Splitting the Difference with the Holy Spirit

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Here's a useful rundown of the factional splits among the cardinals who are about to undertake "one of the more momentous papal elections." The broad split obviously involves conservative vs. reforming Church factions, but there are other elements that are expected to influence the cardinals' votes.

The relationship with Islam and the challenge of European secularism may make the national origin of the next pope important, and that in turn may be bad news for Italy's cardinals. Even if an Italian is chosen this time, the old Italian lock on the Vatican may be coming to an end. The linked piece argues that "there can be no going back" from John Paul II's globalization of the role.

Of course, these sorts of factional splits are small change compared to the days when the Papacy was an integral part of Europe's power politics. For centuries, such conclaves involved struggles between the monarchies of France and Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, various Italian princes, as well as powerful families of Rome itself.

Under those circumstances, hopeless deadlocks could develop, and conclaves might continue for months or even years before settling on some compromise candidate. (The longest such deadlock lasted nearly three years, from 1268 to 1271.) Rome's citizens could become insistent and even threatening toward deadlocked conclaves: They might wall in the cardinals, greatly reduce their food, or even tear the roof off the building they were using to encourage them to make a choice. (Or rather, to encourage the cardinals' openness to the Holy Spirit, since doctrine held that the choice of a pope was inspired by the Holy Spirit.)

Just such a hopeless deadlock was to result in the most dysfunctional of all Papacies. In 1294, after some 18 months of intrigue and impasse, a conclave suddenly elected an elderly, mountain-dwelling hermit called Peter of Morone. Peter was a popular mystic who was believed to hang his cloak on a sunbeam; when he prayed, an invisible bell was said to toll. The delegation sent to inform him of his election had to scale a sheer, thousand-foot cliff in the Abruzzi to find him. Peter at first refused the office, but was persuaded that he was the expected "angelic pope" who would return apostolic simplicity to Rome, and who would usher in an age of Christian love. It didn't work out that way.

Taking the name Celestine V, Peter never made it to Rome at all. The king of France took immediate control of him, and housed him under his thumb in a Neapolitan palace. Pope Celestine understood nothing of what was going on around him, signed everything laid before him (including blank Papal Bulls), raised to cardinal every French candidate, and grew increasingly miserable. He spent most of the day in prayer.

Soon, Peter began hearing a supernatural voice at night admonishing him for accepting the Papacy at all. That voice is usually attributed to Cardinal Benedetto Gaetani, who entertained papal ambitions of his own, and who supposedly outfitted Peter's room with a speaking tube through which he whispered the heavenly admonitions. By day, the lawyerly Gaetani offered Peter help in extricating himself from the burdensome office. Before the year was out, Celestine had abdicated.

Many common people felt betrayed by the holy hermit in whom they'd placed their hopes for the world's salvation, but it was Peter who was in danger. Benedetto Gaetani quickly engineered his own election to the Throne of Peter, and seeing a living former pope as a potentially serious problem, sought his arrest. Celestine V escaped into the wilderness, and eventually boarded a ship for Dalmatia. The ship was blown back to shore, however, and Celestine was soon locked away in a papal fortress. He's said to have smiled on first seeing his tiny cell, because it reminded him of the huts in which he'd spent his pre-papal life doing penance. He died in that cell within two years.

In 1313, Pope Celestine V was declared a saint. He has an impressive marble tomb in Aquila.

NEXT: How to Serve The People: With a Side of Hot PLA Sex

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  1. As I said before, I’ll throw in my lot to be pope as a Christian, non-married male and promise to bring intrigue and scandal back into the papacy!

  2. The real question is not who wins. It’s who wins the recount and lawsuit.

    Some Cardinal from Florida will allege that some of the chads were improperly burned. And that he and other American Cardinals were disenfranchised by a ballot written in Italian.

    I still think that we should pick the next Pope with a reality show. Call it Roman Idol, give the Cardinals tasks, and the losing team goes into the Confessional where somebody will be fired.

    Italian Cardinal: “We knew that there would be black smoke from the Confessional until somebody was fired, at which point there would be white smoke. But we weren’t prepared for the smoke that came out when the Archbishop of Jamaica entered the Confessional.”

  3. Thoreau, FYI, the show The Soup on the E! channel stole your Roman Idol shortly after you first proposed it. They also had a practical joke show called Pop’d.

  4. Ooops — the E! version of Roman Idol was called Vatican Idol.

  5. Whatever the outcome, I predict that the next Pope will wear a funny hat and believe in an invisible man.

  6. With all due apologies to Thoreau, I’m not sure why this conclave thing gets so much press here in the U.S. Catholics make up 1/3 of Christians, and 25% of the whole population. Why so much fuss about something that doesn’t apply to the majority of Americans?

