Monday, February 8, 2016

The Pope Who Quit

Book: The Pope Who Quit
Author:Jon M Sweeney
Edition:Softbound from the Mountain View Public Library
Read:February 8, 2016
249 (288 including end notes and index) pages
Genre:  History, Biography
Rated: 3 out of 5

The author follows the life of Peter Morrone of becoming a contemplative of some renown. In his 80's he is selected as a compromise person for becoming pope. But whether because of age, desire, or ability, he fails as being pope and quits. Even after quitting, he is viewed as a threat and is taken into prison and dies there.

Note: This book was written before the resignation of Pope Benidict XVI's.

Hermits did not live in homes. They didn't aspire to anything permanent. Is Sweeney right on this? Didn't he get this backward that hermits aspire for the permanency of eternity, not the temporal of the material we see around us?

Notes that many Christians have boring lives. But then something awakens them (Spirit of God). Around the time of St Francis there was an outbreak of mystical experiences among the common folks.   The lesson I take from this is that we are called not to seek after the extraordinary, but to be true to our Lord. He will send his Spirit to us as needed.

The Bizarre Papal Election of 1292–94
Methods of reasoning was taking over. Knowledge came from the Muslims/Arabians on how things were. Emphasis from authority to hypothesis, research and evidence.  Which is better? In my mind, it is better to have both-inspiration backed by reasoning.

A Most Unlikely Decision
there was an understanding that time was connected to destiny. This was the statement introducing that a letter which Peter Morrone sent to the Cardinals arrived at a divinely appointed time.  As I am reading the book, I think that the Cardinals were almost all oriented around power. But this letter seemed to them a divine entry. Were these men all about power? Or were they people who thought the power was the way to achieve God's goals on this earth?

They Came to Take Him Away
 Hypothesis: the more a man was able to live every moment of earthly existence as a gift from the Creator, the higher the spiritual state he would achieve. Is this true? What does Sweeney mean by live? If he means activity, I think the statement is false. If he means that each moment is moving the person a step closer to God, then yes. But what does that look like? Feeding the poor or the contemplation effort of Peter Morrone?

The Hundred-Meter Fast
Morrone sought the mountains to both be alone but to also be close to God. Sweeney  indicates that at least the thought in those days was that the higher you got, the closer you are to God. I will admit, when I go to the mountains, I feel closer to Him. But having said that, I think it is there I can contemplate the beauty God has put in there for us. For others it might be the beach, or a sunset or the flight of a bird.

I do not know what Sweeney means by saying that a hermit takes his own suffering into his own hands. Does he mean that the hermit seeks out suffering, or that he has the capacity to understand that his suffering draws him closer to God.

Riding on an Ass
Best line in the book: Every pope before him had died in office. That's what popes do.

The World is Falling Apart
 Sweeney notes that Celestine V was the latest and for many the last hope of those who believed that a man could wield both political and spiritual power, ... Isn't this the hope of most evangelical America? To find a righteous person who can weld the power of the political process? But from what we learned in this book, that may not be possible. To be spiritual says we will not indulge in the shenanigans of the muck of politics. We will love, not despise our enemies. Politics does not allow for that which appears to be weak. Sort of makes politics hopeless for us. Maybe on a local level where a persons reflective goodness can show.

It is noted that until the 14th century the rulers felt a burden to rule under the Church's moral authority. This did involve, to some extent, being involved in the welfare of the people. Isn't this one measure of a good ruler? After that the era of cynicism began. Maybe that is how come we cannot have a united spiritual and political ruler.

Is Saint Enough?
This was the work of Peter Morrone's entire life: to keep praying despite whatever happened... to abdicate as evidence that he understood his most important calling of all--to be a contemplative. Is this really his entire calling? Sort of reminds of the modern phrase of being so holy that you are of no earthly good. Also it sort of makes you wonder if this statement is true, what good is a pope who thinks that he is the primary attraction of the Church, not Christ.

A. N. Wilson is quoted in the New Yorker magazine as saying:  I bend my knee to the unwilling holy man who knew there was no meeting place between the pursuit of power and the worship of God. At least to know the limits of each one of these.

As a history, Sweeney does a good job of laying things out about who Peter Morrone was. As a story, he lacks a necessary rhythm to keep the reader excited about the biography. There are places which Sweeney throws in some points which I do not think he supports particularly well.

But the conclusions he draws should be well taken. You have a contemplative person selected to be pope, who tries to infuse his spirituality into the politics of the 13th century Roman Catholic Church and gets chewed up and spit out.  As such, you wonder, can you really join together the spiritual with the political? Isn't this where American politics and religion have can astray?  Just for this insight, it is a book worth reading.

