February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI, age 85, announces retirement

The Bishop of Rome's retirement, the first in 600 or so years, reminds me of an old trivia question: Who was the first Roman Emperor to retire?
This emperor was one of the hard men from Southeastern Europe who used their military skills to rebuild the Roman Empire after the chaos of the Third Century. His retirement palace in Split, Croatia remains in good condition after 1700 years, full of shops and restaurants. It was largely forgotten in Northern Europe, until British architect Robert Adam surveyed it in the 1760s.
Publication of Adam's book on this emperor's retirement palace had a major influence on the development of the craze for Neo-Classical architecture (e.g., Thomas Jefferson's design for the University of Virginia).

Answer under the fold:


Diocletian in 305 A.D., due to a debilitating illness leaving him unable to personally crush military challenges to his rule. (Emperor was a stressful job.)

When begged to return to the throne a few years later, he replied:
"If you could show the cabbage that I planted with my own hands to your emperor, he definitely wouldn't dare suggest that I replace the peace and happiness of this place with the storms of a never-satisfied greed."

He died in 311.

In general, though, Roman Emperors (and Empresses) did not find retirement appealing. When fans of the Blue and Green chariot teams had united and taken control of Constantinople in 532, the Emperor Justinian was about to flee in despair, when his Empress, the former "actress" Theodora, refused to give up her throne, saying "purple makes a fine shroud." Shaming the men, her courage inspired them to come up with a plan for dividing and conquering the sports hooligans, allowing the Byzantine Empire to survive another 921 years.

55 comments:

Anonymous said...

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Will Next Pope Be Non-Western (African or Mestizo)?


http://occamsrazormag.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/poll-will-next-pope-be-non-western-african-or-mestizo/


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ironrailsironweights said...

No connection between his retirement and the ever-growing priest abuse scandal. Nope, none at all.

Peter

Anonymous said...

No connection between his retirement and the ever-growing priest abuse scandal. Nope, none at all.

Is there a connection? Is there an "ever-growing priest abuse scandal"? I haven't noticed an uptick in the news about priest abuse activity.

Cail Corishev said...

Peter, thank you for visiting us from 1995.

Anonymous said...

"allowing the Byzantine Empire to survive another 1021 years"

That's another 921 years. Constantinople fell 1453. Not bad though for an empire, most fall after 200 years.

Sports hooligans haven't changed much.

FrankC

Anonymous said...

Has it occurred to anyone that maybe part of the reason Benedict is retiring now is so that he can have a say in the choice of his successor?

Hunsdon said...

Purple makes a fine shroud? That woman had some grit to her. Wanna bet Assad feels the same way?

Anonymous said...

The child abuse scandal has been roiling for decades, so it's unlikely that it plays any role here.

Anonymous said...

Maybe he resigned because Disney hired him to play a Sith Lord in the upcoming Star Wars films?

Beefy Levinson said...

When white smoke emerges from the Sistine Chapel's chimney, we'll know that we have a pope. When white smoke emerges from Andrew Sullivan's ears, we'll know that the new pope is Catholic.

Anonymous said...

http://www.dailycognition.com/index.php/2007/05/06/idiotic-answers-from-exam-students-very-funny-stuff.html

Anonymous said...

http://www.dailycognition.com/index.php/2007/05/06/idiotic-answers-from-exam-students-very-funny-stuff.html

Peter Nguyen might have a future in Hollywood.

Anonymous said...

Diocletian

Anonymous said...

I heard he's retiring to Thailand....

Harry Baldwin said...

The child abuse scandal has been roiling for decades, so it's unlikely that it plays any role here.

It's not exactly "child" abuse or pedophilia, it's predatory sex involving young adolescent boys. Boys of the age of, say, boy scouts, which is why it's now so important that we have homosexual scout masters.

Anonymous said...

She may not have actually said that, Procopius knew how to put words in her mouth to sound better but he was actually referring to a Greek Tyrant when he used her speech in the Persian Wars.

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia says

"After the Romans abandoned the site, the Palace remained empty for several centuries. "

Really? If I'm a poor fisherman or farmer, and there's an empty palace sitting unused, I know where I'm going to set up residence.

Anonymous said...

Really? If I'm a poor fisherman or farmer, and there's an empty palace sitting unused, I know where I'm going to set up residence.

Those palaces are cold and not well defended unless you have a legion of personal guards. A poor fisherman or farmer wouldn't want to set up camp there.

Acilius said...

Diocletian may have been the first emperor to die in retirement, but Tiberius tried to retire in AD 26. Didn't work out, of course; he felt obligated to return to the job five years later and put his trustee Sejanus to death.

Maximinus Thrax said...

That translation of the words of Diocletian appear all over the internet, but it isn't very accurate. Here's the Latin: Utinam Salonae possetis visere olera nostris manibus instituta, profecto numquam istud temptandum iudicaretis (Epitome de Caesaribus 39.6). After civil war breaks out following Diocletian's abdication, the emperors Maximian and Galerius are said to have asked him to take up the imperial power again, and he's quoted as rejecting the suggestion as madness, adding the words already cited: "If only you could see at Salonae the vegetables I've planted with my own hands. Then you would never think at all that I should try what you suggest!"

