Today is the feast day of Saint Pius V. Ora pro nobis.
By Dom Prosper Gueranger 1870
…Today, there comes before us a holy Pope, who governed the Church in these latter times; he is worthy to stand amidst the Easter group of Pontiffs. Like Leo, Pius the Fifth was zealous in combating heresy; like Leo, he saved his people from the Barbarian yoke.
The whole life of Pius the Fifth was a combat. His Pontificate fell during those troubled times, when Protestantism was leading whole countries into apostasy. Italy was not a prey that could be taken by violence: artifice was therefore used, in order to undermine the Apostolic See, and thus envelope the whole Christian world in the darkness of heresy. Pius, with untiring devotedness, defended the Peninsula from the danger that threatened her.
Even before he was raised to the Papal Throne, he frequently exposed his life by his zeal in opposing the preaching of false doctrines. Like Peter the Martyr, he braved every danger, and was the dread of the emissaries of heresy. Placed upon the Chair of Peter, he kept the innovators in check by fear, he roused the sovereigns of Italy to energy, and, by measures of moderate severity, he drove back beyond the Alps the torrent, that would have swept Christianity from Europe, had not the Southern States thus opposed it. From that time forward, Protestantism has never made any further progress: it has been wearing itself out by intestine anarchy of doctrines. We repeat it: this heresy would have laid all Europe waste, had it not been for the vigilance of the Pastor, who animated the defenders of Truth to resist it where it already existed, and who set himself as a wall of brass against its invasion in the country where he himself was the Master.
Another enemy, taking advantage of the confusion caused in the West by Protestantism, organized an expedition against Europe. Italy was to be its first prey. The Ottoman fleet started from the Bosphorus. Here again, there would have been the ruin of Christendom, but for the energy of the Roman Pontiff, our Saint. He gave the alarm, and called the Christian Princes to arms. Germany and France, torn by domestic factions that had been caused by heresy, turned a deaf ear to the call. Spain alone, together with Venice and the little Papal fleet, answered the Pontiff’s summons. The Cross and Crescent were soon face to face in the Gulf of Lepanto. The prayers of Pius the Fifth decided the victory in favor of the Christians, whose forces were much inferior to those of the Turks.
We shall have to return to this important event when we come to the Feast of the Rosary, in October. But we cannot omit mentioning, today, the prediction uttered by the holy Pope, on the evening of the great day of October 7th, 1571. The battle between the Christian and Turkish fleets lasted from six o’clock in the morning till late in the afternoon. Towards evening, the Pontiff suddenly looked up towards heaven, and gazed upon it, in silence, for a few seconds. Then turning to his attendants, he exclaimed: “Let us give thanks to God! The Christians have gained the victory!” The news soon arrived at Rome; and thus, Europe once more owed her salvation to a Pope! The defeat at Lepanto was a blow to the Ottoman Empire, from which it has never recovered: its fall dates from that glorious day.
The zeal of this holy Pope for the reformation of Christian morals, his establishing the observance of the laws of discipline prescribed by the Council of Trent, and his publishing the new Breviary and Missal, have made his six years’ Pontificate to be one of the richest periods of the Church’s history. Protestants themselves have frequently expressed their admiration of this vigorous opponent of the so-called Reformation. “I am surprised,” said Bacon, “that the Church of Rome has not yet “canonized this great man.” Pius the Fifth did not receive this honor till about a hundred and thirty years after his death; so impartial is the Church, when she has to adjudicate this highest of earthly honors even to her most revered Pastors!
