Popes who have abdicated

It isn’t easy to say exactly how many. Church history is often rather murky, and it can be hard to distinguish between abdication and deposition – look, for example, at Silverius, who, I think, was arrested by Belisarius and sent off for trial before the Emperor. Here is a list of those who immediately come to mind.

Pontian (230-235) is the first Pope know to have abdicated. He did this after he had been sentenced to forced labour in the mines during one of the Roman persecutions of Christianity.

Marcellinus (296 – 304) committed apostasy when bullied by the authorities into offering worship to the Emperor. He may then have abdicated.

Silverius (536 – 537) was deposed and exiled by the empress Theodora, then taken to Constantinople to stand trial for treason, convicted, and forced by his successor, Pope Vigilius, to abdicate again.

John XVIII (1003 – 1009) may have voluntarily abdicated.

Benedict IX (11th century) served as Pope three times: he was elected, ejected, returned, abdicated, deposed, returned again, ejected again, and eventually excommunicated.

Celestine V (1294) refused to act as a puppet of Charles II of Sicily, and abdicated after only 5 months.

Gregory XII (1406 – 1417) was one of the more entertaining Renaissance Popes. Though not entirely willing, he abdicated in order to heal a long schism in the Church

John XXIII (1410-1415) was probably the most entertaining of the Renaissance Popes, though there is some doubt whether he was legally the Pope. Gibbon says of him when he was brought to trial: “The most scandalous charges were suppressed; the vicar of Christ was only accused of piracy, murder, rape, sodomy, and incest.”

I suppose the current successor of Saint Peter is not in the best company.

14 responses to “Popes who have abdicated

  1. John XXIII ???

  2. John XXIII followed Pius XII in the 60’s, didn’t he?

    • All considered, the “real” John XXIII may have been more of an Anti-Pope.

      Here is the Wikipedia article on the first one:

      Baldassarre Cossa was born on the island of Procida or Ischia in the Kingdom of Naples into a noble but impoverished family. Initially he followed a military career, taking part in the Angevin-Neapolitan war . His two brothers were sentenced to death for piracy by Ladislaus of Naples .^[1]

      He studied law at the University of Bologna and obtained a doctorate. In 1392 he entered the service of Pope Boniface IX , first working in Bologna and then in Rome. (The Western Schism had begun in 1378 and there were two competing popes at the time, one in Avignon supported by France and Spain, and one in Rome supported by most of Italy, Germany and England.) Still a member of the laity , he became Cardinal deacon in 1402 and Papal legate in Forlì in 1403. At this time Cossa also had some links with local robber bands, which were often used to intimidate his rivals and attack carriages. These connections added to his influence and power in the region.^[2]

      He was one of the seven cardinals who, in May 1408, deserted Pope Gregory XII , and, with those following Antipope Benedict XIII from Avignon, convened the Council of Pisa , of which Cossa became the leader. The aim of the council was to end the schism; to this end they deposed Gregory XII and Benedict XIII and elected the new pope Alexander V in 1409. Gregory and Benedict ignored this decision however, so that there were now three simultaneous claimants to the Papacy .

      Alexander V died soon after, and on 25 May 1410 Cossa was consecrated pope, taking the name John XXIII. He had been ordained priest only one day earlier. John XXIII was acknowledged as pope by France , England , Bohemia , Prussia , Portugal , parts of the Holy Roman Empire , and numerous Northern Italian city states, including Florence and Venice ; however, the Avignon Pope Benedict XIII was regarded as pope by the Kingdoms of Aragon , Castile , Sicily and Scotland and Gregory XII was still favored by Ladislaus of Naples , Carlo I Malatesta , the princes of Bavaria , Louis III , Elector Palatine , and parts of Germany and Poland .^[3]

      The Medici had supported Cossa in his campaign to become cardinal and pope. Once in office, John XXIII made the Medici Bank the bank of the papacy, contributing considerably to the family’s wealth and prestige.