Cail Corishev said...

Has it occurred to anyone that maybe part of the reason Benedict is retiring now is so that he can have a say in the choice of his successor?

My first thought was that that's a silver lining. It's scary to think of whom the Cardinals might select next (though they did much better than expected with Benedict), so any influence he might have is welcome.

Baloo said...

Sith Lord, eh? Okay, but _without_ the hood....
Sith Lord Look-Alikes

Sid said...

The Romans romanticized retiring, at least in the Republican years. Cincinnatus was made dictator twice, but he resigned on both occasions once the crises had abated. George Washington was likened to him, since Washington turned down the opportunity to be king and retired after his second term as president.

Sulla also retired, though for more hedonistic reasons. Having obtained the title of dictator-for-life, Sulla eventually concluded that power had no more enticements for him, and so spent the last six months of his life partying constantly.

Anonymous said...

The Romans romanticized retiring, at least in the Republican years. Cincinnatus was made dictator twice, but he resigned on both occasions once the crises had abated. George Washington was likened to him, since Washington turned down the opportunity to be king and retired after his second term as president.

Sulla also retired, though for more hedonistic reasons. Having obtained the title of dictator-for-life, Sulla eventually concluded that power had no more enticements for him, and so spent the last six months of his life partying constantly True, Sulla confronted the young Julius Caesar to divorce his first wife Cornelia since her father was Cinna one of Sulla's eneimes. Tiberius spent time in Capri as mention above until Sejanius was disgrace.

Anonymous said...

All us Roman history fans here,yeah.

Anonymous said...

What rank is a retired? Does he revert to being a cardinal?

Mr. Anon said...

Diocletian. He also shifted the center-of-gravity of the empire to the east, and formalized an eastern style for the imperatorship, wherein the monarch is treated as a remote, almost God-like being, with pomp, and elaborate ceremonial dress, and armies of lackeys.

middleagedvet said...

When the Queen of Netherlands abdicated, she became Princess Beatrix again; when she passes away, however, she will be referred to as
Queen Beatrix. The Pope, having abdicated (not resigned - there is no-one for a Pope to offer his resignation to), will not be Pope on this earth (unless bizarrely re-elected) again; letters sent to him in English could possibly be addressed to Benedict, Bishop Emeritus of Rome, or, on a less formal basis, to Cardinal Ratzinger, (he would certainly not be offended if you added a.k.a. (formerly) Pope Benedict XVI.)

Matra said...

Diocletian. He also shifted the center-of-gravity of the empire to the east, and formalized an eastern style for the imperatorship, wherein the monarch is treated as a remote, almost God-like being, with pomp, and elaborate ceremonial dress, and armies of lackeys.

Yes, but at least Diocletian managed to, as we say today, secure the borders, unlike the more enlightened West which fell to barbarian invaders.

Anonymous said...

"No connection between his retirement and the ever-growing priest abuse scandal. Nope, none at all."

so who resigns due to the rampant 'child' 'abuse' scandals in the US public schools?

Auntie Analogue said...


Is an ex-bear Catholic? Does the ex-pope sh_t in the woods?

Anonymous said...

"Sulla also retired, though for more hedonistic reasons. Having obtained the title of dictator-for-life, Sulla eventually concluded that power had no more enticements for him, and so spent the last six months of his life partying constantly".

I'm sure this is precisely what Ratzinger has in mind.

And why not?

Anon.

Anonymous said...

It's kind of lame that he resigned. Pope should be one of those positions you can't quit while you're still alive.

Steve Sailer said...

"Pope should be one of those positions you can't quit while you're still alive."

Yeah, I can see that. On the other hand, people live a long time these days. 85 is a pretty reasonable age to hang it up.

If I'm still writing at 85, you're hereby allowed to decide I've gotten boring. (Of course, at age 84 I may change my mind about this.)

Anonymous said...

When you resign from your job, you normally present your resignation letter to your boss.

Who do you give to when you're the Pope ? To God himself ?

dearieme said...

Papa Ratzi could follow the American custom and expect still to be addressed as Pope. Or Mr Pope.

Anonymous said...

My prediction is that the dumbed-down and militantly secular media will spend a huge percentage of its time speculating about the next pope being black.

Gentlemen, the next month is going to be all about the search for the first Afropope.

Anonymous said...


Diocletian. He also shifted the center-of-gravity of the empire to the east, and formalized an eastern style for the imperatorship, wherein the monarch is treated as a remote, almost God-like being, with pomp, and elaborate ceremonial dress, and armies of lackeys. That's waht Procopius complian about in Justinian having people kiss him and Theodora's feet.2/11/13, 8:45 PM

Dahinda said...

Anonymous said...
What rank is a retired? Does he revert to being a cardinal?


There is talk of giving him some kind of emeritus status.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

It's kind of lame that he resigned. Pope should be one of those positions you can't quit while you're still alive."

Like "60 Minutes" host.

Anonymous said...

Peter, thank you for visiting us from 1995.

