A Pope as tough on himself as he was on others

St. Pius VFrom the UK’s best Catholic weekly, the Catholic Herald comes this story about a saintly Pope in difficult times.

My emphases and comments:

The holy pope who lived on vegetable broth and crayfish

St Pius V (April 30), who excommunicated Queen Elizabeth, continued to live as a monk even after he became pope

Pius V, pope from 1566 to 1572, was the kind of Counter Reformation pontiff dear to the hearts of Roman triumphalists. That he still freezes the blood of Protestants he would have regarded as a badge of honour.

Zealots, however, do not always apprehend the consequences of their actions. By excommunicating Queen Elizabeth in 1570, Pius V put paid to any chance that Catholicism might be tolerated in England. Even Philip II of Spain considered that the pope was mistaken in this matter.

Yet Pius V was certainly a holy man. Born in 1504 at Bosco, some 30 miles north of Genoa, Antonio Ghislieri came from an impoverished noble family. In boyhood he worked as a shepherd; at 14, he became a Dominican, adopting the name Michele.

After studying theology in Bologna and being ordained in Genoa, he taught theology in Pavia for 16 years. Appointed Inquisitor for Como and Bergamo, he made an impression with another hardliner, Cardinal Carafa. As Pope Paul IV (1555-59) Carafa made Michele Ghislieri a bishop (1556), a cardinal (1557) and “perpetual supreme Inquisitor” (1558). [I think this is the title I would most enjoy, and were I to be made Pope I would revive it the next day.]

Although Ghislieri’s severity raised some eyebrows he was elected pope in 1566 through the influence of Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan.

As Pius V Ghislieri continued to live as a monk, wearing the coarse clothing of a friar under his papal robes and living mainly on vegetable broth and crayfish. He felt it his duty, moreover, to indulge in public exhibitions of piety, processing through the streets with head and feet bare.

Eager to make Rome a holy city in reality as well as in name he expelled prostitutes, banned bullfights [hmmm] and tried to restrict the use of taverns to visitors to the city. He also looked after the poor by distributing alms and food and by setting up interest-free loan banks. [In view of the Church’s teaching on usury.]

In spiritual affairs Pius V fostered his own strong devotion to the Virgin Mary. He laboured to enforce the decrees of the Council of Trent, which he circulated abroad as far as Mexico, Goa and the Congo. To the same end he published the Roman Catechism (1566) and the revised Roman Breviary (1568).

The Roman Missal, issued in 1570, standardised the celebration of Mass. Any national and regional variations had to be warranted by an antiquity of at least 200 years.

Following the example of his mentor Paul IV Pius V continued to sharpen the powers of the Inquisition and eagerly persecuted anyone who showed the least deviation from orthodoxy. [The English “persecute” isn’t quite right, though in its Latin roots it has to do with earnestly pursuing, chasing, following.  This is what a shepherd must one of his denser sheep is blithely running toward a cliff’s edge.  My old friend and mentor the late Card. Mayer used to say that one the Sisters of Mercy who worked in his household was “persecuting” me with daily prayers.] He also expelled Jews from the papal state, moderating his anti-Semitism only in favour of commercial advantage. [I wonder is that is the whole story there.  We need that expert on all things Roman, the great Fabrizio, to help us with this one, I think.]

In 1571 Pius V achieved a triumph when the Spanish and Venetian coalition he had organised destroyed the Turkish fleet at the battle of Lepanto.

All in all a pretty good innings as Pope of Rome.  As tough on himself as he was on others.

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  1. shane says:

    I remember reading a book on St Pius V a few years ago and being scandalized by the descriptions of the wordliness of the Roman clergy. In many ways the situation now is similar to back then. He was a very holy man (though the excommunication of Elizabeth was a big blunder); it might take a similar pope to renew the Church again.

  2. Phil_NL says:

    Once again, proof that holiness and administrative capabilities are seperate things, even in popes.

