Two Popes, One Cap: The Strange Story of How There Came to be Two Popes

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HDAY.pngBy Adam Winer, author of How Dumb Are You? My quiz book is full of questions every mildly-educated American SHOULD be able to answer—but often can't. Prior to publication, we ran all the questions past a test audience to see how many people answered each one correctly. Those stats are included in the book, so you can see exactly how poorly you stack up against your fellow countrymen. Plus each answer comes with a rip-roaring Fun Fact. For Mental Floss, I'll be taking the best facts from the book and exploring them here in greater depth.

Today's question: What's the current pope's name? (Note: We'll accept either his given name or his special pope name.)

ANSWER: The pontiff was born Joseph Ratzinger and is now known as Pope Benedict XVI. (These days, Roman numerals are apparently only useful for numbering Super Bowls, Rocky movies and popes.) If you got this wrong, you are dumber than 74% of America

popes.pngTHE SCOOP: If you had lived in 1378, it would have been even harder to know the name of the pope—because there were two of them. Here's how that bizarre situation came to be: From 1309 to 1377, security concerns had sent the popes packing from Rome to a temporary headquarters in Avignon, France. (In those days, the church was heavily involved in secular affairs and was vulneravle to social unrest, military threats from European rulers and general political tomfoolery.) After the papacy returned to Rome, the cardinals gathered for a tense and political meeting that resulted in the election of Pope Urban VI. But Urban turned out to be a bit more dictatorial than the cardinals would have liked, so within a year, a group of French cardinals decided to reverse course. They declared they were nullifying the choice of Urban and had named a new pope: Clement VII. Urban obviously wasn't happy with this decision, so he went ahead and excommunicated Clement. Clement responded by excommunicating Urban. Clement and his cardinals headed for Avignon. Urban stayed in Rome. Rulers in France, Scotland and Portugal backed Clement. Meanwhile, England, Hungry and the Holy Roman Empire were all about Urban. It was a big standoff. Or as historians have come to call it: The Great Schism. And boy was it ever great.

As years passed, popes on both sides died and were replaced with no reconciliation of the schism. Then in 1409, the two sides convened a reform council because clearly, something had to be done. The obvious solution they came to: Name a third pope! This one was Alexander. His existence really didn't help things.
Finally by 1417, everyone had pretty much had enough of these papal shenanigans. The various popes either resigned or were deposed, and unity was restored by Pope Martin V. Bonus fun fact: Martin V really should have been named Martin III, but the Catholic church had lost track of how many prior popes had taken the name Martin. But, whatever, that's another story entirely"¦.

We'd love to thank Adam Winer for his wonderful week of guest posts (click here if you missed yesterday's on Ernest Hemingway's cross-dressing). Go out and pick up a copy of How Dumb Are You? at your local bookstore or Amazon.com. And for more information about his book and appearances, make sure to visit stupidityquiz.com.

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December 19, 2008 - 6:24am
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