While Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation was a surprise to Catholics the world over, it is not without historical precedent. Pope Saint Celestine V, an Italian monk in the 13th century, was the first pope to resign the office. Celestine V was a hermit who modeled his life on John the Baptist and was a spiritual director to many. After the death of Pope Nicholas IV, over two years passed with the conclave unable to agree on a choice for his successor. Celestine agreed to become pope after he was chosen, but served only five months before resigning. This raised the question of whether a pope could resign according to canon law (the laws of the Church), and the question was eventually settled. Of this matter, Pope Boniface VIII later wrote:
Whereas some curious persons, arguing on things of no great expediency, and rashly seeking, against the teaching of the Apostle, to know more than it is meet to know, have seemed, with little forethought, to raise an anxious doubt, whether the Roman Pontiff, especially when he recognizes himself incapable of ruling the Universal Church and of bearing the burden of the Supreme Pontificate, can validly renounce the papacy, and its burden and honour: Pope Celestine V, Our predecessor, whilst still presiding over the government of the aforesaid Church, wishing to cut off all the matter for hesitation on the subject, having deliberated with his brethren, the Cardinals of the Roman Church, of whom We were one, with the concordant counsel and assent of Us and of them all, by Apostolic authority established and decreed, that the Roman Pontiff may freely resign.