CHAPTER IV. "THE CARDINAL OF GOD." (1557-1566.)
Such power was a fearful responsibility, but he did not flinch, though after his resignation it was considered wiser not to trust any one with so important an office again, the authority reverting to the board of Cardinals of the Holy Office, for " there were not two Cardinal Alexandrins ". With all his heart and soul he set himself to fight against heresy, and in this battle the Society of Jesus, lately founded by St. Ignatius Loyola, was to be one of his most powerful allies.
Cardinal Alexandra's life was a continuation of what it had ever been. Except on state occasions, when obliged to put on his Cardinal's robes, he wore the habit of a simple friar, and this was of the coarsest white serge. Once, when one of fine new cloth was substituted for the old one by his servant, who thought the rough serge beneath a Cardinal's dignity, the Saint made him bring the old one back, and refused to wear the other.
His meals—he never had more than two daily,— as far as possible his hours, his rule of life, his fasts, his prayers, all were the same as before. Even after he became Pope he observed most strictly the Dominican Rule. Three times a week, much against his will, he ate " a very little meat," by medical order. His usual food was bread, with boiled herbs—" not pleasant herbs," his first biographer 2 tells us, but bitter chicory. "He ever set his face against sweet things." He seldom breakfasted, that he might have more time for audiences, for he was accessible to every one. When he did he took a little broth, or an egg. He made a rule only to drink once during a meal, 3 but his doctor discovered this, and made him drink twice as much. When ordered wine he mixed a few drops with water.
He hated display as well as luxury, and only employed as few servants as possible—about twenty— and those were most carefully chosen. They were warned they were coming to serve in a monastery, not in a palace! His care for his household was beautiful. The largest room in the palace was set apart as an infirmary, and fitted up with great care to receive any who might be ill, and needing medical advice. He gave his servants a rule of life, appointing days when they should approach the Sacraments, and three times a week, an hour of spiritual reading, the food of mental prayer. He himself was chaplain to his household, and lent books to his servants, in each of whom he took a close personal interest, and to whom he was rather a father than a master. They attended Mass every morning and family prayer every evening. He never would allow them to be disturbed while resting, or at meals, and would open his own door, rather than call his servant to answer a bell, were he at dinner. Cardinal Alexandras servants must have found him a friend indeed !
When one considers the princely style in which almost all Cardinals lived in those days, some of them of royal, and most of noble blood, the sharp contrast presented by the life of such a man as Cardinal Alexandrin is the more startling. Perhaps it says more for him than anything else that his simple goodness and single-heartedness won the respect and even affection of his fellow-Cardinals and made him no enemies.
All this time he was suffering from an agonizing internal complaint which caused him ceaseless pain, and of which he never spoke.
He set his face steadily against all abuse of his new dignity. To all requests made by his relations for advancement he turned a deaf ear. Never, he said, would he enrich his kinsfolk with the goods of the Church! His niece wrote to congratulate him on his Cardinalate, and to ask him to procure some post for her brother-in-law. The Saint told her 4 that she should thank God for his new dignity, and be the more careful to increase in virtue. " As regards your request, you had better understand at once that benefices are not bestowed upon one's relations, but upon those who deserve them." However, he adds that should the bishop of the diocese send him a good report of the priest in question, he (Cardinal Alexandrin) would willingly do what he could for him.
On 18 August, 1559, Pope Paul IV died. He was exceedingly unpopular in Rome, partly on account of his violent political hatred of Spain—now master of a great part of Italy—and partly because of the excesses of his family, for which (though he had severely punished the offenders) he was most unjustly held responsible. His death was the signal for most unbecoming rejoicings on the part of the " fierce and fickle population of Rome". 5 His great desire had been to save his country and to reform the Church. " Reformation! we need reformation! " was his frequent cry. " Yes, Holiness," replied one day Cardinal Pacheco, " a reformation that will begin with ourselves!" He was right, and it was this reformation which our Saint, by example, word, and act, was ever trying to bring about.
On Christmas night, 1559, Giovanni Angelo, Cardinal de Medicis 6 was elected Pope, and took the name of Pius IV. A sharp reaction took place against the friends and favourites of the late Pontiff. Many were executed, the rest banished. The downfall of Cardinal Alexandrin was looked for, but he was the only person absolutely unaffected by the storm. Against the Dominican Cardinal-Inquisitor nobody spoke a word. Indeed the new Pope soon gave public proof of his esteem for him, by an exceptional favour confirmed him in the rank of Supreme Inquisitor, and in 1560 transferred him from his small bishopric to the important one of Mondovi, or Montreal, in Piedmont.