Was already on the ground, lying on a futon, but LOL.

the reason Benedict is retiring now is so that he can have a say in the choice of his successor

Seems likely, or he has a degenerative disease.

Papa Ratzi could follow the American custom and expect still to be addressed as Pope. Or Mr Pope.

Signor Papa. Who wouldn't want to live out their final days being called 'Signor Papa'?

Matthew said...

"It's kind of lame that he resigned. Pope should be one of those positions you can't quit while you're still alive."

The Mormon Church does this. The head of the Church remains the prophet until his death. In the case of Ezra Taft Benson, who was prophet for 8 1/2 years from 1985-94, he spent at least half of his tenure as a walking vegetable. They'd occasionally carry him out to events and prop him up for all to see, but you could tell the lights had gone out long ago. His grandson, Steve Benson, a once respectable Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist who went nuts himself, bitterly protested this.

People don't always die quickly or gracefully. They can be in a living death for years. The pope is not a figurehead. He has a billion-plus member church to lead. Let him retire with dignity.

josh said...

"Diocletian. He also shifted the center-of-gravity of the empire to the east, and formalized an eastern style for the imperatorship, wherein the monarch is treated as a remote, almost God-like being, with pomp, and elaborate ceremonial dress, and armies of lackeys."

And within 1100 years, the empire had collapsed.

Glaivester said...

Maybe he resigned because Disney hired him to play a Sith Lord in the upcoming Star Wars films?

You know who the previous pope selected to be his voice ion the audio book for Crossing the Threshold of Hope?

Earl Hammond.

Yes, that Earl Hammond.

rightsaidfred said...

On the other hand, people live a long time these days. 85 is a pretty reasonable age to hang it up.

50 years ago and before old age meant knowledge and wisdom. Today it more often means dotage.

Add to this modern medias emphasis on youth and star power; plus knowledge is now often a wikipedia link; and I suspect the trend will be for Popes to step down in favor of a more "rock star" replacement.

BB said...

Can Christianity afford a Pope surnamed Marx?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinhard_Marx
Pope Sarah doesn´t sound quite right either.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Sarah

Auntie Analogue said...


Since the pope is known as The Holy Father, might the ex-pope have the honorific of The Holy Grandfather?

Anonymous said...

When you talk to Catholics who've long since stopped going to mass, sending their kids to Catholic schools, etc. most say it's because the Church (esp. their local church) is too liberal. They say, "Why should I pay extra to send my kid to a Catholic school when they're as bad as the public school in teaching that "liberal crap?"



I had separate conversations yesterday with two such "fallen Catholics."

Anonymous said...

When you talk to Catholics who've long since stopped going to mass, sending their kids to Catholic schools, etc. most say it's because the Church (esp. their local church) is too liberal. They say, "Why should I pay extra to send my kid to a Catholic school when they're as bad as the public school in teaching that "liberal crap?"



I had separate conversations yesterday with two such "fallen Catholics."

Anonymous said...

"And within 1100 years, the empire had collapsed."

It's a miracle the Byzantines lasted that long. Once Heraclean replaced Latin with Greek as the official language, and the Arab Conquests, the Byzantines reverted into what the Franks called a Greek kingdom. Sure, they could marshal Orthodox non-Greeks into service, but they were plagued with the infighting and treachery Greeks have employed since Achilles mutinied against Agamemnon, lasting to this day, where hardly any Greek will be bothered to pay his taxes.

Anonymous said...

People don't always die quickly or gracefully. They can be in a living death for years. The pope is not a figurehead. He has a billion-plus member church to lead. Let him retire with dignity.

The pope claims for himself "infallibility" in matters of "faith and morals". A position like that shouldn't be something you can retire from while living, like Rotary Club president or something.

pat said...

I knew it was Diocletian. I guess I'm surprised that so many others did too. Smart group, your readers.

The reason Diocletian sticks out is because of the violent fates of all those previous third century emperors. After the stability of the Antonines (ending with Commodus) the next century was disheartening. Diocletian restored some stability.

I just turned 70. 85 seems very, very old to me. People tell me that we are all living longer today. But not really. Life expectancy at birth doesn't mean much to you if you survive childhood. I looked up life expectancy (cohort survival) at age 70. A hundred years ago it was 10 years. Today it's only 13 years.

Old is old.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

I wonder if sitting presidents actively criticizing law enforcement encourages violence against the police.

Anonymous said...

The pope claims for himself "infallibility" in matters of "faith and morals". A position like that shouldn't be something you can retire from while living, like Rotary Club president or something.

Please, leave theology to the professionals. You're not only confusing 'infallibility' with 'impeccability', you're confusing a teaching about the office with a teaching about the man.

Stick to your polyester-suited preachers who impress you because they can rattle off a word or two in Koine Greek.

Anonymous said...

I don't blame Benedict XVI for relinquishing his position, perhaps he knows that he is starting to have cognitive decline, but I am reminded of John Paul II's incredible bravery is allowing all of us to witness the ravages of his aging, especially since he had such athletic vigor when he started his reign. He reminded us that the comforts of this world, even the sumptuous comforts of the Vatican, are no protection against a humiliating death.