St. Pius V

A document preserved in the secret archives of the Vatican reports the opinion of a cardinal on the Conclave that took place between December 20, 1565 and January 7, 1566:  "This election, since it was the most canonical and legitimate that has taken place for many years ...  freer of external pressures than any in the memory of man," writes Pastor in his monumental History of the Popes.  Was this something out of the ordinary? According to the chronicles he collected, other Conclaves were marked by a great deal of promises of favors, threats, the political vetos of Catholic monarchs, blackmail.  That Conclave, however, saw the election of Pope Michele Ghisleri.  "When Cardinal Pisani asked him if he accepted the election result, Ghisleri stood for a moment in silence while the cardinals insisted on a reply.  Finally he replied with the simple words:  'I am content'" (Pastor).  Later he confessed that the reason for his hesitation was that his refusal would have meant the election of "some other subject, to the great harm of this Holy See."

But why – asks Pastor – "was the election a surprise to everybody? Because Ghisleri did not have any Catholic nation behind him – when the Emperor Maximilian heard that a monk had been elected "he made fun of it".  For he had entered into no pacts, made no promises, had not campaigned for it, had no court nor wealth.  Furthermore he lived a good Christian life.  Pastor is lapidary:  "Not through family, the favor of princes or through intrigue, but only through his zeal in the service of the Church had this strict member of a religious order risen to be prior, inquisitor, bishop, cardinal and finally pope".  An altogether surprising case.  Michele Ghisleri was born on January 17, 1504 to a very poor family in the countryside of Alessandria near Turin in North Italy where he spent his childhood watching sheep.  At 14 he entered the Dominican monastery in Voghera.  He became a priest and then doctor of theology.  After Paul III set up the Roman inquisition in 1542, he was called to work for the Holy Office in between 1555 and 1558.  In those three years alone, Paul IV made him bishop, cardinal and inquisitor Major, all appointments he had not sought.  Of this Dominican – they called him "Friar Bigboot" because he continued to live as a monk – the Pope said:  "He is going to have to be put in leg-irons to prevent his return to the monastery".  But how did this man, so faithful to true doctrine, behave as "Grand Inquisitor"? "Already in Paul IV's proceedings against heretical books, Cardinal Ghisleri...  had repeatedly dissuaded subordinate bodies from too harsh and precipitate action."  He possessed a love for truth but also charity, firmness along with prudence and compassion.

Ghisleri is an outstanding historical example, who is still the patron saint of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  The Inquisition was, in truth, governed by such men, men of great learning, even saints often enough, and never less than enlightened.  Today historians are discovering behind "the dark legend of the inquisition" a surprising truth:  it was perhaps the first real judicial institution to provide ample safeguards for the rights of the accused.

But the rapid spread of Protestantism and other virulent heresies created tension and panic in Rome.  Anyone might fall under suspicion.  Ghisleri had to deal with some painful cases, such as that of Cardinal Morone, who was accused of heresy without a shred of serious proof and later absolved or that of Bartolomeo Carranza, the Archbishop of Toledo, who had even been imprisoned in Spain.  Ghisleri, a wise and faithful guardian of Catholic doctrine, himself came to be suspected by Pope Paul IV, "his mind ever darker and violent" (Pastor).  In the early August of 1559 he had given lodging to an envoy of Carranza and for that sole reason Paul IV spent half an hour hurling abuse at him during a Consistory.  To the embarrassment of those present, the Pope insulted him, declared him unworthy of the purple and threatened to lock him up in Castle Sant'Angelo.  Ghisleri listened in silence to the humiliating attack.  Already on a previous occasion the Pope had called him "Lutheran" and "unfrocked priest", an odd ordeal for the man who was to become the patron saint of the Holy Office.  Things, however, were to go even worse with the new Pope, Gianangelo de' Medici, elected as Pius IV in January, 1560.  Not only was Ghisleri sacked from his post as Inquisitor General because of their disagreements but he was also deprived of his apartment in the Vatican.  Only because he fell ill with a malady that tormented him for the rest of his life did he remain in Rome.  What were the disagreements about? "More than once," Pastor tells us, "the Cardinal bravely remonstrated with Pius IV in severe fashion, particularly on an occasion at the beginning of 1563 when two young princelings were to be appointed to the Sacred College."

This was why people were surprised by the election that took place on the death of Pius IV.  An account by Cusano says:  "There was no cardinal at this Conclave who had been more scorned and vile-esteemed by Pius IV than Ghisleri".  Yet he was precisely the one to be elected, and there was a further surprise.  The person most responsible for his election was the Cardinal of Milan, St. Charles Borromeo, a nephew of the dead Pope and – more importantly – the natural candidate to the See of Peter because of his renown as pastor, his sanctity and prestige.