He was suffering greatly at this time. Leaving Rome on 28 June he travelled to Mondovi by way of the Baths of Lucca, at his doctors' advice, but though " tormented " by his cruel malady, he obtained little relief there. Genoa, under the Duke of Savoy, gave him a royal welcome as he passed through the city. But his one desire was to continue his work for souls. His first care was to re-establish in his new Cathedral the recitation of the Divine Office, and to hold a chapter of the Canons, in which he urged upon them all to live a good and holy life. He then entered upon a thorough visitation of his diocese, which, owing to lax and non-resident bishops had Men into a deplorable state.
After some months he paid a visit to Bosco. He had not been there since 1528, when, going to say his first Mass in his old parish church, he had found it in ruins. Here his friends, overcome with joy that so great a dignitary should have come from their tiny village, gave him an overwhelming reception. It was on this occasion that he determined to build at Bosco a large Dominican monastery, the fabric of which still exists, 7 as a thankoffering to Almighty God. His parents were at this time almost certainly dead. From Bosco the Cardinal-Bishop went on to Vigevano, his old novitiate house, where he was received with reverent joy. Many of his old fellow-students were still there to welcome him. Thence he travelled to Milan, and finally to Rome, whither in October he had been summoned, as Pius IV found his presence indispensable. He reached the Holy City on 25 November, 1560.
Pius IV., a pontiff of weak, though amiable and gentle character, whose unexpected severities upon the Caraffa family had caused some consternation, as well as rejoicing, in Rome, was anxious to complete and put in practical form the deliberations of the (Ecumenical Council of Trent, which had now sat through the reigns of four Popes. 8 Most especially was he anxious that the new regulations for the discipline of the clergy should be put in force. It was to this end our Saint was recalled. Another Saint, the nephew of Pius IV, Cardinal Charles Borromeo, was doing much to achieve the same purpose, but he was very young, and Cardinal Alexandra's presence was felt to be necessary. He realized, says an old writer, that ideal which St Bernard 9 proposed to Cardinals in the councils of the Pope, for instead of advising what was acceptable, he advised what from his heart he believed to be right. Cardinal Bossuti said one day: " the vote of Cardinal Alexandrin is worth more than those of all the rest of us put together !" He never temporized.
But this inflexibility of purpose was to bring him into sharp conflict with the Pope. In 1563 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, 10 a boy of thirteen, and Frederic di Gonzaga, 11 a youth of twenty. Taken by surprise, the assembled Cardinals weakly assented. With a bad grace, each one said " Placet". All but Cardinal Alexandrin! "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! These young princes cannot yet know if their vocation is to an ecclesiastical career. 12 Some day even they may wish to marry. 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 for having with his fellows opened the Sacred College to his master, the intrepid Dominican 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 is in very truth a Cardinal of God!"
The next point at issue was the question of the Cardinal-Legate for France. Pius IV wished, for political reasons, to substitute for Cardinal Farnese, the French Cardinal de Bourbon. In the cause of religion this was highly undesirable, the heretics in France choosing to regard it as a sign of favour to themselves. As Supreme Inquisitor, Cardinal Alexandrin protested strongly. Cardinal de Bourbon's own orthodoxy was of course not in question, but he was allied to all the great Huguenot families in France. The Pope, however, persisted in the change, and was annoyed at the objection.
About this time the Emperor Maximilian, the. weak and vacillating ruler of what was still known as the Holy Roman Empire, together with a few German Princes, approached the Pontiff on a very important question. They requested—nominally for the avoidance of scandals—that priests in their dominions should be allowed to marry, contrary to the age-long discipline of the Western Church. Pius IV, true to his policy of conciliation, called a Consistory to discuss the matter, though, of course, fully aware that it was impossible to yield a point so important. Cardinal Alexandrin, deeply moved, spoke most strongly on the subject, the gist of his argument being: "Do not evil that good may come So clearly did he point out the impossibility of granting the request, and the reasons against it, that it only remained for the Pope to write to the Emperor (18 May, 1564) explaining that the discipline of the Church could not be infringed for the sake of a few wicked men whose lives needed reformation, and that the idea must be absolutely and finally abandoned.
Shortly afterwards Cardinal Alexandrin came the third time most unwillingly into collision with the Pope, whose annoyance, as is not uncommon with characters of a certain type, had been slowly and silently growing. Pius IV, whose health was failing, had desired to settle before his death a pension of 100,000 ducats upon his nephew (brother-in-law of Cardinal Borromeeo), out of the funds of the Sacred College, as the Papal treasury was nearly empty. Again the Cardinals very unwillingly agreed. Again Cardinal Alexandrin opposed the scheme with all his might. He pointed out that Church property was not intended to be alienated to lay-folk; and that, on the other hand, the Pope's nephew had wealthy and powerful relatives.
