(WASHINGTON POST) On Feb. 28, Pope Benedict XVI will become the first pope to resign in almost 600 years. That’s not just tradition — it’s dogma. The Washington Post’s Debbi Wilgoren cited a theological expert in explaining, “Most modern popes have felt that resignation is unacceptable except in cases of an incurable or debilitating disease — that paternity, in the words of Paul IV, cannot be resigned.”

But Benedict XVI’s shocking resignation is even more curious when compared to the handful of others who have left the powerful office willingly. In the past 1000 years, only four other popes have resigned. Here are their unusual stories, which are also an indication of just how much the church has changed.

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