Saint Pius V

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Saint Pius V., Pope and Confessor.

A.D. 1572.

MICHAEL GHISLERI, known afterwards by the name of Pius V. was born at Bosco, a little town in the diocess of Tortona, on the 27th of January, 1504. He was descended of a noble Bolognese family, but considerably reduced in its splendour and fortunes. In his tender years the most perfect maxims of piety were instilled into him, and he never swerved in the least from those principles during the whole course of his life. He studied grammar under the care of the Dominican friars at Voghera; and giving himself up entirely to the most fervent exercises of religion, took the habit of that Order when he was only fifteen years of age. He was sensible that faint and languishing endeavours never deserve to find the inestimable treasure of true virtue, which they undervalue; they are sure to lose ground, and at length to yield under the repeated assaults of the enemy: whereas fervour breaks down all obstacles in the pursuit of perfection, as so many shadows, and courageously marches on, reckoning all labours the sweetest pleasures, and esteeming as nothing whatever leads not to this great end. It was the young novice’s holy ambition to surpass all others in humility, modesty, and the exercises of mortification, obedience, and devotion. In everything he did, he set no bounds to the ardour of his desires to please God, and accomplish his holy will in the most perfect manner. Thus all his actions were perfect sacrifices of his heart, and the meanest were enhanced by the fervour of his intention. To his studies he joined assiduous prayer, watching, fasting, and the exercises of penance and charity. 

After the uninterrupted fatigue of the day, it was his sweet refreshment to pour forth his soul in tears and devout prayer or meditation, for several hours before the altar, or in his cell. Having prepared himself by a long and fervent retreat, he was ordained priest, at Genoa, in 1528. He taught philosophy and divinity sixteen years, and was long employed in instructing the novices, and in forming them to piety, and in governing different houses of his Order: in all which offices, he laboured effectually to revive the spirit of its holy founder. He never accepted of any priory but by compulsion, and with tears. No one would he ever allow to absent himself from the choir, or to go out of the convent without some urgent necessity. Constant devotion and study he called the double breast from which religious persons draw a spiritual nourishment, which maintains in them the love of God and contempt of the world. Though he went often to Milan to hear the confession of the Marquis of Guast, governor of the Milanese, he could never be persuaded to buy a cloak to defend him from the rain, saying: “Poor followers of the gospel ought to be content with one tunic.” His journey he performed on foot, in recollection and strict silence, unless he opened his mouth to speak to his companion something on God. Pope Paul IV. in 1556, promoted him to the united bishoprics of Nepi and Sutri, in the ecclesiastical state, notwithstanding the tears he shed in endeavouring most earnestly to decline that dignity. Under his care these diocesses soon assumed a new face. In 1557, he was created cardinal by the same pope under the title of St. Mary upon the Minerva, though generally known by that of the Alexandrian cardinal, from Alexandria, a city in Lombardy, a few miles distant from the place of his birth. His dignities served to render his humility and other virtues more conspicuous, but produced no alteration in his furniture, table, fasts, or devotions. He was most scrupulously cautious in the choice of his few necessary domestics, admitting none but persons of most exemplary piety, and he treated them as his children rather than as his servants. Pope Paul IV. dying in 1559, he was succeeded by Pius IV. of the family of Medicis, who translated our good cardinal to the bishopric of Mondovi, in Piedmont, a church reduced by the wars to a deplorable and calamitous condition. The saint hastened to his new flock; and by his zealous exhortations and other endeavours, re-established peace and union, reformed abuses, and restored the splendour of that church.—But an order of his holiness recalled him to Rome for the dispatch of certain public affairs of the church. When Pius IV. proposed to the sacred college the promotion of Prince Ferdinand of Medicis, only thirteen years old, to the dignity of cardinal, our saint opposed the motion with such vigour, that he made himself admired by the whole consistory for his zeal and prudence. The Emperor Maximilian II. wrote to Pope Pius IV. to desire that priests might be allowed to marry, as a means that might facilitate the return of the modern sectaries to the communion of the church. The whole sacred college saw the inconveniencies of such an abolition of the most holy and ancient canons; but none spoke more vigorously against it than our saint. Though charity will allow all condescension that is possible, here it seemed very unseasonable, on many accounts, to abandon so sacred a spiritual law; and this in favour of men, who had shown no disposition towards a reconciliation with the Catholic church, except she would give up many other points, not only of discipline, but also of her faith and doctrine.

The two original most authentic lives of St. Pius V. are those written by Jerom Catena, secretary to the Cardinal of Alexandria, and consultor to several congregations in Rome, in Italian, highly approved by Sextus V.; the other in Latin, by Ant. Gabutio, superior of the Regular Clerks of St. Paul, much commended by Clement VIII. The titles of these two works are, Hieron. Catena Vita del gloriosissimo Papa Pio V. and Raccolta di Littere di Papa Pio V. Gabutii de Vitâ Pii V. libri 6. Bzovius in his annals on Pius V. adds to this latter several particulars. See his Pius V., also Archangelo Caraccio, Brevis Narratio Gestorum Pii V. Minorelli, Ord. Prædic. Vita S. Pii V. Romæ, 1712. Apostolicarum Pii Quinti Epistolarum libri 5, operâ Fr. Gaubau. Ant. 1649. Paul. Alex. Maffei, Vita di Pio V. Feuillet, Vie du Pape Pie V. Galesini Translatio Corporis Pii V. a Sixto V. celebrata. Agatio di Somma, whose Italian life of this saint was translated into French by Dom. Felibien in 1672. Touron, b. 28, t. 4, p. 306, and the remarks of Henschenius, ad 5, Maij. t. 1, p. 617.

May 5. Rev. Alban Butler. 1866. Volume V: May. The Lives of the Saints

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