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Pius IV - Another Medici Pontiff

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Pius IVAfter the stormy Caraffa came the peaceful Medici. The conclave, so bitterly split between French and Spanish factions that it dragged on for months, finally settled on Gian Angelo Medici as a compromise. Elected Christmas Day 1559, he took the name Pius IV.

Gian Angelo Medici was born March 31, 1499, of a struggling Milanese family which had no connection with the wealthy Florentines. He started his university education at Pavia as a charity student. After 1521 things improved, and he concluded his education at Bologna and entered the papal service. His progress was slow because he was neither of high enough birth to gain honors by influence nor of high enough morality to gain them by merit. At last created cardinal by Paul III in 1549, he enjoyed some favor under Julius III, but faded into the background under Paul IV.

Pius IV was a good-natured, cheerful Lombard. He quickly curbed the power of the Inquisition and removed some names from the Index. But for all his mildness, Pius was determined that the work of reform should proceed. With less hubbub he continued Paul's reform of the papal court, but his great achievement was the successful ending of the Council of Trent.

The council had not met since 1552, and the obstacles to its resumption were enormous. It took patient and persevering diplomacy to accomplish its resumption and conclusion. Aided by brilliant legates, especially Morone (the same Morone who languished in an Inquisition jail under Paul IV!) the council jerked its way forward through the thorny obstacles which sprang up in its path. At last on December 3, 1563, it held its final session. When early the next year Pius confirmed the council's decrees, he could justly feel that he had accomplished a great work.

Pius, however, had something of the Renaissance prelate in him. He heaped favors on his numerous relatives in the grand manner, but even here he touched gold. One nephew, quickly raised to the purple, proved to be St. Charles Borromeo, the very model of a reform bishop, and the good angel of the reign.

As a diplomat, Pius renewed relations with Emperor Ferdinand which had been broken off by the impetuous Paul. He worked steadily for peace among the princes. As a patron of art and learning Pius was in the best Renaissance tradition. He supported old Michael Angelo, and under him the work of St. Peter's went forward. He fostered the University of Rome with warm patronage.

In 1564 a crack-brained fellow named Accolti planned to murder Pius to make way for an angelic successor! The plot was betrayed and Pius suffered nothing worse than a scare. But by the end of 1565, he was tormented by gout, and on December 9,1565, a fever struck him down.

Pius IV had his faults, but his name will ever be remembered with two glorious names in the history of the Church: the Council of Trent and St. Charles Borromeo.


Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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