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The Road to Emmaus

Today’s reading comes from the Gospel of Luke:

 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at a table with them, he took the bread and blessed. And broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. (Luke 24:13–35)

The scene is difficult to imagine: The disciples are walking with a man—a stranger—with whom they were just discussing the amazing events that had transpired around Jesus. They had probably told this man (assuming he was a foreigner) of Jesus’ miracles, ministry, and tragic death. They shared with him how they had expected Jesus to deliver Israel, and how they had recently heard the strange news that his body was not in the tomb in which he was buried. The apostles must have been exhausted, excited, and bewildered all at the same time. It would have been a strange sight to behold.


As the apostles drew near to the town they were heading toward, they invited the stranger to stop and stay with them for the night. The man accepted, and when they had stopped for dinner he broke bread and gave it to the apostles. We read in the Gospel of Luke that “their eyes were opened” (Luke 24:31) (c.f. Gen. 3:7), and they realized in that moment that it was Jesus Christ who sat before them. As soon as they recognized who it was, Jesus then “vanished out of their sight,” at which point the apostles began to share with each other how their hearts “burned” while he was talking to them.

This wondrous account provokes many questions. First, why didn’t the disciples recognize Jesus? Did he look different? And how is it that he vanished immediately after breaking bread with them? Jesus had somehow changed, and it wasn’t until the apostles partook of the bread that they were able to understand who he truly was.  What was the nature of Christ’s resurrected body that it could do these amazing things?

Saint Thomas Aquinas, the great doctor of the Church, allots four question sections in his Summa Theologica to the necessity, quality, display, and causality of Christ’s resurrection. Aquinas stresses the fact that Christ’s resurrected body is a true body (Pt III. Q. 54, a. 1) and a glorified body (Pt. III. Q. 54, a.3). He cites scripture proving that Christ, by his own power, had been raised up from the dead. (Pt III. Q. 56, a. 1)

Regarding the reading today, and perhaps most interestingly of all, Aquinas also addresses the question of whether Christ should have appeared to the disciples “in another shape”—that is, whether or not it was good that Jesus should appear to the disciples as someone they couldn’t recognize. Aquinas states that “Divine things are revealed to men in various ways, according as they are variously disposed. For, those who have minds well disposed, perceive Divine things rightly, whereas those not so disposed perceive them with a certain confusion of doubt or error (1 Cor 2:14).” Aquinas thus concludes that Jesus appeared actually in his own shape, but that the faith of those he appeared to varied in degree. St. Gregory the Great said something similar: “He showed Himself to them in body such as He was in their minds: for, because He was as yet a stranger to faith in their hearts, he made pretense of going on farther” (Hom. xxiii in Evang.).

Perhaps the most amazing facet of this reading is that only after the apostles partook of the bread were their eyes opened to the reality of the man before them. As Augustine says, “until the Sacrament of the bread; that when they had shared in the unity of His body, the enemy’s hindrance may be understood to have been taken away . . .” (De Conses. Evang. iii). Today’s Gospel reading is a reminder not only that Christ has indeed risen again in glory, but that through the Sacrament of the Eucharist our eyes are opened to the reality of Christ himself.

When should I expect white smoke?

This is the question on every Catholic’s mind: when will I see white smoke? When will we have a new pope?

I can’t tell you exactly—no one knows precisely when the ballots will be burned—but here are some good times to check the chimney:

 PST  MST  CST  EST  CET (Rome time)
 2:30 AM  3:30 AM  4:30 AM  5:30 AM  10:30 AM
 4:00 AM  5:00 AM  6:00 AM  7:00 AM  12:00 PM (noon)
 9:30 AM  10:30 AM  11:30 PM  12:30 PM  5:30 PM
 11:00 AM  12:00 PM  1:00 PM  2:00 PM  7:00 PM


Time in Rome

The cardinals will cast two votes in the morning—which they will burn at noon—and two in the evening—which they will burn at 7:00 PM (Rome time). This means we will see smoke at noon and 7:00 PM.
If the cardinals do not vote twice in the morning—if their first vote is conclusive—we will see white smoke around 10:30 AM. Similarly, for the evening ballots, we could see white smoke closer to 5:30 PM.

