Today is the Feast of Pope Saint Pius V
The following is an excerpt from our book, “Defenders of the Faith.”
Pope St. Pius V (1566-1572)
The work of the Council of Trent continues!
We oftentimes think the Lord doesn’t let one or two people do everything in Salvation History, because then there would be nothing for us to do except follow what has been passed down to us. The Lord wants us to feel a part of things. Well, here we have the next Pope taking the torch, so to speak, from his predecessor, and running with it. It was crucial that the right man be chosen, who could take the work of Pope Pius IV, and bring it to conclusion. All the work of the years before, since 1521, would be culminated in not only the decrees of the Council, but even more difficult, having those decrees implemented and enforced. It would take a strong man to do that. The man whom the Lord chose to continue the work of the Counter-Reformation was a brilliant man who was able to be molded into a Saint. He became St. Pius V.
Pope St. Pius V, was born Michael Ghisleri in a little village in the Diocese of Tortona near Alessandria in northern Italy in 1504. He was a firm believer in the Truths of the Church. He embraced the Dominican Order at age fourteen and entered the Seminary. From the beginning of his days in formation, it was obvious to all his superiors that he was chosen far above the rest. The Dominicans knew he would go far in the Order, do great things for God and advance the rule of his Father-in-Faith, St. Dominic Guzman. He did move ahead as his superiors thought he would, assuming the posts of lector in Theology and Philosophy for many years. He also served as novice master and in the governing houses of the Order. He did well as a Dominican. St. Dominic would have been extremely proud of him. He was sent to the Dominican convent in Pavia, near Torino. He was for many years second only to the provincial of the Dominican order in Italy. In 1550, he was given a difficult task, that of inquisitor at Como, which borders Switzerland. At that time, it was a hotbed of Calvinist insurgents. His methods of operation caused him to cross swords with the bishop’s vicar-general, who thought he enjoyed his job a bit too much. However, it also brought him to the attention of Cardinal Carafa, who would later become Pope Paul IV. Now Cardinal Carafa was a member of the Inquisition in Rome. His philosophy was akin to that of Ghisleri, the young priest from Como. At a time when enemies were more plentiful than friends, he embraced the young priest. He saw in him firmness of purpose and purity of faith. He was Church; and he projected Church to all he met.
As the Dominicans had seen his potential, so had the rest of the Church, especially Cardinal Carafa. After he was elected Pope, he consecrated Michael Ghisleri Bishop of Sutri and Nepi in 1556 at fifty two years old. A year later, Ghisleri was given the title of Cardinal. He took the name Cardinal Alessandrino, after his city. While this was a great honor, it also took him away from the Dominican Order where his heart was, because his duties had to be now focused on the dioceses of which he was in charge. He was a very humble man, and would rather have spent his time praying and writing prayers to be used by others, whom he judged more capable of bringing the Church into the last half of the Sixteenth Century, without losing any more brothers and sisters to the Protestants.
Keep in mind what some of his concerns were. His diocese was just south of the Swiss border. Calvin had made enormous strides in Switzerland, and was sweeping into Italy from the north. France was on the west, not that far away. The French Calvinists, who were called Huguenots, were more vicious in their attacks on Catholics than Calvin, if that’s possible. No, that’s not possible. No one was worse than Calvin, with the possible exception of Elizabeth I of England, illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn. But as a Cardinal and Bishop, you can understand his concerns for the Church at large, and his diocese in particular, being right smack in the middle of the problem, and being the head of the Inquisition for the Italian provinces on the Swiss border. Remember, he was a Dominican. Dominicans had been in charge of the Inquisition all over Europe from the time of St. Dominic. It was an honor, surely, but it was also a major task.
To add more burdens to his job, he was made Grand Inquisitor for life. Cardinal Alessandrino was not someone who would go quietly in the night. To the contrary, he was a bold, solid person when it came to the rights and wrongs of his Church. And he didn’t care if he ruffled the feathers of Popes, which he did, or rulers of countries, which he also did. He found himself the recipient of many criticisms from Pope Paul IV, who had been his mentor, his kindred spirit, on more than one occasion. Then when the new Pope Pius IV, the diplomat, came into power, he was again rebuked. You must understand that he was not a diplomat! He was not on good terms with monarchs who were allowing heretical groups to breathe down his neck from two fronts, France and Switzerland. Also, Cardinal Alessandrino would not back down from the Truths of the Church, especially in his position as Grand Inquisitor, even if it meant upsetting one of these monarchs, or, unfortunately at times, even his Pope. By the time Pope Pius IV died in 1565, relations between him and Cardinal Alessandrino were strained, to say the least.
There was even a point in his career when he just wanted to give up his various jobs and go back to his bishopric in Piedmont to live out the end of his career in peace. He had a problem getting back to Piedmont, however, when he took ill and had to recuperate in Rome. Again, this was another area of contention between the Pope and many of his bishops and cardinals. Even the Pope’s nephew, St. Charles Borromeo was against it. Cardinal Alessandrino was against bishops living in Rome, which he made no bones about, but which estranged him from the Pope.
We know it has to be pure Holy Spirit that Cardinal Alessandrino was unanimously elected Pope in only nineteen days after the death of Pius IV. More ironic is that the major force promoting him for Pope was Cardinal Charles Borromeo, nephew of the Pope (Pius IV) with whom Cardinal Alessandrino had so much trouble. St. Charles recognized in Cardinal Alessandrino the strength which would be needed, not only to bring the Church through the problems with the Protestant Reformation, but the Moslem dilemma, which we haven’t even addressed yet. St. Charles also was given infused knowledge that this man would be able to get the Council of Trent back on track and brought to its conclusion. He was right on all counts. On January 7, 1566, he began his Pontificate as Pope Pius V. The world would know him as Pope Saint Pius V a hundred and fifty years later.
This area of Italy has brought us many holy people, including Don Bosco, Dominic Savio, Aloysius Gonzaga and Pope St. Pius V.
As Pope Pius V, he would excommunicate Elizabeth I of England on February 25, 1570.
For more information about this and other Popes click here
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