    I can see how the basic subject might be interesting, but do we really need to know every time black smoke comes out of the chimney? (As a non-Catholic, maybe I just don’t understand the culture.)

  7. What else is there to put on the 24 hour news channels?

  8. Why so much fuss about something that doesn’t apply to the majority of Americans?

    There are no important stories that affect all Americans (like the Scott Peterson trial, shark attacks, school shootings, or the Terri Schiavo case) this week. Choosing the spiritual leader for quarter of all Americans will have to be enough.

  9. And, once again, Phocion hits the nail on the head!

  10. Stevo-

    I liked the SNL skit a week and a half ago, when they had the papal debates. The debates were hosted by Tim Russert and included a hip young cardinal, an ancient cardinal, a Nigerian cardinal, and Al Sharpton.

    As with most SNL skits, I think the premise was funnier than the execution. And the premise was pretty damn funny, what with Al Sharpton and all.

  11. Celestine was obviously not canonized for anything he did as Pope. He was the founder of an order of monks called the Celestines, and was honored for his personal holiness, which didn’t serve him well at all while he was pope. On the other hand, the reason he was elected in the first place was that he wrote the conclave a letter demanding they elect a pope. Be careful what you wish for.

    The pope that got elected was Boniface VIII, who figures prominently in Dante’s vision of Hell. (Celestine may be there as well; there is a verse about “the great refusal” that is thought to refer to Celestine’s abdication.)

  12. The “great refusal” appears in the fith canto of the Inferno and probably refers to Celestine V. Dante put him among the uncommited in the vestibule of Hell becasue his abdication led to the election of Boniface VIII, a bitter enemy of Dante.

  13. was honored for his personal holiness, which didn’t serve him well at all while he was pope

    Does this mean that Jimmy Carter gets sainted next?

  14. conservative vs. reforming Church factions

    What’s with that adjective, “reforming”? Reforming what? The politically incorrect 2,000 year-old doctrines of the church?

    As Deacon Bruce says, “the Catholic Church is not a democracy.” Catholics conform themselves to God’s will as manifested in revelation and interpreted by the church…not to social fads.

    “Conservative”, yes, in the highest sense. “Reforming”? Hardly.

  15. Charles Paul Freund’s discussion of papal history reminds me once again of why I so strongly support the separation of chuch and state: When church and state mingle, in the long run the state will win. Oh, in the short run the theocrats might be on top, but eventually the church will be molded to fit the interests of the politicians and rich people. The church will only be given free rein on matters that the politicians don’t care about.

    Hence Popes were, once upon a time, chosen by “struggles between the monarchies of France and Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, various Italian princes, as well as powerful families of Rome itself” (as Mr. Freund said). And hence Pope Celestine V was made a prisoner of the king of France (sorry, Gunnels, but even the French can do bad things ;).

    It is interesting to me that the leaders on the religious right who get the most attention are silent on economic issues (where many Christians believe, however rightly or wrongly, that the Bible urges more lefty approach) and mostly focus on sex. And they urge their followers to support the GOP, which is the party of business (not quite the same thing as the party of free markets, as any executive from ADM or Halliburton could explain).

    I wish more people would note that for much of European history the state gave orders to the church rather than the other way around (or one state used the church to give orders to another state). The believers are the ones who have the most to lose from a merger of church and state, for after such a merger the church will serve an earthly master.

  16. Thoreau, shouldn’t that be excommunicated, rather than fired?

  17. Thoreau, shouldn’t that be excommunicated, rather than fired?

    No. Cardinals who aren’t elected Pope remain Catholics.

    Maybe I should have said that the Cardinals who fail at the task go to the Confessional where one of them will be given a penance.

  18. You’re hellfired.

  19. “Oh, in the short run the theocrats might be on top, but eventually the church will be molded to fit the interests of the politicians and rich people.”

    i think part of the fascination with JPII’s funeral, in a mass media sense for non catholics, was getting a look at all this stuff they have in vatican city. i got a kick out of explaining to my jewish co-workers why there’s so much gold there. why everything looks like a palace, in other words.

    i find it hard to think of the catholic church in particular as ever having been a non-state actor. some of my delightfully hilarious inlaws spent a good deal of time talking about the papal election at a recent family gathering, a discussion which closed with “well, i suppose some politics will play a part as well.”

    indeed. i admire such smoothness in the face of a rough, craggy world.

  20. i think part of the fascination with JPII’s funeral, in a mass media sense for non catholics, was getting a look at all this stuff they have in vatican city. i got a kick out of explaining to my jewish co-workers why there’s so much gold there. why everything looks like a palace, in other words.

