When I heard that traditional Catholic historian Roberto de Mattei had published a four hundred page biography of Pius V I simply couldn’t resist. Saint Pius V:The Legendary Pope Who Excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I, Standardized the Mass, and Defeated the Ottoman Empire by Roberto de Mattei was published by Sophia Institute Press on May 25, 2021. This work is badly needed by Christ’s Mystical Body since we’re currently struggling with a very weak Pope. I also knew that it would be fantastic since it was written by one of the greatest Catholic intellectuals alive.
What does De Mattei’s book tell us about Pope Pius V and Christianity? If you were to ask an educated traditional Catholic why Pius V was a great Pope they’d probably bring up the same handful of reasons: the Battle of Lepanto, the excommunication of Queen Elizabeth, the promulgating of the doctrines of Trent and the Tridentine mass. They also might throw in the fact that he started the tradition of Popes wearing the white cassock.
The last of these facts is quite interesting. Not because it’s a tradition that stands until this day but because of the reason behind it. Pope Pius V wore a white cassock because he was a Dominican. What were Dominicans known for? Among other things, they were known for being elite inquisitors. All of the most famous inquisitors in Christian history have been Dominicans; Bernard Gui, Nicholas Eymerich, Tomas de Torquemada, and many others. Before he was elected Pope Pius V, Antonio Ghisleri had a long history as an inquisitor. During his reign, Pope Paul IV appointed Ghisleri prefect of the Palace of the Inquisition.
During his reign as Pope, Pius V brought his inquisition character to his office. De Mattei talks about three inquisitors of that era who became popes; Paul IV, Pius V, and Sixtus V. On page 87 Mattei writes: “Of these three inquisitor popes, the one who is most identified with the institution of the Inquisition was, according to the historian Adriano Prosperi, is St. Pius V.”
On December 21, 1566, Pius V issued the bull Inter Multiplices Curas with the goal of stamping out all heresy and false doctrine. Regarding this promulgation, on page 95, Mattei writes:
The pope appealed to his long experience as supreme inquisitor, which had taught him how many of those tried by the Holy Office presented false witnesses on their behalf and used artifice and deception to mislead their judges.
In his manner of dealing with heretics, one can view the entire pontificate of Pius V as an exercise of the mentality of the inquisition. One may reasonably ask, isn’t this primitive? Isn’t this barbaric? Isn’t the inquisition just about killing people with whom you disagree theologically? That could not be further from the truth. The goal of the inquisition wasn’t to kill heretics. It was to reconcile them to the true faith. We could even say that the inquisition was simply carrying out the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
In carrying out the Great Commission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, there are two kinds of people that need to be evangelized. The first are the unbaptized which include Jews, Muhammadans, pagans, and atheists. The second are those properly baptized but who adhere to a false or perverted Gospel. This includes the followers of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Michael Cerularius, Dioscorus of Alexandria and many other schismatic or heretical groups. Groups like this aren’t new. The spirit of rebellion is seen as early as the pages of the New Testament. The false teachers of Galatia are a perfect example, a baptized group of people claiming to be Christians but preach a gospel that is no gospel at all. Our attitude towards these groups should be that of the inquisition and Pius V. In short, help them drop their heresy and embrace Christ fully. There isn’t a more Christian message than this.
The 16th century Church also struggled with a problem that the 21st century church struggles with and that is the issue of sodomites in the clerical ranks. Sodomy had always been considered a mortal sin in Christendom and that is made explicitly clear by many saints before the 16th century including Peter Damian, Pope Leo IX and Bernardine of Siena. In the bull Horrendum Illud Pius V writes about how to deal with sodomite clergy:
Therefore, desiring to pursue more rigorously that which we have exercised since the beginning of our pontificate, we establish that any priest or member of the clergy, whether secular or regular, who commits such an execrable crime shall by the authority of the present canon be deprived of every clerical privilege, every post, dignity, and ecclesiastical benefice. And after being degraded by the ecclesiastical judge, he shall be immediately consigned to the secular authority so that he may be destined for that sentence foreseen by the law as an opportune punishment inflicted upon the laity who have fallen into such an abyss.
The Church in the days of Pius V seemed to have the same problem as we do now. However if the current Roman Pontiff used words like this, I don’t think we’d be reading stories of priests caught with Grindr accounts.
At the same time in the 16th century, the Church was full Catholic kings and princes who didn’t want to fight the largest enemy of Christendom – the Turks. In 1453, the Muhammadan Turks had captured Constantinople, mutilated the Hagia Sophia and many other holy churches and embarked on a centuries long campaign to subdue Catholic lands. Mehmed the Conqueror’s conquering career didn’t end with Constantinople, that was just the beginning. By the sixteenth century the Turks had expanded and were ready to march into the heart of Europe. Pius V was able to organize a Holy League and smash the Turkish enemies of God at the Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571. Catholic nations like France and Poland had no interest in joining the Holy League since it would interfere with their petty and worldly interests. On his deathbed Pope Pius V lamented the attitude of Catholic nations who had no interest in combatting the Turkish menace. He longed to see the end of the Ottoman Empire. While he didn’t see its death, he did manage do deal it a painful blow at Lepanto while it was at the height of its power.
Pius V faced Catholic powers who were indifferent to the cause of Christendom, and we face secular powers who are hostile to it. Pius fought manfully and Christendom conquered against all odds and eventually tipped the balance against the Ottomans. We too must fight manfully against all odds and by the cross of Christ, God will deliver many souls from the enemies of Christ. The brilliance of De Mattei is that he is able to write a hagiography and academic biography under one cover. I suppose it’s pretty easy after all, since Pope Pius V never committed a mortal sin in his entire life. It’s certainly a book we Catholics need to read, especially while the worldly politicians have us locked up at home.
Photo: relics of St. Pius V via Wiki commons.