CHAPTER VIII. THE POPE OF THE HOLY ROSARY. (1566-1572.)
"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." 1 And Lepanto had been won by prayer!2
As a simple friar, St. Pius, true to the spirit of his Order, had ever held the balance even between the life of prayer and the life of action. As Inquisitor, as Cardinal, as Pope, it was the same. Neither suffered at the expense of the other. No biography of the Saint, however brief, which did not emphasise this fact, would be complete. Most perfectly had he mastered that hard saying which bids us leave God for God.
As Pope, his first care, as we have seen, was the reform of the clergy. Like a second Phinees he sternly repressed the intolerable scandals common even among those in high places; the most fruitful causes, as he well knew, of heresy. But at the same time he legislated for the rights of the Church, while many a poor prelate was relieved of the burden of annates, 3 and many a priest had cause to bless his generosity. His Cardinals (whom he allowed to speak freely in Consistory, and from whom St. Pius accepted criticisms and even correction) were so impressed by the austerity of his life that many began to imitate it. He trained young and deserving priests for the office of bishop, and appointed them all over the world. To all clergy he upheld the standard of perfection, and one of his chief titles to honour is that in hundreds of cases his example caused it to be earnestly desired.
He would never allow money to be accepted by prelates for dispensations, which he did not grant easily, quoting the famous dictum of the Council of Trent: "raro: pro causa: gratis" ; 4 and it was only when, before Lepanto, he was implored to do so, that he consented to the sale of dignities and offices—(such as that of Chamberlain, for which Cardinal Alexandrin received 70,000 crowns)—to equip the fleet.
Like all true enthusiasts St. Pius was generous to a fault! He emptied his coffers for the poor, whom he sincerely loved. His charity to the English Catholic exiles, already flocking to Rome and other continental centres, 5 was practically boundless. He revised the jail regulations, and forbade imprisonment for debt—a most important measure.
To the unhappy Christian slaves who had been snatched from the power of the Turk, St. Pius ever showed himself a tender father. At his own expense all who came to Rome were housed, clothed, and sent to their own homes. When in 1566 Rome was ravaged by the plague the Saint organized (on modern lines) a committee to distribute money, food, and medical assistance to the sufferers; going himself to the poorest streets, and finding time to comfort the mourners as well as to encourage the sick. He paid for a large staff of doctors, and appointed a number of priests solely to hear the confessions of the dying, and to bury the dead. To the hospital of Sto. Spirito alone he gave 25,000 crowns at this crisis. It was for his beloved poor that St. Pius encouraged the foundation in Rome of a house of the Brothers of St. John of God. 6 Nor did he stop here. Seeing with grief the number of unemployed in Rome, the Saint started public works for their benefit. A woollen-mill which he thus founded was in existence in 1892. He discovered that convicts were habitually kept in the galleys after their sentence had expired. He forbade this utterly. No wonder the poor loved him!
One most touching detail of his secret charity has come down to us. On his study table there always lay a little purse filled with golden crowns " reserved for urgent cases ... or for once wealthy families fallen into want". His generosity was tempered by discretion. The little purse was continually refilled, but only the Pope knew how it was emptied! "I am the Father of all my children" he would say, with his rare, exquisite smile; " and I must provide for them!" In contrast, it may be noted that the daily expenses of his own table—" the poorest served in Rome "—did not amount to more than 16 soldi. 7
His generosity, however, was not confined to almsgiving. After his accession the Count della Trinita, the nobleman who had once threatened to throw the Saint down a well, came to Rome as Envoy of the Duke of Milan. His confusion can be imagined when St. Pius—who immediately recognized him—said to him with much kindness; " See, my son, how God protects the weak!" Catching sight one day of the peasant in whose hut he had taken shelter on the night of his flight from Bergamo, he sent for him, thanked him publicly, and presented him with a handsome sum of money. The peasant, who did not recognize the Pope, was stupefied. But St. Pius reminded him of the story, and of the fact that his two little daughters would now be old enough to think of their dowry. He sent them 500 francs each, and lodged the peasant in the Vatican the whole time the good man stayed in Rome!
The Conventuals (Franciscans) held their General Chapter in Rome. St. Pius recognized among them that same Fra Aurelio to whom he had committed the process against the heretic bishop. He invited him to remain at the Vatican, covered him with kind attentions, and shortly after appointed him to a vacant bishopric.
