Of Hell and Logic
In 1294, Celestine V was elected pope, after an interregnum of two years without one, owing to a deadlock among the Cardinals. He resigned only five months later because, though he had founded and run the Celestines, an offshoot of the Benedictines, he felt himself inadequate to the papal office. In 1415, Pope Gregory XII “withdrew” in a somewhat different case – in order to prevent schism over the apostolic succession. Celestine’s, therefore, was the last pure resignation prior to that of Benedict XVI in 2013.
Most Dante scholars have believed over the centuries that Dante was referring to Celestine in Inferno Canto 3 (the place that contains souls who were so indifferent that they refused to choose God or anything else for eternity). He speaks of meeting one, without naming him, “who out of cowardice made the great refusal,” (che per viltade fece il gran rifiuto).
Dante thought this a profound betrayal of the Church, not least because Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII (a political schemer) was involved in Dante’s exile from Florence.
Boniface himself had a troubled life after that because of his constant efforts to expand papal powers. His famous Bull Unam Sanctam claimed authority over secular rulers, which led to his condemnation on a whole list of charges by French bishops. And French King Philip the Fair sent forces that captured and humiliated Boniface, an experience that contributed to his death.