Sixtus V

Sixtus V, one of the most celebrated of the popes of Rome, was descended from Slavonian parents, who had fled to Italy at the period of the Ottoman conquest of their country. His father, Pereto Peretti, was a vine dresser in the humblest circumstances, but so hopeful of the fortunes of his son that he named him Felix, or Felice. This child was born in 1521, and educated by his uncle, Fra Salvatore, who had fortunately joined the Franciscan order of friars. Before passing under his care, however, the young Felix had acted as swineherd, or in any field occupation by which a scanty addition could be made to his parents' income. Felix Peretti made great progress in scholarship and dialectics, and being ordained priest acquired a valuable reputation by his oratory as Lent preacher in Rome in the year 1552. His firmness in the Catholic faith at this time. under trying circumstances, procured him also the friendship of the grand inquisitor, and the now rising churchman attached himself to the severe party of Ignatius and others, whose influence was then beginning to be felt. In quick succession he became commissary general at Bologna, inquisitor at Venice, and procurator-general of his order; and these steps gained, by dint of a pushing and resolute ambition, he is said to have assumed the greatest humility, and affected the infirmities of old age. The truth of such statements, however, is denied by Ranke. who justly observes that the highest dignities are not to be won by such means. It is much more probable that Peretti's energy as a reformer of his order, and the discriminating friendship of the pope, Pius V, marked him out as the man for the epoch, and we know that he stood firmly by his favorite, whom he clothed with the purple in 1570. The son of the vine dresser was now ranked with the princes of Italy by the title of cardinal Montalto, and he still varied his public labors by rural occupations. We are not informed of all the circumstances attending his election to the papacy, but he succeeded Gregory XIII in 1585, and at once commenced the administrative and social reforms in Italy that he had so long contemplated. Unlike a recent example, he carried his measures with a high and firm hand, and so vigorously enforced justice that the instances often read more like cold- blooded cruelty. His measures had the desired effect, however, of extirpating the bandits who had so long overrun the country, and of bringing some show of order out of the general lawlessness of society. We cannot enumerate here his great enterprises in administrative reform, or the magnificence of his public works, but they all mark his passion for order and completeness. His foreign policy was of the same trenchant description; no half measures or vaporings were to be tolerated. For examples of this spirit it may be sufficient to name the great Catholic league, and the invasion of England by the Spanish Armada. Still more surprising and gigantic were his conceptions as he grew old, as his rigid financial system enabled him to amass a large public treasure in the vaults of St. Angelo. His designs now were sufficient to prove that he had perfected the government of his own states and improved the discipline of the Church as an instrument of a more universal dominion than the papacy had ever reached; even the Greek Church and the empire of Mohammed were destined to be transformed under his hand. Sixtus V breathed his last amid these visions of grandeur Aug. 27, 1590. A storm burst over the palace of the Quirinal at the moment of his death, and it became an article of the popular faith that he had achieved his enterprises by a compact with the evil one, which had then expired. See Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Generale, and the literature there cited.

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