This was the last straw! Seeing the Pope's real vexation he withdrew from the Consistory, and it was speedily rumoured that he was to be imprisoned in Sant' Angelo, but the Pope did not go as far as that, though he withdrew some of the Saint's privileges as Inquisitor, and even requested him to vacate the apartments which he inhabited in the Quirinal. This the holy Cardinal did willingly, nor did he feel any of the slights offered him. " I can always take refuge in my monastery!" he said, " if I am not allowed to speak the truth in Consistory ". But the Pope's anger did not last long, and indeed Cardinal Alexandra's services were indispensable.
In July, 1564, his cruel illness attacked him so sharply that his end seemed near. He caused a tomb to be prepared for him in the Minerva, and himself composed his own epitaph. But his time was not yet. Slowly the disease relaxed its hold on him, and he grew stronger. As a measure of health returned to him he determined to go back to Mondovi, where indeed his thoughts had been during his illness, and which he had only left under obedience. He prepared to go to Genoa by sea, and had already packed his books, valuable papers, and furniture on a galley when the Pope requested him to remain in Home. He did so, but the galley had sailed, and news came almost immediately that it had been captured by Algerian corsairs and destroyed. The blow can only be fully realized by a student and book-lover! But Cardinal Alexandrin did not murmur. He renewed his request for leave to go to Mondovi, but he was formally ordered to remain in Rome, for the affairs of Holy Office urgently demanded his presence.
The Pope's health was rapidly failing, and on 9 December, 1565, in the arms of two Saints, Charles Borromeo and Philip Neri, Pius IV passed away.
On 26 December fifty Cardinals entered into conclave, the leading spirit in which was, in spite of his youth, 13 the saintly nephew of the late Pope, Cardinal Charles Borromeo. The choice at first seemed to lie between two learned and holy Cardinals, Morone and Sirleto, but the Holy Ghost had not chosen these, and St. Charles began to understand they would not be elected. " Whom shall we elect ? " asked a Cardinal of him, as they entered the conclave. " Him whom God hath chosen!" replied Cardinal Borromeo solemnly. His attention became riveted on Cardinal Alexandrin. "Believing as I did," he wrote not long after to the King of Portugal, " that were he elected he would govern the Church gloriously, I. . . employed my whole influence to elect him to St. Peter's Chair. The Holy Spirit visibly favoured my hopes by miraculously uniting on him the votes of the Cardinals."
Nearly a week before it took place the election was foretold by St. Philip Neri, in his cell at the Oratory. The Dominican Prior at the Minerva saw in a dream the tiara on the head of Michael Alexandrin. The night before the election the aged Cardinal Gonzaga was dying, having entered the conclave sick unto death. Suddenly raising himself he cried loudly: "Why did you not tell me that Cardinal Alexandrin was elected Pope, that I might go and adore 14 him ? "
That night—it was 7 January, 1566—Cardinal Alexandrin was in his cell, praying earnestly that the Holy Ghost would make known the man whom he had chosen, when, looking up, he saw St Charles Borromeo standing in the doorway accompanied by several Cardinals. Gently they announced to him the unanimous vote of the conclave, against his will they drew him away to the Chapel, where the ceremony of Adoration took place. His trembling lips could scarcely form the final word: "Aceeptamus The Cardinal-Chamberlain slipped on to his finger the Fisherman's ring; the Cardinal-Deacon (St. Charles) approaching the window just unwalled for the purpose, announced to the impatient waiting crowds without that the Church had a new Pope, Cardinal Alexandrin, who had taken the name of Pius V.
The suspense was over! The Pope of the Holy Rosary had ascended the throne of St. Peter!
It is pathetic to read that, for the first time in his life, that night he slept a long, peaceful sleep of eleven hours!
1 Some biographers say 14 December. 4
2 Catena, writing fifteen years after the Saint's death, 1587.
3 "Un' bicchiere ben' piccolo."
4 26 March, 1558.
5 His statue on the Capitol was destroyed, and the head rolled through the streets into the Tiber.
6 Not a member of the notorious Florentine family.
7 It is now a prison.
8 The Council of Trent sat from 1545-63, through the reigns of Paul III, Julius III (Marcellus II), Paul IV, and Pius IV; held twenty-five sessions, and decreed 127 canons. The famous Cardinal Pole was one of the first three Legates; Julius III was another.
9 Letter to Pope Eugenius III: " Choose such [Cardinals] as are immovable pillars of the Church, capable of sustaining, or directing if necessary, the resolutions of the Vicar of Jesus Christ."
10 Son of the Duke of Florence.
11 Brother of the Duke of Mantua. These appointments were political, and complimentary. The policy of Pius IV, unlike that of his predecessor, was one of conciliation.
12 Twenty-five years later Ferdinand de Medici abandoned his Cardinalate, and became Grand Duke of Tuscany in place of his brother Francis. The Saint's prophecy was realized.
13 Cardinal Borromeo was then twenty-seven years old.
14 The homage paid to the newly elected Pontiff.