Of the many miracles which attested the merits of this holy Pontiff, even during his life, we select the two following. As he was one day crossing the Vatican piazza, which is on the site of the ancient Circus of Nero, he was overcome with a sentiment of enthusiasm for the glory and courage of the Martyrs, who had suffered on that very spot, in the first Persecution. Stooping down, he took up a handful of dust from the hallowed ground, which had been trodden by so many generations of the Christian people since the peace of Constantine. He put the dust into a cloth, which the Ambassador of Poland, who was with him, held out to receive it. When the Ambassador opened the cloth, after returning to his house, he found it all saturated with blood, as fresh as though it had been that moment shed: the dust had disappeared. The faith of the Pontiff had evoked the blood of the Martyrs, which thus gave testimony, against the heretics, that the Roman Church, in the 16th Century, was identically the same as that for which those brave heroes and heroines laid down their lives in the days of Nero.
The heretics attempted, more than once, to destroy a life, which baffled all their hopes of perverting the Faith of Italy. By a base and sacrilegious stratagem, aided as it was by an odious treachery, they put a deadly poison on the feet of the Crucifix, which the Saint kept in his Oratory, and which he was frequently seen to kiss with great devotion. In the fervor of prayer, Pius was about to give this mark of love to the image of his Crucified Master, when suddenly the feet of the Crucifix detached themselves from the Cross, and eluded the proffered kiss of the venerable old man. The Pontiff at once saw through the plot, whereby his enemies would fain have turned the life-giving Tree into an instrument of death.
In order to encourage the Faithful to follow the sacred Liturgy, we will select another interesting example from the life of this great Saint. When, lying on his bed of death, and just before breathing his last, he took a parting look at the Church on earth, which he was leaving for that of Heaven. He wished to address a final prayer for the Flock which he knew was surrounded by danger; he therefore recited, but with a voice that was scarcely audible, the following stanza of the Paschal Hymn: ” We beseech thee, O Creator of all things! that, in these days of Paschal joy, thou defend thy people from every assault of death!”
Let us now read the eulogy of this Saintly Pope of modern times, as given in the Divine Office.
Pius was born at Bosco, a town in Lombardy, though his parents were the Ghisleri, a noble family at Bologna. He entered the Order of the Friars Preachers, when he was fourteen years of age. He was remarkable for his patience, deep humility, great mortifications, love of prayer and religious discipline, and most ardent zeal for God’s honor. He applied himself to the study of Philosophy and Theology, and with so much success, that, for many years, he taught them in a manner that gained him universal praise. He preached the word of God in many places, and produced much fruit. For a long period, he held with dauntless courage the office of Inquisitor; and, at the risk of his life, preserved many cities from the then prevalent heresy.
Paul the Fourth, who esteemed and loved him on account of his great virtues, made him bishop of Nepi and Sutri, and, two years later, numbered him among the Cardinal Priests of the Roman Church. Having been translated by Pius the Fourth to the Church of Mendovi, in Piedmont, and finding that many abuses had crept in, he made a visitation of the whole diocese. Having put all things in order, he returned to Rome, where he was intrusted with matters of the gravest importance; all of which he transacted with an apostolic impartiality and firmness.
At the death of Pius the Fourth, he was, contrary to everyone’s expectation, chosen Pope. With the exception of his outward garb, he changed nothing of his manner of life. The following are the virtues in which he excelled: unremitting zeal for the propagation of the Faith, untiring efforts for the restoration of Ecclesiastical discipline, assiduous vigilance in extirpating error, unfailing charity in relieving the necessities of the poor, and invincible courage in vindicating the rights of the Apostolic See.
