SOURCE : http://magnificat.ca/cal/fr/saints/saint_charles_borromee.html
– P. D'Alessandri, Atti di san Carlo riguardanti la Svizzera e i suoi territori, 1909
– HS, I/1, 42; I/6, 355-356
– DBI, 20, 360-369
– C. di Filippo Bareggi, «San Carlo e la Riforma cattolica», in Storia religiosa della Svizzera, éd. F. Citterio, L. Vaccaro, 1996, 193-246
1714. Fresque, dôme de l'Église Saint-Charles-Borromée, Vienne.
Dans son oeuvre réformatrice il s’appuya sur les Jésuites, les Théatins et les Barnabites, et fonda une nouvelle congrégation, les Oblats de Saint Ambroise en 1578.
Saint Charles Borromée
Archevêque de Milan (✝ 1584)
Fils cadet d'une noble famille italienne, il avait tout pour se laisser entraîner dans une vie facile et fastueuse.
Neveu d'un pape, nommé cardinal à 22 ans, il est submergé de charges honorifiques très lucratives: son revenu annuel était de 52.000 écus(*). Il reçoit les revenus du diocèse de Milan, des abbayes de Mozzo, Folina, Nonatella, Colle et de quelques autres légations: Bologne, Spolète, Ravenne, etc ... Il reste laïc, grand amateur de chasse et de musique de chambre.
Mais la conscience de son devoir est telle qu'il s'impose dans la vie mondaine et brillante de Rome, par sa rigueur et son travail. Il collabore efficacement à la reprise du Concile de Trente, interrompu depuis huit ans. Au moment de la mort subite de son frère aîné, alors qu'il pourrait quitter l'Église pour la charge de chef d'une grande famille, il demande à devenir prêtre.
Désormais il accomplit par vocation ce qu'il réalisait par devoir. Devenu archevêque de Milan, il crée des séminaires pour la formation des prêtres. Il prend soin des pauvres alors qu'il vit lui-même pauvrement. Il soigne lui-même les pestiférés quand la peste ravage Milan en 1576. Il demande à tous les religieux de se convertir en infirmiers. Les années passent. Malgré le poids des années, il n'arrête pas de se donner jusqu'à l'épuisement.
"Pour éclairer, la chandelle doit se consumer, " dit-il à ceux qui lui prêchent le repos.
(*) Un internaute nous signale: "si on se rapporte à l'écu de François Ier (environ même époque ), il pesait environ 3 grammes; les 52 000 écus du revenu de Charles ne devaient donc pas de beaucoup dépasser les 150 000 grammes d'or fin soit 150 kg"
Le 4 novembre 2010, le Saint-Père a fait parvenir un message au Cardinal Dionigio Tettamanzi, Archevêque de Milan (Italie), pour le quatrième centenaire de la canonisation de saint Charles Borromée. En voici les passages principaux: Charles Borromée vécut dans une période difficile pour le christianisme, "une époque sombre parsemée d'épreuves pour la communauté chrétienne, pleine de divisions et de convulsions doctrinales, d'affaiblissement de la pureté de la foi et des mœurs, de mauvais exemples de la part du clergé. Mais il ne se contenta pas de se lamenter ou de condamner. Pour changer les autres, il commença par réformer sa propre vie... Il était conscient qu'une réforme crédible devait partir des pasteurs" et pour y parvenir il eut recours à la centralité de l'Eucharistie, à la spiritualité de la croix, à la fréquence des sacrements et à l'écoute de la Parole, à la fidélité envers le Pape, "toujours prompt à obéir à ses indications comme garantie d'une communion ecclésiale, authentique et complète".
Après avoir manifesté le désir de voir l'exemple de saint Charles continuer à inspirer la conversion personnelle comme communautaire, Benoît XVI encourage prêtres et diacres à faire de leur vie un parcours de sainteté. Il encourage en particulier le clergé milanais à suivre "une foi limpide, à vivre une vie sobre, selon l'ardeur apostolique de saint Ambroise, de saint Charles Borromée et de tant d'autre pasteurs locaux... Saint Charles, qui fut un véritable père des pauvres, fonda des institutions d'assistance" et, "durant la peste de 1576 il resta parmi son peuple pour le servir et le défendre avec les armes de la prière, de la pénitence et de l'amour". Sa charité ne se comprend pas si on ignore son rapport passionné au Seigneur, qui "se reflétait dans sa contemplation du mystère de l'autel et de la croix, d'où découlait sa compassion des hommes souffrants et son élan apostolique de porter l'Évangile à chacun... C'est de l'Eucharistie, cœur de toute communauté, qu'il faut tirer la force d'éduquer et de combattre pour la charité. Toute action charitable et apostolique trouve force et fécondité dans cette source". Le Saint-Père conclut par un appel aux jeunes: "A l'exemple de Charles Borromée, vous pouvez faire de votre jeunesse une offrande au Christ et au prochain... Si vous êtes l'avenir de l'Église, vous en faites partie dès aujourd'hui. Si vous avez l'audace de croire dans la sainteté, vous serez le principal trésor de l'Église ambrosienne, bâtie sur ses saints". (source: VIS 20101104 420)
Nommé par son oncle, le pape Pie IV, cardinal et archevêque de Milan, il se montra sur ce siège un vrai pasteur, attentif aux besoins de l’Église de son temps. Pour la formation de son clergé, il réunit des synodes et fonda des séminaires ; pour favoriser la vie chrétienne, il visita plusieurs fois tout son troupeau et les diocèses suffragants et prit beaucoup de dispositions pour le salut des âmes. Il s’en alla la veille de ce jour à la patrie du ciel, en 1584.
SOURCE : http://www.introibo.fr/04-11-St-Charles-Borromee-eveque
SOURCE : http://www.ucatholic.com/saints/saint-charles-borromeo/
St. Charles Borromeo
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Marie Jutras.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Copyright © 2020 by Kevin Knight. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Charles Borromeo B Cardinal (RM)
Born Arona, Italy, October 2, 1538; died night of November 3-4, 1584; canonized in 1610; feast day formerly on November 5.
SOURCE : http://www.saintpatrickdc.org/ss/1104.shtml
ST. CHARLES BORROMEO, the model of pastors, and the reformer of ecclesiastical discipline in these degenerate ages, was son of Gilbert Borromeo, count of Arona, and his lady, Margaret of Medicis, sister to John James of Medicis, marquis of Marignan, and of Cardinal John Angelus of Medicis, afterwards Pope Pius IV. The family of Borromeo is one of the most ancient in Lombardy, and has been famous for several great men, both in the church and state. The saint’s parents were remarkable for their discretion and piety. Count Gilbert behaved in such a manner in the wars between the French and Spaniards in Lombardy, as to preserve the favour of both courts; and the Emperor Charles V., when he was left in quiet possession of the duchy of Milan, made him senator of the city, and colonel, and honoured him with other considerable posts. The count was so pious that he communicated every Sunday, said every day the office of the church on his knees, and often shut himself up for many hours together, in a little retired chapel which he made in the castle of Arona, where, covered with sackcloth, in the habit of a penitent, he spent a considerable part of his time alone at his devotions. By much praying his knees became hard and brawny. He was a tender father to all his tenants and vassals, took care of all orphans, and was so charitable that his friends often told him he injured his children. To whom he made answer: “If I have care of the poor, God will have care of my children.” It was a custom with him never to take any meal without first giving some alms. His abstemiousness and rigorous fasts were not less remarkable than his charities. The countess was, by her pious deportment, a living rule to all the ladies in Milan, and to cut off all dangerous visits, scarcely ever went out of doors but to some church or monastery. Their family consisted of six children, Count Frederick, who afterwards married the sister of the Duke of Urbino, and our saint, and four daughters: Isabel, who became a nun in the monastery called of the Virgins, in Milan; Camilla, married to Cæsar Gonzaga, prince of Malfetto; Jeronima, married to Fabricio Gesualdi, eldest son to the Prince of Venosa; and Anne, married to Fabricio, eldest sort of Mark-Antony Colonna, a Roman prince, and viceroy of Sicily. All these children were very virtuous: Anne, though engaged in the world, imitated all the religious exercises and austerities of her brother Charles, prayed many hours together with a recollection that astonished every one; and in order to increase the fund of her excessive charities, retrenched every superfluous expense in her table, clothes, and house-keeping. By her virtue and the saintly education of her children, she was the admiration of all Italy and Sicily, and died at Palermo in 1582
St. Charles was born on the 2nd of October, in 1538, in the castle of Arona, upon the borders of Lake-Major, 1 fourteen miles from Milan. The saint in his infancy gave proofs of his future sanctity, loved prayer, was from the beginning very diligent in his studies; and it was his usual amusement to build little chapels, adorn altars, and sing the divine office. By his happy inclination to piety and love of ecclesiastical functions, his parents judged him to be designed by God for the clerical state, and initiated him in it as soon as his age would allow him to receive the tonsure. This destination was the saint’s earnest choice; and though by the canons he was not yet capable of taking upon him an irrevocable obligation, both he and his father were far from the sacrilegious abuse of those who determine their children, or make choice of the inheritance of Christ, with a view merely to temporal interest, or the convenience of their family. Charles was careful, even in his childhood, that the gravity of his dress and his whole conduct should be such as became the sanctity of his profession. When he was twelve years old, his uncle, Julius Cæsar Borromeo, resigned to him the rich Benedictin abbey of SS. Gratinian and Felin, martyrs, in the territory of Arona, which had been long enjoyed by some clergymen of that family in commendam. St. Charles, as young as he was, put his father in mind, that the revenue, except what was expended on his necessary education at his studies, for the service of the church, was the patrimony of the poor, and could not be applied to any other uses, or blended with his other money. The father wept for joy at the pious solicitude of the child; and though during his son’s non-age the administration of the revenues was committed to him, he gave this up to the young saint that he might himself dispose of the overplus in alms; which he did with the most scrupulous fidelity in his accounts. St. Charles learned Latin and humanity at Milan, and was afterwards sent by his father to the university of Pavia, where he studied the civil and canon law under Francis Alciat, the eminent civilian, who was afterwards promoted, by St.Charles’s interest, to the dignity of cardinal, and who had then succeeded in the professorship to Andrew Alciat, whom De Thou commends for banishing barbarism of style out of the schools and writings of lawyers. In a judicious course of the canon law, the articles of our holy faith and the condemnation of heresies are expounded, and often a fuller resolution of practical cases, and of Christian duties, enforced, not only from the canons, but also from scriptures, tradition, and the law of nature or reason, than is found in courses of moral theology; and this study, which presupposes some acquaintance with the civil or imperial law, is of great importance for the care of souls, especially in the chief pastors. St. Charles, though on account of an impediment in his speech, and his love of silence, was by some esteemed slow, yet by the soundness of his judgment, and a diligent application, made good progress in it; and the prudence, piety, and strictness of his conduct rendered him a model of the youth in the university, and proof against evil company, and all other dangers which he watchfully shunned. Such was the corruption of that place that several snares were laid for his virtue; but prayer and retirement were his arms against all assaults, and the grace of God carried him through difficulties which seemed almost insurmountable. He communicated every eight days, after the example of his father; and shunned all connexions or visits which could interrupt his regular exercises, or hours of retirement: yet was he very obliging to all who desired to speak to him. His father’s death brought him to Milan in 1558; but when he had settled the affairs of his family with surprising prudence and address, he went back to Pavia, and after completing his studies took the degree of doctor in the laws towards the end of the year 1559.