Again, these are only estimates—it never hurts to check more often.

Keep up with the action using the Conclave app.

The Conclave Convenes on March 12—Ten Things You Need to Know

Today’s guest post is by Aric Nesheim, marketing specialist in the Catholic division.

As the papal conclave fast approaches, many are wondering how it actually works. The conclave’s fascinating history shows how malleable the papal-election process can be. Today, the rules and regulations for the papal conclave have been changed and altered by various apostolic constitutions and motu proprios. Here are 10 need-to-know points concerning the upcoming conclave:

1) When the cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel, after the master of the Papel Liturgical Celebrations says “Extra omnes!” (outside, all of you!), no one is allowed to stay save the cardinals themselves. The word “conclave” is actually derived from the Latin cum (“with”) and clavis (“key”), indicating that the cardinals are locked in together until a new pope can be elected.

2) Of the 117 cardinals eligible to vote, Pope Benedict XVI named 67 and Pope John Paul II named 50.

3) Two cardinal electors are not attending: Julius Riyadi Cardinal Darmaatmadja, SJ, archbishop emeritus of Jakarta, Indonesia, and Keith Michael Patrick Cardinal O’Brien, archbishop emeritus of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, Scotland. This means that of the 117 cardinals able to vote, only 115 will be participating in the conclave.

4) Of the living cardinals, only six were council fathers at the Second Vatican Council (Cardinals Angelini, Arinze, Canestri, Delly, Fernandes de Araújo, and Lourdusamy). However, all are over 80 and thus cannot participate in the conclave.

5) The apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis (“The Lord’s Whole Flock”), issued by Pope John Paul II, stipulates that the conclave must begin 15 to 20 days after the vacancy. However, on February 25, Pope Benedict XVI issued the motu proprio Normas Nonnullas, which states that if the Cardinal Electors have all arrived, the conclave may begin early. As of today, the Vatican is still waiting for five cardinals to begin the conclave process.

6) In another motu proprio, Benedict XVI also changed the way that John Paul II had set up the election of the next pope. The voting process is simple: if the cardinals become deadlocked and cannot get a clear election with a 2/3 majority, they must take a day for prayer and dialogue and then vote for the top two cardinals of the last balloting (though these two may not vote—they have what’s called a vox passiva). Because the number of cardinals is odd, there needs to be a consensus of at least 77 before a pope can be elected.

7) When everyone is out except for the cardinals, the voting begins! The process is carried out in three phases: First, in what’s called the pre-scrutiny, the ballot papers will be distributed, and three groups of three cardinals will be selected to complete various tasks. The first group of cardinals will be selected to be “Scrutineers”—basically those who tally up the ballots. The second group, called “Infirmarii,” will be in charge of placing the ballots of any cardinals who are sick or weak (and thus cannot leave their room) into the voting urn. The third group will consist of “Revisers”—those who check the work of the Scrutineers.

8) Next, the scrutiny portion of the election will begin. Each cardinal will write down whom they wish to be the next pope and proceed to take their ballot to the altar where the three Scrutineers stand. Before a ballot can be cast, each cardinal must recite an oath in Latin that reads in English, “I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected.”

9) Finally, after all the ballots have been opened up, the “post-scrutiny” portion of the conclave will begin. The Scrutineers add up the votes and the Revisers double-check them. If no clear election is made, the ballots must be burned and recast, followed by the signaling of dark smoke. If a new pope has been elected, white smoke will rise from the Sistine Chapel followed by the ringing of bells.

10) Whereas the ballots have, in the last century, been placed into a chalice and pyx, this time around there are three “urns” in which they are placed. The first urn is for normal voting, the second will be used only if there are cardinals who cannot leave their rooms due to illness, and the third will be used to gather the ballots after the scrutiny—right before they are burned to produce either the white or the black smoke above the Sistine Chapel.

