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