Thursday, April 30, 2015

Saint of the Day: Pope Pius V

"I do not deny that St. Pius V was stern and severe, as far as a heart burning and melted with divine love could be so... Yet such energy and vigor as his were necessary for the times. He was a soldier of Christ in a time of insurrection and rebellion, when, in a spiritual sense, martial law was proclaimed." - Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman

Michael Ghislieri was born January 17, 1504 in the township of Bosco, not far from the Piedmontese city of Alesandria. From a young age he felt a calling to the priesthood, but his poor village couldn't afford to pay for his studies. They set him to watch over the sheep. A chance encounter with two Dominican friars on the road set him on the course that would elevate him to the papacy. The province was deeply impressed by his intellect and piety. Ghislieri was made a professor of philosophy and later elected Prior of his monastery on four occasions while still in his twenties. The Protestant rebellion had begun in earnest by the time he reached manhood. Ghislieri was appointed Inquisitor for his region. Much like our own day, the Church was filled with souls, some well-meaning and some cowardly, who said that it was a mistake to confront Protestantism head on. They thought more harm than good would come from aggressively refuting Protestant apologetics. Ghislieri was urged to not wear his religious habit so as to avoid antagonizing the Protestants he sought to bring back to the true Faith.

He of course ignored all of that. Ghislieri said he was prepared for martyrdom for the sake of wearing his habit and showing his allegiance to the true Church. He showed neither fear nor favor to those whom he investigated. He promptly excommunicated rich and powerful Protestants, deposed and exiled unworthy bishops, and urged the lax and ignorant local clergy to clean up their acts because their bad example was the greatest recruiting tool the Protestants had. At the same time, he showed tender solicitude toward those who recanted the Protestant errors, and worked hard to help them reestablish themselves in Catholic society.

Naturally, this made him quite unpopular with Protestants and traitorous Catholics, but he thought only of performing his duty to God, regardless of how much it might offend man. He was banished to the Italian equivalent of Siberia until the death of Pope Pius IV brought him back to Rome. The Cardinals recognized the dire straits into which the Church had fallen, and so, dragging a kicking and screaming Ghislieri into the chapel, one by one the Cardinals unanimously elected him pope by acclaim. He accepted and chose the name Pius.

Choosing to retain his simple Dominican habit, Pius V is credited with starting the tradition of popes wearing all white, whereas before they dressed like any other Cardinal. His first act was to clean up the city of Rome. Prostitutes were told they could either reform their lives or suffer banishment. Priests found guilty of sexual misconduct faced corporal punishment up to and including beheading. Sodomites were burned at the stake. Hooligans who had destroyed a statue of a previous pope were put to death. But those who truly repented and reformed their lives were given all necessary aid from the papal treasury to rebuild their lives. Pius personally worked in the hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens, and other institutions he ordered built for the poor of the city.

Pius is best known for organizing the Holy League which triumphed over the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571, a date which is still celebrated in the Church as the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (formerly Our Lady of Victory.) Legend has it that when the Christian fleet was victorious, the pope was discussing business with his treasurer. He stopped in mid-conversation, looked out his window, and then declared business over for the day as they had just won a great victory at Lepanto. Two weeks later, the news of Christendom's triumph reached Rome.

Pius V is probably my favorite papal saint. God always calls up the best men and women to handle the crises which beset his Church. What struck me about the hagiography I read was how closely the Rome of Pius V's day resembles the entire Church of the 21st century. Back then Protestants were still considered apostate or heretical Catholics. Almost everyone was telling the pope to make nice with them or else all sorts of bad stuff would happen. Pius, of course, would hear none of it. He hurled down thunderous anathemas and excommunications from on high against all comers. Catholics who were stuck in Protestant ruled lands such as England took heart from knowing that their pontiff supported them with both action and prayer.

Pope Pius V condemned the ideas of one Professor Michael Baius who taught that the Church had strayed too far during the Middle Ages and that she should return to the primitive simplicity of the early Church and the Patristic sources. Heh, where have we heard that before? Instead, Pius codified the Mass that had existed since the time of Pope St. Gregory the Great, what some erroneously call the Tridentine Mass. He signed off on the Catechism of the Council of Trent and made St. Thomas Aquinas a Doctor of the Church, urging all of those studying for the priesthood to study Thomas's work.

Pius had great paternal solicitude for all of the souls under his care. Ultimately though, he cared less about people's feelings than he did about the truth. Charity without truth is mere sentimentality, and anyone with eyes in his head can see that many modern churches love the sinner without really hating the sin anymore. It is not kind, or charitable, or loving to confirm someone on the road to hell. Indeed, you're in great danger of going down into hell with them if you cooperate with their evil. Pope St. Pius V, ora pro nobis.

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