    That sort of promiscuous wealth is what a church acquires when it merges with the state. Whether one thinks of the RCC’s role in the past as being a servant of the state or a state in its own right or whatever, the one thing that’s clear is that the mixing of church and state did nothing to further the agenda of the long-haired carpenter who preached peace and love to fishermen and prostitutes.

  21. I can’t believe how stupid it is that the media is hanging all over that chimney, like anything is going to fucking happen in the first two days.

    ooooooooooohhhh! Black smoke! Thousands of hopefuls look up, disappointed! They pray!

    Okay, newsflash: THEY’RE NOT GOING TO ELECT SOMEONE THAT QUICKLY! How anticlimatic would it be if a new pope popped out of the oven without any build-up?

    My guess is that the cardinals are playing X-box right now.

  22. Some Cardinal from Florida will allege that some of the chads were improperly burned. And that he and other American Cardinals were disenfranchised by a ballot written in Italian.

    And what was with the memo that some of the Cardinals got that said that the conclave was in the basement of Guido’s Pizzeria starting on the 27th.

  23. “Whether one thinks of the RCC’s role in the past as being a servant of the state or a state in its own right or whatever, the one thing that’s clear is that the mixing of church and state did nothing to further the agenda of the long-haired carpenter who preached peace and love to fishermen and prostitutes.”

    well, yeah.

    i just find it hard to believe that people connect the two in the first place. i guess not hard, persay, but depressing. or perhaps i have overdosed on cynicism and am engaging in some sort of lame digital afterlife, after all.

    ever try explaning the vatican bank to people who aren’t alex jones junkies or whackjob protestants? somehow there’s this idea that because someone leads a religious congregation they’re like ghandi meets superman is deeply ingrained, even in the unreligious.

  24. That sort of promiscuous wealth is what a church acquires when it merges with the state. Whether one thinks of the RCC’s role in the past as being a servant of the state or a state in its own right or whatever, the one thing that’s clear is that the mixing of church and state did nothing to further the agenda of the long-haired carpenter who preached peace and love to fishermen and prostitutes.

    TITHE! TIIIIIITHE!!!

  25. “What’s with that adjective, “reforming”? Reforming what? The politically incorrect 2,000 year-old doctrines of the church?”

    Yes, those 2000 year old doctrines, like mandatory celebacy for priests, opposition to contraception, and the belief that ensoulment occurs at the moment of conception.

    Oh, wait. Not a single one of those came into being until many centuries after the Church was founded. My bad.

  26. “As Deacon Bruce says, “the Catholic Church is not a democracy.” Catholics conform themselves to God’s will as manifested in revelation and interpreted by the church…not to social fads.”

    Hence the monarchist/feudal power structure within the Church – because of its steadfast refusal to conform itself to the political and social mores of Roman and medieval Europe.

  27. kmw,

    “I’m not sure why this conclave thing gets so much press here in the U.S. Catholics make up 1/3 of Christians, and 25% of the whole population. Why so much fuss about something that doesn’t apply to the majority of Americans?”

    Christianity is the overwhelming majority religion in America, and the distillation of a broad social movement into a single individual makes for more compelling teevee. The Pope’s funeral infantry squad in France get better box office than documentaries about World War Two.

  28. Er, “The Pope’s funeral gets broad coverage for the same reason tha a movie about a rag tag infantry squad in France…”

  29. joe,

    Opposition to then-available techniques of contraception is not only readily apparent in early Christian writings, but also is sprinkled throughout the Old Testament. True, they didn’t specifically mention condoms or The Pill, but I think you’re intelligent enough to understand why.

    As for the conception question, up until the 1700s it was believed that semen contained a human-seed (hence the name) which simply lodged itself in the womb in order to receive blood and nutrition. In short, Aquinas et al, going off of 13th century physiology, had no idea that a totally new organism came into being at conception.

    Mandatory priestly celibacy isn’t a doctrine, it’s a practice that can be changed at will; but even so, it’s pretty widespread even in the early Church, and Paul puts a good word in for it in his letters to the Corinthians (~AD 60).

  30. Yep, we been Poped, from the Catholic Nwes Agency:

    “Vatican City, Apr. 19, 2005 (CNA) – At 17:56 in Rome, white smoke rose from the chimney atop of the Sistine Chapel. The Catholic Church has a new Pope. Soon the name of the man chosen to succeed John Paul II will be revealed when we hear the words Habemus Papam pronounced from the balcony of St. Peter?s. Catholics are celebrating.

    The tolling of the bells ten minutes after the smoke confirmed the affirmative signal. The new Pontiff was elected after the fourth ballot on the second day of the Conclave. Church bells around the world announced this great joy.”

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