A little before this, his uncle, the cardinal of Medicis, resigned to him another abbey and priory; but the saint made no addition to his private expenses, so that the poor were the only gainers by this increase of his fortune. It was only with a view to the foundation of a college at Pavia that he accepted these benefices. When he had taken the degree of doctor he returned to Milan, where he soon after received news that his uncle, the cardinal of Medicis, by whom he was tenderly beloved, was chosen pope on the 25th of December, in 1559, in the conclave held after the death of Paul IV. The new pope being a patrician of Milan, that city made extraordinary rejoicings, and complimented his two nephews in the most pompous and solemn manner. St. Charles gave no signs of joy on the occasion; but only persuaded his brother Frederic to go with him to confession and communion; which they did. Count Frederic went to Rome to compliment his holiness; but St. Charles staid at Milan, living in the same manner he did before, till his uncle sent for him, and on the last day of the same year created him cardinal, and on the 8th of February following nominated him archbishop of Milan, when he was in the twenty-third year of his age. The pope, however, detained him at Rome, placed him at the head of the consult or council, with power to sign in his name all requests, and intrusted him with the entire administration of the ecclesiastical state. St. Charles endeavoured as much as possible to decline these posts, and absolutely refused the camerlingate, the second and most lucrative dignity in the Roman court; but after he was made priest, he accepted the office of grand penitentiary, wherein he was to labour for God and the people. He was also legate of Bologna, Romaniola, and the marquisate of Ancona, and protector of Portugal, the Low Countries, the Catholic cantons of Switzerland, and the Orders of St. Francis, the Carmelites, the Knights of Malta, and others. By the entire confidence which his uncle reposed in him, he may be said to have governed the church during his pontificate; and, as he received from him daily the most sensible tokens of the strongest and most sincere affection, so, full of the most tender sentiments of gratitude, he constantly made him the best return of duty, tenderness, and affection he was able; and studied by his fidelity and diligence in all affairs to be to him a firm support, and to ease and comfort him in all difficulties and perplexities. The sole end which he proposed to himself in all his actions and undertakings was the glory of God, and the good of his church: and nothing was more admirable in him than his perfect disinterestedness, and the little regard he had for the most pressing human considerations. For fear of ever deceiving himself, he had about him several persons of approved wisdom and virtue, without whose advice he took no resolution, and to whom he listened with great humility and prudence. In the government of the ecclesiastical state he was very careful that provisions should be every where plentiful and cheap, and that all judges and magistrates should be persons of consummate prudence and inflexible integrity. His patience in bearing contradictions, and hearing the complaints of persons of all ranks, was a proof of his sincere charity. It is incredible what a multiplicity of business he despatched without ever being in a hurry, merely by the dint of unwearied application, by his aversion to idle amusements, and being regular and methodical in all that he did. He always found time, in the first place, for his devotions and sacred studies, and for conversing with himself by reflection and pious reading. He read also some of the ancient Stoic philosophers, and reaped much benefit from the Enchyridion of Epictetus, as he frequently expressed. He was a great patron of learning, and promoted exceedingly all its useful branches among the clergy; and among other establishments for this end, having also in view to banish idleness out of the pope’s court, he instituted in the Vatican an academy of clergymen and seculars whose conferences and studies tended to enforce the practice of virtue, and to promote sacred learning. 2 This academy produced many bishops and cardinals, and one pope, who was Gregory XIII. By the conferences which St. Charles made in this public assembly, he, with much difficulty, overcame a natural bashfulness, and a great imperfection in his speech when he harangued, and he acquired a habit of delivering himself slowly and distinctly, by which he qualified himself to preach the word of God with dignity and fruit: the object of his most earnest desires. 3 To fashion and perfect his style he read diligently the philosophical works of Cicero, in which he took great delight. 4
St. Charles judged it so far necessary to conform to the custom of the court as to have a magnificent palace well furnished, to keep a sumptuous equipage, and a table suitable to his rank, and to give entertainments. Yet he was in his heart most perfectly disengaged from all these things, most mortified in his senses, humble, meek, and patient in all his conduct. Honoured and caressed by the whole Christian world, having in his power the distribution of riches and honours, and enjoying himself whatever the world could bestow, he considered in all this nothing but dangers; and far from taking any delight herein, watched with trembling over his own heart lest any subtle poison of the love of the world should insinuate itself, and in all things sought only the establishment of the kingdom of God. Many are converted to God by adversity; but St. Charles, in the softest gale of prosperity, by taking a near view of the emptiness, and arming himself against the snares of the world, became every day more and more disentangled from it, and more an inhabitant of heaven. He sighed after the liberty of the saints, and trembled at the sight both of the dangers, and of the obligations of his situation; he also considered that obedience to the chief pastor fixed him for a time at a distance from the church of Milan, the charge of which he had taken upon himself. And though he had provided for its government and the remedying of its disorders in the best manner he was able, by excellent regulations, by a suffragan bishop named Jerom Ferragata, (whom he sent thither to make the visitation and to officiate in his place,) and by a vicar-general of great experience, learning, and piety, called Nicholas Ormanetto, (who had formerly been grand vicar of Verona, had afterwards attended Cardinal Pole in his legation in England, and been there his chief assistant, and after his return would take upon him no other charge but that of a single curacy in the diocess of Verona,) yet St. Charles considered the duty of personal service and residence, neither did the command of the pope, by which he was obliged to attend for some time the government of the universal church for a greater good and necessity, make him easy.
It happened that Bartholomew de Martyribus, the most pious and learned Archbishop of Braga, came from Trent to Rome to wait upon his holiness. To him as to a faithful servant of God, enlightened by him, and best able to direct others in perplexing circumstances, the saint opened his heart, in the manner following: “For this long time I have begged of God, with all the earnestness I am able, to enlighten me with regard to the state in which I live. You see my condition. You know what it is to be a pope’s nephew, and a nephew most tenderly beloved by him: nor are you ignorant what it is to live in the court of Rome. The dangers which encompass me are infinite. I see a great number; and there are a great many more which I do not discern. What then ought I to do, young as I am, and without experience; and having no part or ingredient of virtue but through the divine grace, an earnest desire of obtaining it?” The holy cardinal proceeded to explain his difficulties and fears; then added: “God has inspired me with a vehement ardour for penance, and an earnest desire to prefer his fear and my salvation to all things: and I have some thoughts of breaking my bonds, and retiring into some monastery, there to live as if there were only God and myself in the world.” This he said with an amiable sincerity which charmed the director; who, after a short pause, cleared all his doubts, assuring him by solid reasons, that he ought not to quit his hold of the helm which God put into his hands for the necessary and most important service of the universal church, his uncle being very old; but that he ought to contrive means to attend his own church as soon as God should open him a way to it. St. Charles rising up embraced him, and said God had sent him thither for his sake, and that his words had removed a heavy weight from his heart; and he begged that God, who by his grace had shown him the station in which it was his will that he should labour in his service, would vouchsafe to support him in it by his divine grace. 5 The Chrysostoms, the Austins, and the Gregories trembled at the charge of one soul, a burden which would appear dreadful even to angels; he who does not tremble is undone by his presumption. This fear makes the pastor humble, solicitous, always watchful, and earnest in prayer. But this distrust of himself, is no longer humility, but abjection and pusillanimity, if it weaken the necessary confidence he ought to have in God, when called to undertake any thing for his glory. He chooses the weak and the things that are not, to confound and beat down the wise and the strong. I can do all things in him who strengthens me, said the apostle. In the same sentiments St. Charles spared not himself, but humbly having continual recourse to God, did wonders for the advancement of his honour.
In November, 1562, the saint’s elder and only brother was carried off in the bloom of life and the most flourishing fortune, by a sudden fever. St. Charles, who had never forsaken him during his illness, bore his death, which overwhelmed all other friends with consternation and grief with surprising resignation; the sentiments of a lively faith being stronger in him than those of flesh and blood. In profound recollection he adored the decrees of Providence, and was penetrated more seriously than ever with a sense of eternity, and of the instability of human things. All his friends, and the pope himself, pressed him to resign his ecclesiastical dignities, and marry to support his family; but more effectually to rid himself of their solicitations, he made more haste to engage himself in orders, and was ordained priest before the end of that year. The pope soon after created him grand-penitentiary, and arch-priest of St. Mary Major. St. Charles founded at that time the noble college of the Borromeos at Pavia, for the education of the clergy of Milan, and obtained several bulls for the reformation of many abuses in ecclesiastical discipline. The council of Trent, 6 which had been often interrupted and resumed, was brought to a conclusion in 1563, the last session being held on the 5th of December, in which the decrees of all the former sessions under Paul III., Julius III., and Pius IV., were confirmed, and subscribed by two hundred and fifty-five fathers; viz. four legates of the holy see, two cardinals, three patriarchs, twenty-five archbishops, one hundred and sixty-eight bishops, thirty-nine deputies of absent prelates, seven abbots, and seven generals of religious Orders. Difficulties which seemed insurmountable had been thrown in the way, sometimes by the emperor, sometimes by the king of France, sometimes by the king of Spain, or others; and it was owing to the unwearied zeal and prudence, and doubtless to the prayers of St. Charles Borromeo, that they were all happily removed; who informing the prelates and princes of his uncle’s sickness, engaged them by his pressing solicitations to hasten the close of that venerable assembly. No sooner was it finished but St. Charles began strenuously to enforce the execution of all its decrees for the reformation of discipline. At his instigation, the pope pressed earnestly all bishops to found seminaries according to the decree of the council, and set the example by establishing such a seminary at Rome, the care of which was committed to the Jesuits. 7 In opposition to the new errors his holiness published, in 1564, the Creed which bears his name, and commanded all who are preferred to ecclesiastical livings, dignities, &c., to subscribe the same. 8 The council had recommended to the pope 9 the revisal of the Missal and Breviary; likewise the composition of a catechism. To compile this last work Charles detained at Rome for some time F. Francisco Foreiro, a very learned and pious Dominican, who had attended the council in quality of theologian from the king of Portugal. Foreiro was assisted in this work by Leonardus Marini, archbishop of Lanciano, and Giles Forscarari, bishop of Modena, all three Dominicans. The work was revised by Cardinal Sirlet. Paulus Manutius is said to have corrected the style. 10 This is the catechism called of Trent, or the Roman, or ad Parochos; which is recommended both by the erudition, exactness, and conciseness with which it is written, and by the neatness and elegance of the style, as an excellent judge and master of the Latin style observes. 11 He says the same of the acts of the church of Milan, or St. Charles’s councils. A barbarous and half Latin language disgraces and derogates from the dignity of the sublime oracles of religion, which by the dress they wear, appear quite different things, as Secretary Lucchesini elegantly shows. 12 The Roman catechism was published in 1566. 13
St. Charles had always about him several very learned and virtuous persons: his spiritual director in Rome was F. Ribera, a learned Jesuit, and by his advice he regulated his retreats and devotions. He had the greatest confidence in F. Foreiro during the year that he detained him in Rome before he returned to Portugal; and the saint conversed much with other pious and religious men, and was assisted by some in reviewing a course of theological studies. He retrenched his retinue, discharging the greatest part of his domestics, after handsomely recompensing every one of them; he neither wore any silk, nor allowed any in his family to do it; he banished all superfluities from his house and table, fasted once a week on bread and water, and made every day two meditations of an hour. Full of tenderness for his flock, he wrote every week long and most zealous and affectionate letters to his grand-vicar, and sent some learned Jesuits thither to preach, whom he settled in the church of St. Vitus. Ormanetto began to build a seminary, published the council of Trent, held a diocesan synod, in which twelve hundred persons were assembled, and made the visitation of the churches and monasteries of the city, and part of the country. But finding it impossible to reform all abuses, he wrote to St. Charles begging leave to return to his curacy and representing to him that no other but himself could put things upon a proper footing. This advice pierced the good pastor to the quick, and he renewed his solicitations with his uncle with so much earnestness that he obtained leave to go to Milan, but only to hold a provincial council, and make his visitation.
