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The Pope Who Quit: A True Medieval Tale of Mystery, Death, and Salvation Paperback – February 14, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Image; Original edition (February 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385531893
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385531894
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #371,357 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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.

Review

“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, SJ, author of Between Heaven and Mirth

“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

"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

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.

Customer Reviews

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the history of the papacy.
Catarina
An humble man remarkable for his strong religious faith and love for the Church as it should be, he set an example that ought to be admired and emulated today.
John D. Cofield
Also, the author's sympathy for, and admiration of, his subject seem to have very much colored his appraisal.
Matthew Baumgartner

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Kevin G. Vost on February 19, 2012
Format: Paperback
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 By Pb on March 13, 2013
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 By Joseph P. Lomonaco on 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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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 By Miss_Kitty89 on July 11, 2012
Format: Paperback
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 By Momom2 on May 6, 2013
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 By Delores P. McHalpine on 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 By Amy Nicolai on April 27, 2014
Format: Paperback
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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