Michael Ghislieri, a Dominican friar from his fifteenth year, a teacher of religion at twenty, as a simple religious, as inquisitor, bishop, and cardinal, was famous both for the spotless purity of his own life and for his intrepid defense of the Church’s faith and discipline. Surrounded in his time by great men and great Saints, in apostolic virtue he was surpassed by none.
As Pope, his first concern was to reform the Roman court and the capital city by the strict example of his own household and the punishment of offenders. He next endeavored to obtain from the Catholic powers recognition of the decrees of the Council of Trent, two of which he strictly enforced: the obligatory residence of bishops in their sees, and the establishment of diocesan seminaries. He revised the Missal and Breviary, and reformed ecclesiastical music.
He was not less active in protecting the Church outside Italy. We see him at the same time supporting the Catholic King of France against the Huguenot rebels, and encouraging Mary, Queen of Scots in the bitterness of her captivity. It was he who excommunicated her rival, the usurper Elizabeth, when the best blood of England flowed upon the scaffold and the measure of her crimes was full.
The intrepidity of this Vicar of Christ found enemies. The holy Pope was accustomed to kiss the feet of the crucifix on leaving or entering his room. One day the feet moved away from his lips. Sorrow filled his heart, and he made acts of contrition, fearing that he must have committed some secret offense, yet he still could not kiss the feet. It was afterwards discovered that they had been poisoned by an enemy.
It was in the Lepanto victory that the Saint’s power was most plainly manifest. There, in October 1571, by the holy league which he had formed but still more by the prayers of the aging Pontiff to the great Mother of God, the defeat of the advancing Ottoman forces was obtained and Christendom was saved from the Turk. Six months later Saint Pius V died, having reigned only six years.