King Philip II. had settled upon St. Charles a yearly pension of nine thousand crowns, and confirmed to him the gift of the principality of Oria, which he had before bestowed on his elder brother, Frederic. The pope before his departure created him legate a latere through all Italy. The saint left Rome on the 1st of September, in 1565, stopped some days at Bologna where he was legate, and was received at Milan with the utmost joy and pomp that can be imagined, the people calling him in their acclamations a second St. Ambrose. After having prayed a long time prostrate before the blessed sacrament in the great church, he went to his palace, and received visits, but made this necessary ceremony of civility as short as possible. On Sunday he made a pathetic sermon, and soon after opened his first provincial council, at which assisted two foreign cardinals, and eleven suffragan bishops, among whom were Bernardin Scoti, cardinal of Trani, bishop of Placentia, Guy Ferrier, bishop of Vercelli, (to whom St. Charles gave the cardinal’s hat in this council, by his uncle’s deputation,) Jerom Vida, the famous bishop of Alba, 14 and Nicholas Sfondrat, bishop of Cremona, afterwards Pope Gregory XIV. Five suffragan bishops (of whom two were cardinals) sent deputies, being themselves hindered from making their appearance; the suffragan see of Ventimil was vacant. The dignity, majesty, and piety with which this council was celebrated by a young cardinal, only twenty-six years of age, and the excellence of its regulations for the reception and observance of the council of Trent, for the reformation of the clergy, the celebration of the divine office, the administration of the sacraments, the manner of giving catechism in all parish churches on Sundays and holydays, and many other points, surprised every one; and the pope wrote to St. Charles a letter of congratulation. 15 When the council was broken up, St. Charles set about the visitation of his diocess; but went through Verona to Trent, by the pope’s orders, to receive the two sisters of the Emperor Maximilian II., Barbara, married to Alphonsus of Esti, duke of Ferrara, and Jane, married to Francis of Medicis, duke of Florence. The former he attended to Ferrara, and the latter as far as Fiorenzola in Tuscany, where he received news by an express that the pope lay dangerously ill. He hastened to Rome, and being informed by the physicians that his uncle’s life was despaired of, he went into his chamber, and showing him a crucifix which he held in his hand, said to him: “Most holy father, all your desires and thoughts ought to be turned towards heaven. Behold Jesus Christ crucified, who is the only foundation of our hope; he is our mediator and advocate; the victim and sacrifice for our sins. He is goodness and patience itself; his mercy is moved by the tears of sinners, and he never refuses pardon and grace to those who ask it with a truly contrite and humbled heart.” He then conjured his holiness to grant him one favour, as the greatest he had ever received from him. The pope said, any thing in his power should be granted him. “The favour which I most earnestly beg,” said the saint, “is, that as you have but a very short time to live, you lay aside all worldly business and thoughts, and employ your strength and all your powers in thinking on your salvation, and in preparing yourself to the best of your power for your last passage.” His holiness received this tender advice with great comfort, and the cardinal gave strict orders that no one should speak to the pope upon any other subject. He continued by his uncle’s bed-side to his last breath, never ceasing to dispose him for death by all the pious practices and sentiments which his charity could suggest; and administering himself the viaticum and extreme unction. Pope Pius IV. was also assisted in his last moments by St. Philip Neri, and died on the 10th of December, in 1565, being sixty-six years and nine months old, and having sat six years wanting sixteen days. His last words as he expired were: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” In the conclave, in which St. Charles had much the greatest sway, our saint’s conduct was such as convinced his colleagues that he had nothing but the glory of God and the good of the church at heart, and that the most subtle passions which so often blind men in their views, and insinuate themselves into their actions, had no place in his heart. At first he had thoughts of preferring Cardinal Morone, whose moderation, zeal, and experience had recommended him at Trent, or the most pious Cardinal Sirlet; but finding obstacles raised, he concurred strenuously to the promotion of St. Pius V., though he was a creature of the Caraffas, and consequently esteemed no friend to his uncle and his family. The saint in his letter to Cardinal Henry of Portugal, giving an account of this election, says, that entering into the conclave, he had looked upon it as his principal duty and care to watch over himself with great circumspection, and examined narrowly his heart for fear of being seduced by any personal affection or interest which might have any secret influence, and infect the purity of his views and intention. St. Pius V., who was chosen on the 7th of January, in 1566, did all in his power to engage St. Charles to stay at Rome, and accept of the same employments which he had enjoyed under his predecessor. But the holy archbishop feared that even to resign his church without having remedied the disorders which had taken root in it, would have been to abandon it; and pressed his return to his people with such zeal that the pope, after having taken his advice for several days, dismissed him with his blessing.
St. Charles arrived at Milan in April, 1566, and went vigorously to work for the reformation of his diocess. He began by the regulation of his own family, considering that the task would be easier when all he could prescribe to others was already practised at home. He laboured, in the first place, for the most perfect sanctification of his own soul, the episcopal character being a state of the greatest perfection and sanctity, and was most severe towards himself. The austerities which he practised amidst the incredible fatigues of his apostolic life seem almost excessive. His fasts were at first moderate, that he might inure his body by degrees to greater severities; but for a long time he continued every week to increase them out of an earnest desire of practising every means of advancing in the path of Christian perfection. Yet his austerities were discreet, and even at the end of his life his strength seemed never to fail him for his functions; it seemed to redouble through his zeal when extraordinary fatigues presented themselves, so that he never sunk under any burden. To exclude the imperfection of secretly seeking his own will in his austerities, (which he said was to corrupt our penance,) he treated his body with an entire indifference, and ate either wheat, or black bread, or chestnuts; and drank either clear, dirty, or snow water, such as he met with where he came. For several years before his death he fasted every day on bread and water, Sundays and holydays only excepted, on which he took with his bread some pulse, herbs, or apples; but never touched any flesh, fish, eggs, or wine; nor would he allow the water he drank to have been warmed. In Lent he abstained even from bread, and lived on dried figs and boiled beans; in Holy Week his food was only a small bitter sort of peas which he ate raw. The whole year he never ate oftener than once a day. From a violent cold and long sickness which he had contracted whilst he was a student at Pavia, in the twentieth year of his age, he was for many years troubled with phlegm, which caused frequent disorders in his health; and which no remedies could cure, till, by this excessive abstemiousness, it was perfectly removed. Whence it became a proverb to call a long and rigorous abstinence, “The remedy of Cardinal Borromeo.” 16 The archbishop of Valentia, in Spain, and F. Lewis of Granada, for whom the saint had the highest esteem, both wrote to him in the strongest manner, insisting that such excessive rigours were incompatible with the labours of the episcopal charge. St. Charles answered the former, that he found the contrary by experience; and that, as to the fatigues of the ministry, a bishop must look upon it as the greatest happiness that could befal him if he lost his life in serving his church, for which Christ died: therefore he ought not too nicely to spare himself in the discharge of his functions. To F. Granada the saint answered, that the Chrysostoms, the Spiridions, the Basils, and many other bishops of very extensive sees, lived in the practice of perpetual watchings and fasts, yet many of them arrived at a very advanced age. Pope Gregory XIII. commanded him by a brief to moderate his austerities. The saint received this order after he had passed the Lent to the last week without any other food than dried figs; and, in compliance, mitigated some little of his intended rigours in Holy Week. He wrote to his holiness, declaring his readiness to obey, but assuring him that he found by experience that a spare diet was conducive to his health. Whereupon the pope left him to his discretion; and the same rigid life he continued to his death. St. Charles constantly wore a rough hair shirt; took very little rest; and before great festivals passed the whole night in watching. When others advised him to allow more to the necessity of nature, he used to say, his uncle, John James of Medicis, a famous captain, and many other generals only slept a short time in a chair in the night: “and ought not a bishop who is engaged in a warfare against hell,” said he, “to do as much?” The saint only slept sitting in a chair, or lying down upon a rough bed in his clothes, till, at the earnest request of the bishops of his province, he consented to alter this custom. From which time he lay on a bed of straw, having for his pillow a sack filled with straw, without any other covering than a poor counterpane stuffed with straw, and two coarse sheets laid on a straw bed.
His patience in bearing cold and all other hardships he carried to a like excess. When one would have had a bed aired for him, he said with a smile: “The best way not to find the bed cold is to go colder to bed than the bed is.” The bishop of Asti, in his funeral oration, said of him: “Out of his revenues he expended nothing for his own use except what was necessary for buying a little bread and water for his diet, and straw for his bed. When I attended him in making a visitation in the valley Mesolcina, a very cold country, I found him studying in the night in a single black tattered old gown. I entreated him, if he would not perish with cold, to put on some better garment. He answered me smiling: ‘What will you say if I have no other? The robes which I am obliged to wear in the day belong to the dignity of cardinal: but this garment is my own and I will have no other either for winter or summer.’” Out of the most scrupulous love of purity he would never suffer any servant to see his arm, or foot, or any other part of his body that was usually covered, bare; neither would he speak to any woman, not even to his pious aunt, or sisters, or any nun, but in sight at least of two persons, and in as few words as possible. Seeing one of his chaplains drink once out of meals, he severely chid him, saying: “It is better to suffer thirst than to gratify sensuality.” His austerities are not mentioned as imitable; yet ought to excite all to the constant practice of some mortification, in order to keep the senses in due subjection, and to make our lives a constant martyrdom of penance. But the essential mortification is that of the will and the passions, to which this exterior is a great help. How eminently St. Charles excelled herein appears by his humility, meekness, and entire disengagement from all earthly things. So deeply was he grounded in the knowledge and contempt of himself, that the highest honours which he enjoyed under his uncle made no impression upon his mind; he regarded them as burdens, and declined all except those which he was obliged to accept for the good of the Church and the salvation of souls. In his undertakings he never suffered any thing to be ascribed to himself but faults. At Milan he removed out of his palace the fine sculptures, paintings, and hangings, and especially the arms of his family, which some had put up before his arrival: nor would he suffer his name, or the arms of his family, but only those of his bishopric, to be set up upon any edifices which he raised. Under his robes he wore a very poor garment which he called his own, and which was so mean, and usually so old and ragged, that once a beggar refused to accept of it. His servants he chiefly employed in other affairs, but did everything for himself that he could, and it was his delight even to serve others: though he did this in such a manner as never to do anything unbecoming his dignity, being sensible what he owed to his rank. The least shadow of praise or flattery was most hateful to him. All supernatural favours and interior graces and consolations which he received in prayer, he was most careful to conceal; and he had a little cell in the garrets of his palace at a distance from the chambers of others, to which he often retired. He never spoke of his own actions unless to ask advice or to condemn himself. It was an extreme pleasure to him to converse with, and to catechise the poor, which he did among the poor inhabitants of the wildest mountains. The bishop of Ferrara coming to meet him when he was occupied in the visitation of a poor valley, found him sick of an ague, lying on a coarse bed in a very poor cottage. At the sight, he was so struck, as to be scarcely able to speak. St. Charles perceiving his confusion, told him he was treated very well, and much better than he deserved. The accent with which he spoke this astonished the bishop much more than what he saw. If he was put in mind of any fault, he expressed the most sincere gratitude; and he gave a commission to two prudent and pious priests of his household to put him in mind of everything they saw amiss in his actions, and he often begged that favour of strangers. The sweetness and gravity with which he reproved or exhorted others was the fruit of his sincere humility and charity. From his childhood mildness seemed to form his character, and even in his youth he seemed never to feel any emotion of anger against schoolfellows or others. This virtue was daily more and more perfected in him as he advanced in the victory over himself. The most atrocious injuries, even accusations sent to the king of Spain against him, and the blackest actions of ingratitude never discomposed his mind: and defamatory libels published against him he burnt without reading them, or inquiring after the authors. A certain priest who took delight in finding fault with his actions he kept constantly in his family, treated him with the greatest regard, and in his will left him a pension for life upon his estate. The saint’s tongue was always the interpreter of his heart: his candour and sincerity appeared in all his words and transactions, and his promises were inviolable. The confidence which every one on this account reposed in him showed the incomparable advantage which a character of strict sincerity and veracity gives over lying and hypocrisy, which the saint could never bear in any one. He refused dispensations and grants which seemed unjust, with invincible firmness, but with so much sweetness as to make the parties themselves enter into his reasons. Thus when a lady, of great quality desired leave to go into a monastery to see her daughter who lay dying, the saint represented to her, that such a visit would be a very short satisfaction: but that the edification of her example, in preferring the rule of inclosure, would be of great advantage to the church: in which the lady voluntarily acquiesced.