Ten Things You Might Not Know about the History of the Conclave

1)      For most of the papacy’s history, popes were elected by the clergy and people of Rome through some form of acclamation. Over time, the role of the laity and the non-cardinal clergy was gradually reduced, but the possibility of the cardinals electing a pontiff through acclamation  was not removed until 1996. To this day, the people’s acclamation of the new pope continues in some form when the new pope presents himself to the crowds in St. Peter’s Square.

2)      The cardinals did not become the principal electors of the pope until 1059, but even then the laity and clergy of Rome retained the right of confirmation.

3)      It was not until 1179, at the Third Lateran Council that a formal voting procedure for the cardinals was put in place, requiring a two-thirds majority.

4)      The first conclave happened in 1271. It was a spontaneous event that occurred against the will of the cardinals. The papacy had been vacant for nearly three years and the people of Viterbo, where the 12 cardinals were gathered, had had enough. They locked the cardinals in the church and forbid them access to the outside world. Finally, the townspeople started restricting the food that entered the church and even took the roof off to expose the cardinals to the elements. Finally, they elected Blessed Gregory X pope. At the Second Council of Lyon in 1274, Gregory promulgated a decree that mandated a conclave for papal elections, modeled directly on what the people of Viterbo had done—it included the provision that after three days the cardinals were to be given only bread and water.

5)      The cardinals can elect any baptized man pope. Pope Gregory X was not even a priest when he was elected in 1271. In a matter of days he was ordained through the minor orders and the priesthood, and was consecrated bishop. He was then made bishop of Rome and pope. Pope Urban VI (1378–1389) was the last pope who was not a cardinal before election. Nevertheless, John Paul II’s 1997 apostolic constitution on papal elections lays out the procedure to be followed if the cardinals elect someone outside the college as well as someone who is not yet a bishop.

6)      In the papal election of 1417, which definitively ended the Western Schism, the conclave included 30 non-cardinal delegates representing the “nations”: France, Germany, Italy, England, and Spain.

7)      There will be 115 cardinal electors in this conclave. Historically, this is a huge number. Indeed, in the conclave of 1261, there were only seven cardinals.

8)      The first conclave held in the Sistine Chapel was that of 1492. This was 16 years before Michelangelo began working on the chapel’s remarkable frescos. In 1492, it had bare walls and ceiling.

9)      Popes have not always changed their names when elected. John II in 533 seems to have been the first to do so, but for the first thousand years of the Church’s history, it was very rare. After 996, almost every pope chose to change his name to that of a previous pope, but not all. Marcellus II, who was elected in 1555, was the last pope who kept his baptismal name. While Pope John Paul I changed his name at his election in 1978, “John Paul” was the first new papal name in over one thousand years.

10)  The Roman emperor had a significant role in the election of popes for the majority of the papacy’s history. This role was normally limited to confirmation of the candidate. Until the eighth century, new popes sent to Constantinople for their election to be confirmed by the emperor of Byzantium. After Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne “Roman Emperor” in the year 800, the right of confirmation shifted to the Franks and what would become the Holy Roman Empire. The involvement of secular governments in papal elections went through many changes, culminating in the so-called “right of exclusion” through which the cardinal representatives of France, Austria, and Spain could “veto” a papal candidate. This was last exercised by Austria in 1903, and Pope Pius X definitively abolished this “right” in 1904, laying down excommunication for any cardinal who might try to evoke it in a conclave.