  3. albizzi says:

    Regarding the homosexual priests here is the decree taken by the Pope St Pius V:

    “Let any member of the clergy caught in that vice against nature, given that the wrath of God falls over the sons of perfidy, be removed from the clerical order or forced to do penance in a monastery” (chap. 4, X, V, 31).

    So that the contagion of such a grave offense may not advance with greater audacity by taking advantage of impunity, which is the greatest incitement to sin, and so as to more severely punish the clerics who are guilty of this nefarious crime and who are not frightened by the death of their souls, we determine that they should be handed over to the severity of the secular authority, which enforces civil law.

    Therefore, wishing to pursue with greater rigor than we have exerted since the beginning of our pontificate, we establish that any priest or member of the clergy, either secular or regular, who commits such an execrable crime, by force of the present law be deprived of every clerical privilege, of every post, dignity and ecclesiastical benefit, and having been degraded by an ecclesiastical judge, let him be immediately delivered to the secular authority to be put to death, as mandated by law as the fitting punishment for laymen who have sunk into this abyss.”

    With the following comment: “That horrible crime, on account of which corrupt and obscene cities were destroyed by fire through divine condemnation, causes us most bitter sorrow and shocks our mind, impelling us to repress such a crime with the greatest possible zeal. ”

    Not very politically correct in the times being, don’t you think so?

  4. Hieronymus says:

    God speed the return of a pope worthy of this man’s office!

    As far as his excommunication of Elizabeth goes, I couldn’t agree with HIM more. There is no sense playing patty fingers with with a heretical monarch and glossing over differences to get along. The modern Church has become so terrified of not being liked that we are not willing to condemn anything anymore. And if an unpopular condemnation comes out, you can bet that there will be a retraction/correction in short order lest anyone take offense at clear teaching. I say teach and discipline with clarity, and let the chips fall where they may.

  5. Rob in Maine says:

    > All in all a pretty good innings as Pope of Rome.

    Too bad Pontiffs couldn’t have stats like in baseball.

    John Paul II went to his Glory on April 5, 2005. He was the last Pontiff to average over .400 and had an ERA (Encyclicals, Really Awesome) of 14. He holds the Papal League record of 91 connotations. He was Pope during the 1988 Pius X lockout.

  6. Hieronymus says:

    @Phil —

    Are you implying that his administrative capabilities were wanting? What about the above could lead to that assessment? Pius V did much to preserve and promote an authentic Catholic identity in a world that was leaving that identity behind. He actually expelled dissenters so Catholics would not fall into the confusion of heretical sects. He was outspoken and proactive in cleaning up the moral decadence that had been allowed to fester in the Church through a lack of discipline. Had recent pontiffs worried more about the preservation of the faith and less about being esteemed by the world, the priesthood would not be associated with pedophilia today. We need less hand-wringing, fewer apologies, more clarity and discipline. In short, St. Pius V would be a welcome change, for both his administrative abilities and the personal sanctity that informed them.

  7. Athelstan says:

    The question of excommunicating Elizabeth I, however, was a question of prudence. Any option was bound to come with a price. The one that St. Pius V chose incurred a price paid not just in blood by the English martyrs, but in the faith lost by the last generation of English Catholics – it was during Elizabeth’s reign that we may say that England really transformed from a Catholic society to a determinedly Protestant one. And the blood of those martyrs did not, in fact, turn out to be the seed blood of the Church in England (save as it existed as a pitiful remnant of furtive recusants in England and at Douai), which effectively ceased to exist for the better part of three centuries, and only then as a tolerated minority church heavily dependent on Catholic immigrants.

    Of course, this was not all apparent to St. Pius V in 1570; Elizabeth looked rather shaky on the throne, being in power only a decade, still far in debt, lacking powerful allies abroad, without consort or heir. One Catholic resurgence had been possible with Mary I; and there were still Catholic claimants (often with better claim than Elizabeth, such as the Poles) waiting in the wings. Likewise, it was highly unlikely that Elizabeth would ever be brought back to the Catholic faith no matter how amenable Pius V was to her regime. Nonetheless, Regnans in Excelsis was sure to ensure that what tenuous existence Catholics had to that point would become a virtually impossible one. Sometimes Catholics must be forced to choose between allegiance to their Church or to their state; but prelates must ponder carefully before putting them in that position.

