The last Pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1415. That dude, resigned because there were 3 concurrent Popes. The 3 Pope thing was caused by something called the Western Schism.
Basically, that mess started off with 2 people claiming to be the legitimate Pope. One dude, named Benedict XIII aka antipope, in Avignon, France and our boy Gregory XII in Rome. To resolve the 2 Pope mess, a council was convened in Pisa in 1409, but they made things worse because they elected a third pope. The third pope was named John XXIII.
Long story short, in 1415 both John XXIII and Gregory XII agreed to resign to allow for the election of a single pope. The antipope Benedict XIII refused to resign, so he was excommunicated in 1417. The dude formerly known as Pope Gregory XII died a couple of years after his resignation. I don’t know what happened to the other 2 guys.
In his announcement, Pope Benedict XVI is resigning because:
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. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.
Why the informal, or some might even say “flippant,” tone of this post? I never knew that a Pope could resign. I always thought that once God himself picked you as Pope, you exercised that duty until you died.
When I was a child, I was taught, that God Himself picked the Pope out of his best and most qualified cardinals. I had no idea about the conclave nor that it was the conclave that elected the Pope.
Once I became an adult, and went to college, where I learned a modicum of critical thinking skills, I started to question things about religion. In Art History, I learned the meaning behind a lot of religious art. In Victorian Literature, I learned about religious writing and poetry and I learned to question things that I had simply accepted as fact.
Then, I started reading on my own about the Borgia Popes and the Medici Popes and how corrupt they were. I won’t even get into the whole plundering of the Americas and the destruction of the native cultures for the benefit of the church thing. That’s a whole other story.
What’s the point of all this?
Really, just to express my surprise that a Pope could resign from his position. I also wanted to share a bit of what I found out about the last time that a Pope resigned and just to vent a bit about some of my frustrations with the mother church.
Of course, to make things interesting, there is the whole Prophecy of the Popes to look forward to.