Pope Benedict XVI and the History of Papal Resignations—Part IV

 . . . continued from Part III

The Schism in the Church was first and foremost a schism in the College of Cardinals, a schism that lined up generally with the sides of the contemporary Hundred Years War between England and France. Once there were two lines of popes established, however, it became very difficult to conceive of a solution. One theory that was advanced was that a council—dominated of course by the cardinals—was in fact the highest authority in the Church. What this meant was that a council could depose both popes and elect a new one. In 1409, during a period of peace in the Hundred Years War, when the belligerent countries had less interest in “winning” the schism, cardinals from both popes defected and met in council in Pisa. They deposed the rival popes and elected a third. Of course, neither the Roman nor the Avignon pope recognized the depositions as valid, and so the Church was left with three popes. This situation was totally unacceptable and whatever support the rival popes could maintain began to erode in favor of the conciliar solution. Gregory XII, the legitimate pope of the Roman line, was not willing to allow the power of the papacy to be completely gutted by a council, and so he agreed that if a council deposed the two anti-popes, he would approve its acts and then resign himself, leaving the council to elect a new pope for the whole Church. This is exactly what happened at the Council of Constance in 1415. Gregory XII resigned and became the Dean of the newly re-united College of Cardinals. The council, however, did not proceed to the election of the next pope, Martin V, until 1417, after Gregory had died. So, the potentially problematic situation of having two popes alive at the same time was avoided.

With the election of Martin V, the papacy entered a new phase in its history. The strength of the Church as an institution had been severely weakened by the schism. Not only had the papacy’s prestige been hurt immensely, but over the course of the conflict, both papal lines had traded away a great deal of their governmental powers to the various princes of Europe. By the time the schism ended, the papacy had a fraction of the institutional power in the Church that it had in the mid-14th century. In fact, it is not too much of a conceptual stretch to start seeing Europe as a collection of national churches, led by their monarchs, yet united in doctrine. The constellation of circumstances that had led to the immense power of the cardinals and to the problems of papal vacancies and ultimately schism had largely faded away, and the papacy began facing a new problem, that of how to retain its independence from powerful monarchs who had near absolute control over the churches in their kingdoms. The solution was for the popes to construct their own church/kingdom in central Italy, which became the major project of the Renaissance papacy.


As we have seen, there have been three periods in which papal resignations have occurred. In each one the resignations were an aspect of the Church’s attempts at dealing with some crisis. In the ancient period, the problem was that of persecution; in the eleventh century it was the problem of corruption and irregular elections; in the High and Late Middle Ages the problem had to do with the power of the cardinals and the interference of increasingly powerful kingdoms in the election of popes, leading to long papal vacancies. In each case, though, the resignations themselves were largely incidental to the solution to the problem at hand. What Benedict XVI is doing is, therefore, novel. Because the Holy Father seems to be suggesting papal resignation itself as the solution to the problem of aged pontiffs in the fast-paced modern world. Benedict is suggesting that the Church requires a pontiff of a certain vigor and that when he is no longer capable of performing at this level, it is appropriate for him to step down. If this is the case and if papal resignations become a viable, even a normal, way for pontificates to come to an end, it will be a development in the papal office of the same magnitude as the eleventh-century constitution of the cardinals as papal electors or the thirteenth-century establishment of the Conclave. For this reason, it is a mistake to view the primary historical interest of Benedict’s resignation to be simply that papal resignations are rare and haven’t happened in a long time. Rather, we are potentially witnessing major development in the papal office. As with so many things in the Catholic Church, only time will tell.

Pope Benedict XVI and the History of Papal Resignations—Part III

. . . continued from Part II

III. The Crisis of the Late Middle Ages—the Resignations of Celestine V and Gregory XII

The High and Late Middle Ages, from about 1140 to about 1378, are sometimes called the period of papal monarchy. During this time, the Roman Church was constructed as a centralized power, headed by the pope, and with a hand in affairs throughout Europe. The pope had universal jurisdiction both in theory and in practice; a vast judicial system was constructed, with the papal curia as the court of last appeal, and with an intricate legal code of statute and procedure, known as canon law, that would become the model for all modern legal systems. Apostolic power was interwoven into the governing systems of local churches and princes, penetrating all aspects of the social life of Europe. Christendom-wide institutions of remarkable scale, like the Crusades and the inquisitions against heresy, relied on apostolic power and were to a certain extent directed by the papacy. All this was built, ultimately, to extend the reform movement throughout Christian society. During this period, the Roman Church became not just the spiritual but the legal and institutional head of Christendom.

