Resignation of Benedict XVI Parallel to That of Pope St. Celestine V

by Jayson M. Brunelle

Pope Benedictus XVI during the general audience in S. Peter, Vatican City on the 26th March, 2008.

Pope Benedictus XVI during the general audience in S. Peter, Vatican City on the 26th March, 2008.

They say that hindsight is 20/20.  This aphorism seems fairly well suited to the current situation in the Vatican regarding the resignation of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who seems to have been considering this possibility for quite some time.

Throughout his eight year pontificate, Benedict has performed certain actions that, in light of yesterday’s bombshell revelation of his decision to resign the papacy, only now can be fully appreciated.

On April 28, 2009, the feast of St. Louis de Montfort, Pope Benedict visited the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, where, on August 29, 1294, the 79 year-old Pietro di Morrone was reluctantly crowned Pope, taking the name, Celestine V.  That same basilica houses the tomb and relics of Pope Celestine V, who, shortly after his death, was canonized a saint.  

St. Celestine’s papacy lasted a mere 5 months, and his last official decree as Pope consisted of the declaration that popes possess the right to resign the papacy. Thus, the symbolic and prescient nature of Benedict’s act of placing the pallium that he wore on the day of his papal inauguration on Celestine’s glass coffin and leaving it there as a gift was lost just as much on his closest advisors as it was on the media.

Also missed by the media was Benedict’s solemn observance of Pope St. Celestine’s 800th birthday via the dedication of an entire year to the remembrance of the saint – the Celestine year – which began on August, 2009, and ended one year later.

During Celestine’s official act of resignation from the papacy, he cited the following as some of the reasons that contributed to his decision to resign the papacy: “The desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of his own physical strength, his ignorance, the perverseness of the people, his longing for the tranquility of his former life” (  It is noteworthy that Benedict listed some of the exact same reasons for his departure, particularly, his lack of strength and a desire to return to a quite life of prayer and study – something he had been looking forward to prior to his election to the See of Peter.

Finally, the “coincidence” of a bolt of lightening striking the tip of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica hours after the Pope’s announcement of resignation only reinforced the apocolyptic sentiments experienced by many. 

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