Notes from my book group:

What pictures does the book evoke on who Peter Morrone was before becoming Pope Celestine V? Where does Sweeney draw his facts from?

Do you see any reasons to trust a hagiographical account of a life? What do you think of the Italian saying quoted by Sweeney on page 72 that translates as: “A lie well told is worth more than a stupid fact”?

Sweeney has in his first chapter that Hermits did not live in homes. They didn't aspire to anything permanent. Is he right? Is that what it means to be spiritual?

The outbreak of new ways of knowledge was just starting at this time. How did the starting of emphasis on reason with hypothesis, research and evidence as the basis cause a change in how power is obtained? If you were the leaders of that day, what effect would that have on you?

Starting chapter five, it is stated, the more a man was able to live every moment of earthly existence as a gift from the Creator, the higher the spiritual state he would achieve.Is this true in what ways? How does this get worked out? Did this show up in the book?

Peter Damian's disciplines served as an inspiration to Peter Morrone. Much of this seems foreign to us in our day and age, unless you remember the Albino in the Dan Brown novel. How does discipline contribute ti spirituality? Are there limits? Did Peter Morrone exceed those limits?

Also in THE HUNDRED-METER FAST, Sweeney talks about how a hermit will take(s) his suffering into his own hands. How do you parse this statement? Does causing your own suffering bring you closer to God?  How does this fit into fasting? Or Nietzsche suggestion that saints and martyrs attempt to dominate the rest of us with these ways of being “holy.”

Contrast how Sweeney describes how popes were in Peter Morrone's day with our current day popes?  How much politics do you think goes into making a pope today? To make him successful? Is this true of other spiritual leaders? What part does cynicism play in today's leaders or at least in how we view the?

Sweeney in his summary chapter notes that Peter Morrone was a great spiritual man who did not operate in the political and power structures of his day. How do you think a spiritual man would operate as President today? (I am thinking of Jimmy Carter, Harold Hughes, and Ben Carson)

What do you think of Sweeney’s concluding thought, that Peter Morrone/Celestine V was a quitter, yes, but that by quitting he also showed himself to be enlightened?

Penguin-Random House Reader Guide
1. Part I — When the Unexpected Happened

The opening paragraphs of this chapter begin to tell you something about who Peter Morrone was. Can you picture him? Have you known a strong, religious person in your life? Do you have positive or negative associations with such people?


How would you describe the typical medieval pope? Is he someone that you would want as your priest or spiritual leader? Was it a sign of his virtue, rather than his weakness, that Peter Morrone was ill-fit for the late medieval papacy? This is a theme that we will return to many times in The Pope Who Quit.


How do you imagine the room in which a papal conclave is held? Who are the characters in that room? Can you imagine the various motivations that the cardinals held in that room in July of 1294 – some good, some not?

Much of the power of the medieval papacy came as a result of one of the most famous (and successful) forgeries in history known as the Donation of Constantine. See page 56. This forgery claimed that the fourth century emperor Constantine donated a great swath of imperial land to the office of the papacy, then held by Pope Sylvester I. The early humanist scholar, Lorenzo Valla, began to expose this forgery in the 1440s. A popular twelfth century legal textbook (known as Gratian’s Decretum) explained what was believed up until that time: “The Emperor Constantine yielded his crown and all his royal prerogatives in the city of Rome, and in Italy, and in western parts to the Apostolic See…. On the fourth day after his baptism Constantine conferred this privilege on the pontiff of the Roman Church, so that in the whole Roman world priests would regard him as their head, as judges do their king.” [See Lorenzo Valla, Discourse on the Forgery of the Alleged Donation of Constantine, for the text of his exposure of the forgery, in both Latin and an old English translation, at]


Where was Peter when the news of the election was brought to his doorstep? See page 66. The Roman poet Petrarch says that Peter actually turned and ran, attempting to flee. Should he have?

6. Part II — Peter of Morrone, 1209–93


Sweeney begins Part II of his book by briefly explaining the use of hagiography in telling a story such as that of Peter Morrone. Do you see any reasons to trust a hagiographical account of a life? Have you read any such accounts of religious figures in the past? What do you think of the Italian saying quoted by Sweeney on page 72 that translates as: “A lie well told is worth more than a stupid fact”?


What do you think of Peter’s family background and how it may have affected his professional course in life? How do you see him as compared to other prominent religious figures, including previous popes, of his own century? How has your own family “determined” your future – for good or ill?


