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The Pope Who Quit: A True Medieval Tale of Mystery, Death, and Salvation [Kindle Edition]

Jon M. Sweeney
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The riveting story of Pope St. Celestine V, the pope who retired from the papacy.

At the close of the tumultuous Middle Ages, there lived a man who seemed destined from birth to save the world. His name was Peter Morrone, a hermit, a founder of a religious order, and, depending on whom you talk to, a reformer, an instigator, a prophet, a coward, a saint, and possibly the victim of murder. A stroke of fate would, practically overnight, transform this humble servant of God into the most powerful man in the Catholic Church. Half a year later, he would be the only pope in history to abdicate the chair of St. Peter, an act that nearly brought the papacy to its knees. What led him to make that decision and what happened afterward would be shrouded in mystery for centuries. The Pope Who Quit pulls back the veil of secrecy on this dramatic time in history and showcases a story that involves deadly dealings, apocalyptic maneuverings, and papal intrigue.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews Review

Q&A with Author Jon M. Sweeney
Most people believe that popes serve until death-- like the modern popes. Why do you think this story of Pope Celestine V has been somewhat hidden in modern times?
Well, it has been hidden and then not-so-hidden. I mean, there have been novels and plays about a pope who quits. Morris West’s The Clowns of God in 1981 spent twenty-two weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list in hardcover. Clearly, these stories are inspired by Celestine V – since he’s the only one who ever did. But, yes, people today don’t tend to realize what it meant to be pope in the Middle Ages.

What did it mean to be pope, then?
It was quite a different job back then. In fact, it wasn’t a job. It was a divine calling. To quit as pope in 1294, as Celestine V did, was at least shocking, and then treasonous and blasphemous to many. The pope was not simply a spiritual leader. That is a modern idea.

Who was this man who became Pope Celestine V? Where did he come from?
Peter Morrone, a hermit who lived in the mountains. He was in his eighties. He was a simple, simple man, who never desired or dreamed that he might be asked to be pope.

How did you conduct the research for this book?
I first encountered the name of Peter Morrone years ago while writing a book about Francis and Clare of Assisi. I wanted to come back to him again someday. So I was delighted by the opportunity to do that.

I spent two years writing The Pope Who Quit. I traveled to Rome and Naples and many places in between to see the sites for myself. And I spent thousands of hours in the library at Dartmouth College.

Do you think we’ll ever know what truly happened to Pope Celestine V?
No. We know so little for sure about the people of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. For instance, scholars are still debating whether or not Geoffrey Chaucer -- author of The Canterbury Tales -- ever existed.

Pope Benedict XVI has confirmed that he would not hesitate to relinquish his post if he no longer felt “physically, psychologically and spiritually” up to the job. How do you think that would impact the Church?
Yes, isn’t that amazing!? He said that in a book of interviews published in late 2010. I think that that book embarrassed a lot of the members of the papal curia. They did not like their Pope talking like a Celestine V!

If he were to ever step down, I think it would seriously rock the Church, just as Celestine V’s abdication did long ago. But, that said, it could happen.

Some thought that Pope John Paul II should have stepped down, too, when he was ill. Do you agree?
I don’t know, perhaps so. He certainly was no longer the administrative leader of the Church toward the end of his life. We know that for certain. Neither was Celestine V – and that is primarily why he stepped down.

The difference between the two is that in the television age a pope can lead by spiritual example, on television, inspiring the faithful. In the late thirteenth century, a pope could not lead in that way. A pope had to be strong – or else.


“I’m not embarrassed to say that I knew very little about the remarkable story of Peter Morrone, the monk turned pope. But I’m delighted to say that the tale, as exciting and compelling as any novel or film, is beautifully told by Jon Sweeney. This long-forgotten saga is rightly restored to its place as one of the most unusual episodes in the entire history of the church.”—James Martin, S.J., author of Between Heaven and Mirth

"I have read several of Jon Sweeney’s books, always with pleasure. He is a conscientious researcher, and a fine storyteller, with a wonderful gift for creating a sense of place and time. This time he tells the story of Celestine V, a hermit who was elected pope, then abdicated five months later. In The Pope Who Quit, Sweeney gives us a vivid snapshot of a tumultuous period in the history of the Catholic Church and Western Europe." —Thomas J. Craughwell, author of Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics

“Jon M. Sweeney’s loving portrait of Celestine V is that rare work of history that also feeds the soul. Anyone interested in the collision of hope, despair, and faith will come away nourished.” —John L. Allen Jr., author of A People of Hope

Product Details

  • File Size: 1180 KB
  • Print Length: 306 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B009I8MTKE
  • Publisher: Image; Original edition (February 14, 2012)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00564GNZQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #216,947 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pope Who Quits Does Not Disappoint February 19, 2012
The medieval times of 13th century Christendom present a world so different from our own, jam-packed with unique and intriguing characters whose stories are so little known, yet so well worth knowing. I'd recently written a biography of a man from that time called "great" in his own day, Albert the Great, a man who was placed in the heaven of Dante's Divine Comedy, yet who was not canonized a saint until six-and-a-half centuries years after his death. That's why my interest was piqued by the story of a man of St. Albert's time who was known as a quitter, whom Dante placed outside the gates of the Inferno, he "who through cowardice made the great refusal," and yet, who would be canonized a saint a mere seven years after his death.

But there too was greatness in this man, Peter Morrone, who would become Pope St. Celestine V, "the pope who quit," and Jon Sweeney does a remarkable job of bringing him to life for us today. In The Pope Who Quit, Sweeney vividly recreates that intriguing world of 13th century Europe and the remarkable manner in which a powerful cardinal and a king brought down to the chair of St. Peter a holy hermit living atop a mountain east of Rome. This book is full of intrigue, the planning and machinations of the likes of Cardinal Benedict Geatani (who would succeed Celestine as Pope Boniface VIII) and King Charles II (nephew of St. Louis IX, King of France) who would house this unlikely spiritual and temporal leader, not upon Peter's chair in Rome, but within his own castle at Naples.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fasinating March 13, 2013
By Pb
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I found this book fascinating. The topic could have been how political power is used in the name of GOD. Still happening today. The author has included so many details about so many people I did find myself lost on occasion but my ability to keep pace or not did not take away from my enjoyment of the book. This pope was certainly both simple (as in humble) and complex.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Learn about how Catholic church worked December 13, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Good history of the inner working of the old Catholic church in the early days. It provided me with an interesting history.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By Lazarus
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is not concerned with the argument that there was more than one pope who quit the papacy--validly elected or not--that is an issue for another book. But if you want to know about the culture, times, church politics of this pope's time--this is a wonderful book. It paints a vivid portrait of Celestine and the forces within and without the Church that led to his resignation. Well written and erudite, this work will expand your knowledge of this particular episode within the history of a Europe that was well on its way towards the forces that would lead to the Reformation and the rise of the nation-state.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pope Celestine Fades into the Background July 11, 2012
While the book is suppose to follow the life, reign, and death of Pope Celestine V, Jon M. Sweeney tends to use Peter Morrone's (Celestine's) life as the time frame to examine the Catholic Church and Papacy. Because of the time period (the 13th century) there is very little information on Peter's life and reign as Pope outside of Church documents. As a result, Sweeney tends to uses phrases like "Peter might have said/done this..." or "We can assume Peter may have..."

While such historical inconsistencies could be overlooked in the context of an exciting story, Sweeney spends most of the book explaining the going-ons of the Church and the various Cardinals, Priests, Popes, and famous Theologists during Peter's lifetime. Unless you are knowledgeable about the Catholic Church during the High Middle Ages, all of these names and background information simply get in the way of why the reader purchased the book: to learn the dramatic tale of Celestine V.

Ultimately if you are hoping to get an interesting, dark Medieval story about the hermit turned murdered Pope, you will be disappointed to find a book that summarizes the political climate of the Medieval Catholic Church. It will be interesting for those interested in Church history, but for the reader wanting what the book advertises, "the tale [of Peter Morrone], as exciting and compelling as any novel or film," you will be disappointed to find that Celestine rarely shows up in his own story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth Your Time May 6, 2013
By Momom2
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I really liked this book. My book club decided to read this months before Pope Benedict announced he was quitting, and we read it only about a month after the shocking announcement. This book help put the election of the new Pope, Pope Francis, in context. I also found it interesting to read about the history of the Catholic Church, including the scandals and corruption.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening March 25, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I Learned a lot' my Catholic upbringing taught me very little about the history of the popes. Makes me want to read more on this topic. Very timely with current events in Rome.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This review is for the unabridged audio version, read ably by the author. I didn't know much about the first "pope who quit" and this book was a comprehensive review of the life of Peter Morrone. If you are interested in the early popes this is worth a listen. Although it was published before Benedict retired, the last chapters do discuss some of the possible motives for his (at the time) potential retirement.