A part of this process was the strengthening of the cardinals. The cardinals were crucial for a number of reasons: a) the vast administration of the Church required officials. The pope could not run it himself; b) the pope needed guidance, and the cardinals, drawn from throughout Europe, were his counsel; c) power in the Middle Ages was ultimately always local, and the cardinals were integrated into the families and religious institutions of the regions from which they came, allowing the pope to make his will felt; d) the cardinals elected the pope, who was by the thirteenth century the most powerful man in Europe. For all these reasons, the relative power of the cardinals increased.

At the same time, their importance in the ecclesiology of the Church began to be constructed. Rather than simply being important members of the pope’s household, or important clergy in Rome, the cardinals were increasingly viewed as an integral part of the papacy. We start to see references to them as the pope’s body, as “sharing the secret counsel of the pope” and so sharing in his mind. We see canonists arguing that the cardinals have a sort of pre-legal power, knowing what the pope meant in his actions, of understanding the intentions of the pope at a level that conceptually trumped anything that may or may not have been put into law. Arguments begin to be advanced that when the papal see is vacant, the cardinals as a body held the plenitudo potestatis, the fullness of power.

Now, as the papacy became more powerful and the cardinals more powerful within it, the various princes of Europe became more and more concerned with the makeup of the College and the choice of the next pope. At the same time, there were increasing “national” loyalties among the cardinals—who sometimes acted as if they were representing the interests of their home kingdoms—and so the politics of the College often came to mirror that of the secular kingdoms. One of the consequences of all these developments was extremely long papal vacancies. The institutional coherence of the Church could function for a long time without a head, and the cardinals had a hard time finding candidates they could agree on. Between 1241 and 1316, the Apostolic See was vacant for over thirteen years. The longest vacancy was 38 months, from 1268 through 1269, 1270, and into 1271; but vacancies of ten months, three months, six months, became common. The laity got so desperate for a pope in 1271 that they locked the cardinals in a church, slowly started cutting their rations, and even took the roof off to expose the prelates to the elements—all to force them into a decision. The vacancies were a major pastoral and, indeed, governmental problem. Without a pope, the Church was unable to respond to changing circumstances, and the extensive judicial system slowly ground to a halt. This problem was the context for the election and abdication of Celestine V.

In 1294, the cardinals tried to break the gridlock of a two-year-nine-month vacancy by electing an outsider. They chose Pietro Di Murrone, a famous monk and hermit. Pietro reluctantly agreed and became Celestine V. Celestine was not right for the office. The papacy was an extremely powerful institution, engaged directly in international politics with such powerful personalities as King Philip the Fair of France and King Edward I (Longshanks) of England. He also had to run a massive ecclesiastical structure that was itself full of factions and political difficulties. The holy hermit was neither interested in nor capable of filling this position. The cardinals’ attempt at finding a solution to their problem through the election of a total outsider was a failure, and they began to pressure Celestine to resign, a suggestion that it seems Celestine welcomed. But before the pope abdicated, he did a number of very important things. First, he named a bunch of French cardinals—upsetting the balance of power in the College in favor of France. Second, he reinstated Gregory X’s 1274 decree Ubi Periculum, which was a formalization of the tactics used by the townspeople in 1271 and which established the conclave as the procedure by which popes were elected (it had been revoked quickly after Gregory X’s death). This time the law stuck, and we have had Conclaves ever since. Finally, Celestine stated plainly that a pope could abdicate, a statement that was quickly enshrined in canon law by his successor, Boniface VIII, in the face of opponents who were using Celestine to argue that Boniface was not a valid pope.

