Dr. Donald Prudlo, associate professor of ancient and medieval history at Jacksonville State University had the misfortune of being sick on Monday, February 11. While unable to sleep, Dr. Prudlo came across the shocking news of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation.
Dr. Prudlo first thought it was a hoax. He contacted his friends at the Vatican and they confirmed that it was true. Indeed, the pope had resigned at 10:30 a.m., Central European Time.
“This was just virtually unprecedented,” Dr. Prudlo said. “This is something that has not happened for 600 years.”
Dr. Prudlo was soon asked by the Vatican Radio to do a live interview. With a couple of facts in his hand, the JSU professor discussed four papal resignations of the past. Dr. Prudlo’s commentary went viral within hours, gaining exposure on major news outlets such as the New York Times, The Atlantic, BBC, Houston Chronicle, Boston Globe, National Geographic, Zenit (a Rome based news organization), CBS, and NBC.
Dr. Prudlo believes something very significant must have transpired to make the pope take this exceptionally unusual step.
“The normal thing is for the pope to remain in office until he is dead,” Dr. Prudlo said. “My first thought was that the resignation was health related. Pope Benedict XVI is the fifth oldest pope in history, nearing his eighty-sixth year. This is an office that requires an immense amount of energy and there is a vast amount of pressure on the person who holds office. I believe that with all the issues facing the church, Pope Benedict XVI knew that the Catholic Church needed someone strong at the helm to face these difficult issues. I think he wanted to eliminate the possibility of being used as a pawn for political gain.”
Some may be surprised that popes can, in fact, resign. The pope is an absolute sovereign. He has full immediate ordinary jurisdiction in the Catholic Church, meaning that he does not actually resign. All he has to do, according to canon law, is to freely manifest that he is going to resign. After the Pope’s resignation, two cardinals will be in charge of the church governance until the new pope is elected.
“It is a strange situation,” Dr. Prudlo said. “Usually, you have a period of nine days of mourning and funerals for the pope. In this case, fifteen days must elapse between the vacancy and the start of the conclave.”
Within fifteen to twenty days, one hundred and seventeen cardinals (who are permitted to elect the new pope), from all over the world, will gather in the Sistine Chapel. The cardinals will not be able to leave the chapel until they have come up with a new pope.
Dr. Prudlo will be present during the conclave, which could start as early as March 10. He will serve as a historical correspondent helping out Vatican Radio and Zenit. He will write articles, update people, and generally cover the conclave as a whole.
Dr. Prudlo will not be the only one present from JSU during this historic event. In May, he will take some fellow Gamecocks with him for a study tour.
“It is a great experience for the students! They really enjoy it,” Dr. Prudlo said. “The students will be able to witness some history while they are there, in the midst of all the history that already exists.”
Dr. Prudlo teaches both halves of Western Civilization as well as Ancient and Medieval history at JSU. He also teaches Christianity and Historiography of the Ancient World, Middle Ages, and the Reformation.
His first book, The Martyred Inquisitor: The Life and Cult of Peter of Verona, was released in 2008. He has written many articles and recently edited a book on the types of mendicancy in the Middle Ages. His most recent work on the development of papal canonization is expected to be published by the end of the year.
For more about Dr. Prudlo, visit www.jsu.edu/history/prudlo.html