Skip to main content

Borromeo, Charles, St.

BORROMEO, CHARLES, ST.

Cardinal, archbishop of Milan, and prominent figure in the Tridentine Reform; b. Rocca d'Arona, near Lago Maggiore, Oct. 2, 1538; d. Milan, Nov. 3, 1584. The second son of Count Giberto Borromeo and Margherita de'Medici, sister of Pius IV, he was intended for the service of the Church, and received the clerical tonsure and the title of the abbacy of San Gratiniano when 12 years old. He was tutored at Milan by Francesco Alciati, and studied law at the University of Pavia (155259) where he earned a doctorate in utroque. Three weeks later (Dec. 25, 1559) Cardinal Gian Angelo de'Medici succeeded Paul IV, taking the name of pius iv. The new pope called his young nephew to Rome and advanced him rapidly through a brilliant ecclesiastical career.

Curial Responsibilities. Borromeo held several posts in the Roman Curia, and was created a cardinal in 1560 with the title of SS. Vitus and Modestus (changed in 1564 to St. Praxedes). He was cardinal protector of Portugal, the Low Countries, and the Catholic cantons of Switzerland, and of six religious orders (Franciscans, Carmelites,humiliati, Canons Regular of the Holy Cross of Coimbra, Knights of Malta, and Knights of the Holy Cross of Christ in Portugal); administrator of the Legations of Bologna, Romagna, and the Marches; and commendatory abbot of several monasteries. His most responsible office as cardinal nephew was that of prefect of the Secretariate of State, in which he was his uncle's most valued assistant, especially during the third period of the Council of trent (156263). Grief at the death of his elder brother, Federigo, on Nov.19, 1562, turned him to a more austere manner of living as well as to his ordination to the priesthood (July 17, 1563). The literary academy of the Noctes Vaticanae, which he had founded, was transformed and adopted for its spiritual meetings rather than literary and philosophical themes. He took steps to raise the moral tone of the people of Rome by promoting the Catechismus romanus ad parochos and collaborating in projects for the completion of the work of the Council of Trent, such as the Roman Seminary, reforms in the Missal, Breviary, and sacred music, and the edition of the writings of the Church Fathers.

Archbishop of Milan. In the year of his promotion to the cardinalate, Borromeo was named also perpetual administrator of the Archdiocese of Milan, of which he would be titular archbishop for the remainder of his life. Because of his multiple duties in Rome, he was at first represented by a vicar-general, Niccolò Ormaneto, but in October 1565 he came to Milan to preside over the first provincial council, and from April 1566 he remained in permanent residence. His pastoral activities during these years were of considerable influence upon the whole Catholic world and affected the many important facets of the post-Tridentine Church. To his credit are: (1) the reorganization of diocesan administration into subordinate offices and functions; (2) the calling of six provincial councils and 11 diocesan synods; (3) regular and systematic pastoral visits to all parts of his diocese; (4) the opening of a seminary entrusted to the Jesuits (156479) and later to the Oblates of St. Ambrose, as well as similar institutions for candidates for the priesthood (Collegio Helvetico); (5) a considerable use of existing religious groups, as the Jesuits and Capuchins, and the foundation of a new diocesan religious society, the oblates of st. charles (1578), for which he wrote the Institutiones (1581); (6) various cultural and social institutions that include the Collegio Borromeo at Pavia (156468), the University of Brera at Milan (1572), shelters for wanderers, homes for neglected or abandoned wives (Casa del Soccorso), refuges for reformed women, orphanages, montes pietatis (lending houses), and hospitals; and (7) the noteworthy promotion of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine for the teaching of catechism, which in 1595 had grown to more than 20,000 pupils.

Pastoral Ideal. Borromeo's pastoral awareness was inspired by his high ideal of the responsibility of a bishop. To him, each pastor was obliged to have a detailed knowledge of the conditions of his flock. This ideal made astonishingly severe demands in its successful implementation and showed constructive characteristics that were hierarchic, systematic, kerygmatic, and sacramentarian. The amazing results are described in the Acta ecclesiae Mediolanensis, whose many editions published since 1582 have become the patrimony of the whole Church. There are found the records of the provincial councils and diocesan synods; numerous instructions, edicts, decrees, pastoral letters; and the rules and constitutions for a score of congregations, confraternities, and other charitable, cultural, or pious groups that Borromeo founded or encouraged. These documents treat the subjects regarded by Borromeo as most useful in promoting religious renewal in his archdiocese along the lines of the Council of Trent. They include preaching, reception of the Sacraments, presence at Mass, liturgical feasts, funerals, the exercise of Eucharistic devotion, exact clerical deportment, the building and equipping of churches, meetings of the diocesan clergy, Lenten regulations, relations with heretics, and preparation of the Liber status animarum and similar tracts on parochial administration. Much was written in Italian, and certain rules were prescribed for pulpit reading at least once a year. A great part of Borromeo's effectiveness and popularity was due to his interest in social problems. A well-known episode, frequently illustrated by artists, is the plague of 1576 (Plague of St. Charles) during which he proved his heroic dedication.