The management of his temporalities he left entirely to stewards of approved probity and experience, whose accounts he took once a-year. To inspire his clergy with the love of holy poverty he severely reproved even bishops who discovered a spirit of interestedness; and he used to repeat to them the prayer of St. Austin, who often begged of God that he would take from his heart the love of riches, which strangely withdraws a man from the love of God, and alienates his affections from spiritual exercises: certainly nothing can be baser in a minister of the altar, or more unworthy, and more contrary to his character than that foul passion. When others told him he ought to have a garden at Milan to take the air in, his answer was, that the holy scriptures ought to be the garden of a bishop. If any spoke to him of fine palaces or gardens, he said, We ought to build and to think of eternal houses in heaven. When he came to reside at Milan, though his revenues when he left Rome amounted to above one hundred thousand crowns a-year, including his legations or governments, he reduced them to twenty thousand crowns, for he reserved nothing besides the income of his archbishopric, the pension which the king of Spain had granted him, and a pension upon his own estate. His other benefices he resigned, or converted into colleges and seminaries for the education of youth. He made over the marquisate of Romagonora to Frederic Ferrier his kinsman, and his other estates in the Milanese to his uncles the counts of Borromeo, those estates being feoffments or perpetual entails in the family, though his for life. The principality of Oria in the kingdom of Naples, which yielded him ten thousand ducats a-year for his life, he sold for forty thousand crowns: which sum was brought to his palace, according to the terms of the sale. But he could not bear the thought of a treasure lodged in a bishop’s house, and ordered his almoner to distribute the whole without delay among the poor and the hospitals. When the list which the almoner showed him for the distribution, amounted by mistake to forty-two thousand crowns, the saint said the mistake was too much to the advantage of the poor to be corrected, and the forty-two thousand crowns were accordingly distributed in one day. When the officers of king Philip II. seized the castle of Arona for the crown, in which a garrison was always kept, and which was the most honorable title of the family of Borromeo, and of the whole country, the saint could not be prevailed upon to send any remonstrances to the court, or to make interest to recover it. Upon the death of his brother Frederic, he caused the rich furniture, jewels, paintings, and other precious effects to be sold at Rome, Milan, and Venice, and the price which amounted to thirty thousand crowns, he gave to the poor. When he came first to reside at Milan, he sold plate and other effects to the value of thirty thousand crowns, and applied the whole sum for the relief of distressed families in that diocess. Count Frederic’s widow, Virginia of Rouera, left him by will a legacy of twenty thousand crowns; which he made over to the poor without touching a farthing of it. His chief almoner, who was a pious priest named Julius Petrucci, was ordered to give among the poor of Milan, of whom he kept an exact list, two hundred crowns a month, besides whatever extraordinary sums he should call upon the stewards for, which were very frequent, and so great that they were obliged to contract considerable debts to satisfy them, of which they often complained to St. Charles, but could not prevail with him to moderate his alms. The saint would never suffer any beggar to be dismissed without some alms, wherever he was.
Hospitality the saint looked upon as a bishop’s indispensable duty, and he was most obliging and liberal in entertaining princes, prelates, and strangers of all ranks, but often at the table at which his upper family ate all together, and without dainties or luxury; and he endeavoured as much as possible to conceal his own abstemiousness; of which he would not suffer the least sign to be given or notice taken, every one being free to eat as he pleased at his table. His liberality appears in many monuments which yet remain at Rome, Milan, and in many parts of that diocess. The church of St. Praxedes at Rome, which gave him the title of cardinal, was magnificently repaired and almost rebuilt by him. He adorned the church of St. Mary Major, of which he was arch-priest. At Bologna, whilst he was legate there, he built the public schools in a stately and finished manner, with a beautiful fountain in the middle of the city. At Milan he did many things to adorn the metropolitical church, and built houses for all the canons of an admirable architecture, with a subterraneous passage for them to go to the church without being seen by any one; also a dwelling place for the rest of the clergy of that church: and the archiepiscopal palace, chapel, prisons, and stables; the great seminary at Milan, and two other seminaries there: three more in other parts of the diocess: the convent of capuchins, (whom he established at Milan,) with apartments for his clergy to make retreats there, near one of his seminaries. He settled at Milan the Theatins: also the Jesuits, whose college of Brera he founded at Milan, and to whom he made over for the foundation of their novitiate, his abbey of St. Gratinian at Arona. It would be tedious to enumerate the pious settlements he made for his oblats, and the churches, hospitals, and other public buildings which he repaired or adorned. The revenues of his archbishopric he divided into three parts, one of which was appropriated to his household, another to the poor, and the third to the reparation of churches: and the account of these revenues, to the last farthing, he laid before his provincial councils, saying he was no more than the administrator and steward. Though he tenderly loved his relations, he visited them only twice or thrice a-year; and if they sent him any recommendations he was more scrupulous and severe in examining the affairs or parties than in any others, fearing the danger of any bias upon his mind. He employed no clergyman of his kindred in the government of his diocess, and resigned none of the benefices which had been conferred on him in his youth to any of them. He indeed educated his cousin-german Frederic Borromeo in the college he had founded in Pavia, and he became one of the greatest ornaments of the church. 17
The saint expressed always a particular joy when he found any opportunity of serving his enemies, or of returning good for evil. This watchfulness over his heart against all inordinate affections made him also watchful in his words, in which he was very sparing, and careful never to say anything superfluous. Fearing to mispend, or rob from the great obligations of his charge, one moment of his time, he laid it all out in serious employments: at table, or whilst his hair was cutting, he listened to some pious book that was read to him, or he dictated letters or instructions. When he fasted on bread and water, and dined in private, he ate and read at the same time, and on his knees when the book was the holy scripture; and, at the same time, his cheeks were often watered abundantly with his tears. After dinner he gave audience to his country vicars 18 and curates, instead of conversing. In his journeys he always either prayed or studied on the road, and in the regular distribution of his time allowed himself none for recreation, finding in the different employments of his charge both corporal exercise and relaxation of the mind sufficient for maintaining the vigour of the mind and health of body. He said, that “A bishop ought never to take a walk either alone or with others.” Certain persons telling him, that a very experienced and pious director said, a person ought generally to allow himself seven hours for rest every night, he said bishops must be excepted from that rule. When some persons told him, he ought to read some newspapers in order to be acquainted with certain public transactions, for his own conduct on certain occasions, and might spare now and then three or four minutes for this, he made answer, that a bishop ought totally to employ his mind and heart in meditating on the law of God: which he cannot do who fills his soul with the vain curiosities of the world: and he attends more easily to God who hears least of them. To make recreations an employ, or to give to them any considerable time, or to indulge an eagerness or passion after hearing news is a vicious and vain curiosity, sloth and dissipation of mind, most pernicious to the spirit of devotion, and particularly contrary to the gravity and sanctity of a clerical state. Motives of charity to ourselves or others may sanctify some small degree of such amusements or actions which St. Charles’s great dignity and authority allowed him the happy liberty of entirely retrenching, and practising in the world a virtue no less severe than that of the most austere penitential religious Order.
It was a rule, which he inviolably observed, to go every morning to confession, before he said mass, and to make a spiritual retreat twice every year, in each of which he made a general confession for the time since his last spiritual exercises. After employing many hours on his knees in astonishing sentiments of compunction, he accused himself of the least failings and omissions with abundance of tears. His confessors at Milan were F. Francis Adorno, a very pious Jesuit, and an interior man whom he had invited from Genoa; under whose direction he most frequently made his retreats; but sometimes under F. Alexander Saulo, a Barnabite (afterwards bishop of Pavia), of whose virtue and prudence he had from experience the highest opinion. The first retreat and general confession which he made with this holy director in 1568, the saint ever after called his conversion to God: so great was the spiritual profit which he reaped from it; but St. Charles’s ordinary confessor was Mr. Gryffydh Roberts, 19 a Welchman, a canon and theologal of the great church. A priest, from once hearing the saint’s confession, might learn the most perfect lessons of his duties in all his actions: nor could those who had any acquaintance with his interior, sufficiently admire the purity of his conscience, the wonderful light with which he discerned the least failings, or the fervour of his compunction, and the sincerity of his humility, by which he esteemed himself the last of creatures, and of all others the most unfaithful and ungrateful to God. It happened once that in giving the holy communion at Brescia, by the fault of him who served at mass, he let the host fall: for which, in the deepest compunction and humiliation, he fasted most rigorously eight days, and abstained four days from saying mass. Except on this occasion he never omitted to say mass every day, even in his journeys and greatest hurries of business, unless in extreme fits of illness, and then he at least received every day the holy communion. Out of respect and devotion to the adorable sacrifice he always kept a rigorous silence (unless some important business intervened) from the evening prayer and meditation till the next day after mass, and his long thanksgiving. He prepared himself to offer the sacrifice by the sacrament of penance, and by many vocal and mental prayers; and used to say that it was unbecoming a priest to apply his mind to any temporal business before that great duty.
He always recited the divine office on his knees with his head bare, and his soul seemed all the while absorbed in God. The better to fix his attention, he never said any part of it by heart, but read it all in the breviary: which practice he recommended to all his clergy. He never would be excused from any part of it in any sickness, how grievous soever, except the day before he died; and on that would have his chaplain recite it by him upon his knees, and attended to it with great devotion. He always said each part as near as might be to the canonical hour to which it corresponded; but on Sundays and holidays sung it all in choir in the great church, and passed there the greatest part of those days after the public office on his knees before a private altar. He had an extraordinary devotion to the Blessed Virgin, under whose patronage he put all his colleges: he had a singular devotion to St. Ambrose and the other saints of his church, and had a great veneration for holy relics. He carried always about him, among others in a gold cross, a particle of the true cross of Christ, and a small image of St. Ambrose. He always kept with great respect a little picture of Bishop Fisher, who was put to death for his religion under Henry VIII. in England. 20 The passion of Christ was a constant object of his devotions and meditations. At Rome he frequently spent five hours together on his knees in the chapel of the holy pillar, in the church of St. Praxedes, and so in other places of devotion; sometimes whole days or nights. Having once passed the night in the church of St. Sebastian at the Catacombs, he spent the day following in that of St. Agnes. But what was most astonishing and edifying was the extraordinary exterior and interior recollection with which he prayed. His extreme care that neither persons nor business (unless in some pressing necessity) should interrupt or disturb him at that time, and his strict watchfulness over his eyes and all his senses, made it easy for his soul to remain totally absorbed in the divine presence: and condemned those, who, by neglecting these precautions, and the due preparation of their souls, present themselves before God rather to mock him than to pray. The foot of the altar was the centre of this saint’s delights, as he sometimes called it. When he was drawn away he left his heart there in desire to continue paying to God without interruption the homage of praise and love, and imploring his mercy. He never said any prayer, or performed any religious ceremony with precipitation, whatever business of importance he had upon his hands, how much soever he was pressed for time, or how long soever his functions continued, which was sometimes from morning till late in the night. In giving audience, and in the greatest hurry of exterior affairs, his very countenance, all his words, and his modesty showed his mind to be perfectly recollected in God, the centre of his heart, his repose, strength, and comfort. From this spirit of prayer, and the ardent love of God which burned in his breast, his words infused a certain spiritual joy into others, gained their hearts, and kindled in them a strong desire of persevering in virtue, and cheerfully suffering all things for its sake. One word spoken by him frequently so animated slothful or desponding priests, that they counted labours their gain, and braved dangers without fear. St. Philip Neri testified that he once saw the saint’s countenance shining with a heavenly brightness. The practice of always walking in the divine presence he strongly recommended as the principal means of attaining to Christian virtue. To a gentleman who begged he would prescribe him the rules of advancing in piety, he gave this answer: “He who desires to make any progress in the service of God must begin every day of his life with new ardour, must keep himself in the presence of God as much as possible, and must have no other view or end in all his actions but the divine honour.”
