Papal Resignations Crib Sheet

Impress your mates down the pub with your exhaustive knowledge of popes who resigned from office (it turns out Pope Benedict XVI has plenty of company).

Pope Benedict XVI picture from Shutterstock

Today, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation from God's highest rank of office after just seven years on the job. "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," Benedict XVI announced in a statement.

The news has come as a shock to many; especially after more than five centuries of popes who served on resolutely until their deaths. However, the history of Catholicism is littered with popes who stepped down for one reason or another. Here's a rundown of some of the most notable Vatican drop-outs.

St Pontian (21 July 230 – 28 September 235)

St Pontian (Pope #18) was deposed by the Roman emperor Maximinus Thrax who sent the unfortunate packing to work in the brutal mines of Sardina. Realising he would likely die in exile, Pontian abdicated in a bid to prevent a power vacuum in the Church.

St Silverius (1 June 536 – 11 November 537)

St Silverius (Pope #58) was another Pope to fall foul of anti-Christian sentiment in Rome. After being sent into exile by empress Theodora of Constantinople, he was forced to resign by his successor Pope Vigilius and later starved to death in the Gulf of Gaeta.

John XVIII (25 December 1003 – July 1009)

After clashing with Rome's powerful Crescentii clan, John XVIII (Pope #141) ended his papacy and moved into a monastery where he died shortly thereafter.

Benedict IX (1032–1044)

Benedict IX (Pope #145) resigned not once, but twice during a turbulent papal career that spanned three separate terms as pope. He was eventually excommunicated.

St Celestine V (5 July 1294 – 13 December 1294)

St Celestine V (Pope #192) chose to relinquish his papacy due to the absolute power exerted by King Charles II of Sicily over the Church. He was the first pope to abdicate of his own free will, setting a precedent for Pope Benedict XVI to follow. His term in office lasted just five months.

Gregory XII (30 November 1406 – 4 July 1415)

Gregory XII (Pope #205) was a pope during the Great Schism which saw the Roman Catholic Church divided against itself for nearly forty years. Gregory XII abdicated in an attempt to mend the rift between the various churches and secular powers. He was the last pope to resign prior to last night's announcement.

Pope Benedict XVI (19 April 2005 - February 28 2013)

Pope Benedict XVI (Pope #265) is the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415. Benedict XVI will finish up his term as pope on February 28 due to advanced age


    Great life hack.

    Advanced age? The last guy was pretty much propped up for show towards the end and you didn't hear him complaining...

    The Catholic Church and religion in general are becoming more and more irrelevant these days. I seriously doubt the loss of this one and the reign of the next are going to make any difference whatsoever..!

      Nah, my bet is thewy go a black pope so they can get all 'obama type' funky and reveleant egain.

        Nope, been done, not original enough. Gay pope maybe? :)

          Well one thing's for sure. They'd go a black gay pope before even CONSIDERING a woman.

    I read this this morning:

    "Pope resigning due to advanced age."
    You're right! We do live in an age that's too advanced for popes.

      Where did you read this? I heared about it and I'd want to read the article

    So, if the Pope is the infallible voice of God on earth and he resigns, does he become fallible again?

    There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilisation. No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre.

    The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable.

    The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigour. The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustin, and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila.

    The number of her children is greater than in any former age. Her acquisitions in the New World have more than compensated for what she has lost in the Old. Her spiritual ascendency extends over the vast countries which lie between the plains of the Missouri and Cape Horn, countries which a century hence, may not improbably contain a population as large as that which now inhabits Europe.

    The members of her communion are certainly not fewer than a hundred and fifty millions; and it will be difficult to show that all other Christian sects united amount to a hundred and twenty millions. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her long dominion is approaching.

    She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca.

    And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's.

    Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800–1859)
    Keep trying guys!

    Whilst there aren't that many, in terms of age there are others far older with continuous lineages - the Ethiopian Church, various synagogues in the MidEast, the 'Asian' churches of the MidEast and India, the Jains of India, various temples in India, Zoroastrians in Iran, Gnostic Mandaeans in Iraq.

    I'd find a list of popes who've died in brothels more interesting (apparently there were a few).

    Stephen Fry at his eloquent best!

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