    Just the same, St. Pius V must be regarded as one of the Church’s greatest and most admirable pontiffs, one worthy of emulation in many respects. The Herald story omitted one of his other great triumphs, his role in organizing the Holy League fleet that Don Juan used to crush the Ottoman navy at Lepanto in 1571.

  8. tmjost says:

    Pope St Pius V, pray for us! Thanks for sharing such an inspiring article! :)

  9. Legisperitus says:

    Bullfighting was a pagan spectacle originating in Mithraism, which may have been the reason for banning it from the Holy City.

  10. “In 1571 Pius V achieved a triumph when the Spanish and Venetian coalition he had organised destroyed the Turkish fleet at the battle of Lepanto.”

    This inspiring the best poem of the 20th century:

    “White founts falling in the Courts of the sun,
    And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
    There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
    It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard;
    It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips;
    For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
    They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
    They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
    And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
    And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross.
    The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
    The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
    From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
    And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.

    Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,
    Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,
    Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,
    The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
    The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
    That once went singing southward when all the world was young.
    In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
    Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
    Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
    Don John of Austria is going to the war…”
    –G.K. Chesterton, Lepanto (excerpt)

  11. Centristian says:

    I agree with others that Pius’s excommunication of Elizabeth had terrible consequences spanning through centuries. But were those consequences, finally, the fault of Pius’s implacability, or were they, ultimately, the fault of a corrupt British monarchy and peerage filled with an intransigent and immalleable hatred of the formerly established authority of Rome over the Church in England (and it’s wealth)? Let’s be honest. Tell me that with the English Crown and English landlords it wasn’t all finally about money. Let’s not kid ourselves.

    Pius V had a spine. He had guts. He wasn’t timid about being the pope. He wasn’t timid about his own prerogatives in the Church and on this Earth as the bishop who is called Christ’s Vicar. He didn’t dialogue with heresy and schism and error; he just condemned it, without apology. He was not the pope of Christian Unity. Or was he? I suppose it depends on how you look at it, through the lenses of the age.

    For the past 50 years, now, the popes of the Catholic Church have all been very much the sort of popes who represent the opposite sort of pope that Pius V was: they have been very nice and very tolerant and very careful and very accomodating men, frequently demurring in the public use of their authority against the enemies of the Faith, who have taken pains not to offend bad people with bad ideas, who smile never so broadly as when they are dialoguing with leaders of false Churches. They’ve each had one or two good moments, sure, but such moments were once the rule rather than the exception.

    I don’t think that anyone would describe the past 50 years as a golden age for the Church. With each succeeding pope of the variety described above, the health and vitality of the Church has deteriorated more and more. The more the popes accomodate the world, the less the world accomodates the Church. The more indulgent Rome is of corrupt clergy and liturgy, the more clergy and liturgy become corrupt. It may be reasonably imagined, therefore, by even the least astute observer of the Church, that that most recent style of papal leadership that has now become typical–a style that is diametrically opposite that of Pius V–has not proved the most successful style for a pope to adopt.

    If Pius V made a mistake in being too rigid in the case of England’s Elizabeth, perhaps we can acknowledge that he at least erred in the right direction and that his pontificate, in general, was quite glittering in terms of Catholic orthodoxy, piety, and reform. The Church was the stronger and more vibrant for his reign, and if the next pope is more like him…and less like his recent predecessors…the Church will be the better for it. It may be the smaller for it, but certainly better.

    St. Pius V, pray for us and for your present day successor.

  12. Fabrizio says:

    Dear Fr. Z, [Everyone… perpend. Interesting stuff here from someone who is very well-read. And he is writing in a second language.]