The saint, who laboured so strenuously for the sanctification of his own soul, began the reformation of his diocess by the regulation of his own family: including the vicars and the officers of their courts, it consisted of about a hundred persons, the greater part being clergymen whom he employed in his own affairs, and in those of his diocess. All the priests were obliged to go to confession once a week, the others at least once a month, and to communicate at the archbishop’s hands. The priests said mass every day: all assisted every day at regular prayers at night and morning, meditations, and pious reading: abstained from flesh all Wednesdays, and all Advent: fasted many vigils besides those of precept; and on fast-days had no regular collation; but those that called for it were allowed to take an ounce and a half of bread. No person in his family was ever to expect any benefice from him; so much did he dread the danger of simony stealing into any one’s intention in serving him. When one of them had obtained a small benefice from his grand vicar, St. Charles discharged him; though he had a good opinion of his learning and virtue, and afterwards recommended him to another bishop. All were allowed handsome salaries, and were strictly forbidden to receive presents from any one. Idleness was banished his house, and those who at any time were not employed, were obliged to read the lives of saints or other pious books. St. Charles had about him persons of the greatest learning and piety, whose advice he sought in all matters of moment: and he took no resolution of importance without having earnestly implored the light of heaven by his own and others’ prayers; whence his resolutions were most prudent and happy. His household was a most regular community, and all dined together in a common refectory. Out of the clergy that composed his family, twelve became eminent bishops, and many were employed by popes in quality of nuncios, and in other great posts in the government of the church. Ormanetto, his grand vicar (who was afterwards bishop of Padua), had two other assistants who were also grand vicars; for St. Charles established a vicariat, that things might be done with deliberation and counsel, which many other bishops imitated. He also appointed sixty foraneous or country vicars (whose authority and commission was limited by particular mandates); these were mostly the rural deans: they held frequent conferences, and inspected the behaviour of the curates under their jurisdiction, admonished them of their faults, and, if necessary, informed the archbishop or vicar-general.
The diocess of Milan, when the saint arrived in it, with regard to ignorance and disorders, was in the most deplorable condition. The great truths of salvation were little known or understood, and religious practices were profaned by gross abuses, and disgraced by superstition. The sacraments were generally neglected, the priests scarcely knew how to administer them, and were slothful, ignorant, and debauched; and the monasteries were full of disorder. St. Charles, by six provincial councils, and eleven diocesan synods, also by many pastoral instructions and mandates, made excellent regulations for the reformation of the manners both of the clergy and people, which all zealous pastors have since regarded as a finished model, and have studied to square their conduct by them. The first part of these, St. Charles collected into one volume in folio; which work, that his name might not be mentioned in it, he, out of humility, entitled The Acts of the Church of Milan. The rest were gathered into a second volume after his death. 21 Partly by the most tender and zealous entreaties and remonstrances, and partly by an inflexible firmness in the most rigorous execution of these most wholesome decrees, without favour, distinction of persons, or regard to rank or pretended privileges, the saint overcame the most obstinate and broke through difficulties which would have daunted the most courageous. Preaching being the means established by God for the conversion of souls, and the principal obligation of a pastor, St. Charles applied himself to it with an unwearied zeal, though every thing in this function cost him much time and pains. A natural impediment in his speech seemed to disqualify him for it: yet this he overcame by much labour and attention. 22 By his disputations and harangues in the Vatican palace he perfectly overcame a natural bashfulness and timidity, which at first gave him great difficulty. It was a more painful task still to break a custom of speaking his discourses too fast, and of conquering o thickness of speech, and other impediments. But his pains were at length crowned with incredible success. The composition also cost him a great deal of study; though an excellent judgment compensated this difficulty. That liveliness of genius, those sprightly thoughts, witty turns, and beautiful flowers, which we admire in the Basils and Chrysostoms, seemed not to be his talent. But zeal, sincere piety, and a thorough acquaintance with the lessons and motives of Christian virtue, could not fail to qualify him for this function. His sermons were solid and pathetic, and he spoke with a vehemence which strongly affects a soul, and with an unction which always penetrates the heart. Whilst those preachers who tickle the ears with the harmonious turn of their periods were dry and barren, the saint’s sermons produced, wherever he came, infinite fruits among all ranks of people. He preached every Sunday and holiday, and often in his visitations two or three times a day. F. Charles Bascape assures us, that hearing him preach he was so strongly affected with the excellent things he said, and the holy energy with which he spoke them, that though he desired to take notice of the preacher and his manner of delivery, it was not in his power to do it; but, in spite of his endeavours, he forgot the sacred orator, being wholly transported and possessed with the great truths he preached; thought his longest sermons short, and was very sorry when he concluded his discourse, that it was over. Possevinus and others assure us of the same. The saint’s zeal in procuring that all children and others throughout his diocess should be perfectly instructed in the catechism or Christian doctrine, was fruitful in expedients to promote and perpetuate this most important duty of religion. Not content with strictly enjoining all parish priests to give public catechism every Sunday and holiday, he established everywhere, under admirable regulations, schools of the Christian doctrine, which amounted to the number of seven hundred and forty, in which were three thousand and forty catechists, and forty thousand and ninety-eight scholars, as Giussano testifies.
The congregation of regular clerks called Barnabites, in Milan, abounding at that time with spiritual and interior men, the saint conceived a particular esteem and affection for this Order, and employed very much these good religious men in the most important spiritual functions. To supply his diocess with good pastors he founded many colleges and seminaries, and with the same view instituted, in 1578, the congregation of secular priests, called Oblats of St. Ambrose, because they voluntarily offer themselves to the bishop, making a simple vow of obedience to him, and being ready at his discretion to be employed in any manner whatever in labouring for the salvation of souls. 23 St. Charles made excellent regulations for their frequent conferences in all parts of the diocess under proper superiors, who assembled them together; also for their exercises, private conduct, and government. For their chief house he gave them the church of the Holy Sepulchre, with a convenient contiguous building, where a certain number always reside to be ready for any commission or emergency. Out of these Oblats he chose his ablest curates and vicars, and employed others in particular missions and other important services. His great seminary, which he had first committed to the care of the Jesuits, he took from them with their free consent, and put it in the hands of the Oblats. He associated several pious ladies of Milan in regular exercises of devotion and Christian perfection, by whose examples others were engaged to spend much time devoutly in churches, to assist at all the sermons they could, and to be always taken up with serious employments, and withdrawn from that fatal sloth and round of dangerous amusements which many seem to look upon as a privilege of their rank; as if this could make void the maxims of the gospel, or exempt any Christian from the obligation of his baptismal engagements. These sacred vows, made by every one at the font, St. Charles often inculcated, and induced persons to renew them frequently in a solemn manner with incredible fruit.
Immediately after his first provincial council he began the visitation of his diocess with the churches of Milan. Several monasteries, especially of nuns, that were subject to the superiors of their own Order, refused to give him admission, and opposed the rules of reformation which he prescribed them. It cost him infinite trouble to effect his good designs amongst them; but no entreaties or interest could soften him, nor were dangers and difficulties which would have discouraged any other person, able to slacken his vigorous endeavours, which were at length crowned everywhere with success. Some nunneries which before were under the obedience of their Order only, by special bulls which he procured, he subjected to the archiepiscopal jurisdiction. Every one of these undertakings was a work of time and much labour, and cost the holy prelate many prayers and tears. The reformation of his chapter was his first essay, and he established the divine service in the metropolitical church with the most edifying devotion, and in the utmost splendour, and obliged the canons to give constant attendance in the choir. The saint founded in it three new prebends, each of which proved singularly useful; the first was given to a theologian, who was to preach every Sunday, and to read lectures in divinity twice a week. The second to a penitentiary, whose business it was to absolve penitents from reserved cases, to be assiduous in hearing confessions, and to hold every week a meeting with four sub-penitentiaries that were under him, and with certain other able divines and canonists, in order to decide difficult cases, upon which curates or others from all parts of the diocess should consult them. The third prebend called the Doctoral was bestowed on a doctor in laws, whose duty it was to instruct young clergymen in the canon law. St. Charles repaired the choir of the great church with great magnificence and decency, forbade any layman, of whatever rank, to come within the chancel during the divine office, removed the escutcheons of noble families and whatever was profane, and took care that all persons were hindered from making the churches a passage in going from one place to another.
In 1567, the saint had a contest with the officers of justice. Certain lay-persons who lived in public adultery, or kept concubines, and could not be reclaimed by remonstrances, were imprisoned by his order. The senate threatened the serjeants of the archiepiscopal court for this action; and one of the king’s judges caused their barigel or provost to be apprehended, and punished in a public square with three strappados. The archbishop treated with the magistrates with great calmness and meekness; but, after much deliberation, declared the judge, the king’s fiscal, the notary, and jailer excommunicated, for having seized and punished an officer of the ecclesiastical court. Philip II. to whom both parties made their complaint, ordered the affair to be left to the pope’s decision; to whom a senator was sent as deputy to plead the cause, and the duke of Albuquerque, governor of Milan, expressed an extreme displeasure at the treatment of the archbishop’s officer. In the mean time, St. Charles set out in October to perform the visitation of the three vallies of Levantine, Bregno, and Riparie, subject to the three Swiss cantons of Uri, Switz, and Underwald; for the see of Milan is extended in the Alps, as far as Mount St. Goddard’s. Not to give umbrage to the temporal sovereignties he entreated each to send a deputy to accompany him through their territories, which they did in a very obliging manner. These vallies had been, as it were, abandoned by former archbishops, were full of disorders, and the priests there were more corrupt than the laity. The saint travelled through snows and torrents, and over rocks which were almost inaccessible, having iron spikes on his shoes to climb them, and suffering with joy, cold, hunger, thirst, and continual weariness. He preached and catechised everywhere, displaced the ignorant and scandalous priests, and put in their room others endowed with learning, zeal, and piety, who were capable of restoring the faith and morals of the people to their original purity. In some corners of his diocess the Zuinglian heresy had got footing; to them he made his way through incredible difficulties, reconciled many to the church, and settled all this northern part of his diocess in very good order. His method of making his visitation was as follows: He always travelled on horseback or on foot; had never more than six horses with him, and every one carried his own little necessaries on his own horse before him. He had no mules, but was followed by a horse loaded with a sack full of books. He called at no houses of noblemen or gentlemen, and lodged in those of the curates, how mean soever they were, often lying himself on some table, and yielding the beds to those that attended him. At dinner he would only allow a pottage, some fruit, and one dish of meat to be served up; though he never touched the meat himself, and in the last years of his life subsisted only on bread and water which he took privately in his chamber, and did not make his appearance at table. Certain priests went before him to prepare the people to receive the holy communion, which he gave to all himself; he allowed himself no interval of repose from his functions except a short time in the night; and he inquired into the necessities, both corporal and spiritual, even of particular persons in every parish, took down some account of them, and afterwards would be informed how the evils he had observed had been remedied.