Boniface’s situation was tricky. The funeral of the previous pope was an integral part of the whole ritual nexus that surrounded the coronation of a pope. There was a ritual handoff from the body of the deceased pope, to the cardinals, and then to the new pope. They tried to maintain this by using the relics of previous, saintly popes in the place of Boniface’s immediate predecessor. The continued life of Celestine created a space for opposition to the new pope, even though he wanted nothing to do with it. The fear was that he would become a focus of the opposition. Because of this, Celestine was kept in the castle Fumone for the rest of his life (there is no evidence that he was mistreated).

The central problem that Celestine’s election had been an attempt to solve remained, however, and after another deadlocked conclave in 1305, Clement V was elected. Clement was from Southern France and moved the papal court to Avignon in 1309, where it stayed until 1376. During this period the papacy grew very close to the French monarchy, and many of the French cardinals felt a deep loyalty to their kingdom. When the papacy finally moved back to Rome, in the conclave of 1378, an attempt was made to regain the approval of the Romans through the election of an Italian pope, Urban VI. Urban quickly made enemies with a certain French faction of the cardinals. They claimed that his election had never been valid and held another conclave, electing one of their number and moving back to Avignon. This was the start of the Western Schism that would last 40 years and which is the context for the resignation of pope Gregory XII in 1415.

Continue to Part IV…

Pope Benedict XVI and the History of Papal Resignations—Part II

 . . . continued from Part I

II. The Crisis of the Eleventh Century—the Resignations of Benedict IX and Gregory VI

The second period in which we see papal resignations is the mid–eleventh century. In the ninth century, the papacy had separated itself from the then heretical Byzantine empire and had looked north to the Franks, crowning their king, Charlemagne, emperor of the west in 800. But Charlemagne’s empire did not long endure the monarch’s death, and by the year 900 it had virtually no presence in Rome. The papacy, therefore, entered a period of extremely local focus. The office had little jurisdictional or governmental authority outside the city of Rome, and had become an object of petty struggles between Roman aristocratic families. In 1032, one of these families managed to place a boy of about 17 on the papal throne, Pope Benedict IX.

Benedict was not a good pope. By all accounts he was immoral and irresponsible, living a dissolute life (he was, nevertheless, orthodox in all his pronouncements). In 1044, a rival family overthrew Benedict and installed Sylvester III. Benedict’s faction, however, regrouped and re-took the city from Sylvester. There were now two papal claimants. Benedict’s uncle, Gratian, was so distressed by the scandal that he tried to persuade Benedict to step down. Apparently, the only form of persuasion that Benedict responded to was money, and so Gratian “bought” the papacy from him, becoming Pope Gregory VI. A short time later, Benedict decided that this sale had been a mistake and reclaimed his throne.

Now there were three claimants. By this time the power of the Western Empire, headed by Henry III, had re-established itself in the North and was in the process of major secular and ecclesiastical reforms. Outraged by the affairs in Rome, Henry intervened by calling a council. The council declared Benedict IX and Sylvester III deposed, while Gregory VI resigned on account of his simoniacal election. Pope Clement II, a favorite of the emperor, was then elevated to the papacy. But this was not the end of Benedict IX. When Clement II died in 1047, Benedict IX returned to the papal throne for a short time before being driven from Rome by the emperor and replaced with Damasus II. In all this mess, it is impossible to sort out valid resignations and valid elections. But we can certainly say that there were at least two papal resignations—both of which occurred under pressure and toward the end of eliminating corruption.

There were several interconnected problems that the Church was facing. First was the procedure for electing a new pope. The College of Cardinals didn’t exist yet, and the cardinals themselves were simply important members of the Roman clergy. The election of the pope proceeded in a largely ad hoc manner. A candidate was basically acclaimed by the clergy and people of Rome. In reality, of course, this lack of procedure opened the door for the corruption of secular politics to penetrate the whole electoral process. Furthermore, if the clergy and people acclaimed the pope, what happened when two groups of clergy and people acclaimed two different men? If this happened, when there were rivals for the throne, who was the judge? The emperor?

