Archives For Pope


The Pope who Quit (One Year Ago)



 Jon M. Sweeney


I woke up on February 11, 2013 and was as shocked as everyone else. At least for the first few seconds.

By 10:30am I was sitting in the offices of CBS News in Chicago, being interviewed by Jay Levine for the evening news. He was asking a lot of questions about my book published a year earlier, The Pope Who Quit. What did I know? When did I know it? I didn’t predict that this would happen, I told Jay. I simply suggested that it could happen. There was a precedent, and there were signs.

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Pope Francis and the Future of the Church
A Feature Review of

Francis: A New World Pope

Michel Cool

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2013
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]
Reviewed by Tim Høiland


Ever since Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected by the papal conclave this past March, becoming the 266th pontiff and the first to take the name Francis, it seems the whole world has been abuzz with prognostications about what new directions the Catholic Church will take with the “People’s Pope” at the helm.


Indeed, from the moment he first appeared on the balcony at St. Peter’s it became clear that Pope Francis was serious about trying to live up to his medieval namesake. Notably absent was the regal dress of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. And before he blessed the people, he instituted a powerful reversal by asking the people to pray for him.
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Stanley Hauerwas maintains that the election of Pope Francis signals the Catholic Church’s solidarity with the poor…

*** Books by Stanley Hauerwas

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The Wake Up CallThe Wake Up Call –
22 February 2013


Like the smell of strong coffee wafting down the hall, we offer a few book-related thoughts and stories to jumpstart your day…


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“A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down. If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book nothing can help him.”- Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, Born on this Day 1892
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Get Renascence and Other Poems by Millay – FREE for Kindle!


Today is the birthday of literary critic Terry Eagleton, born 1943…Read our recent review of Eagleton’s book The Event of Literature.
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Book News:


Thanks be to God for this new day, may it be full of beauty and grace!

The Wake Up Call image via WikiMedia Commons

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Pope Benedict XVI announced this morning that he was stepping down…


The last time a Pope stepped down out of the papal authority was in 1415.


Jon Sweeney has written an excellent book on the life and times of Pope Celestine VI, one of the (very few) popes who quit their office:


The Pope Who Quit: A True Medieval Tale of Mystery, Death, and Salvation

Jon Sweeney

Paperback: Image, 2012
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]


A timely Q/A with the author on the book via

Most people believe that popes serve until death– like the modern popes. Why do you think this story of Pope Celestine V has been somewhat hidden in modern times?
Well, it has been hidden and then not-so-hidden. I mean, there have been novels and plays about a pope who quits. Morris West’s The Clowns of God in 1981 spent twenty-two weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list in hardcover. Clearly, these stories are inspired by Celestine V – since he’s the only one who ever did. But, yes, people today don’t tend to realize what it meant to be pope in the Middle Ages.

What did it mean to be pope, then?
It was quite a different job back then. In fact, it wasn’t a job. It was a divine calling. To quit as pope in 1294, as Celestine V did, was at least shocking, and then treasonous and blasphemous to many. The pope was not simply a spiritual leader. That is a modern idea.

Who was this man who became Pope Celestine V? Where did he come from?
Peter Morrone, a hermit who lived in the mountains. He was in his eighties. He was a simple, simple man, who never desired or dreamed that he might be asked to be pope.

How did you conduct the research for this book?
I first encountered the name of Peter Morrone years ago while writing a book about Francis and Clare of Assisi. I wanted to come back to him again someday. So I was delighted by the opportunity to do that.

I spent two years writing The Pope Who Quit. I traveled to Rome and Naples and many places in between to see the sites for myself. And I spent thousands of hours in the library at Dartmouth College.

Do you think we’ll ever know what truly happened to Pope Celestine V?
No. We know so little for sure about the people of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. For instance, scholars are still debating whether or not Geoffrey Chaucer — author of The Canterbury Tales — ever existed.

Pope Benedict XVI has confirmed that he would not hesitate to relinquish his post if he no longer felt “physically, psychologically and spiritually” up to the job. How do you think that would impact the Church?
Yes, isn’t that amazing!? He said that in a book of interviews published in late 2010. I think that that book embarrassed a lot of the members of the papal curia. They did not like their Pope talking like a Celestine V!

If he were to ever step down, I think it would seriously rock the Church, just as Celestine V’s abdication did long ago. But, that said, it could happen.

Some thought that Pope John Paul II should have stepped down, too, when he was ill. Do you agree?
I don’t know, perhaps so. He certainly was no longer the administrative leader of the Church toward the end of his life. We know that for certain. Neither was Celestine V – and that is primarily why he stepped down.

The difference between the two is that in the television age a pope can lead by spiritual example, on television, inspiring the faithful. In the late thirteenth century, a pope could not lead in that way. A pope had to be strong – or else.

Read an excerpt of the book:

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346151: The Popes of Avignon

A Brief Review of

The Popes of Avignon

By Edwin Mullins
Hardback: BlueBridge, 2011.
Buy now: [ ]

Reviewed by Alex Joyner.

Plague!  Soaring cathedrals and palaces!  Corrupt clerics!  Glittering excess!  When I teach Reformation history to United Methodist pastors I try to avoid this tabloid summary of the Church in the medieval period.  Instead I focus on the deep and pervasive spirituality of the European populace, the real theological achievements of the Scholastics, and the radical commitments of the monastics.  It feels important to acknowledge that there were losses as well as gains in the transition to the modern world.

Edwin Mullins’ book The Popes of Avignon: A Century in Exile is not going to disabuse students of too many of the prejudices formed by looking at church history through the lens of the Protestant reformers, but it provides an interesting tour through a neglected period when the center of Western Christianity shifted to a small city in Provence.  From 1308 until 1378, as central Italy devolved into instability, the popes made their home in what is now southern France.  The period coincided with a time of French ascendency and the first of the Avignon popes, Clement V, was a virtual puppet of the French monarch.

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I thought this was intriguing and funny and thought our readers might too…

So, on Wednesday, I logged into our Sitemeter account to see what kind of traffic we’ve been getting here.  This is what I saw:

 So, I ask… Does the Pope read the Englewood Review? And if so, what is he (or one of his associates at the Vatican) reading here?   Apparently, this visitor from the Vatican did a YAHOO! search for “theology of martyrdom” which turned up the December 2008 review that I did of two recent books on martyrdom.

Who knew?