In 1568, he took in hand the reformation of the Humiliati, a religious Order of which he was the protector. Their institute was founded by certain gentlemen of Milan in 1134, who, with the consent of their wives, made religious vows. They adopted the rule of St. Bennet, with certain particular constitutions, and their Order was approved by Innocent III. in 1200. In the beginning of the sixteenth century they fell into such relaxations that in ninety monasteries they had only a hundred and seventy monks; the superiors, who were called provosts, spending the revenues, and living at discretion. St. Charles procured two briefs from the pope, by which he was empowered to ordain and execute what he thought necessary for their reformation; and he published regulations for that purpose in a general chapter of the Order which he assembled at Cremona. The monks received them willingly; but the provosts and lay-brothers obstinately refused to submit to them. Our saint also assembled the Franciscans called Conventuals, in their convent at Milan, and published decrees for the reformation of certain abuses among them, for which he was authorized by Pope Pius V. Upon hearing his new regulations, some of the friars got up, and, by their outrageous clamours and running to the bells, raised a furious uproar, threatening the cardinal himself if he proceeded. 24 He therefore calmly withdrew for the present, but afterwards carried every point into execution, and united their several branches into one body. In many particular commissions of popes to reform abuses in distant cities or in religious bodies, he showed such prudence and disinterested piety and zeal as to seem rather an angel than a man. In 1568 he held a diocesan synod. His method was first to inform himself of the necessities of every part of his diocess by previous assemblies of sixty country vicars. The synod continued three days, in which he published several regulations, and preached to the curates twice every day, whom he always wonderfully inflamed with sincere piety, disinterested zeal, and ardent charity. In 1569 he assembled his second provincial council, and obliged a bishop of his province, who was a cardinal, and excused himself upon various pretences, to assist at it. On another occasion he obliged a bishop to come from an embassy, in which he was employed by his prince, to the council, and even to quit his secular embassy and reside in his diocess. Hearing that one of his suffragans had said in company that he had nothing to do, the saint sent to him a prefect of his household to represent to him the necessities of his flock and the obligations of his charge. The bishop answered him, coldly, that cardinal Borromeo required too much. The saint was extremely grieved at his insensibility and neglect, and wrote him a letter of several leaves, in which he summed up various obligations of the episcopal charge, repeating almost after each of them, “Shall a bishop ever say that he has nothing to do?” Hearing a cardinal, who was bishop of a small diocess, say, it was too little to require constant residence, he found himself pierced to the quick, and strongly represented to his colleague that such is the price of one soul, as to deserve the residence and whole time of the greatest man in the world.
The tranquillity which St. Charles had for some time enjoyed, stirred up the malice of the enemy of souls, and the storms which were formerly raised against the saint were renewed with greater fury than ever, upon the following occasion. The collegiate church of St. Mary de la Scala, so called from the foundress, Beatrice de la Scala, wife of Barnaby Visconti, lord of Milan, enjoyed great privileges and exemptions, which had been obtained from the apostolic see by Francis Sforza II. duke of Milan, a munificent benefactor. The conduct of some of these canons not being comformable to their state, St. Charles consulted able canonists at Milan, and the pope himself, who all answered him that he had a right, in quality of archbishop, to make the visitation of this church, and, in case of misdemeanours, to proceed against any of the clergy belonging to it. The archbishop therefore went to the church in solemnity to make a canonical visitation: but was thrust from the door by the canons, and the cross which was carried before him, and which, in the tumult, he had taken into his own hands, was shot at. One of their party caused a bell to be rung; then declared that the archbishop had incurred suspension and other censures for having violated the privileges of their church. The grand vicar upon the spot pronounced a sentence of excommunication against the authors of this insult; which the archbishop confirmed the next day in the great church, after having spent a long time in prayer at the foot of the altar. Most of the king’s judges and the senate warmly espoused the cause of these canons, and sent the most virulent invectives against the archbishop to the king of Spain, accusing him of ambition and high treason in invading the king’s rights, this church being under the royal patronage. The governor of Milan wrote to Pope Pius V. in the strongest terms, threatening to banish the cardinal as a traitor. The pope answered him, that nothing could be more glorious to the cardinal than to suffer banishment and death in the faithful discharge of his duty, and in labouring to exterminate vice and abuses from the sanctuary, and that the devil had stirred up this persecution to hinder the good effect of the archbishop’s zealous endeavours and unright intentions. Nevertheless, his holiness was very reserved in declaring in favour of the cardinal, and it is incredible how virulent and outrageous his enemies at Milan were in their invectives. The saint never spoke of any of them but with regard and tenderness; and in justifying his conduct to the pope and king of Spain, discovered his charity towards his persecutors. All this time he ceased not to pray and weep for them, and to beg of God that no resentment might find place in his heart. At length the king wrote to the governor, ordering him to repeal an edict which he had published injurious to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and to support the archbishop; saying he was much obliged to him for the trouble he took for the reformation of the canons of Scala, which undertaking he begged he would accomplish. Hereupon the governor was reconciled to the saint; and the provost of the canons, who had been the least guilty, begged and received absolution from his censures. The canons persisted some time obstinate; but at length submitted, and were absolved by the saint. The pope insisted that the most guilty persons, who had shot at the cross, should be punished in an exemplary manner; but by many earnest solicitations the saint at length obtained their pardon.
Before this affair was concluded by the king’s letter to the governor, an attempt was made upon the life of the saint, whose preservation was owing to a visible miracle. The Humiliati, amongst whom St. Charles had established a reform, employed the interest of princes and every other means to prevail upon the pope to annul the regulations which our saint had made for their order, but in vain. In the rage of their despair, three provosts of that Order entered into a diabolical conspiracy to murder the archbishop, and drew some others into the plot. To such excess of phrenzy and malice do passions which are not restrained, lead men. A priest of the same Order, named La Farina, engaged for a sum of money to execute this horrid design, imagining that the suspicion would rather fall upon some of the king’s officers who were then at variance with the prelate. On the 26th of October, 1569, the villain found means to post himself at the door of the chapel in the archbishop’s palace, whilst the prelate with his family was at his devotions, which lasted an hour every evening, from six to seven o’clock. An anthem was then singing at these words, Non turbetur cor meum neque formidet, and the prelate was upon his knees, before the altar, when the assassin, who was not above five or six paces from him, discharged at him a blunderbuss, with a large bullet. At the report the music ceased, and every one got up in the utmost consternation; but the saint, without stirring from his place, made them a sign to kneel down again, and finished his prayer with the same sweetness and tranquillity in his countenance as if nothing had happened. This gave the murderer an opportunity of escaping. St. Charles, imagining himself mortally wounded, lifting up his hands and eyes to God offered his life to him. But after the prayer was finished, rising up he found that the ball had only struck upon his rochet, near the middle vertebræ of the back, and leaving a mark upon the rochet had fallen down at his feet. Some small shot had pierced his clothes, but stopped at his skin: and his cassock was pierced with small shot in several places. When he was retired to his chamber, and the part that was struck examined, a light bruise was discovered with a small swelling on his skin, which mark continued even after his death. At the same time that he was wounded, some small shot penetrated a table of hard wood as thick as a finger that was close by him, and struck the wall with a great force and noise. 25 The duke of Albuquerque, governor of Milan, came immediately to see the saint, and earnestly begged that he might be allowed to make a search in his family, and examine his servants in order to discover the author of so black an attempt; but to this St. Charles would never consent. After a solemn thanksgiving to God and a procession, he shut himself up for some days in the chartreuse of Carignan, to consecrate his life anew to God. The world knew not which to call the greater miracle, his serenity of mind under such an accident, or his wonderful preservation, by which all pastors were taught not to fear the world in the discharge of their pastoral duties. St. Charles’s rochet became a proverb in Italy for a thing impenetrable. It is preserved at the chartreuse at Bourdeaux; and the ball in the church of the Oblats at Milan. Some of the Humiliati discovered enough to St. Charles for him to trace the crime to its authors; but he never disclosed it; and always answered with simplicity that so many had taken offence at his regulations, that it was not possible to know who carried their resentment so far. Certain words which some persons of that Order let fall, gave suspicions to the public, so that they were examined, and the four authors convicted. They all confessed the crime with marks of sincere repentance; two provosts who were of noble families were beheaded; the third provost and the assassin were hanged, though St. Charles did every thing in his power that their lives might be spared, and took care of their relations. The punishment of a fifth, who was only condemned to the galleys, was mitigated, to content the saint in some measure, and he was confined for some time in a monastery, and afterwards set at liberty. In execration of this crime Pope Pius V. abolished the Order of the Humiliati, applying their revenues to other pious uses, notwithstanding the intercession which St. Charles made in their favour. It never appeared more clearly than under these dangers and persecutions, how much this great saint was beloved by his people, and reverenced by princes and the whole church. Nor did it seem possible that an Ignatius or a Chrysostom could love their flocks with a more tender and ardent affection than St. Charles did the people of his diocess, for whose sake all labours and dangers were sweet: and he looked upon it as nothing to lay down his life to procure them the least spiritual advantage, as the whole tenour of his conduct showed.
