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Reading Guide for "The Pope Who Quit"
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The Pope Who Quit
A Medieval Tale of Mystery, Death, and Salvation
By Jon M. Sweeney
READING GROUP GUIDE
In his Prologue, Sweeney explains that factual information and textual evidence about late medieval figures is often hard to come by; and yet, he tells the story of this book by using sources that do exist, as well as by occasionally imagining additional details. Does this method concern you, or not? We have precious little documentary evidence of the events of this particular era. Even for those figures of the late Middle Ages who went on to become famous, we know little about their everyday lives. Consider two famous examples: Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales, lived in fourteenth century England, but there is no documentary evidence for his existence whatsoever until he was fourteen years of age, and even that's uncertain. And then there's Peter Morrone's exact contemporary, the Franciscan philosopher, Roger Bacon: despite being the most important thinker of his day, scholars are not entirely certain when he was born, when he died, where he was born, or where he died.
There are many references to asceticism in The Pope Who Quit. In the Introduction, what do you think of the self-flagellation portrayed? Can you see any positive purpose for it in a religious or spiritual life—then or now?
Consider how a Catholic journalist recently wrote this in defense of revelations that Pope John Paul II self-flagellated: "Self-mortification teaches humility by making us recognize that there are things more important than our own pleasure. It teaches compassion by giving us a window into the sufferings of others—who don't have a choice in whether they're suffering. And it strengthens self-control. As well as (here's the big one I've saved for last) encouraging us to follow the example of Our Lord, who made the central act of the Christian religion one of self-denial and (in his case) literal mortification to bring salvation to all mankind." [Jimmy Akins, National Catholic Register, Thursday, January 28, 2010 - as of this writing available at: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/stunner_pope_practiced_self-mortification]
Part I—When the Unexpected Happened
1 / A LETTER THAT CHANGED JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING
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?
2 / THE BIZARRE PAPAL ELECTION OF 1292-94
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.
3 / A MOST UNLIKELY DECISION
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?