A Model Pope

We have already entered into the “post-Francis” era. The post-Amazon Synod has failed, the Exhortation Querida Amazonia of 2 February 2020 has fallen on deaf ears, and the Exhortation Amoris Laetitia of 8 April 2016 has entered into history more for the criticisms that it received than for the new path which it opened. 

The latest initiatives of Pope Francis have been characterized by growing contradictions and increasing confusion, with the flock of the faithful oscillating between feelings of rage and depression. The magisterium of Pope Francis lacks above all that coherence and equilibrium which ought to be the primary quality of the one who holds the supreme responsibility of governing the Church. 

What the Church needs above all today is order in the fields of theology, pastoral praxis, liturgy, and discipline. Order arises from intellectual clarity, but this intellectual clarity can base itself only on the Truth, whole and uncompromised. For this reason, the cardinals who elect the next Pope (see the wonderful book by Edward Pentin, The Next Pope: The Leading Cardinal Candidates) need a model to look to, and in order to find one, it will be necessary to look in the other direction—not only from Pope Francis but also from all of the recent popes, who were all involved in the historical catastrophe of the Second Vatican Council. 

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The greatest example is given by the only two Popes to have been canonized in the modern era prior to the Second Vatican Council: Saint Pius X and above all Saint Pius V, a Pope who made the defense of the Truth and the Church the axis of his pontificate. He called himself a “sentinel of the Church,” conscious that the first duty of the Vicar of Christ is that of guarding and defending the flock entrusted to him from the assault of the wolves. 

When the conclave to elect the successor of Pius IV opened in the Palace of the Popes on the Quirinal Hill on 20 December 1565, the Sacred College was essentially divided into two parties which had opposed each other in the preceding years and which corresponded to two different ways of confronting the Protestant Reformation. The first party maintained that there could be no possible compromise with heresy, while the second party was an advocate of offering an “outstretched hand” to Protestantism.

In the conclave there was no one more intransigent than Cardinal Michele Ghislieri, who had been the Supreme Inquisitor General of Christianity. It was he who, with the decisive support of another holy cardinal, Charles Borromeo, ascended to the papal throne on 7 January 1566, taking the name of Pius V.

Michele Ghislieri was born in 1504 in Bosco Marengo, in Piedmont. At the age of 14 he entered the Order of Preachers. He was sent to the University of Bologna in order to study theology, which he then taught for sixteen years. Because of the purity of his faith, he was appointed Inquisitor (1542), General Commissioner of the Holy Office (1551), and Summus ac perpetuus inquisitor (1558), Inquisitor General for life of all of Chrisitianity. Pope Paul IV appointed him Bishop of Nepi and of Sutri and later created him Cardinal. 

Such honors, however, did not modify in any way the austerity of his life, not even after his election as Roman Pontiff. He first applied to himself the reform of morals which he wanted to extend to the entire Church. Saint Pius V tried in every way to stem the spread of heresies in Europe, and to this end he made alliances with the Catholic sovereigns of the time, above all with Philip II of Spain, while he even went so far as to excommunicate the heretical Queen of England, Elizabeth I, with a gesture of great supernatural audacity.

His pontificate was marked by several fundamental decisions: the publication in 1566 of the Catechism, which expounded in the clearest terms the entire doctrinal work of the Council of Trent; the promulgation in 1568 of the Roman Breviary, the liturgical book that contains the Divine Office of the Catholic Church; and in 1570 the institution of the Mass that was destined to enter history as the “Tridentine Mass” or the “Mass of Saint Pius V,” but which was nothing other than the restoration of the traditional Mass, which had been devastated by Protestantism. 

The choice of these three actions was not accidental: the intention of the Council of Trent was to implement a true reform, beginning with what the clergy taught, prayed, and celebrated. To these actions was added the proclamation of Saint Thomas Aquinas as Doctor of the Church and the definitive publication of the Summa Theologica as a reference work for teaching.

While heresies threatened Christianity from within, Islam threatened it from without. Pius V promoted the formation of the Holy League against the Turks by means of a military alliance between the Papacy, Spain, and the Republic of Venice. The triumph of Lepanto in 1571, one of the greatest naval battles of history, was one of the most celebrated outcomes of his reign. The Pope was preparing a new expedition when he died on 1 May 1572. Today his body is venerated in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome.

Pius V was not a “political” Pope. Instead, he lived his lofty mission in a supernatural manner, with his gaze fixed solely on the glory of God and the good of souls. Dom Guéranger, in his work The Liturgical Year, states that “The entire life of Pius V was a battle.” Michele Ghislieri was a resolute and combative Pontiff, who even personally concerned himself with military matters, but the secret of his battle and his victories lay in the spiritual weapons he used, beginning with the Holy Rosary. The institution of the Feast of Our Lady of Victories, also known as Our Lady of the Rosary, and the introduction into the Litany of Loreto of the Marian title Auxilium Christianorum was the last relevant action of his Pontificate.

Today Saint Pius V continues to assist from Heaven the Church Militant whose destiny was entrusted into his hands for six years. His example must be known and disseminated.

Editor’s Note: Beginning today, May 5th, the traditional feast of St. Pius V, and extending through October 7th, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary—and the 450th anniversary of Pope Pius V’s historic victory at Lepanto—Sophia Institute Press will be praying a daily rosary for the special intention of America returning to Christ, imploring Our Lady to vanquish the enemies facing our Church and our country.


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