Before the execution of the assassins he returned to three vallies of his diocess situated in the Alps, and took that opportunity of paying a visit to the states of each of the Catholic cantons, whose breasts he by his exhortations warmed with an ardent love of virtue and zeal against all disorders which are a scandal to religion. The harvest having failed in 1569, the country was afflicted the following year with great scarcity: under which calamity St. Charles, by his care and immense charities, procured abundant supplies for the relief of the poor throughout his whole diocess. That year he assisted the Duke of Albuquerque at his death; and at length succeeded in almost abolishing the disorders of the Carnival or Shrovetide, and turning the attention of the people to religious processions, prayer, and compunction at that season. To extirpate the custom of profaning the holy name of God, or sentences of the holy scripture, the saint armed himself with all his zeal, and had recourse to various pious institutions. Upon the death of St. Pius V. in 1572, St. Charles concurred strenuously to the election of Cardinal Buoncampagno, who took the name of Gregory XIII., is famous for the institution of many colleges for the propagation of the faith, and surpassed, if possible, his two predecessors in his esteem of our saint, whom he detained some time at Rome to take his advice; and he appointed him apostolic visitor of the diocesses of all his suffragans. In 1575, St. Charles went to Rome with the most edifying devotion to gain the jubilee, and in the following year, opened it at Milan. With all his zeal, he was not able to hinder the exhibition of profane diversions of tilts and tournaments that very year. Whilst the people were taken up in them he clearly foretold the plague which broke out before they were over. The news of this calamity reached the saint at Lodi, whither he was gone to assist the bishop of that see at his death, as it was his custom to do towards all his suffragans. The governor fled to Vigevano, and all the rest of the nobility left the town. St. Charles made haste thither, visited the pesthouse whither the infected were sent by the magistrates, and provided both the sick and the poor with every succour spiritual and corporal. According to his custom in all difficulties, he consulted his vicars and canonists, whether he was obliged to remain with the infected, or to withdraw to some other part of his diocess. They answered him with warm solicitations in the negative, entreating him not to expose his life, which was at that time of infinite importance, both to the sick and to those parts of his diocess which were not visited with that calamity. But St. Charles proved to them that a pastor, who is obliged to lay down his life for his flock, must not abandon them in the time of danger. All granted this was the more perfect. And is not a bishop, said the saint, obliged to choose what is most perfect? Sin being the cause of scourges, he strongly exhorted the people to have recourse to the divine mercy by humble penance, and he redoubled his prayers and austerities. In three general processions he walked barefoot, having on a purple cope, as in times of penance, with a halter about his neck, and a crucifix in his hands, from which he seemed never to turn his eyes, which were drowned in tears. Thus he offered himself a victim for the sins of the people. He preached almost every day, and never ceased admonishing his fellow-labourers to contemn life in such a cause, himself exhorting the sick and administering the sacraments. For the relief of those that were destitute, he melted down all his plate, and gave all his furniture, even the straw bed on which he lay, taking his rest on the boards. The number of priests chiefly of his own clergy, whom he at first appointed to attend the sick, not being sufficient, he assembled the superiors of the religious communities, and begging their concurrence, made them a most pathetic discourse, in which he shows how great a happiness it was for any to lose their lives (which are always uncertain and short) in such a cause of the most noble charity, though the danger was not so great as was commonly imagined, and they were under the divine protection. 26 Such was the effect of this zealous discourse, that about twenty-eight priests immediately presented themselves out of that body, and the saint allotted to them their diet and lodgings in his own palace. The magistrates found fault with his numerous processions and assemblies of devotion, for fear of spreading the contagion. The saint justified his conduct by the example of St. Gregory, St. Mammertus, and other great prelates, alleged, that all human remedies failing, it was more necessary to have recourse to those which are divine, and assured them that those devotions, far from increasing, would remove the calamity; which seemed a prophecy: for though four score died in the procession which St. Gregory made, no one caught the infection in those of St. Charles, nor any one of those that attended him in his visits of the sick: only two of his family died who never went to the infected houses. So abandoned to iniquity were some persons, that this scourge itself was not able to reclaim them. Persuading themselves that mirth, jollity, pleasure, and high living, were the best means to preserve them from the contagion, they lived together in a pleasant row of houses near the town, in debauchery and intemperance, and despised the serious admonitions of their holy pastor; but they were more severely visited with the pestilence than any other part, so that not one of their houses escaped it. This dreadful distemper, after raging four months, began to abate in November, and quite ceased about the beginning of the ensuing year. The saint appointed a public solemn thanksgiving, and three days’ prayer for such as had died during the pestilence. The two governors who had succeeded Albuquerque gave the saint much to suffer, chiefly on account of his abolishing the extravagances of Shrovetide, and of the first Sunday in Lent; and, on account of the processions he had made during the pestilence; to which they were stirred up by incorrigible sinners, and persons who were enemies to all reformation of manners, as Giussano shows at large. 27 After the death of the latter of these governors, in 1580, the king of Spain did the saint justice, and Pope Gregory XIII. full of admiration at the wisdom and apostolic spirit which appeared in his whole conduct, approved of all his regulations, and commended his zeal; also the duke of Terra Nuova, the fourth governor of Milan, from the time of our saint’s promotion, lived constantly in good intelligence with the saint, and often assisted at his sermons.
St. Charles made twice the visitation of his whole diocess, and once of his province: he took a journey into the Valteline, and into the country of the Grisons, where he animated the Catholics to the practice of piety, and converted many Zuinglianists. The diocess of Milan is filled with monuments of his charity and zeal, and in that city itself he founded a convent of Capuchinesses, (in which a daughter of his uncle, John Baptist Borromeo, embraced that austere Order, and died in the odour of sanctity,) one of Ursulines, for the instruction of poor girls, who were educated there gratis; an hospital for beggars, into which all the poor were received; another of Convalescents who were dismissed out of the great hospital, &c. After he had established the college of the Jesuits at Milan, in which grammar, philosophy, and theology are taught, he committed a college which he founded for the Switzers, his six seminaries, (three in the city, and three in other parts of his diocess,) and all the other houses which he instituted, to the care of his Oblats; except a house at Pavia, which he gave to the regular clerks of Somascha, so called from a place of that name between Bergamo and Milan, where their founder, St. Jerom Æmiliani, a nobleman of Venice, established their chief seminary. 28 Though the saint preferred public and general duties, as preaching, to those which regarded only private persons; yet he spent much time in the direction of particulars, in which his prudence was most remarkable. He was very severe in examining and much upon his guard in believing visions and ecstacies, especially in women, whose imagination is easily susceptible of impressions: on such occasions he recommended the practice of humility and solid virtues. When a young woman in Milan, who was one of those who, making a vow of chastity, are called Devotes, (in Italy Beates,) was much spoken of on account of extraordinary favours which it was pretended she had received from God; though F. Adorno, who examined her, judged them real, the saint would not be prevailed upon by any entreaties so much as to go to see her, but ordered her to be shut up in a nunnery, sufficiently testifying that he looked upon the whole as an illusion; as was made manifest some time after the saint’s death. He was no less strict in the scrutiny of miracles and relics, and exploded all those that were not authentic; but visited other holy relics with singular devotion, and translated and adorned the shrines of many saints. It was to him, as he often expressed, a singular pleasure to assist dying persons. In 1583, hearing the Duke of Savoy had fallen sick at Vercelli, and was given over by his physicians, he posted thither, and found him, as it was thought, at the last gasp. The duke seeing him come into his chamber, cried out: “I am cured.” The saint gave him the holy communion the next day, and ordered the forty hours’ prayer for his recovery. The duke was restored to his health, as he was persuaded by the prayers of St. Charles, and after the saint’s death, sent a silver lamp to be hung up at his tomb in memory of this benefit.
For closer solitude St. Charles sometimes used to make his retreats at Camaldoli and other places; but none seemed so agreeable to his devotion as Mount Varalli, situate in the diocess of Novara, upon the borders of Switzerland, a famous place of devotion to the sufferings of Christ, the mysteries of which are curiously carved in thirty-eight chapels of good architecture, besides the great church, which is served by Franciscans. Thither St. Charles went in 1584, to make his annual retreat and confession, having with him F. Adorno, who proposed to him the points of his meditations. He had before clearly foretold to several persons that he should not remain long with them; and in this retreat redoubled his fervour in his austerities and devotions, and seemed more than ordinarily absorbed in God, and disengaged from his body and all earthly ties. The abundance of his tears obliged him often to stop in saying mass; and a bishop deposed, that he saw his countenance one day at the altar darting a ray of bright light, which seemed to proceed from that interior light which filled his soul, and to be a presage of that glory with which he was going to be crowned. He spent most time in the chapel, called, Of the prayer in the garden, and in that, Of our Redeemer in the sepulchre, endeavouring to put himself in a state of death with him, by a perfect renunciation of all sentiments and thoughts of self-love; and praying that whatever remained in him of the life of Adam, might be entirely destroyed by the death of the Son of God. On the 24th of October, he was taken ill of a tertian ague; but concealed it; on the 26th he had a second fit, and by the order of F. Adorno, abridged the hours of his prayers, had a little straw laid on the boards on which he lay, and took a panado, suffering the bread to be toasted, which he ate with water, but would not use any salt or butter. On the fifth day of his retreat he spent eight hours on his knees with such fervour and compunction, that he could not be persuaded he had been near so long; after this he made his annual confession, and the next day, it being the 29th of October, he went to Arona, and there alighted at the curate’s according to his custom, not at the palace, which had been seized by the governors, but was afterwards restored to him without his solicitations. Having taken a mess of panado he went, though it was night, across the lake to Ascona, to finish the foundation of a college there, though the plague was then in that town. He took a little rest in the boat, and despatched his business the next morning; he returned by water to Conobbio, though in a fit of the ague. The next day he went to Arona; but it being the eve of All-Saints, fasted as usual; except that he took the drugs prescribed him by his physician. His cousin Renatus Borromeo could not induce him to lodge at the castle, but he lay at the Jesuits, and rested well that night; and rose to his prayers at two in the morning. After his confession he said mass at seven; his physicians persuaded him not to set out, that being the day of the return of his ague, and they ordered him to drink a great quantity of ptisan. He obeyed them; but the ptisan had a contrary effect to what they expected it, being too strong for a constitution accustomed to no other fare than bread and water, or pulse. His ptisan and drugs were to him cordials, instead of coolers, and his fever was much increased by them, so that it became from that time continued, and never after left him.
On All-Souls’ day he arrived at Milan in a litter, called in the ablest physicians, and gave himself up to their direction, which he scrupulously followed in every point. They declared his distemper very dangerous; but the next day, finding his fever much abated, had great hopes of his recovery. The saint gave no signs of joy at this news, and continued his pious exercises, chiefly on the passion of Christ sometimes by himself, sometimes with F. Adorno, F. Charles Bascape, and other devout persons. In the next paroxysm of his fever the physicians found the state of his health desperate; he received the news with a surprising serenity, received the viaticum and extreme-unction with great devotion, and with these words, Ecce venio, Behold I come, expired in the first part of the night between the 3rd and 4th of November. He left by his will his plate to his cathedral, his library to his canons, and his manuscripts to the bishop of Vercelli, and declared the general hospital his heir. His funeral he ordered to be made as privately as might be, and chose for his burial-place a vault near the choir, with this inscription, which remains there to this day, in a small marble stone: “Charles, cardinal of the title of St. Praxedes, archbishop of Milan, desiring to be recommended to the frequent prayers of the clergy, people, and the devout sex, living, chose for himself this monument.” There follows this addition: “He lived forty-six years, one month, and one day; governed this church twenty-four years, eight months, twenty-four days, and died November the 4th, in 1584.” F. Adorno soon after his departure, in a slumber, saw him in great light and glory, and the saint said to him; “I am happy; you will soon follow me.” This F. Adorno told several friends with great comfort, and once affirmed it publicly in a sermon. He returned to Genoa, his own country, and died there very soon after in the odour of sanctity. 29 Several instantaneous miraculous cures were wrought by this saint’s relics and intercession. 30 In 1601, the venerable cardinal Baronius, confessor to Clement VIII. sent to the clergy of Milan an order of his holiness, to change the anniversary mass de Requiem, which the saint had founded to perpetuity in the great hospital, into a mass of the saint: and St. Charles was solemnly canonized by Paul V. in 1610. His sacred remains are now deposited in a rich subterraneous chapel just under the cupola in the great church, and laid in a crystal shrine of an immense value. The altar in this chapel is of solid silver; plates of silver cover the walls of a considerable part of the vault, and a great number of large silver and gold lamps burn there night and day, not to mention the great images and other donaries of gold and silver, with which this chapel is filled by the devotion of many distant princes, cardinals and bishops. Besides the richest vestments and like ornaments Giussano tells us, that in eight years the donaries here amounted to above the value of one hundred and fifty thousand crowns of gold. 31 Thus is he honoured on earth who despised the whole world for Christ.
