Pope Sixtus V

[Pope Sixtus V]

(Felice Peretti).

Born at Grottamare near Montalto, 13 December 1521; elected 24 April 1585; crowned 1 May 1585; died in the Quirinal, 27 August 1590. He belonged to a Dalmatian family which in the middle of the preceding century had fled to Italy from the Turks who were devastating Illyria and threatened to invade Dalmatia. His father was a gardener and it is said of Felice that, when a boy, he was a swineherd. At the age of nine he came to the Minorite convent at Montalto, where his uncle, Fra Salvatore, was a friar. Here he became a novice at the age of twelve. He was educated at Montalto, Ferrara, and Bologna and was ordained at Siena in 1547. The talented young priest gained a high reputation as a preacher. At Rome, where in 1552 he preached the Lenten sermons in the Church of Santi Apostoli, his successful preaching gained for him the friendship of very influential men, such as Cardinal Carpi, the protector of his order; the Cardinals Caraffa and Ghislieri, both of whom became popes; St. Philip Neri and St. Ignatius. He was successively appointed rector of his convent at Siena in 1550, of San Lorenzo at Naples in 1553, and of the convent of the Frari at Venice in 1556. A year later Pius IV appointed him also counselor to the Inquisition at Venice. His zeal and severity in the capacity of inquisitor displeased the Venetian Government, which demanded and obtained his recall in 1560. Having returned to Rome he was made counsellor to the Holy Office, professor at the Sapienza, and general procurator and vicar Apostolic of his order. In 1565 Pius IV designated him to accompany to Spain Cardinal Buoncompagni (afterwards Gregory XIII), who was to investigate a charge of heresy against Archbishop Carranza of Toledo. From this time dates the antipathy between Peretti and Buoncompagni, which declared itself more openly during the latter's pontificate (1572-85). Upon his return to Rome in 1566 Pius V created him Bishop of Sant' Agata dei Goti in the Kingdom of Naples and later chose him as his confessor. On 17 May, 1570, the same pope created him cardinal-priest with the titular Church of S. Simeone, which he afterwards exchanged for that of S. Girolamo dei Schiavoni. In 1571 he was transferred to the See of Fermo. He was popularly known as the Cardinal di Montalto. During the pontificate of Gregory XIII he withdrew from public affairs, devoting himself to study and to the collection of works of art, as far as his scanty means permitted. During this time he edited the works of St. Ambrose (Rome, 1579-1585) and erected a villa (now Villa Massimi) on the Esquiline.

Gregory XIII died on 10 April 1585, and after a conclave of four days Peretti was elected pope by "adoration" on 24 April 1585. He took the name Sixtus V in memory of Sixtus IV, who had also been a Minorite. The legend that he entered the conclave on crutches, feigning the infirmities of old age, and upon his election exultantly thrust aside his crutches and appeared full of life and vigour has long been exploded; it may, however, have been invented as a symbol of his forced inactivity during the reign of Gregory XIII and the remarkable energy which he displayed during the five years of his pontificate. He was a born ruler and especially suited to stem the tide of disorder and lawlessness which had broken out towards the end of the reign of Gregory XIII. Having obtained the co-operation of the neighbouring states, he exterminated, often with excessive cruelty, the system of brigandage which had reached immense proportions and terrorized the whole of Italy. The number of bandits in and about Rome at the death of Gregory XIII has been variously estimated at from twelve to twenty-seven thousand, and in little more than two years after the accession of Sixtus V the Papal States had become the most secure country in Europe.

Of almost equal importance with the extermination of the bandits was, in the opinion of Sixtus V, the rearrangement of the papal finances. At his accession the papal exchequer was empty. Acting on his favourite principle that riches as well as severity are necessary for good government, he used every available means to replenish the state treasury. So successful was he in the accumulation of money that, despite his enormous expenditures for public buildings, he had shortly before his death deposited in the Castello di Sant' Angelo three million scudi in gold and one million six hundred thousand in silver. He did not consider that in the long run so much dead capital withdrawn from circulation was certain to impoverish the country and deal the death-blow to commerce and industry. To obtain such vast sums he economized everywhere, except in works of architecture; increased the number of salable public offices; imposed more taxes and extended the monti, or public loans, that had been instituted by Clement VII. Though extremely economical in other ways, Sixtus V spent immense sums in erection of public works. He built the Lateran Palace; completed the Quirinal; restored the Church of Santa Sabina on the Aventine; rebuilt the Church and Hospice of San Girolamo dei Schiavoni; enlarged and improved the Sapienza; founded the hospice for the poor near the Ponte Sisto; built and richly ornamented the Chapel of the Cradle in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore; completed the cupola of Saint Peter's; raised the obelisks of the Vatican, of Santa Maria Maggiore, of the Lateran, and of Santa Maria del Popolo; restored the columns of Trajan and of Antoninus Pius, placing the statue of Saint Peter on the former and that of Saint Paul on the latter; erected the Vatican Library with its adjoining printing-office and that wing of the Vatican Palace which is inhabited by the pope; built many magnificent streets; erected various monasteries; and supplied Rome with water, the "Acqua Felice", which he brought to the city over a distance of twenty miles, partly under ground, partly on elevated aqueducts. At Bologna he founded the Collegio Montalto for fifty students from the ecclesiastical affairs. On 3 Dec., 1586, he issued the Bull Postquam verus, fixing the number of cardinals at seventy, namely, six cardinal-bishops, fifty cardinal-priests, and fourteen cardinal-deacons. Before his pontificate, ecclesiastical business was generally discharged by the pope in consistory with the cardinals. There were, indeed, a few permanent cardinalitial congregations, but the sphere of their competency was very limited. In his Bull Immensa aeterni Dei, of 11 February 1588, he established fifteen permanent congregations, some of which were concerned with spiritual, others with temporal affairs. They were the Congregations:

  1. of the Inquisition
  2. of the Segnatura
  3. for the Establishment of Churches
  4. of Rites and Ceremonies
  5. of the Index of Forbidden Books
  6. of the Council of Trent
  7. of the Regulars
  8. of the Bishops
  9. of the Vatican Press
  10. of the Annona, for the provisioning of Rome and the provinces
  11. of the Navy
  12. of the Public Welfare
  13. of the Sapienza
  14. of Roads, Bridges, and Waters
  15. of State Consultations
These congregations lessened the work of the pope, without in any way limiting his authority. The final decision belonged to the pope. In the creation of cardinals Sixtus V was, as a rule, guided by their good qualities. The only suspicion of nepotism with which he might be reproached was giving the purple to his fourteen-year-old grand-nephew Alessandro, who, however did honour to the Sacred College and never wielded an undue influence.

In 1588 he issued from the Vatican Press an edition of the Septuagint revised according to a Vatican manuscript His edition of the Vulgate, printed shortly before his death, was withdrawn from circulation on account of its many errors, corrected, and reissued in 1592. Though a friend of the Jesuits, he objected to some of their rules and especially to the title "Society of Jesus". He was on the point of changing these when death overtook him. A statue which had been erected in his honour on the Capitol during his lifetime was torn down by the rabble immediately upon his death.

- Michael T Ott, Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912


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