Sixtus V, Pope
SIXTUS V, POPE
Pontificate: April 24, 1585, to August 27, 1590; b. Felice Peretti at Grottammare, near Montalto, in the March of Ancona, December 13, 1520 (or in 1521 according to some). His father was a field laborer. His uncle Salvatore, a Franciscan Conventual, took him under protection and sent him to school in Montalto. Felice entered the Franciscans at the age of 12. Between 1540 and 1546 he continued his studies in Fermo, Ferrara, Bologna, Rimini, and Siena, being ordained in Siena in 1547. In 1548 he received the doctorate in theology from the University of Fermo and began teaching in the Order's convent school in Siena (1549). His reputation as a preacher attracted the notice of Cardinal Carpi, the protector of the Franciscans, who brought him to Rome in 1552. There his Lenten sermons recommended him to Julius III. Interest in Church reform led to his becoming acquainted with Cardinal Giampietro Caraffa (later Paul IV) and Cardinal Michele Ghislieri (later Pius V). Some of the sermons he gave at Perugia were printed. In 1557 Paul IV made him inquisitor in Venice. He was unpopular there and, after the death of Paul IV, withdrew to Montalto. Pius IV, however, reappointed him as inquisitor in Venice in 1560. Because of his sternness, the Republic soon officially requested that he be recalled. He was also named as theologian for the Reform Commission. Soon he was chosen as procurator-general of the Franciscans, while at the same time he served on a commission preparing a new edition of Gratian's Decretum. In 1565 he went to Spain with Cardinal Ugo Buoncampagni (later Gregory XIII) to review the proceedings against Bartolomé de carranza, Archbishop of Toledo, on charges of heresy. He and Buoncampagni did not get on well together. The Spanish mission was interrupted by Pius IV's death; the resulting conclave chose Cardinal Ghislieri, who took the name of Pius V. Peretti was soon made vicar-general of the Franciscans and in 1566 bishop of Sant'Agata dei Goti, at which time he began to use Montalto as a surname. Thus when Pius V made him cardinal in 1570, he was known as Cardinal Montalto. In 1571 he was transferred from the Diocese of Sant'Agata to that of Fermo. When Gregory XIII became Pope, Montalto fell into disfavor, and he withdrew to the villa he was building on the slopes of the Esquiline. Gregory XIII suspended the pension granted him by Pius V, but the loss was repaired by the Grand Duke of Tuscany. In retirement Montalto prepared an edition of the works of St. Ambrose, but unfortunately this work had many scholarly flaws. On the death of Gregory XIII in April 1585, the Sacred College was divided by rival factions under Cardinals Alessandro de' Medici and Alessandro Farnese, as well as by the conflicting interests of Spain and France. Montalto emerged as the man whom all, however they might differ, might join in supporting. His election on April 24 was unanimous. The new Pope took the name of Sixtus V, in memory of the preceding Fransciscan Pope, Sixtus IV.
Papal Reforms. Devoted to church reform and centralization, he moved quickly to impose stern discipline upon the clergy of the churches and colleges of Rome. This accomplished by his vigorous action, he undertook to tighten up clerical discipline throughout the world. The decree of the Council of Trent against simony and plurality of benefices was strictly applied. A bull of December 20, 1585, reestablished for all bishops the visit "ad limina Apostolorum," requiring further that they make detailed reports concerning their dioceses. Residence of bishops and pastors was enforced. In the bull of December 3, 1586, he set a limit of 70 members on the College of Cardinals and promulgated regulations for the cardinals, some of which still apply. In January 1588 he established 15 congregations of cardinals to carry out the administration of the Church and of the Papal States. It was feared that nepotism might again become offensive when he made his grandnephew a cardinal at the age of 14, but neither this nephew nor other relatives influenced Sixtus in his official policies or decisions.