His delicate courtesy to the family of his old friend Paul IV is matter of history. Recalling those who had been exiled unjustly he reinstated the Caraffa family in its former dignities. The evil-doers were dead, the scandals forgotten. The body of Paul IV, removed from its temporary grave, was placed in a magnificent tomb at the Minerva, in presence of the Pontifical Court, of all the civil tribunals of Rome, and of every religious body. Attendance at the magnificent ceremony was compulsory. "In this he showed himself incomparable! " 8 St. Pius ordered a requiem to be sung for the soul of Paul IV on each anniversary of his death. Gratitude was one of his predominant virtues.
St. Pius loved all religious, but above all, his own Order. He granted many privileges to all, individual as well as general, besides making generous offerings. It is to St. Pius that St. Francis owes the magnificent Church of Our Lady of the Angels at Assisi, built over the little Portiuncula. He hated scandal, and took all possible means to repress it. So great was his fear of becoming himself an occasion of calumny that he would not allow any of his nearest relations to come to Rome unless charged with some special office, lest the ignorant should imagine he was enriching his own people with the goods of the Church. And when they did come, he was very severe! One of his nephews who had fought at Lepanto subsequently behaved badly in a position of trust. St. Pius sent for him, and lit a taper as he entered the room. "You will leave Rome" he remarked, " before that candle is burnt out! " The young man was wise enough to obey.
In spite of his severity " the Saint welcomed everyone with the greatest charity, speaking to all with great kindness, and never sending anyone away discontented. Were he obliged to refuse a request he always gave his reasons for so doing, and made no secret of his regret." One of his visitors was an old peasant, who appeared one day, dressed in the Lombard costume, with a little barrel of wine on his shoulder. "Your Holiness does not recognize me ? " asked the old man. " Do you remember how, when you and I were boys at Bosco, we planted a vine together, and you said: 1 Probably neither of us will ever drink of its wine ? ' Your Holiness must acknowledge that on that occasion you were not infallible, for here is a little barrel of red wine, made from that very vine by my own hands! " St. Pius did remember, and his pleasure at seeing his old friend may be imagined. He sent him away laden with gifts.
Such are a few instances of the details which filled the time of the Saint when he was not occupied with affairs of world-wide importance. Of his inner life of prayer less can be said, for it was hid in Christ. Its outward manifestations, however, were patent. Some have already been mentioned. Till his death the holy Pope slept on a hard straw mattress in his Dominican habit of coarse white serge. Beneath this he wore always a cruel hair-shirt " His anger," says one who knew him, " was of short duration, and soon gave way to kindness. His kindest acts were performed towards those who had injured him."
St. Pius had enemies. His holy severity, his relentless opposition to evil-doers could not fail to produce them. One of them attempted to take upon the Saint a revenge so terrible that but for the fact of the miracle, confirmed by many witnesses, which averted it, it would be incredible. The holy Pope had a most tender devotion to the Passion of our Lord, and prayed for hours nightly —as he had done since his priesthood in 1528— with his crucifix in his hand, devoutly kissing the Five Sacred Wounds. One night, as he knelt with his household in his oratory the Pope raised to his lips the Feet of the Crucified. But to his grief and terror, the carved Feet were drawn sharply aside, as he was about to kiss them. He cried aloud, thinking in his humility that for some secret sin the Divine Saviour refused his embrace. His servants, witnesses of the feet, thought otherwise. They carefully wiped the feet of the Crucifix with bread, "which, being thrown to an animal, the same delayed not to perish ".
The Saint had a great devotion to prayers for the dead. He granted indulgences for this pious practice, and also for the recital of the Officium Defunctorum. 9 He specially loved and venerated his glorious patron, St. Michael, whom he so much resembled (in so far as a human being may be said to resemble an Archangel). To St. Thomas Aquinas he showed his devotion not only by proclaiming the " Most learned of the Saints " the fifth Doctor of the Church, and declaring his feast of precept at Naples; but by publishing a splendid edition of his works in eighteen volumes. At the same time, by what was considered an act of delicate courtesy, he also ordered a new edition of the works of the Seraphic Doctor, St. Bonaventure.