Peter Damian’s writings and reputation had a profound influence on Peter Morrone’s life and thought. Sweeney describes Damian as a zealot, a pessimist, and a reformer. By this point in The Pope Who Quit, do you see Peter Morrone that way, too? Or not?

We return to the theme of asceticism. Ascetic acts were ever-present in Peter’s life. It was the nineteenth century philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, son of a Lutheran minister, who first called asceticism a religious person’s way of gaining power over. Nietzsche suggested that saints and martyrs attempt to dominate the rest of us with these ways of being “holy.” He saw an insidious “will to power” in fastings and other physical denials. He called it a “striving for distinction,” nothing other than a way of trying to dominate. What do you think?


This chapter sees Peter Morrone living among the men of power of his era. How do you think those men regarded the hermit? How might Peter have regarded them?

11. Part III — Turbulent Times


Do you see more or less “obsession” with salvation today, as compared to Peter’s era?


See pages 141-146. How did the image of Saint Francis of Assisi impact the world of the thirteenth century? Prophecies of Joachim of Fiore foretold a century before Francis were believed to have been fulfilled by him. Poets writing in the century after Francis wrote about how he was a “new Christ.” There were more followers of Francis in the first half century of his movement than had joined any other monastic movement previously. How was Francis different from other religious figures who’d come before him? Was Peter Morrone at all like Francis?


Fathers and sons. The history of the world could probably be told through the lens of sons sometimes modeling and sometimes rebelling against, their fathers. How would you describe Charles I? And how about his son?


Do you see any similarities between Pope Celestine V and any of the popes who have lived and ruled during your lifetime? Is it conceivable that a pope would make some of the same mistakes that Celestine made, today?


In Sweeney’s telling, the papal curia, Castle Nuovo, and the College of Cardinals all become like “characters” in the story, each influencing the “angelic” Pope Celestine. How did they each impact him – for good or ill?

16. Part IV — The Passion and the Pity, 1294–96


One of the enduring questions from the life of Peter Morrone/Celestine V is this: Was he guileless and saintly, or was he something else? In the final chapter, Sweeney concludes by weighing in on this topic. But at this point, what do you think?


There have been many stories in history of a religious figure running for his life. One thinks, for example, of the 14th Dalia Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, fleeing the Chinese communists across the Himalayan mountains from Tibet to India in 1959. A more ancient example might be Celestine’s spiritual model, Jesus Christ, who of course lost his life and never tried to flee. What do you think of Celestine’s running from Naples?


Did Cardinal Gaetani have Celestine V murdered? What do you think? What evidence is missing that would allow a legal case to be made?


The undercurrent of this chapter is also an undercurrent that marks different religions and spiritual teachers from one another. That is, is this the only world or is there another to come? And then, are there ways to be faithful to God that have nothing to do with living in this world? How would you describe Peter Morrone’s beliefs on these topics – based on his actions?


What do you think of Sweeney’s concluding thought, that Peter Morrone/Celestine V was a quitter, yes, but that by quitting he also showed himself to be enlightened?

New Words:
  • hagiography: the writing of the lives of saints.
  •  eremitic: A recluse or hermit, especially a religious recluse.
Book References:
  • Many of them-see the notes at the end of the book

Good Quotes:
  • First Line:Toward the close of the Middle Ages, in 1285, there lived three men whose lives would intersect and forever change history.
  • Last Line: And for that single act, he showed himself to be enlightened, not naive.
Table of Contents:
  • Time Line of Events
  • Prologue
  • Introduction
  • Part I: When the Unexpected Happened
    • A Letter that Changed Just About Everything
    • The Bizarre Papal Election of 1292–94
    • A Most Unlikely Decision
    • Spreading the News
    • They Came to Take Him Away
  • Part II: Peter of Morrone, 1209–93
    • Now I Will Tell You of My Life
    • I Became a Man When I Became a Monk
    • A Hermit Loves His Cave
    • The Hundred-Meter Fast
    • Walking to Lyon
  • Part III: Turbulent Times
    • Obsessed with Salvation
    • Riding on an Ass
    • The Colorful Kings of Naples and Sicily
    • Fifteen Disastrous Weeks
    • Awkwardness in Robes
  • Part IV: The Passion and the Pity, 1294–96
    • I, Peter Celestine, Am Going Away
    • The New Advent of Friar Peter
    • Murdered by a Pope
    • The World is Falling Apart
    • Is Saint Enough?
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Prayer Journal

Book: A Prayer Journal
Author:Flannery O'Connor
Edition:Hardback from the Mountain View Public Library
Read:February 3, 2016
40 (96 including photo's of journal) pages
Genre:   Biography, Christianity
Rated: 4 1/2  out of 5

This is Flannery O'Connor's prayer journal from her early 20's.  Most of the time when you read something like this, the words written is only a prelude of what is to come. But here, O'Connor shows the depth of her thinking combined with the budding eloquence of her style and the yearning to be a better Christian for her God.

