigning as Pope, after a reign of just fifteen weeks. The College met again, and within twenty-four hours Gaetani was elected Pope, taking the name Boniface VIII. The ambitious lawyer was faced with a problem, however; Celestine, even though abdicated and desiring nothing other than to return to obscurity, could serve as a rallying point for the new Pope's enemies. So Boniface had him transported back to Rome, but Celestine and some of his supporters arranged an escape along the way. Eventually, in the course of an attempted crossing of the Adriatic to Greece, he was caught and dragged back to the Holy City, where he was imprisoned in the isolated fortress of Fumone. He died less than a year later, but not before offering a prophesy to Boniface: "You have entered like a fox, you will reign like a lion -- and you will die like a dog." Boniface ruled for nine years, putting down numerous rebellions by competing families, eventually locking himself in the Lateran palace, where he died in despair, planning insane revenges against his enemies.

Celestine was canonized in 1313. There has been no Celestine VI. Maybe the next Pope will choose to rehabilitate the name.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

Preposterous Home
Atom Site Feed (xml)
RSS Feed
Technorati Profile
Bloglines Citations
Blogroll Me

About Last Night
Alas, a Blog
The American Sector
Asymmetrical Information
Big Brass Blog
Bitch, Ph.D.
Body and Soul
Brad DeLong
Chris C Mooney
Collision Detection
Creek Running North
Crescat Sententia
Crooked Timber
Daily Kos
Daniel Drezner
Deepen the Mystery
Dispatches from the Culture Wars
Dynamics of Cats
Electron Blue
Ezra Klein
The Fulcrum
Girls Are Pretty
Jacques Distler
James Wolcott
John and Belle
Julie Saltman
Lawyers, Guns and Money
Leiter Reports
The Loom
Matt McIrvin
Matthew Yglesias
Michael Bérubé
Michael Nielsen
Mixing Memory
Mr. Sun
Not Even Wrong
Obsidian Wings
Orange Quark
Paige's Page
Panda's Thumb
Playing School, Irreverently
Political Animal
The Poor Man
Quantum Diaries
Quark Soup
Real Climate
Roger Ailes
Rox Populi
Shakespeare's Sister
Simple Stories
Sisyphus Shrugged
Smijer & Buck
TPM Cafe
Uncertain Principles
Volokh Conspiracy

Powered by Blogger
Comments by Haloscan
RSS Feed by 2RSS.com

February 2004
March 2004
April 2004
May 2004
June 2004
July 2004
August 2004
September 2004
October 2004
November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
May 2005
June 2005
July 2005