But beyond all other devotions his love for the Blessed Sacrament shone resplendent. So great was his reverence that he would never allow himself to be carried in the procession of Corpus Christi, but always went on foot, bearing himself the monstrance. So angelic on these occasions was the holiness of his aspect that a Protestant gentleman from England, watching the procession, was so impressed by it that he shortly after became a Catholic. The Saint's Mass, said very early in the morning, was always preceded by an hour's preparation, and followed by at least an hour's thanksgiving. 10 It was St. Pius who added the last gospel to the Mass, in honour of the Incarnation. Next to his devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament the Saint's greatest love was given to His Blessed Mother. We have seen how the prayers of St Pius won Le-panto, by the intercession of Our Lady, and how he loved and promulgated the devotion of the Holy Rosary. Numerous were the indulgences attached by the Saint to " the Royal Rosary of the Preachers," as a Spanish writer beautifully styles it. Its Feast, originally fixed as 7 October by St. Pius, was changed by Gregory XIII to the first Sunday of that month. The Office of. the Conception of Our Lady was declared by St. Pius to be binding on the whole Church, 11 and he attached indulgences to the recital of the little office of Our Lady.
His energy was boundless; he never spared himself. One hundred and twenty-one of the Bulls in the Papal Bullarium were issued by St. Pius, and many of these affected the whole world. "The mission of Pius V may be stated in one sentence—he was raised up to be the executive authority of the Council of Trent in Holy Church." His noble character is thus admirably summed up by Cardinal Newman : " I do not deny that St. Pius was stern and severe, as far as a heart burning and melted with Divine Love could be so. . . . Yet such energy and vigour as his were necessary for his times. He was emphatically a soldier of Christ in a time of insurrection and rebellion, when, in a spiritual sense, martial law was proclaimed."
His sternness and severity were exercised first and principally upon himself. Upon others they were used only for what he knew or believed to be the greater glory of God. Called to the Supreme Headship of Holy Church in one of the great crises of her history, he has been accused, even by Catholics, of bigotry and narrow-mindedness. If a bigot be a man of one idea, which he pursues unrelentingly, the first charge must be admitted, always remembering that the Saint's sole object and intention was to glorify God through the perfection of His Mystical Body upon earth. To this end he hesitated not to take measures of undoubted and most necessary severity against the foes of the Church both within and without. Nothing else could have been effectual in the difficult and dangerous times in which he lived. For those who have studied his life it is unnecessary to refute the charge of narrow-mindedness, and a charge preferred by those who have not is of no value. He was, and perhaps always must be, misunderstood, for he was literally consumed with zeal for God, and such a man, when his zeal is maintained at white-heat, is very seldom popular!
His grand figure, fearless and uncompromising in a lax and corrupt generation, rises clear above the mists of misrepresentation as one of the most important historical characters of the sixteenth century. Great and glorious as he is among Dominican Saints his influence was felt, not only within his Order, but throughout the whole of Christendom. For St. Pius is not only a great Saint, he was also a great statesman and ruler, and as such even his enemies must yield him at least this reluctant tribute, that he had the courage of his convictions. Right was right, holiness was righteousness, and wrong was sin to him, in temporal as well as spiritual things. And, however we may judge his political actions we must at any rate admit that his fearless, single-hearted policy brought about results of which we reap the benefit to-day. " Pius, like a flaming torch, illumines the whole world."
" Wonder not," cried St. Theresa to her nuns, when St. Pius appeared to her at the moment of his death, promising to help continually her noble work: " Wonder not that I weep, but rather weep with me, for to-day the Church has lost her greatest Pastor
The time was at hand when the Church was to lose him, just at the moment when, as it seemed, his presence was most urgently needed.
1 Alison "History of Europe," vol. ix, p. 95.
2 A Turkish captive, released from Rome, took with him a picture of the Pope to show to the Sultan "This," said he, "is the man who has destroyed your fleets!"
3 The first year's income of a see, paid to the Pope.
4 Rarely: for a special reason: freely.
5 One of the most generous in his hospitality to the exiles was St. Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan.
6 "Fate bene Fratelli," as the people called them.
7 About 7½,d. English.
9 In no Order are the dead prayed for as in that of St. Dominic. It is no doubt this fact that gave rise to the old saying: "Be a Carthusian while you are living, and a Dominican when you are dead! "
10 On the Saint's return from the church he immediately gave audiences till 3 p.m. So early did these begin that in winter those who sought him had to come by torchlight!
11 The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was published by Pius IX, 8 Dec., 1857—300 years later.