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sistine_smoke

So, Pope Benedict XVI is resigning. The last Pope to do so was Gregory XII in 1415, but his resignation was more of an abdication than a voluntary retirement. The Church was in the midst of the Western Schism. There were three claimants to the papacy and, in the end, Gregory XII resigned under pressure and made possible the election of Martin V two years later.

One must travel back nearly 750 years to find the last time that a pope voluntarily resigned. Pope Celestine V resigned his post in 1294, after filling the See of Peter for a mere five months. Interestingly, one of his most notable contributions during his tenure was declaring that any pope had the right to resign or retire. He then utilized that very declaration to leave his position and return to his pre-papacy life of solitude.

Now, for the second time in a decade, the College of Cardinals will convene to vote on the next man to step into apostolic succession. Beginning in March, the world will turn its collective eye to Saint Peter’s Square and watch until the smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel changes from dark to white, signaling the election of the next pope.
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