A bit of papal eschatology

The Catholic Encyclopedia is a bit sniffy about the whole thing:

The eschatological summary which speaks of the “four last things” (death, judgment, heaven, and hell) is popular rather than scientific.

Then proceeds to prove we can’t be so determinist or simplistic.

Just as Malcolm was seen visibly to blanch when the Head-teacher of a failing school informed him she ran “English A-level for fun”, the Economist feels no qualms about being populist, and gives us a daily chart:

A look at papal terms since 32AD

THE post of Bishop of Rome is considered to be a life-long commitment. And with only a handful of exceptions, it has been. Nearly all 266 popes have served until their death. But that does not mean that they were in the job for long. Rather, as our charts below show, popes tend to have a short shelf-life. Over half of all papal terms have lasted between two weeks and five years. Part of this is the result of age: the average age at time of election between 1500 and 2005 was 64. Pope Benedict XVI, who announced his resignation on February 11th, was, at 78, one of the oldest to be elected. His seven-and-a-half years put him in good company: 62 others served between six and ten years. The shortest-serving pope was Urban VII, who survived just 13 days in office in September 1590. Pius IX was the longest-serving elected pope, holding on for 32 years. Popes who left their stamp on the office include Innocent III, who served for 18 years from 1198, and launched Christianity’s fourth Crusade; and Leo XIII, who used his quarter of a century from 1878 to grapple with how the church should respond to industrialisation and trade unions.

Hmm … four named popes over two millennia. Hardly a great hit-rate.

Gives a good graphic, though:


UnknownFor all kinds of reasons, we shouldn’t take the earlier history as “gospel” — John Julius Norwich, setting out on his history of The Popes, does a fair deconstruction of St Peter, and then this:

Although St Irenaeus of Lyons gives us the list of the first thirteen ‘popes’, from St Peter down to his friend Eleutherius (c. 175-89), it is important to remember that until the ninth century the title of Pope (which derives from the Greek papas, ‘little father’) was applied generally to any senior member of the community — Rome was far from being a diocese as we understand the word today. Nor was the Roman Catholic church, such as it was, generally accepted, or even respected.

Even as late as the ninth century, the precise succession of the popes may be in doubt — consider, for example, (again Viscount Norwich) how:

… the legend of Pope Joan, who is said to have reigned from 855 to 857, between Leo IV and Benedict II (855-8), has become one of the hoariest canards in papal history.

As a faithful son of Mother Church, Norwich then dismantles—conclusively and effectively — this “canard” over the whole of his Chapter VI, but with a caveat:

During the middle of the ninth century, Rome, sacked by the Saracens in 846, was still going through her Dark Ages. All was confusion, records were few and untrustworthy, and the notion of a woman Pope was, perhaps, just conceivable.

That leaves hanging the small matter: even if we discount Johannes VIII, Foemina de Anglia, how can we authenticate others of this period when records were few and untrustworthy?

As for all 266 popes, there are are a further 38 “anti-popes” — listed by Norwich — to be taken into consideration.


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Filed under Economist, History, reading, Religious division

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