Peter Morrone (1215 – 1296), the Pope who quit, is better known as Pope Celestine V. The book by Jon Sweeney presents us with three powerful men. All skilled and stubborn. We discover how Peter Morrone’s life became entangled with Charles II of Anjou, the King of Naples. The other of course, was Cardinal Benedict Gaetani. He was responsible for Peter’s election, became his advisor, and finally his successor.
The 13th century is characterized by creative intensity to the point of explosion. Gun powder and land mines are first used in war, universities host political debates, and there is a shift from accepting blindfolded authority’s knowledge to self-discovery and research. It leads to town formations, workers’ guilds, and of course, to questions about religion.
Peter Morrone became Pope in the Catholic Church’s last non-conclave papal election. “Quasi ex inspiratione.” You may recognize this from the book “Angels & Demons” by Dan Brown. This method was ended in 1996 by Pope John Paul II. However, he left a door open for Conclave to vote “for one even outside the College of Cardinals.”
A hermit and a monk, Peter believed that to have a better understanding of God you need to live in poverty. He left what he had and lived in mountain caves. Sweeney describes in detail how Morrone finally gets to the Vatican. As soon as he is there Morrone distanced himself from all duties planning an abdication. He became so disenchanted that he signed blank papal bulls. Those in power felt the unrest and uncertainty taking hold.
Read how Gaetani takes power and has Morrone arrested. Morrone, who had a stellar reputation before becoming Pope, regains his popularity when he’s incarcerated by Gaetani. He died in 1296. There were no signs of murder on his body if we can believe the notes from that period. Gaetani and Morrone. One remembered as the man appalled by being a Pope and the other as the man forever suspected of being instrumental in another Pope’s death.
Peter Morrone reigned for five months from 5 July to 13 December 1294. His was not the shortest reign. Pope Urban VII (1521 – 1590) reigned for 13 days. The longest shortest papal reign is from Albino Luciani. He reigned for 33 days as Pope John Paul I. The way this pope died has left us with many questions as well.
Sweeney’s book is rich in history and details so it is highly recommended for history lovers.