    I am humbled by your trust in my knowledge of the facts of the life of one of the greatest Popes ever, and I am sorry to say that the article is disappointing in many regards, including its assessment of the circumstances and the assigning of blame for the consequences of the act of sacrilegous tyranny of Henry VIII. The giant leap towards absolutism of this despot was no secondary source of the totalitarian involution that later in time led certain brave colonists of my knowledge – some of them extremely well versed in Roman history – to rise in arms and defend their unalienable rights of free men and remind the whole world what Res Publica means, but I digress.

    Now, the Bull “Hebraeorum gens” of Feb. 26, 1569 – often cited, but seldom read, forget understood in its proper context – expelled on a merely temporary basis all Jewish groups and communities from the Papal States EXCEPT from Rome, Ancona and Avignon. I can’t detail all of this story here but for those who know XVI century Italy’s politics and demographics, that meant expelling next to NOBODY from ANYWHERE, since most Jews were concentrated precisely in these three places. Besides, local authorities were given ample “discretionary powers” – which in Counterreformation Italy meant “do whatever you want as long it accomplishes what I want” (point in case: the large community of Velletri). And what Pope St. Pius V wanted was to PROTECT the Jews and avoid social unrest. He was particularly effective in this regard. Jewish communities were often attacked with the excuse of usury or betrayals in favor of the Muslim invaders or what have you. In some instances those weren’t just excuses, but the fact remained of entire communities being blamed and made the target of violence because of individual responsibilities. In a world without phone, internet and radio communications, motorvehicles, choppers or planes, how do you keep public order, defend everybody’s rights as a Catholic sovereign and protect small minority groups dispersed throughout a mountaineous peninsula besieged by Islamic fleets while all of Catholic Europe is also battling Protestants? Remember he had been an Inquisitor, and even though this will sound absurd to the ignorant, that meant he was unlikely to prosecute anyone without due process and the ascertainment of facts. Back then, that meant making things simple with the means available. Because nobody was likely to make a living by practicing usury in some sheperds village in high Abruzzo – and if the aim was to prosecute Jews – it would have made more sense to expel Jews from Rome and Ancona instead and force them to live among XVI century Italian peasants of the papal States and their renown tolerance of non-Catholic practices and customs.

    There is a reason why Jews fleeing whatever nation kept coming to the Papal States troughout the XVI century as they had done for all of the previous centuries of the existence of such a temporal entity. No, the language of the Bull would not pass muster with the ghost writers at today’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, but we’re talking five hundreds years ago! Because the article started with the alleged consequences of Pius V’s excommunication of the English monarch, it won’t be irrelevant to note that the consequence of this saint’s decision about Jews meant their survival in a time when the enemies of the Papacy were killing them by the thousands.

    No, he did not “moderate his anti-semitism” in favor of commerce: first off, it is absurd to speak of “anti-semitism” strictu sensu prior to the French Illuminists, but I can’t delve on this here, and secondly, if the “excuse” for the alleged antisemitism was usury, how was a Pope not going to forbid those commercial activities which ensured the flow of cash that made the practice of usury possible in the first place, what money would they have had to lend if they could not trade and how would they not practice usury if they were allowed to engage in commercial activities? tertium non datur! . Further still, the loans of the Monti di Pietà were not necessarily “interest free”, and it was precisely the Church’s moral theology that developed the notion of the difference between usury and legitimate interest, and because of that many Jews were acquitted of most charges in many trials lost by Catholic plaintiffs. Another great Pope, Sixtus V – er papa tosto – would later lift some of the restrictions on Jewish activities even more broadly. He too was a tremendous achiever in terms of public order. If I can drift a bit, it was thanks to these “obscurantist” Popes that the blood-libel agaisnt Jews was severely repressed and finally proved to be a calumny and debunked ( For more on this http://www.covenant.idc.ac.il/en/vol1/issue2/introvigne.html) . In some cases there were revolts against the Papal guards in several cities because the Popes would sooner defy their Catholic citizens than to condemn innocent Jews (clericalis mollitia! was the common complaint). We have documents of Jewish communities asking the Pope to send an Inquisitor to defend them from the abuses of secular local authorities!

