• Celestine V

I’m impressed by Pope Benedict XVI. He’s retiring. No pope has done that since Gregory XII resigned in 1415 to help resolve the Great Western Schism; and before Gregory XII there was only Celestine V, who gave up the papacy in 1294. For his troubles Celestine V was imprisoned by his successor and dismissed as a coward by Dante in The Divine Comedy.

A brief but informative Tribune article that gives this history the once-over notes that nearly four years ago, Pope Benedict visited Celestine’s tomb and left a garment there. It was an odd gesture no one knew what to make of. What it suggested—that Benedict had in mind emulating Celestine—was up until Monday unimaginable.

Retirement is an excruciating decision, even when it means giving up a position vastly less lofty and powerful than pope. I’m reminded of the Beyond the Fringe monologue from the early 1960s when Peter Cook, speaking as a lifelong coal miner who’d scored 75 per cent on his trade’s one-question-long qualifying exam (“Who are you?”), weighed the relative advantages of the judging line of work.