The book also provides a solid account of the life and politic surrounding the childhood and adulthood of Peter Morrone. I was able to visualize the context of his life, which is helpful in understanding the man.

Worth reading (or listening to!) for the history of the Italy of the day and the papal history as well. The author does a great job of connecting current events to the events of long ago. Recommended.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing!
This book is poorly written. I've never encountered a text on a topic that seems to dance around its focus the way this author does. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Dr. John Switzer
3.0 out of 5 stars Church history and intrigue
I was interested because of the resignation of the last pope. It is interesting and informative....not exciting...but informative.
Published 5 months ago by elston
4.0 out of 5 stars Hostory
The book began extremely slowly, for by my own mistake I had thought I would be reading a fictional story or imaginative tale based on historical facts. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Zechariah
5.0 out of 5 stars Good overview of a period in Italian and Church history ...
Good overview of a period in Italian and Church history pulling the diffeent threads together in the life of one man.
Published 6 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars fairly interesting
Portions that speculated on the lifestyle of the hermit turned pope are interesting, and the path he took to become a pope had some merit, but then the book bogged down in all the... Read more
Published 10 months ago by jhw
3.0 out of 5 stars Rough balance between the man and his era.
Having read both Kevin Vost's (laudatory) and Miss_Kitty89's reviews (critical), I would say the truth of the book lies with both. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Pete Bogg
1.0 out of 5 stars not for me !
This book sucked, I read it all the way, but it was not for me ,but that my opinion. The end 1
Published 11 months ago by Mary Victoria Harker Hardy
3.0 out of 5 stars Too Few Facts
This was a fairly interesting book with the problem being that for the vast majority of his life there is almost nothing written about the subject of this book. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Ricardus Tercius
4.0 out of 5 stars Believe it or Not
The idea of a pope resigning is so unusual and yet was true and I wanted to know more about the event.
Published 13 months ago by Dorothy Kurlander
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read!
Read this book if you want to know more about some secrets that the Catholic Church has been hiding, and the historic political machinery involved in electing a pope. Read more
Published 19 months ago by H. Temple
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More About the Author

Jon M. Sweeney is an independent scholar and writer of popular history. He is married, the father of three children, and lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He writes and reflects on religion, history, and culture in books, articles, reviews, and various other media. Jon was the cofounder and editor-in-chief of SkyLight Paths Publishing in Vermont for many years. Since 2004 he has been the editor in chief and publisher at Paraclete Press in Massachusetts.

He has written more than 20 books, seven of which are about Francis of Assisi, including the new "When Saint Francis Saved the Church." HBO has optioned the film rights to "The Pope Who Quit."

In early 2013, as the author of "The Pope Who Quit," Jon was interviewed on CBS News in Chicago, WGN-TV, Fox News, and WTTW's Chicago Tonight. He also appeared on CBS Sunday Morning to talk about St. Patrick on March 17, 2013.

Jon's spiritual and religious life continues to evolve, and much of his writing is about this. His first 20 years were spent as an involved evangelical (a story told in the memoir Born Again and Again); he then spent 22 years as an active Episcopalian (see Almost Catholic, among others); and on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi in 2009 he was received into the Catholic Church. Today, Jon is a Catholic but his most regular spiritual practice is Jewish, as he prays regularly with his wife, a rabbi.

Sweeney says that he loves the church, the synagogue, and other aspects of organized religion. (He never claims to be "spiritual but not religious"). In all of his writing, Jon is drawn to the ancient and medieval (see "The Road to Assisi," and "Inventing Hell"). Many of Jon's books have been selections of History Book Club, Book-of-the-Month Club, and Quality Paperback Book Club.

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