My first thought was "is this a joke?", but that notion lasted the better part of 8 seconds. When it finally sank in that His Holiness would, indeed, be exiting the post he has held since succeeding John Paul II in 2005, my mind went reeling. And it hasn't slowed any throughout this day.
I am not Catholic, but I did know that it had been a long... like, a waaaay long time, since a sitting pope had left the Holy See by choice. It turns out that the last time was Pope Gregory XII. That was in 1415.
Nearly six hundred years ago.
Consider the world that was in 1415...
There had actually been two popes: a result of the "Papal Schism". One pope held court in Rome and another in Avignon, France. Gregory XII's resignation as Bishop of Rome was meant to be a "healing gesture". It also signaled an end to much of the papacy's political power.Like I said: "wow".
The Protestant Reformation was one hundred years in the future. It would have to await the birth of Martin Luther in 1483. However in that very year of 1415, Jan Hus had been burned at the stake for having "heretical" beliefs in defiance of papal supremacy. His teachings would soon give rise to the Moravian Church.
The Renaissance was beginning in the city of Florence.
Christopher Columbus was 36 years from being born.
The Hundred Years' War raged between England and France.
Joan of Arc was five years old.
The Roman Empire still existed, albeit a tiny fragment of its former glory.
The Ottoman Turks had begun to concern the powers of Europe. The Ottomans' conquest of Constantinople would come 38 years later. The Ottoman Empire would endure until 1922 following the defeat of the Central Powers in World War I.
China, Siberia and eastern Europe were still fresh from the dominion of the Mongol Empire founded by Genghis Khan. It would be another sixty years before the Rus' of Muscovy would finally win their freedom from the Mongol and Tartar hordes.
The Moorish kingdoms controlled north Africa and much of Spain.
Much of Europe was still recovering from the Black Death.
The Aztecs were at the height of their power in what is today Mexico. The Mayan culture still flourished in the Yucatan Peninsula. The Inca civilization dominated South America.
The average life expectancy throughout the known world was 40 to 45.
And then when one ponders the world then, and all of the history which has transpired between then and now...
Pay close attention, dear readers. Today's announcement is in many ways the most historic event from the religious realm in half a millennium. A voluntary abdication/resignation from the papacy has happened before, but nowhere close to any time in the annals of the chronicled modern era.
I was blogging a lot about the passing of Pope John Paul II in 2005 and the election of his successor. I thought it would be a long time before I'd have to wait to see the white smoke again. But now, it might well happen before the arrival of spring.
Interesting times, folks :-)