Borromeo, Carlo (1538–1584)

views updated

BORROMEO, CARLO (15381584)

BORROMEO, CARLO (15381584), cardinal, archbishop of Milan, and leader of the Catholic Reformation. Born on 2 October 1538 at Rocca d'Arona, Carlo Borromeo was the son of Count Giberto Borromeo and Margherita de'Medici. His early education took place in Milan under the tutor Francesco Alciati. In 1552 he went to the University of Pavia, receiving a doctorate in canon and civil law in 1559. On 25 December 1559 his uncle, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo de' Medici, was elected Pope Pius IV. Shortly thereafter, Carlo was called to Rome by the pope, who bestowed upon him various offices and titles, including that of papal secretary of state. On 31 January 1560 he was created a cardinal, thus, as cardinal-nephew embodying the very system that had come under scrutiny and criticism at the Council of Trent, which the pope reconvened in 1560 at Borromeo's urging. Borromeo assisted in formulating the council's agenda, serving as middleman between the papal legates at the council and the pope, defending papal interests against those bishops who sought the reform of the papal institution.

The unexpected death of his older brother Francesco in 1562 marked a turning point in Borromeo's life, shattering the world of patronage and prestige that he had grown accustomed to. Without a male heir, Carlo was urged by his family to marry but decided to pursue the priesthood, taking orders on 17 July 1563. A conversion had taken place that manifested itself in a life of austere piety. He renounced lavish living and collaborated in projects for the completion of the Council of Trent, such as the Roman Seminary and reforms in the missal, breviary, and sacred music, as well as the edition of the writings of the church fathers.

In May 1564, Borromeo was nominated archbishop of Milan. His understanding of the episcopal office, in particular the obligation to reside in the diocese, was influenced by Trent. In 1565, he obtained Pius IV's permission to leave Rome and take up residence in Milan, resigning all his curial offices except membership on the new Congregation of the Council. He entered Milan as archbishop on 23 September 1565.

Borromeo had an exalted opinion of episcopal authority. It was his belief that diocesan reform worked through the bishop. Soon after his arrival, he focused on reforming the diocese in accordance with Tridentine norms. During the nineteen years of his episcopacy, Borromeo convoked six provincial councils and eleven synods. The reform program that emerged from these synods was codified in the Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis (Acts of the church of Milan) in 1582, which treats such areas as preaching, reception of the sacraments, liturgical feasts, the exercise of eucharistic devotion, clerical deportment, and general parochial administration. Other bishops throughout Europe utilized the Acta to initiate reform within their dioceses. Besides legislation, Borromeo also undertook an annual systematic pastoral visitation of his diocese.

These various efforts provided Borromeo with the opportunity to renew the life of the church in Milan. However, the key to reform was a bettertrained clergy. To accomplish this, Borromeo established a major seminary within the diocese, along with two smaller seminariesone for preparing rural clergy and the other missionary priests. In 1578 Borromeo founded a new community of priests, the Oblates of St. Ambrose, who were charged with leading clerical reform. In addition, to assist priests in carrying out their preaching obligation, Borromeo issued his Instructiones Praedicationis Verbi Dei (Instructions for the preaching of the Word of God).

Borromeo was also concerned with the religious formation of the laity. Schools of Christian Doctrine, staffed by the laity, had been established throughout Milan prior to Borromeo's arrival. In his mind, the teaching of catechism was the prerogative of the clergy. While he eventually brought the schools under clerical direction, he did allow the laity to continue to teach catechism. By the time of his death, there were 740 such schools in Milan.

Borromeo did not focus all of his energies on the implementation of reform, but also showed himself to be a compassionate pastor. During the plague of 1576, he organized the clergy to care for the sick and dying, as well as to provide for the distribution of food. Carlo Borromeo died on 3 November 1584. Heralded as the model of the Tridentine bishop, he embodied and implemented the aspirations of the Council of Trent regarding the episcopacy. While he was a defender of the primacy of the papacy, he also defended the authority of the diocesan bishop. His efforts made Milan a testing ground for the implementation of Trent. Consequently, Borromeo may be considered a champion of the Catholic Reformation. He was canonized a saint on 1 November 1610.

See also Reformation, Catholic ; Trent, Council of.


Primary Sources

Borromeo, Charles. Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis a Carlo Borromeo Card. S. Praxedis Archiepiscopo Condita. Milan, 1599.

."Instructiones Praedicationis Verbi Dei." In Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensi. Edited by Achille Ratti. Milan, 18901897.

. Sermoni Familiari di S. Carlo Borromeo. Padua, 1720.

Secondary Sources

Headley, John M., and John B. Tomaro, eds. San Carlo Borromeo: Catholic Reform and Ecclesiastical Politics in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century. Washington, D.C., and London, 1988. Collection of essays that explore the distinctive features and goals of Borromeo's work in its historical context.

Heuser, Herman J. "Saint Charles Borromeo as a Preacher." The American Ecclesiastical Review 7 (1892): 332340.

Jedin, Hubert. Carlo Borromeo. Rome, 1971.

Orsenigo, Cesare. Life of St. Charles Borromeo. Translated by Rudolph Kraus. St. Louis and London, 1943. Translation of Vita di S. Carolo Borromeo.

Yeo, Margaret Routledge. Reformer: Saint Charles Borromeo. Milwaukee, 1938.

Francesco C. Cesareo

About this article

Borromeo, Carlo (1538–1584)

Updated About content Print Article