Imagine a world wherein the Church was being split from within and attacked from without in ways that the world had not seen. This would be the 1500s in which Pope St. Pius V lived. As we celebrate his feast day this week, April 30, this Dominican priest is an example of how to live in a world racked with division and upheaval.
Antonio Ghislieri was born to a poor family in Bosco, Italy. He worked as a shepherd until 1518 when he entered the Dominican Order and took the name, Michele (Michael). He was later ordained a priest in 1528. Among his various duties Brother Michele taught Theology and Philosophy. He also worked for the Inquisition to identify clear Catholic teaching in Italy; even being named Grand Inquisitor in 1558. He later became Bishop and Cardinal. He was elected Pope in 1566 and took the name Pius V. He was only to be pope for six years.
Europe had been racked by division since Martin Luther began the Protestant Revolt in 1517 in Germany. His spark was soon to spread to Switzerland, Scotland, Scandinavia and parts of France. Catholicism was in shambles in those countries.
In 1532 Henry VIII removed England from the Church as he established the Anglican religion with himself as the head of the church.
Militarily, the Moslem Turks were often on the offensive against Christians in the Mediterranean. Without defeat the Moslems slaughtered and enslaved thousands upon thousands.
To address the splitting of Christendom spiritually, Pope Pius implemented the reforms of the Council of Trent. For example, he required every bishop to only have one diocese and to live in his diocese. It is kind of hard to be a shepherd of souls when you do not live with them!
Pius V also had published the Catechism of the Council of Trent. This catechism is still a gem. It clearly presents Catholic Teaching on Faith and Morals. As Martin Luther and many other Protestants questioned and attacked the Church’s Teachings, the Catechism of Trent not only answered those questions, but clearly stated the Church’s teachings on Tradition and Scripture, Authority of the Church from Christ, the Sacraments and the Moral Life.
Pope Pius applied the reform of the Mass that Trent directed to be done. The Mass we know as the Tridentine Mass, or Mass of Trent, we have at our parish every Sunday at 12:30pm.
As a Dominican monk, Pope Pius continued to live poverty as well as chastity as any priest/bishop is bound to live. He also took his monastic prayer life into the papacy. Granted, his prayer life would have been altered somewhat, nevertheless he was devoted to daily prayer.
It was his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary that would lead to the military defeat of the Moslem Turk Juggernaut at the Naval Battle of Lepanto. The Turkish Navy seemed invincible in the 1500s – save the attack of Malta. The Pope asked the leading Catholic countries and city-states to form an armada to engage the Turks. In addition, he asked every Catholic in Europe to pray the Rosary for victory. On October 7, 1571 the Catholic League’s forces destroyed the Moslem Turk Navy at the Battle of Lepanto. In a vision, Pius V saw the battle and new of the victory long before messengers arrived in Rome from the battle. We know the day as Our Lady of the Rosary thanks to Pope Pius V.
In our present world that is very divided, it is good to learn from those who have gone before us.
Pope St. Pius V, pray for us.