CHAPTER III. THE HOLY OFFICE. (1543-1557) PART 2.
In June, 1551, soon after the great Dominican returned to Rome for the second time from Bergamo, the Commissary-General of the Inquisition, Father Tropaeus, O.P., died. He had held the office since 1542. The Master-General of the Order submitted to the Holy Office the names of several suitable successors, 2 but Cardinal Caraffa, who had long observed Father Michael, seeing what an opportunity this was to retain his services permanently in Rome, nominated him, and he was unanimously elected; for as Caraffa said to the Pope, he was " a servant of God, worthy of the highest honours, and most eminent dignities". Reluctantly and humbly the saintly Dominican consented, under obedience, to accept the important office. He had been living at his monastery of Santa Sabina, 3 but Caraffa now obtained permission to lodge his friend in his own palace. Here the new Commissary-General lived like a simple religious, permitting himself no sort of dispensation in food or personal comfort. Caraffa so honoured him that he gave orders that Father Michael should at all times enter his presence without ceremony, and unannounced; and his high opinion of his friend was shared by his brother-Cardinals.
The work of the Commissary-General lay in Rome. It was his daily duty to visit those who lay in prison accused of heresy, and in this, perhaps even more than in any work he undertook, Father Michael's single desire for God's glory, and the Christ-like tenderness of his character, are conspicuous. His joy was to seek out among the prisoners those who showed the least signs of a desire to renounce their error, and to gain them to the Faith. It was a thorny task, and he had not a few failures. He went amongst the prisoners like a true father, doing more perhaps by his radiant holiness and charity to win souls to Christ than by his spoken words. As soon as he was convinced of the sincerity of a prisoner's repentance he asked very humbly his prayers for himself, and not only did all he could to improve his lot till the prisoner should be released by public recantation, but invited him to visit him, and dine at his simple table.
The case of the celebrated Sixtus of Sienna must be specially mentioned. Some years before, a young Jew who had become a Catholic while still a boy, had entered the Order of Friars Minor. Here his brilliant gifts brought him into great prominence. He became a popular preacher—always a special snare. But his horrified superiors discovered his discourses, and indeed his faith, to be tainted with heresy, imbibed from Ambrose Catharin, his former professor. 4 The matter was reported to the Holy Office, the young friar arrested and imprisoned. When examined he replied ingenuously that he really believed the heresy in question, as it seemed to him to illumine much that was obscure in the Catholic religion! He however, abjured, was released, and returned to his Order. Again beginning to preach he was again convicted of heresy. But this time there was no hope of escape. The penalty for a relapsed heretic was death by fire. Father Michael, walking through the prison, was struck by the attractive personality and profound misery of the young Franciscan. Having discovered his name and history, he spoke to him kindly, begging him to confide in him as a friend. This, after long persuasion, Sixtus did, but so great was his despair that he told the Commissary his only hope now was to expiate his shame by death, for the enormity of his sin seemed to have stunned him. The Inquisitor, deeply touched, redoubled his prayers and his visits. Day by day he offered the Holy Sacrifice for the conversion of this wanderer; daily he talked to the prisoner, full of sympathy and tenderness. " Even if I were to live," said Sixtus once, "I could never return to my Order. It has cast' me off. The only thing for me is to die." "Do you not think" asked the Inquisitor quietly, "that it might be even harder to live a life of penance ? "
He had struck the right chord. The whole nature of the unhappy prisoner responded to it. He burst into tears—the first he had shed since his arrest. " For that," he said, " I might be willing to livel" The Commissary left him, and hastened to the Pope. From him he begged and obtained the young friar's pardon. Such was the Pope's implicit confidence in him that, as one of his old biographers says : " what the Holy Father would not have granted to Kings he granted to Father Michael!"
Sixtus was pardoned, made full abjuration of his heresy, confessed to his preserver, and received absolution. The Inquisitor undertook to provide for his future, for Sixtus steadfastly refused to return to the Franciscan Order, whose habit, he said, he had utterly disgraced. Father Michael admitted him into the Order of Friars Preachers, himself clothing him with one of his own tunics, and adopting him as his spiritual child. Sixtus became one of the greatest Scripture scholars of his century and was never tired of saying that he owed not only his temporal but his eternal salvation to Father Michael. 5
Perhaps an even more striking case is that of Father Felix of Montalto, 6 who has been already mentioned This learned and eloquent Franciscan was preaching in St. Peter's to crowded congregations when, one day, just as he was going into the pulpit an unknown person slipped into his hand a piece of folded paper. Thinking it was one of the questions so often presented to him, which he was in the habit of answering during the latter part of his sermon, Father Felix began to preach with his usual fire—for he was an orator of no mean capacity—and half-way through his discourse stopped to unfold the paper, and answer the question. These words met his eye : "Liar! you preach what you do not yourself believe ! "
The Franciscan was so much distressed that he found it impossible to continue. He trembled, grew pale, and after a few disconnected sentences left the pulpit and the church, and hastened back to his monastery. But his curious behaviour had caused great surprise, and some one had immediately reported the matter to the Holy Office. Scarcely had Father Felix reached the door of his convent than he was confronted by a representative of the Inquisition. Sounded, in a long interview, to the depths of his soul, and questioned closely on almost every point of importance in dogmatic theology, Father Felix in a long and exhaustive examination so clearly expressed his faith, and spoke with such luminous simplicity and earnestness, that his visitor at length rose, and holding out his arms cried, with tears in his eyes: " Come to me, if you ever need a defender!"