A powerful fleet having been equipped, at Lepanto, against Selimus, the emperor of the Turks, who was flushed with the many victories he had gained, the Pontiff won the battle, not so much by arms as by prayers. He, by a divine revelation, knew of the victory the moment it was won, and announced it to his household. Whilst engaged in preparing a new expedition against the Turks, he fell dangerously ill. He suffered the most excruciating pains with exceeding great patience. When his last hour approached, he received the Sacraments, according to the Christian practice, and most calmly breathed forth his soul into God’s hands in the year 1572, and in the sixty-eighth year of his age, after a pontificate of six years, three months, and twenty-four days. His body is honored by the devout veneration of the Faithful; it lies in the Church of Saint Mary Major. Through his intercession, many miracles have been wrought by God; which being authentically proved, he was canonized by Pope Clement the Eleventh. (2)
He worked incessantly to unite the Christian princes against the hereditary enemy, the Turks. In the first year of his pontificate he had ordered a solemn jubilee, exhorting the faithful to penance and almsgiving to obtain the victory from God. He supported the Knights of Malta, sent money for the fortification of the free towns of Italy, furnished monthly contributions to the Christians of Hungary, and endeavoured especially to bring Maximilian, Philip II, and Charles I together for the defence of Christendom. In 1567 for the same purpose he collected from all convents one-tenth of their revenues. In 1570 when Solyman II attacked Cyprus, threatening all Christianity in the West, he never rested till he united the forces of Venice, Spain, and the Holy See. He sent his blessing to Don John of Austria, the commander-in-chief of the expedition, recommending him to leave behind all soldiers of evil life, and promising him the victory if he did so. He ordered public prayers, and increased his own supplications to heaven.
On the day of the Battle of Lepanto, 7 Oct., 1571, he was working with the cardinals, when, suddenly, interrupting his work opening the window and looking at the sky, he cried out, “A truce to business; our great task at present is to thank God for the victory which He has just given the Christian army”. He burst into tears when he heard of the victory, which dealt the Turkish power a blow from which it never recovered. In memory of this triumph he instituted for the first Sunday of October the feast of the Rosary, and added to the Litany of Loreto the supplication “Help of Christians”. He was hoping to put an end to the power of Islam by forming a general alliance of the Italian cities Poland, France, and all Christian Europe, and had begun negotiations for this purpose when he died of gravel, repeating “O Lord, increase my sufferings and my patience!” He left the memory of a rare virtue and an unfailing and inflexible integrity. He was beatified by Clement X in 1672, and canonized by Clement XI in 1712. (6)
Of the many miracles which attested to the merits of this holy Pontiff, even during his life, we select the following two: As he was one day crossing the Vatican piazza, which is on the site of the ancient Circus of Nero, he was overcome with a sentiment of enthusiasm for the glory and courage of the martyrs who had suffered on that very spot in the first persecution. Stooping down, he took a handful of dust from the hallowed ground which had been trodden by so many generations of Christian people since the peace of Constantine. He put the dust into a cloth which the Ambassador of Poland, who was with him, held out to receive it. When the Ambassador opened the cloth, after returning to his house, he found it all saturated with blood, as fresh as though it had been that moment shed: the dust had disappeared. The faith of the Pontiff had evoked the blood of the martyrs, which thus gave testimony against the heretics that the Roman Church, in the sixteenth Century, was identically the same as that for which those brave heroes and heroines laid down their lives in the days of Nero.
The heretics attempted more than once to destroy a life which baffled all their hopes of perverting the faith in Italy. By a base and sacrilegious stratagem, aided by treachery, they put a deadly poison on the feet of the crucifix which the Saint kept in his Oratory, and which he was frequently seen to kiss with great devotion. In the fervour of prayer, Pius was about to give this mark of love to the image of his crucified Master, when suddenly the feet of the crucifix detached themselves from the Cross and eluded the proffered kiss of the venerable old man. The Pontiff at once saw through the plot whereby his enemies would fain have turned the life-giving Tree into an instrument of death.
In order to encourage the Faithful to follow the sacred Liturgy, we will select another interesting example from the life of this great Saint. When, lying on his bed of death, and just before breathing his last, he took a parting look at the Church on earth, which he was leaving for that of Heaven and he wished to make a final prayer for the flock which he knew was surrounded by danger; he therefore recited, but with a voice that was scarcely audible, the following stanza of the Paschal hymn: ‘We beseech thee, O Creator of all things! that in these days of Paschal joy, thou defend thy people from every assault of death!’ Having said these words, he died peacefully.” (10)
Image: Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice. Chapel of Pius V – Table altarpiece Pius V by Bartolomeo Litterini. (9)
Research by REGINA Staff