Undated Entries:
You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth's shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon.

 I do not know You God because I am in the way. So true, so wise. I do get in the way of your glory. Fortunately your glory is larger and brighter than I am dark.

My attention is always very fugitive. So many distractions, so much to have my mind wander. O'Connor describes me well here, I just wish my soul at 62 could be as deep as hers was at 20. Of course,  that does mean I would have to want and yearn for that instead of the weak wish.

You say, dear God, to ask for grace and it will be given. I ask for it. I realize that there is more to it than that--that I have to behave like I want it. O'Connor calls into question, do I really want to have grace cover me? Do I seek it? Or do I give it lipservice. Too often it is the later.

Please let Christian principles permeate my writings and please let there be enough of my writing (published) for Christian principles to permeate. This gets to the heart of being a Christian in our world. Am I enough of a Christian so that Christ is in me and throughout me? Do I show enough of Christ to have people see how God acts in this world?

Hell seems a great deal more feasible to my weak mind than heaven. No doubt because hell is a more earthly seeming thing.  Or because we see more signs of hell in our world than heaven.

Contrition in me is largely imperfect. I don't know if I've ever been sorry for a sin because it hurt you. I understand this because it is me. How can I love but repeat sin so much?

She says that she is reading Kafka and feels his problem with grace. What is this problem. Note to Gary-need to read about this. Sounds interesting. Apparently Kafka makes  grace sounds hard to obtain. It is O'Connor's pray that this not be so.

O'Connor, who is in grad school at this time, notes that it is easy to fall for the educated version of religion as being ridiculous.  But she does not. She builds a wall and tries to fathom what the reasons are for misery, for her lack of hope, not the easy answer of just let religion go away and then you do not have this problem.

I would like to be intelligently holy. So much better than being butt-stupid right. O'Connor looks  to sanctify her mind to be His, but not to do it via a lobotomy. That is how Christianity has done it traditionally until the last century. May we recover the intelligence to figure out what is good and holy and truthful from that which is passing and false.

One of the falsities of intelligence is the need to prove how intelligent you are. O'Connor understands this when she notes that she says things to put others down to show how clever she is. She also understands this cheapens herself. This is a note for me, do not raise myself by lowering others.

Who is Bernanos? Catholic author. O'Connor's comment is that his works are so wonderful.

The term mediocrity gets brought up several times. She is concerned that she will be content with only doing an OK job on her books. But she resolves to be old and beaten down before accepting it. But she also recognizes that she will not be a fine writer, but it is a gift from God. Like O'Connor uses a typewriter, God is using her. Mediocrity is what short changes that gift.

Denting submission denies God.  There is hope in Hell. You take it away, you take away sin, there is nothing to turn us to God. [Gary's words]: Sin leads us to despair and misery which in turn are the scourges driving us to Him. This is where the psychology of her day takes away hope by saying this is all we have is what we are. We are a mass of our own twisted vices

About half of the thoughts and quotes I had are gone from this blog. I will need to re-enter them again..

How could a young 20 something be so wise, so elegant in her writings? And these are not her polished writings she would later bring to the world, but a personal journal she was writing for herself. Not only that, but this is just a short book, about 40 pages of sparse writing,  but packed with personal searching. All which I can say is Read, Reflect, Reveal. Act..


New Words:
  • puerile: childishly silly and trivial
Good Quotes:
  • First Line: ...effort at artistry in this rather than thinking of You and feeling inspired with the love I wish I had.
  • Last Line: There is nothing left to say of me.
  •  I do not know You God because I am in the way. Undated Entries
  • My attention is always very fugitive.  Undated Entries
  •  You say, dear God, to ask for grace and it will be given. I ask for it. I realize that there is more to it than that--that I have to behave like I want it.   Undated Entries
  • I don't want to fear to be out, I want to love to be in.    Undated Entries
  • Give me the grace to be impatient for the time when I shall see You face to face and need no stimulus than that to adore You.     Undated Entries
  • Give me the grace, dear God, to see the bareness and the misery of the places where You are not adored but desecrated.    Undated Entries
  •  Every virtue must be vigorous. Virtue must be the only vigorous thing in our lives.  11/6/??
  • Sin is large and stale. You can never finish eating it nor ever digest it. It has to be vomiteed. 11/6/??