By Jon M. Sweeney
Image Books, 2012
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.
Excerpt: As news of Peter Morrone’s election spread across Italy, the responses were shock and surprise. Peter didn’t at all fit the profile of a holy pontiff. For one, he was an almost complete outsider. He wasn’t the son or nephew of a previous pope, or a member of the Roman curia. He was not known as a man of intellect or scholarship – or one of Plato’s “philosopher kings.” He was no Gregory the Great, known for his erudition and the Commentary on Job he wrote while he was a monk, long before he was elected (in 590 CE). Peter also wasn’t known for drama or, particularly, passion.
Peter Morrone was an adept organizer and leader, but one of whom few other men of importance had heard from in years. Among the hierarchy of the Church he had a reputation for being simpleminded. Few of the contemporaries would have ever imagined he would become pope. Every man of religious influence knew, or was soon to learn, that Peer had recently retired to a hermitage high in the mountains, dissociating himself from the daily routine of running a religious order that had preoccupied the middle part of his life.
Q&A with Jon Sweeney from Patheos Book Club – “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.”
Review by Michael Walsh, National Catholic Reporter – Sweeney spends a good many of his 250 pages describing the spiritual milieu in which Celestine was formed. He emphasizes Morrone’s holiness and love of solitude. Sweeney’s conclusion necessarily follows: Celestine left the papal office because he judged he could not fulfill it.
Review by Kirkus Reviews – Paraclete Press associate publisher Sweeney provides extensive background information about topics ranging from contemporary poisons to the Sicilian Vespers. He demonstrates his enthusiasm for medieval history, but the information often only has tangential relevance to the life of his subject.