Among the religious orders he favored the Franciscans, not only in the appointments he made among them, but by honoring them through the canonization of Diego of Alcalá and the proclamation of St. Bonaventure as a Doctor of the Church. Before his death he was thinking of requiring the Jesuits to change their name and of having a commission review the Jesuit constitution. In the dispute between the Jesuits and Dominicans over grace, he imposed mutual silence. He gave strong support to the missions, being especially aware of the conversions being made in China and Japan because an embassy from Japan was in Rome at the time of his election. He was attentive to the Dominican and Franciscan missions in South America and in the Philippines. Sixtus created additional tribunals of the Inquisition and brought more offenses within its jurisdiction. A new Index of Prohibited Books, whose preparation he had ordered, was not printed before his death. The edition of the Vulgate that he sponsored was faulty and was subsequently withdrawn. Sixtus reestablished the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Administration of the Papal States. Sixtus succeeded brilliantly in eradicating the banditry that had grown prevalent in the Papal States under Gregory XIII, by recourse to repressive measures. An unflinching harshness, shown by the exposure of bandit's heads on the Sant'Angelo Bridge, caused some to censure him, but in general he was praised for ridding Rome of a scourge that involved even great families. Although the coffers of the treasury were empty when his reign began, through economies, new taxes, sale of offices, and the floating of new loans (Monti vacabili and Monti non vacabili ), he created a reserve of more than five million crowns. He carefully administered the provisioning of Rome, promoted the silk and wool industries, encouraged agriculture, began the draining of the Pontine marshes, and constructed new aqueducts (including the rebuilding of that of Alexander Severus, which was then called Acqua Felice).
Monumental construction in Rome included the Lateran Palace, enlargement of the Quirinal, completion of the dome of St. Peter's, building of that section of the Vatican in which the popes reside, a new building for the Vatican Library, and placing four great obelisks, including one in St. Peter's Square. Sixtus was very generous to the University of Rome.
International Diplomacy. His greatest problem in foreign policy concerned France. Sixtus wanted to halt the spread of Protestantism, but he also wanted to uphold the political balance so that Spain would not dominate all Europe. If the civil and religious struggle in France should end with Huguenot control, it could mean the end of Catholicism throughout a great part of Europe. But if the Huguenots were subdued by the power of Spain, it could mean the end of the Church's political independence. So Sixtus tried to reconcile all French Catholics to Henry III. However, the King vacillated and gave way to his personal distrust of the Guises. Moreover, the Catholic League under the Guises became affiliated with phil ip ii, King of Spain. When the Duke of Guise and his brother the cardinal were murdered by Henry III's order, Sixtus issued a stern monitorium and excommunication against the King. Yet he did not sanction revolt of the League's members against their legitimate King. When Henry III was assassinated, Sixtus allied with Philip II against the Huguenot Henry of Navarre (later King henry iv). The Pope knew that one thing could still achieve his original aims, namely, the conversion of Henry of Navarre. This, however, did not occur until 1593, nearly three years after Sixtus's death. In regard to England, Sixtus was solicitous for mary stuart, Queen of Scots, but there is no proof that he was involved even indirectly in the Babington plot. After Mary's execution in 1587, Sixtus aided Spain in building the armada. Upon the destruction of that fleet, however, the Pope abandoned further actions against England. He longed to crusade against the Turks, conjecturing that such a crusade could take the form of an assault on Algiers, action in the Mediterranean by a great alliance that would include Venice or, possibly, even action based on Poland in the East. None of these projects was ever launched. Sixtus favored Maximilian of Hapsburg in his attempt to achieve the Polish crown after the death of King Stephen bÁthory (1586). Maximilian's failure was partially compensated by the conversion to Catholicism of the Margrave of Baden.
Vigorous, eloquent, and stern, Sixtus had devoted himself unsparingly to the defense and advancement of the Church, including the promotion of missionary work in Latin America and Asia. This primary concern underlay his wide and intricate diplomacy. As an administrator he was talented, exacting, energetic, able in finance, resolute in enforcing public order, and munificent in his patronage of art and learning. A year after his death (1591), his remains were placed in the Sistine Chapel he had constructed in Santa Maria Maggiore.
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[d. r. campbell]