Reform and Opposition. Borromeo's resolve to promote Catholic reform and to protect the prerogatives of his office brought opposition both from the civil power over questions of jurisdiction and from clerical communities over his disciplinary demands. He struggled with the Spanish governors of Milan, Gabriel de la Cueva, Duke of Alburquerque, Luis de Requesens, and Marquis Antonio di Ayamonte; peace was restored only through the intervention of Philip II and the pope. Twice his life was endangered. The first occasion involved his right to episcopal visitation of the collegiate church of Santa Maria della Scala, which claimed an exemption from the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Milan granted by Clement VII in 1531. The exemption had been given but was provisional upon the consent of the archbishop, which had not been obtained. When Borromeo attempted to enter the church in September 1569, he was prevented by the canons and by soldiers of the Duke of Alburquerque who opened fire and damaged the cross in his hands. In October 1569 he was again in danger. Some of the Humiliati resisted his reform programs and conspired to take his life. A hired assassin, Girolamo Donato, known as "Farina," fired at him point-blank while he knelt in prayer with his household. The wound was slight, but civil authorities later condemned Farina to death by hanging.

Borromeo also undertook reform activities outside his diocese. He made apostolic visits to the Dioceses of Cremona (1575), Bergamo (1575), and Brescia (1580), and four missionary journeys into pastorally neglected Alpine valleys, where he worked vigorously against sorcery and the infiltration of Protestantism. Three times he traveled even into German areas of Switzerland (Altdorf, Unterwalden, Zug, Sankt Gallen, Schwyz, and Einsiedeln), where his influence led to the establishment of a papal nunciature at Lucerne. Other trips took him to Rome, to Loretto, to the Holy Shroud of Turin, and to his favorite place of pilgrimage at the Sacro Monte at Varallo. At the end of October 1584, on his return from Milan after making the Spiritual Exercises, he was stricken with fever. He was brought into the city on a stretcher, and died on November 3. He was canonized by Paul V on Nov. 1, 1610. His body rests at the foot of the main altar in the cathedral of Milan. His popular cult spread rapidly, especially in Italy, Germany, and the Spanish Netherlands. A statue 100 feet tall was erected on a hill near his birthplace, and many works of art recall episodes in his career of reform. Several cultural and religious associations were founded under his patronage. One of the last acts of Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini before he left Milan to become Paul VI was the creation of the "Accademia di san Carlo Borromeo" to promote scientific research and study of the life and writings of this saint.

Feast: Nov. 4.

Bibliography: Manuscript sources. The principal collections are found in Milan (Archiepiscopal Curia, Ambrosian Library and the archives of the Borromeo family), Rome (Archives of the Vatican and Congregation of Rites, and the Library of the Barnabites), and Brussels (Library of the Bollandists). Printed sources. Opere complete di S. Carlo Borromeo, ed. g. a. sassi, 5 v. (Milan 1747), 2d ed., 2 v. (Augsburg, 1758). S. Caroli Borromaei Orationes XII (Rome 1963), ed. at request of Paul VI for the Fathers of Vatican Council II. a. rivolta, "Epistolario giovanile di S. Carlo Borromeo," Aevum 12 (1938) 253280; "Corrispondenti di S. Carlo Borromeo," ibid. 556619; 13 (1939) 65116. g. galbiati, I duchi di Savoia Emanuele Filiberto e Carlo Emanuele I nel loro carteggio con S. Carlo Borromeo (Milan 1941). a. g. roncalli [johnxxiii] and p. forno, comp., Gli atti della visita pastorale di S. Carlo Borromeo a Bergamo, 1575, 5 v. (Florence 193657). Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis, ed. a. ratti [pius xi] (Milan 189092)v.23. Contemporary biographies. a. valiero, Vita Caroli Borromaei (Verona 1586). c. bascapÉ (Basilica Petri), De vita et rebus gestis Caroli card. S. Praxedis (Ingolstadt 1592; Brescia 1610). g.p. giussano, Istoria della vita, virtu, morte e miracoli di Carlo Borromeo (Milan 1610), annotated copiously by b. oltrocchi (Milan 1751), tr. into Eng. with pref. by h. e. manning, 2 v. (London 1884). Recent biographies. More than 60 exist, of which the principal are a. sala, Biografia di S. Carlo Borromeo, 3 v. (Milan 185761), numerous documents. c. sylvain, Histoire de St. Charles Borromée, 3 v. (Lille 1884). l. celier, St. Charles Borromée (Paris 1923). c. orsenigo, Vita di S. Carlo Borromeo (Milan 1929), Eng. tr. r. kraus (St. Louis 1943). a. rivolta, S. Carlo Borromeo, note biographiche. Studio sulle sue lettere e suoi documenti (Milan 1938). m. yeo, A Prince of Pastors: St. Charles Borromeo (London 1938). p. gorla, S. Carlo Borromeo (Milan 1939). g. soranzo, S. Carlo Borromeo (Milan 1944). a. deroo, Saint Charles Borromée, Cardinal réformateur, docteur de la pastorale (Paris 1963), bibliog. g. alberigo, Karl Borromaus (Münster 1995). f. buzzi and d. zardin, eds., Carlo Borromeo e l'Opera della "Grande Riforma" (Milan 1997). h. jedin, Carlo Borromeo (Rome 1971). s. a. rimoldi, Bibliotheca sanctorum (Rome 1961 ) 3:812850, with bibliog. a. butler, The Lives of the Saints, rev. ed. h. thurston and d. attwater, 4 v. (New York 1956) 1:255262. f. van ortroy, Analectta Bollandiana (Brussels 1882 ) 39 (1921) 338345. a. duval, Catholicisme 2:992994. c. castiglioni, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932 ) 2:692700, with bibliog. l. rÉau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien, 6 v. (Paris 195559) 3.1:298300. r. mols, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912 ) 12:486534, with bibliog.

[r. mols]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Borromeo, Charles, St.." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Borromeo, Charles, St.." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 21, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/borromeo-charles-st

"Borromeo, Charles, St.." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved November 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/borromeo-charles-st

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.