There was pressure in the Conclave from the Spanish, the Florentines and the French; Cardinals Crispi, Ricci, Farnese and Morone were the likely candidates.  "The Spanish ambassador – who had vetoed Borromeo – and the astute Florentines had no high opinion of Borromeo's experience in the clever ruse, and his confidant Bascape expresses the same opinion." (Pastor) Nevertheless the Cardinal of Milan had Ghisleri elected and the new pope then took the name of Pius V as a mark of his esteem for the saintly bishop he would have liked at his side in Rome.

Here is what the new pope looked like:  he was sixty-two years old, bald and had a long white beard.  "He gave the impression," says Pastor, "of an old man.  He was of average stature, had small eyes but a keen gaze, an aquiline nose, clear and healthy complexion, features sharply etched.  The overall impression of an ascetic who, as an ambassador wrote, was all skin and bones."

Because of his appearance and the maladies that afflicted him many people believed he would not survive the winter, particularly under the burden of the papacy.  Pius V did feel his office to be "an impediment to his eternal salvation", a heavy cross under which he feared he would fall".  He was deeply troubled about "the account he would one day have to give to Almighty God" and consequently "he often had thoughts of renouncing".  It was, however, precisely his awareness that he had to answer only to God and to no other earthly power and "his firm belief in the Almighty's help" that made this monk a great pope.

Those who believed that the old man, who always under his robes wore the rough shirt of the Mendicant Friars, would soon be out of the way were in for a rude awakening, as were the members of his family.  It was customary for popes to lavish titles and wealth on their relations.  Pius V, instead, sent away empty-handed any of his kin who presented themselves in Rome.  Nor did he come to any mutual arrangement with the Curia.  Following the example of Cardinal Borromeo he sent packing a great number of His Holiness's Gentlemen (about 150 of them, with an army of servants and horses), followed by clerks and doctors.  The annual saving of 5,000 scudi went to monasteries and religious institutions.

This was the Rome of St. Philip Neri, for whom the pope had great respect.  The poverty of the Rome in which Philip rallied followers creating new forms of Christian life, was matched only by the luxurious way of life of the Curia.  There were so many prostitutes in Rome at the time that when Pius V ordered them to be driven out in 1566 everyone declared that the city would be left empty.  The decree even caused the city's economy to crash and it became an affair of state.  There was a "Written remonstrance" presented by the ambassadors of Spain, Portugal and Florence.  Pius V threw it into the wastepaper basket.  Many more events of much greater importance than this, of course, took place in a pontificate that ended on May 1, 1572, not least the victory of Lepanto which saved Europe from the Turks.  The name, however, of Pius V is usually associated most with the publication of the Roman Catechism (1566) and the Roman Missal (1570) with which he made concrete the Council of Trent.  Pius V was aware of his lack of political experience, and he harbored no ambitions that way.  As Pastor puts it, "he had at heart just one thing:  souls".

His personal sensibility and his task as Peter's successor were expressed in his defense of the depositum fidei transmitted unbrokenly by the apostolic tradition and entrusted to him, a defense he undertook in full awareness of his ministry, certainly not out of any personal intellectual inclination.  As one testimony puts it, "The pope held the doctors of no account".  And when, in a 1566 document, mention was made of the theologians being in agreement with him, Pius V observed that "many theologians and canonists are flatterers of pontiffs".  He was, on the contrary, fond of recalling the humility of St. Thomas and it was he who saw to his being proclaimed Doctor of the Church.  Catholicism was therefore to help parish priests in giving Christian people a sound instruction in the Catholic faith to arm them against the assaults of Protestantism.

As for the Missal, Pius V was aware that the apostolic faith ever believed by the Church everywhere (lex orandi, lex credendi) is expressed in the liturgy and that Luther's attempted demolition of true faith relies on his opposition to the Eucharistic sacrifice and the liturgy "that goes back to the Apostle Peter".

Monsignor Klaus Gamber – formerly of the Pontifical Liturgical Academy in Rome – rebuts the idea of a new Ordo Missae in the case of Pius V.  "The Council of Trent decreed the publication of a perfected and uniform Missal for everyone.  What did Pius V do? He took the Missal of the Curia in use in Rome and many other places and perfected it extending it to the whole Church but preserving rites that were more than two hundred years old.  Nothing new, therefore, was introduced by the reform of St. Pius V.  A uniform editing was undertaken on the Missal and the occasion was used to get rid of certain innovations that had crept in over the centuries."

In effect, therefore, "there is no Tridentine Mass, in the strict sense, because a new Ordo Missae was never promulgated as follow-up to the Council of Trent".  It was a matter of extending to the Universal Church "that rite of the Mass that all the popes had always said and declared as dating to the Apostolic Tradition."  St. Pius V, therefore, "invented" nothing.

The condemnation of Michele Baio's dangerous teaching on nature and grace was also the work of St. Pius V in his Bull Ex omnibus afflictionibus.  Another of his direct interventions on behalf of doctrine came, as Pastor tells us, on October 1, 1568 when he renewed the condemnation of the new Italian Protestantism of Lelio and Fausto Socini who "denied the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ, His miraculous conception and the redemptive value of His death and the virginity of His mother, thereby stripping Christianity almost completely of its supernatural character".