    Of course not everything or everyone was innocent and pure like the wind-driven snow in these stories, and that includes Catholic clergy, but St. Pius V was! It was Card. Newman, I think, who said that to know history is to become Catholic. I would say that in this day and age even a barely sufficient knowledge of the real history of the City of Rome of the Baroque era alone would be more than enough to make also good Cardinals and theologians, in most cases. Beati monoculi in terra caecorum! Or as my granma used to say, “a casa de li cechi, beato chi cià ‘n occhio!”. OK, I spoke with a bit of passion but…semo o nun semo?!?! (are we or arent’we [Romans]?) ;-))

  13. Hieronymus says:

    Thank you for the excellent post, Fabrizio! Fr. Z’s trust was not misplaced.

  14. Phil_NL says:

    Loosing England for four centuries and counting cannot be seen as good administration, in my book. Plain and simple. It might have been nice to keep a firm line with the English monarchy, but they took millions of others with them. A pope, especially one from an era where the papacy was a temporal power, should have known better, I’d say.

    And let me return a question to you: do you really believe that recent popes were more concerned by how the world perceived them then by defending the faith? If so, you must believe that all recent popes were incredibly incapable even at that, cause Pope-bashing remains a popular pass-time throught the western world…

  15. rakesvines says:

    Fr.Z: It is good that you’ve addressed the Jewish issue. And Fabrizio explanation was just perfect. It would be nice to have some sources to corroborate his points. (Not everyone has access to the Vatican library. Also, I would most likely link to this post and the comments – for my Jewish readers specially.) Thank you both.

  16. @Centristian: I don’t think comparing St Pius V to modern popes in that way is entirely fair to the modern ones. The problems S Pius V faced were very different in nature than the ones (say) Ven JPII faced; if the latter had used the governing style of the former, it would have been wholly unmitigated disaster.

    The intellectual world, the sorts of errors, of 450 years ago were completely different to modern ones. Pius V faced (if one will) positive errors, particular theological positions antithetical to Catholic ones. The postmodern secular consensus is rather negative, a paradoxically dogmatic insistence that dogmas are impossible. Pius V did not have to defend the ideas that objective morality existed, that the difference between men and women is meaningful, etc. Crucially, he was addressing an audience to whom morals were meaningful, who were certain that theological knowledge was possible, who did not start with the presumption that authority is inherently evil and that truth-claims from authority are automatically highly questionable. Popes facing postmodern secularism have to wend through a maze of mental blocks, carefully avoiding
    “loaded” words, to even get to the point where someone not already Catholic or very sympathetic to Catholicism will give their words anything resembling a fair reading.

    Also, in one sense perhaps Pius V was in the worse position, in that he was overseeing a Christendom in process of bloody internal dissolution while under attack from outside. Of course the Church was in any absolute sense stronger then than now, but the perhaps crucial difference is that the modern Church, while a minority party in ‘the West’, is one that knows that it is and has adapted to that fact.

    The language used by the (at least moral) leader of a civilization still in some sense Christendom is going to be fundamentally different from that of the leader of a Church outnumbered by people who not only think Catholicism is wrong but think in terms to which it is almost literally meaningless.

  17. Kerry says:

    Father, would ‘Supremely Perpetually Inquisitive’ be an acceptable substitution…?

  18. kittenchan says:

    “perpetual supreme Inquisitor” (1558). [I think this is the title I would most enjoy, and were I to be made Pope I would revive it the next day.]

    Your lips to God’s ears.

  19. Faith says:

    He always wore the robes of a FRIAR, not a monk. Friars are not monks. Aquinas would say distinctions are important, and Pius V, a Dominican, would agree. BTW, it is because of Pius V that Popes still wear white. You see, the Dominican habit is white. Hence, the reason for this distinction.

  20. RichardT says:

    Either the Missal or Lepanto would be an impressive result for a Papacy.

    To have both, and more besides, is truly remarkable.

  21. Perhaps Fabrizio should be the Perpetual Supreme Inquisitor? When I’m Pope….

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