The reforming popes—starting with St. Leo IX (1049–54), who came in on the heels of the scandalous events of the mid–eleventh century—had been brought in from the North, from well outside the Roman milieu, by the German Emperor. They were to clean up Rome, and they set about doing so. But as much as they owed their position to the emperor’s power and agreed with him about ecclesiastical reform, they were extremely uncomfortable with his role in deposing and electing popes. The introduction of a power capable of judging the pope was not the solution to the Church’s problem.

And so, in 1059, Pope Nicholas II issued an edict that established the cardinals of Rome as the papal electors. Their choice still had to be acclaimed by the clergy and people, and confirmed by the emperor, but only a candidate of their choice could become pope. This was rejected by the Germans as prejudicial to the rights of the emperor, and the Germans, attempting to operate according to the old “rules,” tried to depose Nicholas and replace him with another. This ushered a long period of conflict between the emperors and the Roman popes. Seven out of the next ten popes faced anti-popes.

By the 1140s, this conflict ended with the victory of the reform party. Not only did the papacy retain control of itself; it could definitively assert control over the spiritual dimensions of the clergy throughout the Church, including the bishops. This was crucial to extending the reform movement out of Rome and throughout the Church, which became the program for the next 160 years. The resignations that occurred in this period were a part of the process of ending one way of doing things that was no longer congruent with the social reality and replacing it with another. This was a painful experience that resulted in decades of schism and even outright war.

Continue to Part III…

Pope Benedict XVI and the History of Papal Resignations—Part I

Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement that he intends to resign from the Chair of Saint Peter has rightfully sent shock waves through the Church. It is an epochal development. This is so not just because papal resignations are rare, but because this time things are different. We are potentially witnessing a development as significant as the medieval emergence of the cardinals as the sole papal electors. The way pontificates end has never been problematic for the Catholic Church—they have ended with the natural death of the pope. Rather, it has been the election of popes that has been the focus of institutional development. With Benedict’s announcement, however, he seems to be acknowledging that it is necessary for the Church to develop a new “normal” way in which a pontificate might come to an end.

This is a very big deal. It’s not that there haven’t been papal resignations before. In fact, it has happened somewhere between five and nine times in Church history. In each case, however, the resignations have occurred within the context of a greater crisis in the Church, and have involved issues surrounding papal legitimacy and papal succession. Also, in each case, the pope was under great pressure to resign. Things are different with Benedict.

The best way to see these differences is by a detailed look at past resignations. These can easily be fit into three distinct periods in Church history: the Early Church, the eleventh century, and the late Middle Ages. In each period, the resignations occurred in the context of very different crises, but there are certain threads that tie all of them together. This is the first in a series of posts that will go through these three periods, exploring what was happening in the Church that led to the exceedingly rare papal resignations. By the end, we will hopefully be able to place Benedict XVI’s resignation in enough historical context to begin to understand its significance.

I. The Crisis of the Early Church—the Possible Resignation of Martin I

In the first period of resignations, the Church faced the crisis of persecution at the hands of the Roman emperors. We have three popes that are sometimes said to have abdicated between 235 and 366. St. Pontian (230–235) and Liberius (352–366) were both sent into exile by the emperor and may have abdicated the papal throne in order to allow for a new papal election. The evidence that these events happened, however, is extremely weak, and as good a case can be made that the resignations never happened.

It is sometimes asserted, based on thin evidence, that under torture St. Marcellinus (296–304) offered sacrifice to the Roman idols and resigned from his office before he repented and was martyred. While St. Augustine argued that this was not true of Marcellinus, the truth is that the extant evidence is inadequate to piece together the events.

The one clear but odd case is that of St. Martin I (649–655), the last of the martyr popes. St. Martin refused to accept the Byzantine emperor’s Monothelite heresy, and so was sent into exile as a slave laborer. After several years, the Romans elected Eugenius I pope. Sometime later Martin wrote a letter in which he makes reference to Eugenius approvingly. The details are unclear, but it does not seem to be the case that Martin resigned in any sort of formal manner. Rather, he seems to have retroactively acknowledged Eugenius. There is not enough clear evidence to make strong conclusions about this period. Nevertheless, the central problem in play is popes who were incapable of performing their office because of persecution—a problem that would not be ultimately solved until the papacy was no longer subject to the secular power of the emperors.

