STUMP » Articles » Geeking Out in Memory of Pope Benedict - Papal Mortality! » 5 January 2023, 20:42

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Geeking Out in Memory of Pope Benedict - Papal Mortality!  

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5 January 2023, 20:42

So I got the very respectful post out of my system.

Pope Emeritus Benedict has now been safely interred, so now let us have fun!

(That was from 2014, when Argentina played Germany in the World Cup. Germany won.)

For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground, And tell sad stories of the death of popes

No, I’m not going to cry.

95 years is a really good run.

I loved my Papa Ratzi, and I truly am commemorating his life by doing Catechism in a Year.

But let me further commemorate him by indulging in the Irish Catholic tradition of really enjoying myself. As GKC wrote: “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.” The man who was Pope Benedict, aka Joseph Ratzinger was no angel (as he was human), but as a fellow “ethnic” (aka a Bavarian), maybe he will understand that I will enjoy myself by…. making graphs.

And piggybacking on somebody else’s work.

It’s the Catholic way!

Pope death stats

Brendan Hodge at The Pillar wrote Aging in the See of Peter, and I highly appreciate that he made his data downloadable (thanks, Brendan!)

I will post one of his graphs:

And now, I will redo his graphs! (thanks, Brendan!)

Before that, I will note that Brendan has a few interesting stories in his piece, about the youngest Pope, John XII, who died because of a jealous husband, and then another Pope Benedict (Benedict IX), who got himself elected twice, and also got himself excommunicated.

For all the complaints about popes of the modern era, many have no idea how evil some of the popes of the medieval era had been.

Brendan didn’t mention it, as he was focusing on ages and not death specifically, but my favorite weird episode in Church history was the Cadaver Synod:

ROMAN CHURCHES USUALLY AREN’T SHY about their macabre histories. At Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte a nun will be happy to let you photograph their crypt of abandoned bodies in exchange for a small donation. At Santa Prassede a sacristan will give you a pamphlet and helpfully point out the well where St. Praxedis and St. Pudentiana poured the blood that seeped out of the three thousand bodies of martyrs they were hiding. At the famous Capuchin crypt you can even buy postcards of the mummified monks to send to dear friends or enemies.

But if you go to the Basilica San Giovanni Laterano looking for such morbid attractions, you’ll find you’re on your own. What happened there over one thousand years ago is still too horrible to speak of. This is the church where Pope Stephen VI put the rotting corpse of Pope Formosus on trial in January of 897.

Look, bad things happened, okay?

Moving average!

First, let’s take that scatterplot, and impose a moving average line over it:

With the moving average line, you can more easily see the “dip” in papal ages at death around the year 1000.

We can get into some of the corruption problems of the Catholic Church of the time.

One of the big issues was the various family dynasties that was the real reason behind the imposition of the no-marriage rule for Roman Catholic clergy. Too many prelates were trying to pass on their high offices to their (legitimate) sons, and not only official positions, but also possessions such as land holdings. This was a real problem.

But you can also see a steadily increasing age at death trend, too. Note that and we will get back to it later in general.

And now let’s look at the overall histogram of age at death for the popes over all 2000 years of data:

Pope Benedict had been one of the 3 in the small bars way to the right.

And when you look at the oldest Pope, you see how this was dependent on him having been 101 when he was originally elected to the papacy. This is something we need to consider – the age at death for a pope is really dependent on when we came to the papal throne — can’t die as pope at age 40 if you were 65 when you ascended.

But finally, let us look at the age at accession:

So that’s really interesting — the overall trend has more-or-less leveled out for age at accession.

The College of Cardinals wants to see a man of about 65 years of age before considering him to be Pope in the modern era….when one considers the modern era to be post-Protestant Reformation.

But longevity is improving, so Popes are dying at older ages, even though age at accession is more-or-less level at age 65.

What would Jesus do?

So going off on a tangent — Jesus didn’t leave any written scriptures by his own hand.

In the Gospels, we have one story of Jesus writing in the sand, and that’s it. This had to do with the woman caught in adultery (with no comment on the man who was obviously also involved). Maybe it was doodling.

If Jesus had done carpentry work with Joseph, perhaps he had made geometric sketches, but paper wasn’t an available technology (papyrus was another matter, but it wasn’t used for carpenters’ sketches, as far as I know. I could be wrong.)

I’m just saying…. all of the above was just a bit of frivolity.

It is somewhat interesting, but of what I’ve read of the saints… a lot of what I’ve shown above is irrelevant. The number of years may be relevant to the decision-making of very worldly men, and also explain cadaver synods, very young popes getting murdered by rivals and other iffy details, but the best and the worst of popes had little to do with their ages or longevity.

With that final thought, I leave you with some Catholic music — Dominican bluegrass from the Hillbilly Thomists:


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