NEW BOOK! Saint Pius V – History of a holy pope, by Roberto de Mattei

By Veronica Rasponi

The Catholic Church celebrates the liturgical feast of Saint Pius V (1504-1572) on 30 April in the new calendar and on 5 May according to the old. This year also marks the 450th anniversary of the great victory at Lepanto on 7 October 1571, thanks to the prayers and tireless work of the great Dominican pontiff. It is therefore timely that a new biography of Saint Pius V, written by Professor Roberto de Mattei, is published simultaneously in Italy by Lindau (Pio V. Storia di un papa Santo, pp. 466, €32) and in the United States by the Sophia Institute (Saint Pius V – The Legendary Pope Who Excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I, Standardized the Mass, and Defeated the Ottoman Empire, pp. 464, $24.95). The work is the result of meticulous research, according to the method the author has used in his previous volumes on Pius IX and Leo XIII and in his history of the Second Vatican Council. The story of Pius V develops in the complex and tumultuous setting of his time; the narrative is enriched with bibliographic material and details to make it easier for the reader to grasp the events.

Saint Pius V emerges as a powerful and charismatic figure. Michele Ghislieri was born in 1504, in Bosco Marengo, Piedmont. He entered the Order of Preachers at the age of 14 and became distinguished due to his personal piety and the orthodoxy of his faith, so much so that in 1558 he was appointed Summus ac perpetuus inquisitor, general inquisitor for life of all Christendom. Having been consecrated bishop of Nepi and Sutri, and then created cardinal, he participated in a stormy conclave after the death of Pius IV, which Professor de Mattei describes in all its background detail. He was elected Pope on 7 January 1566 thanks to the decisive support of Charles Cardinal Borromeo who, like him, was to be elevated to the glory of the altars.

Saint Pius V was also a great reformer of morals. He re-established ecclesiastical discipline, fought sodomy, simony, and restored the liturgy of the Church devastated by Protestantism. At its last session, the Council of Trent had mandated Pope Pius IV to proceed with the publication of the Catechism, the Breviary, and the Missal. It was his successor, Pius V, who promulgated the three documents: in 1566 the Catechism; in 1568 the Breviary; and in 1570 the Roman Missal. The expressions “Tridentine Mass” or “Mass of St Pius V”, by which the rite codified by Pius V is known, are inaccurate because, as de Mattei shows, the Pope did nothing more than secure and circumscribe a rite which had already been in use in Rome for centuries. The Catechism, Missal and Breviary are therefore different but complementary expressions of the same faith of the Church.

The name of Pius V, whom Georges Cardinal Grente (1872-1959) called “the Pope of the great battles”, is associated above all else with the triumph of Lepanto. The great Pontiff employed all his forces to create a “Holy League” against the Ottomans. He supported the military commitment financially and also with the constitution of a papal fleet, but above all, he secured the victory with the efficacy of his prayers. The Pontiff attributed the triumph of the Christian armada to the intercession of the Virgin; in her honour, he instituted the feast of the Holy Rosary and added the invocation “Auxilium Christianorum” to the Litany of Loreto.

Commemorating Pius V during the celebrations for the second centenary of his canonisation, the Benedictine Domenico Cardinal Serafini (1852-1918), archbishop of Spoleto and assessor of the Holy Office, said:

“If I consider him as a religious in his cell, centred on piety and study, Pius V appears to me as the perfect disciple of the great patriarch Dominic. If I consider him as inquisitor, he seems to me to emulate the many members of the illustrious Order of Preachers who gave their sweat, blood and lives in the defence of the faith. If I consider him as a shepherd of souls, he is the model of pastors. Finally, if I gaze on him raised up on the Chair of Peter, his brief pontificate is so packed full of grandiose works that few can equal it, especially in the 16th century; none surpass it.”

With his biography of Pius V, Roberto de Mattei confirms that he is a great Catholic historian. His work merits a beautiful preface by Msgr Athanasius Schneider, according to whom:

“This book, which appears in a dramatic epoch for the Church and for all of society, can be of precious help in understanding the crisis of the present time in the light of the past, and in working accordingly”.

“Professor de Mattei’s new biography of Pope Saint Pius,” Cardinal Burke wrote in a letter of encouragement to the editors, “not only nourishes the mind with truth but inspires the heart to live the truth in love by following Christ.” 

Words of esteem and appreciation for the work of Professor de Mattei were expressed by the historian of the Catholic University, Massimo de Leonardis, who describes the work as a “rigorous, documented and catholically inspired biography”; and Professor Peter Kwasniewski, according to whom the author “has set a new standard in English not only for the biography of this great figure of the sixteenth century but also for popes in general”; by Father Konrad zu Loewenstein, who praises “the sure Catholic vision of the Church’s history and of European culture, that have become the hallmarks of its distinguished author”; and by the German author Martin Mosebach, who points out that Saint Pius V represents “the figure of exactly that sort of Pope whom the Church today ought to be yearning for”. Therefore, writes Kwasniewski, “he was the ideal pope for his age; he remains a realistic guide and model for all ages”.