Continue to Part II…

Walking in the Way of Light

Today’s guest post is by Brandon Rappuhn, a Logos marketing copywriter.

I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.—John 8:12

Juan de Yepes y Álvarez followed Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada barefoot across the fields and hills of Spain. He was 25 years old when he met this pious 52-year-old woman, this incredible woman of God whose spiritual presence and purity won the respect of Catholics and Protestants everywhere between Rome and Portugal. Together they traversed the semi-arid valleys and plains, Teresa guiding Juan with her contemplative, spiritual devotion to Jesus through fasting, prayer, and teaching. Juan was perfectly suited to learn from her—he, too, sought solidarity and spent much time in spiritual reflection with God.

Juan was born in 1542 near Ávila to a poor family. His father died when he was seven, and his older brother died two years later, likely from malnourishment. His mother moved the remainder of his family to Medina, where Juan entered a school for orphans and poor children; later, he worked at a hospital and studied with the Jesuits. He was ordained a priest in 1567, only just before meeting Teresa.

Teresa was also originally from Ávila, where she was born in 1515. She, too, suffered intense grief in her life. Having lost her mother at 14, she spent much of her early life hounded by illness and by persecution from within the Church. When she saw a vision of Jesus himself, in bodily form—visible, yet invisible—she devoted her heart to God for all things, especially for her helplessness in confronting sin.

Together, as they journeyed through Spain reforming religious communes in more charismatic and devout ways, they may have shared the similar tragedies of their lives. Or perhaps they never spoke about their shared sorrows. Perhaps their walk across Spain, talking about their devotion to Jesus, was enough.

The two arrived in Valladolid in 1568. After learning much about her reforms to religious orders and her deep, spiritual insights, Juan decided to subscribe himself to her principles. That year, he founded a new monastery for friars just outside of Valladolid, which became the first among many orders to follow the teachings of the Teresa who saw Jesus. He then changed his name to Juan de la Cruz—John of the Cross.

Teresa of Jesus guided this young man in his spiritual ways into a closer relationship with Jesus. The Catholic Church now celebrates both of these tragic heroes as saints, whom we honor as they celebrate joyfully the triumph of their Savior. And just as a young Juan grew in his relationship with Jesus through Teresa, his spiritual mentor, we look to St. John of the Cross today for spiritual guidance that will lead us to walk together out of the spiritual desert and into Jesus’ light of life.

The Logos 5 Topic Guide

Since the introduction of Logos 4, we’ve been developing an infrastructure for intelligent topical searching that’s now starting to pay off in Logos 5’s powerful, easy-to-use features. The foremost of these is the new Topic Guide.

Open a Topic Guide from the Guides menu and start entering your topic and you’ll notice that Logos gives you suggestions from the Logos Controlled Vocabulary (LCV).

LCV is the backbone of our topical infrastructure and the basis of the Topic Guide, which brings together dictionary and encyclopedia articles, Bible references, synonyms, related concepts, and more. First of all, the Topic Guide uses LCV to resolve synonyms when you enter your topic—if you enter “Simon,” it suggests Peter (or lets you select one of the other Simons from the Bible).

The Topic Guide uses LCV to find articles about your topic, related Bible verses, media, and biblical people, places, things, and events. It also gives you links to other related topics and searches.

The Topic Guide is limited to topics that are contained in the LCV, and you’ll find that you get the best results for topics explicitly mentioned by name in the Bible, but we’re continually working on building LCV—aligning more reference works, adding concepts, and improving and refining the data in other ways—so the results are going to keep improving over time.

In particular, the Catholic content we’ve been able to add to our library in recent years will be leading to improved coverage of both Catholic reference works in the Verbum libraries and topics that are of particular interest to Catholics.

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