Two future Popes, Pius V and Sixtus V thus embraced each other!
The friendship was lifelong. The great Dominican honoured Father Felix with his confidence and consulted him on all matters of Faith.
On 23 March, 15551 Pope Julius III died, and Cardinal Marcello Cervini 7 became Pope as Marcellus II (9 April, 1555). He only survived his election a fortnight, and on 1 May, after a somewhat excited conclave (during which the name of Cardinal Pole, Legate in England, which he had just reconciled to the Church, was again freely mentioned as that of the future Pontiff) Cardinal Caraffa, then 80 years old, was elected Pope as Paul IV.
Of his deep affection for Michael Alexandrin the new Pope soon gave abundant proof. During the two spring conclaves of 1555, while the last national embassy from England was winding its way across the Alps to pay homage to the Pope, all authority was delegated by the Cardinals of the Holy Office to their Commissary, for the first time in history, 8 such was the confidence felt by the whole Roman Court in the integrity and holiness of the austere Dominican friar.
When Father Michael went to congratulate the new Pope, Paul IV told him that he would soon have to bear "half the burden of the Papacy". Father Michael began to explain how utterly unfit he was for any great charge, alluding to his humble birth, and begging the Pope to allow him to remain a simple religious. He was deeply moved, but Paul IV smiled, and commanded him, by holy obedience, instantly to accept whatever office or dignity might be laid upon him, for the glory of God, and the salvation of souls. In September, 1556, he was consecrated Bishop of Nepi and Sutri, 9 a see to which he had been presented by the Pope the previous year. He begged to be released from his office of Commissary, that he might go and live in his diocese. Paul IV refused, and appointed him in addition Prefect of the Palace, and it was not till January, 1557, after repeated appeals, that the Saint was allowed to leave Rome.
Arrived in his diocese he led the life of an apostle, travelling on foot in his white habit through every town and village, making acquaintance personally with all his people, preaching, confirming, ordaining, for two months. Then, feeling the responsibility of even so small a see too great, he returned once more to Rome to plead with the Pope to release him.
Paul IV's reply was that he should bind the Bishop to the service of the Church with chains so strong that he should never, even after the Pontiffs death, be able to break them. A day or two after the Pope suddenly sent for his friend, and told him he was about to be created Cardinal, at the consistory to be held that day. However, for some reason—perhaps to test him, the Saint was not on that occasion raised to the purple. He was so delighted that he could not contain his joy. " We have escaped! " he cried gleefully. There were not, however, wanting those who jeered at him for so cleverly concealing what, it seemed to them, must be his intense disappointment.
But his joy was of short duration. At the next consistory, 15 March, 1557, Michael Alexandiin was created Cardinal, under title of Sta. Maria sopra Minerva. 10
1 Fra Aurelio Griani, a Conventual.
2 The office of Commissary was, of course, always held by a Dominican.
3 The convent church oi Santa Sabina dates from the Pontificate of St. Celestin I (fifth century). It was restored by Gregory IX in the thirteenth century. The cell inhabited by St. Pius, on the great staircase, a little way above that of St. Dominic, is to-day a chapel where his memory is venerated by the faithful. Here he came regularly when Pope to make his annual retreat.
4 This heresy was on the subject of freewill and predestination.
5 In the Dedication of his " Bibliotheca Sancta," to St. Pius V in 1566, Sixtus says: " Where could I find a more powerful protector than yourself, who once dragged me from the gates of Hell ? Never can I tell all your benefits, and to no one on earth could I owe what I do to you."
7 Di Sta. Croce in Gerusalemme. He was a member of the Holy Office, and a friend of Cardinal Pole.
8 "Paucis nonnullis atrocioribus causis exceptis " (Gabut, I.3).
9 In 1463 these two tiny Episcopal sees had been amalgamated, as singly the revenue of each was not sufficient to support a bishop. Both were a few miles from Rome, along the Via Flaminia.
10 This church was originally occupied by Greek Basilian monks. Gregory IX gave it to the Dominican Order, and it became the burial-place of St. Catherine of Sienna. This was the first time it had appeared as a titular church.