I’ve always been rather dismayed at the idea of the Catholic Pope. I don’t know how Catholics can take it seriously. God speaks directly to the pope, and only to the pope… except when he dies, in which case God suddenly starts speaking to a committee, telling them who the next pope should be. No one can possibly take such a stupid idea seriously. Yet people, even non-Catholics, treat the Pope as if he’s somehow special, regardless of how much of a degenerate weasel he shows himself to be.
Yet not only are there popes, but also antipopes too! Out of chaos, antipopes are born. Here is an example where two antipopes were created at pretty much the same time.
In the 14th Century, the Church was in turmoil and popery was so unpopular in Italy that the seat of the pope had been moved to France. The French and Roman factions of the College of Cardinals (the committee that elects the pope) couldn’t agree on anything. Upon the death of Pope Gregory XI, the committee was too busy squabbling to hear God’s orders clearly. Each faction wound up electing a pope of their own.
So there were two popes, Pope Urban VI (elected by the Roman cardinals), and Pope Clement VII (elected by the French). This state of affairs continued for about 40 years until a French theologian hit upon the theory of conciliarism. This holds that yet another committee can be formed which is higher than the popes and the College of Cardinals. So God, it turns out, is also prepared to speak directly to this alternative council, if everyone else has been fooling about too much.
Bertrand Russell takes up the story:
At last in 1409 a council was summoned and met in Pisa. It failed, however, in a ridiculous manner. It declared both popes deposed for heresy and schism, and elected a third, who promptly died; but his cardinals elected as his successor an ex-pirate named Baldassare Cossa, who took the name John XXIII. Thus the net result was that there were three popes instead of two, the conciliar pope being a notorious ruffian.
It is exactly for problems like this that the church invented the concept of the antipope. This is a pope who dresses like a pope, acts like a pope, and is believed by many during his lifetime to be a pope, but who in fact isn’t a pope at all, because someone else is and it’s theologically impossible for two popes to exist at once.
Things really start to get complicated when you get down to the sub–antipopery level. Here we hit some of the higher functions of advanced theology. A pope is allowed to appoint cardinals, but if it is later discovered that this pope was in fact an antipope, then all the cardinals he appointed suddenly — through a spooky “action-at-a-distance” — simultaneously turn into pseudo–cardinals. And of course, if such a cardinal has appointed cardinal nephews (a cardinal related to the pope), these instantaneously become quasi–cardinal nephews.
The last of the antipopes was Antipope Felix V, who fulfilled the role from 1439 to 1449.
Thanks to the advent of quantum physics, however, we now know that two popes can indeed appear to exist simultaneously. This has been spectacularly proven in our own time by the “retired” ex-pope Ratzinger and Pope Ingracious XV or what ever his name is.
Footnote: A commenter, “John”, has clarified/corrected the statement in the first paragraph about God talking to the committee. The correction is most welcome, though I would suggest that the clarifications underscore rather than refute the point I was attempting to make!
Posted by Yakaru