      John had his officials sell indulgences , a controversial practice that was protested in various parts of Europe, for instance by the followers of Jan Hus in Prague .

      The main enemy of John was Ladislaus of Naples , who protected Gregory XII in Rome. Following his election as pope, John spent a year in Bologna and then joined forces with Louis II of Anjou to march against Ladislaus. An initial victory proved short-lived and Ladislaus retook Rome in 1413, forcing John to flee to Florence.

      Tomb of Antipope John XXIII .

      In Florence he met Sigismund , who had just been crowned King of Germany and who had ambitions to become emperor . Sigismund wanted to end the schism and urged John to call a general council. John did so with hesitation, afraid that he might be deposed at the council. The Council of Constance was convened on 30 October 1413. During the third session, rival Pope Gregory XII authorized the council as well. The council resolved that all three popes should abdicate and a new pope be elected. Gregory agreed and John initially did as well, but then he fled the council, hoping that without him it would lose its authority. Instead, the council deposed him and tried him for heresy, simony, schism and immorality, finding him guilty on all counts. The last remaining claimant in Avignon, Benedict XIII , refused to resign and was excommunicated. Martin V was elected as new pope in 1417.

      Cossa, as he was again, was imprisoned in Germany. He was freed in 1418 after a heavy ransom had been paid by the Medicis. In Rome he submitted to Martin V who made him cardinal bishop of Tusculum . He went to Florence and died only a few months later.

      The Medicis oversaw the construction of his magnificent tomb by Donatello and Michelozzo in the Battistero di San Giovanni in Florence. Pope Martin V protested in vain against the inscription on the sarcophagus: “John the former pope”.

      The 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia remarks that “Undeniably secular and ambitious, his moral life was not above reproach, and his unscrupulous methods in no wise accorded with the requirements of his high office … the heinous crimes of which his opponents in the council accused him were certainly gravely exaggerated.”^[4] One of his secretaries concluded that John was “a great man in temporal things, but a complete failure and worthless in spiritual things.”^[1]

    • I will follow the papal election with close interest. My defection from the fallen Church of England may involve a jump straight over Rome to Constantinople.

  3. I once attended an evening class with an “eccentric” teacher who was a UK covert to Greek Orthodox. You (so he said) have to make your own shroud and he was always rambling about that instead of the supposed substance of the class.

  4. You certainly know your popes sean, I think I’ll do some reading, you are
    not alone many have defected from the church of england, fallen church !
    Many share your opinion, people have become fed up with the constant
    debating about politics, sexuality, feminist issues, they feel the direction
    of the CE has become a confusing and complex minefield, far away from
    the traditional forms of christain worship!

  5. Sean Gabb for Pope.
    And I hope you beat John XXIII’s record. Murder, piracy, rape, sodomy, incest – you can do better than that.

  6. Really Rob, my knowledge of such matters of popes is limited, but a know some history on the “Templars” did you hear of the story of Clement V and his invlovement with king Philip of france to bring down the order of the Templars on the basis of trumped up charges by the state, Philip was a bankrupt king in debt by way of loans to the Templars in order to survive, he concocted a plan to have the templars arrested and seize their wealth on the basis of false heretic allegations, they were arrested on Friday the 13th-still one of the biggest round up’s in european history, Clement was reluctant to go along with Philips plans, and attemped to delay and nulify the proceedings, Philip cunning as he was, had the pope placed under house arrest in Poitiers, Clement fairing for his safety agreed to split the charges with the King in order Philip could secure the convictions and he gain his release, the Templars were found guilty after touture, and wealth confinscated from their order. Interstingly, Clement and Philip were present at the burning and execution of Jacques de Morlay, as de Morlay started to Burn, he cursed both Philip and Clement in the name of god, claiming would both die within one year of his death, the curse came to effect, both died within one year of de Morlay’s curse, Hence Clement V the cursed pope!

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  8. I have just read your post, very interesting, I think they decribe him as a conservative, but as many know, South America can be described as liberal
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    interesting development.

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