S A I N T P I U S V
In 1563, Pope Pius IV, on the anniversary of his Coronation, gave a great banquet to the Cardinals and ambassadors who had come to congratulate him. As they were rising from table the Holy Father declared his intention of raising to the purple Ferdinand de Medici, a boy of thirteen, and Frederic di Gonzaga, a youth of twenty. Taken by surprise, the assembled Cardinals weakly assented. … All but Cardinal Alexandrin [the future Pius V]: “Most Holy Father,” he cried earnestly, “after the Council of Trent has taken such pains to reform abuses, especially among the clergy, and to establish discipline, hitherto so miserably relaxed, what will be thought, if the Vicar of Jesus Christ ignores one of its most important decrees, that of admitting to ecclesiastical dignities only those subjects of suitable age and worth? With all humility I declare to your Holiness that I for one will not wound my conscience by subscribing to this promotion! The Church does not want children in her Councils, she wants strong men. … Let them enter Holy Orders in the usual way, and with their birth and gifts it will surely not be long before they become Cardinals! Your Holiness must also permit me to say that this banquet is not a Consistory, at which alone such claims can be properly decided!”
This electrifying speech, no less remarkable for its courage than its sterling common sense, so impressed those present that the Cardinal of St. Angelo said afterwards: “I would have given all I possessed to have had the courage to speak like that!” The Pope, though startled, was not angry, but the negotiations were too far advanced for him to withdraw, and shortly after the two boys were created Cardinals. When the Florentine ambassador came, as was customary, to thank Cardinal Alexandrin [the future Pius V] for having with his fellows opened the Sacred College to his master, the intrepid answered: “Do not thank me! The promotion was absolutely against my desires! On the contrary, I opposed it with all my might, not out of hostility to the Medici family, but because my conscience would not allow me to approve of a child of thirteen becoming a Cardinal.” The father of the young Prince, when these words were repeated to him, instead of showing anger, exclaimed: “Cardinal Alexandrin [the future Pius V] is in very truth a Cardinal of God!”
Shield given to Juan of Austria by Pius V for the Battle of Lepanto
He exhorted to justice and holiness all grades of magistrates and rulers, and personally supervised their appointment. Numerous were the laws he made for the improvement of public morals —men and women of bad character, and Jewish usurers, being remorselessly banished— and for purity of life. Some of these laws, which sound curious to modern ears, were directed against innkeepers (who were forbidden to sell drink to their fellow citizens at what were houses of entertainment only for travelers and strangers); against brigands, wreckers, and pirates. ... The measures taken against blasphemy in any form were particularly strong.
These laws, at once put into force, were eminently successful. In less than a year the aspect of affairs had changed. Even three months after the Saint’s accession a German nobleman writes of the edifying piety of the whole city of Rome during Lent, and especially in Holy Week, when the churches could not contain the penitents, who slept on the bare ground and fasted rigorously. “As long as I live I shall witness, to the shame of Satan and all his ministers, that I saw in Rome at this time the most marvelous works of penitence and piety. . . . But nothing can astonish me under such-a Pope. His fasts, his humility, his innocence, his holiness, his zeal for the faith, shine so brilliantly that he seems a second St. Leo, or St. Gregory the Great. . . . I do not hesitate to say that had Calvin himself been raised from the tomb on Easter Day, and seen the holy Pope . . . blessing his kneeling people . . . in spite of himself he would have recognized and venerated the true representative of Jesus Christ!”
The Pope’s measures for the reform of the Church were drastic. All bishops were bidden on pain of deprivation to return to their sees within one month; to live there, and to become true Fathers of their people. Seminaries were everywhere established, and at Fribourg a great college. The Decrees of the Council of Trent were to be rigorously observed by all grades of clergy. The most severe laws were passed against the detestable practice of simony. In France, great benefices and even bishoprics were actually held by women, who received all revenues, and paid an ecclesiastic to perform all necessary functions. This terrible state of things was sternly swept away. Strict regulations were made for all religious houses; perpetual enclosure being enjoined upon all convents of nuns, “except in cases of fire, leprosy, or pestilence.” The recital of the Divine Office was strictly enforced in every church, and the strongest measures were taken against irreverence in church. Conversations of any kind, whispering, jokes and laughter were sternly prohibited, as offending Almighty God in the Blessed Sacrament, and most severely punished, in the first instance by a heavy fine; in the second, by prison or exile. Priests, sacristans and officials were charged to enforce this decree. The crowds of beggars which assembled within the churches were no longer allowed to pass beyond the porch, except to pray.
If sinners trembled, the saints were jubilant as they witnessed the edifying example of Pius V and the purifying of civic life in the papal domain. They saw in him the patriarchal majesty of the Hebrew prophets from whose penetrating eyes no sins could be hid. Like the old Biblical seers, he inveighed against wickedness in high places; and men of good will recognized in him the Sword of Saint Michael, his namesake and protector, who should “drive into hell Satan and the other evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.” In him, the Church Militant had once again found a leader. God had raised him up for no other purpose. That he was a saint was evident as he went about doing good, washing the feet of the poor, embracing lepers, and visiting the afflicted.
When he died, he was sixty-six years of age and had filled Peter’s Chair with unfailing trust and patience and rigorous discipline for six years, seven months, and twenty-three days. He had fought the heresy of Luther and all its multitudinous off-shoots, the apostasy of England, the recalcitrance of France, the lethargy of Maximilian II, and the laxity of Sigismund Augustus of Poland. The seeds of missionary labor he planted have never ceased to bring forth abundant harvest for the Church. With holy zeal Pius V had dared to beard the Turk in his own lair on the sea. He broke the power of the Ottoman tyrants. He freed Christian slaves. He had, in fact, accomplished the impossible. For no matter how much acclaim Colonna and Don Juan received for their splendid exploits, nor what glory Venier, Doria, and Barbarigo had justly won, it was the indomitable will of Pius V that, in the face of a mountain of opposition, had made all these brave men’s achievements possible! Truly a great statesman and a mighty pontiff departed this earth when Pius V died!
“The great triumph of Lepanto,” says a French writer, “would alone have immortalized St. Pius V.” Its importance will be better realized when it is remembered the Turk had never hitherto been conquered by sea. “The Battle of Lepanto arrested for ever the danger of Mohammedan invasion in the South of Europe.” And Lepanto had been won by prayer! That he was a saint was conceded even by his enemies. It needed only the Church’s official recognition to proclaim his sainthood. … when this valiant soldier of Jesus Christ finally sheathed the sword of Saint Michael which he had wielded so gallantly all his life in defense of Christendom, he might well have uttered the words of the Apostle of the Gentiles: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the Faith.”