St. Charles was raised by God to revive an ecclesiastical spirit in the clergy. Priests are called by our Blessed Redeemer the salt of the earth. Through them the world is to be seasoned, as it were, with the Christian spirit of perfect humility, meekness, patience, charity, devotion, and contempt of the world. How can they infuse these virtues into others who are themselves unacquainted with this spirit? For this, much more is required than barely to know the names of virtues. To be disengaged from the world, and dead to themselves; to love retirement, and to be always employed in the business of their heavenly Father, is the characteristic of the ministers of the altar. Such were the pastors who formed so many saints. The reformation of the manners of the people depends very much upon that of the clergy. Judgment must begin from the house of God. 32 A clergyman is one separated from the people, as his name and office imply: separated not only in his education and ministry, but, in some degree, in his life and conversation. How much soever he is filled with the spirit of his profession, this will be soon extinguished, and the contagion of the world or love of vanity, pleasure, riches, and honour, insensibly contracted by too great familiarity with it. It shall be as with the people, so with the priest. 33
Note 2. See these conferences of the saint published by Saxius, the learned keeper of the Ambrosian library at Milan in 1548, under the title of S. Caroli Noctes Vaticanæ. The saint gave them this title, because, being occupied the whole day in public affairs, he held these conferences in the night; the principal objects of which were difficult points of morality and theology. At first he admitted several points of philosophy, natural history, and other branches of literature, to be discussed: but after his brother Frederic’s death, he would have the conferences turn entirely on religion; and they were continued during the five years he spent at Rome. Those which are published, treat of the eight beatitudes, of abstinence, of the remedies against impurity, sloth, vanity, &c., with an admirable discourse on the love of God, entitled De Charitate. [back]
Note 3. See Carolus a Basilicâ Petri in vitâ S. Car. Borrom. l. 1, c. 3, et Saxius in Præfat. [back]
Note 4. See Saxius, Præf. in Hom. S. Caroli, t. 1. [back]
5. See Ripamont, de vitâ Caroli, l. 2, c. 2;
Giussano, l. 1, c. 2; Sacy, Vie de Barthol. des Martys, l. 2, c. 23, p. 263;
Touron, Hommes Illustr. t. 4, p. 638. [back]Note 6. The
bull of Paul III. for the convocation of the general council of Trent in order
to condemn new errors that were broached against faith, and to reform the
manners and discipline by enforcing ancient canons and establishing new
wholesome regulations, was dated the 22d of May, 1542, and the council was
opened in the cathedral church at Trent on the 13th of December, 1545. Matters
were discussed in particular congregations; and, lastly, defined in the
sessions. After some debates, it was agreed that points of faith and matters of
discipline should be jointly considered, and the condemnation of errors, and
the decrees for the reformation of manners carried on together; there being
abuses in practice relative to most points of doctrine. The doctrine of faith is
first explained in chapters; then the contrary errors are anathematized, and
the articles of faith defined in canons. This faith is in no point new, but the
same which the apostles delivered, and which the church in all ages believed
and taught. When F. Bernard Lami, the Oratorian, had advanced that the chapters
or exposition of doctrine in this council are not of equal authority with the
canons, Bossuet, in a few words, charitably convinced him of this mistake,
which the other readily corrected, and recalled, as Archbishop Languet relates.
The decrees for the reformation of manners, and ecclesiastical discipline,
particularly in the clergy, follow the chapters and canons of doctrine in the
several sessions. Points relating to the holy scriptures, original sin,
free-will, justification, the sacraments in general, and those of baptism and
confirmation in particular, are examined in the seven first sessions held under
Paul III. On account of an epidemical distemper at Trent, he had consented that
the prelates might remove the council to Bologna; this was decreed in the
eighth session, and the ninth and tenth were held at Bologna, but no business
done; the emperor and some of the prelates being displeased at the translation,
so that the pope suspended the council on the 15th of September, and died
November the 10th, 1549. His legates a latere in the council were
Cardinal Del Monte, bishop of Palestrino, Cardinal Marcellus Cervinus, and
Cardinal Reginald Pole. The first of these was chosen pope after the death of Paul
III. took the name of Julius III. and reassembled the council of Trent in 1551.
His legates there were Cardinal Marcellus Crescenti, legate a latere, and
Sebastian Pictini, archbishop of Manfredonia, and Aloysius Lippomannus, bishop
of Verona. The eleventh and twelfth sessions were preparatory: in the
thirteenth and fourteenth the eucharist, penance, and extreme unction were
explained: in the fifteenth the Protestants were invited under a safe-conduct;
and in the sixteenth the council was suspended on account of the wars in
Germany. Julius III. died March the 23d, 1555, and Cardinal Marcellus Cervinus,
an excellent, courageous, and pious man, was chosen pope, and took the name of
Marcellus II. but died within twelve days. Cardinal Caraffa was chosen pope,
May the 23d, 1555, and called Paul IV. The surrender of the empire by Charles
V., a war between France and Spain, and some difficulties which arose between
the Emperor Ferdinand and Paul IV. protracted the suspension of the council,
and this pope died the 18th of August, 1559. Pius IV. who succeeded, obtained
the concurrence of the emperor and Catholic kings to restore the council, and
published a bull for the indiction of the same, November 25, 1560. At the head
of five papal legates at Trent, was the Cardinal of Mantua, Hercules Gonzaga,
and after his death Cardinal Marone. In the seventeenth session, held on the
18th of January, 1562, the council was opened. In the following, the
prohibition of books was treated of, and letters of safe-conduct sent to the
Protestants. In the twenty-first, the question about communion in both kinds:
in the twenty-second the holy mass; and in the twenty-third and twenty-fourth,
the latter sacraments were treated of; in the twenty-fifth and last, held on
the 14th of December, 1563, the doctrine of purgatory, images, invocation of
saints, and indulgences was handled, and the council concluded with the usual
acclamations and subscriptions. After the fathers had subscribed, the
ambassadors of Catholic kings subscribed as witnesses in a different schedule.
The council was confirmed by the pope on the 26th of January, 1564, first in the Roman chancery, then by a bull dated the same day, and subscribed by his holiness and all the cardinals then at Rome. Besides Italian, French, and Spanish bishops, there were present at the council only two Germans, (the rest excusing themselves on account of the public disturbances,) three Portuguese, six Grecian, two Polish, two Hungarian, three Illyrican, one Moravian, one Croate, two Flandrican, three Irish, and one English bishop. (The three Irish were Thomas O’Herlihy, bishop of Ross in Munster, who died in 1579: Donat Mac-Congail, bishop of Ross in Munster, who died in 1579: Donat Mac-Congail, bishop of Raphoe in Ulster, who died in 1589; and Eugene O’Hart, a Dominican, bishop of Achonry in Connaught, who died in 1603, at the age of one hundred. The Englishman was Thomas Goldwell, bishop of St. Asaph’s). These prelates were looked upon by their absent colleagues as representatives of the rest, who were not able to come, and all the absent acquiesced in the doctrinal decisions of the general council. Its decrees were solemnly received by the senate of Venice, the diet of Poland, August the 17th, 1564, and the king of Portugal; but published by the king of Spain, in Spain, the Low-Countries, Sicily, and Naples, with a proviso, as to certain laws of discipline, to save the right of the king and kingdom. In France, queen Catherine of Medicis alleged, that the council forbade commendams and several other customs allowed by the discipline of that kingdom, and therefore put off the legal publication. (Pallavicini, l. 24, c. 11. Thuam. l. 35 et 37.) The clergy of France, in their general assembly, in 1567, demanded the publication and execution of the decrees of this council. (See Recueil Gén. des Affaires du Clergé de Fr. in 4to. chez Vitrè, 1636, t. 2. p. 14, and Acta Cleri Gallicani.) It repeated these solicitations in 1596, 1597, 1598, 1600, 1602, 1605, 1606, 1679, &c. King Henry IV. sent an edict to that purpose to the parliament of Paris; which nevertheless refused to enregister it. But this regarded only certain decrees of discipline, in which particular churches often follow their own jurisprudence. As to this council’s doctrinal decisions in matters of faith, these have been always received in France with the same respect as the doctrinal definitions of all former general councils are; as the writings of all bishops and others in that kingdom demonstrate, and as the French theologians invincibly prove. Charles Du-Moulin, the most learned French lawyer, (who first leaned to Calvinism, afterwards to Lutheranism; but long before his death was brought back to the Catholic faith, by Claude d’Espense, the learned doctor of Sorbonne and controvertist, in whose arms he died in 1566,) in his very counsel concerning the reception of the council of Trent in France, allows that no exception was made or could be made to the decrees relating to faith, doctrine, the constitutions of the church, and reformation of manners. The objections of Du-Moulin to this council are answered by the learned Peter Gregory of Toulouse, professor in laws at Pont-a-Mousson, author of the syntagma Juris Universi, &c. This answer is prefixed to the work in the edition of Du-Moulin’s writings in five volumes folio, at Paris, in 1681. Among the fathers who composed this council, and whom Fra-Paolo and Courayer traduce by the name of Scholastics, &c., were a great number, eminent for learning in the scriptures, fathers, antiquities, and languages, and many for their extraordinary virtue. Cardinal Pole’s learning, humility, temper, and virtue are much extolled by Burnet himself. Cardinal Stanislas Hosius, bishop of Warmia in Poland, was one of the ablest polemical writers that any age ever produced, he was the most dreaded by the heretics, says Du-Pin; and his works are a proof how well skilled he was in the scriptures and fathers, how clear his understanding, and how sound his judgment was. Antony Augustinus, bishop of Lerida, afterwards archbishop of Tarragona, “was one of the greatest men that Spain ever bred,” says Du-Pin (Bibl. p. 131,) “and his piety and wisdom were equal to his learning. His Tr. Of Corrections upon Gratian, is a work of prodigious labour, of wonderful exactness, and of very great use.” Not to mention Bartholomew de Martyribus, archbishop of Braga, Barth. Carranza, archbishop of Toledo, Tho. Campegius, bishop of Feltri, (brother to cardinal Laurence Campegius,) Aloysius Lippomannus, bishop of Verona, Fr. Commendon, bishop of Zacynthus, afterwards cardinal, (see his excellent life by Gratian, translated by Flechier,) Didacus Covarruvias, and many others; the proofs of whose erudition are transmitted down to us in their writings. Besides the prelates, above a hundred and fifty theologians, some of the ablest of all Catholic nations, attended the council, and discussed every point in the conferences. From Paris came Nic. Maillard, dean of the faculty, Claude de Sanctes, famous for his learned work on the eucharist, and other polemical writings; the most learned Dr. Claude d’Espense and ten others; several from other parts of France, Flanders, Spain, Italy; many of all the principal religious Orders, as Peter Soto and Dominic Soto, Spanish Dominicans, Andrew Vega, the learned Spanish Franciscan, &c. The canonists of the council were not less eminent; among these Scipio Lancelotti was afterwards cardinal; as was also Gabriel Paleota, the intimate friend and pious imitator of St. Charles Borromeo. Being made archbishop of Bologna he published excellent regulations for the reformation of discipline, which, in esteem, hold the second place after those of St. Charles, though inferior in style.
Neither is the authority of these theologians to be considered single, but as united with, and bearing testimony for, all other absent Catholic doctors, who agreed in all doctrines there approved. If any person should have advanced some exotic opinions, we must, (as Maldonat, the Spanish Jesuit, in 1565, the first professor in Clermont College at Paris, one of the most learned and judicious writers of the sixteenth century, speaking of Hesychius and Gregory Nyssen says,) apply to him the rule of Vincentius Lirinensis. That the church conforms not to the sentiments of private men, but these are obliged to follow the sentiments of the church. It is objected, that we are told by historians, that several kings and prelates had often private views, and employed intrigues in this council which could not be inspired by the Holy Ghost. True it is that passions easily disguise themselves; and ambition, envy, and the like vices may insinuate themselves into the sanctuary under false cloaks. In the first general council of Nice, and in the next succeeding councils which Protestants usually receive, there seems mere colour for bringing such a charge against some of the prelates, than appeared at Trent. This council was an assembly of prelates and theologians eminent for learning and piety; though, had it been otherwise, notwithstanding the weakness or wickedness of men, God has engaged to lead the pastors of his church into all truth, and preserve its faith inviolate through all ages by the succour and special protection he has promised to afford it, but which no way necessarily implies an inspiration. The very contests among the prelates and kings prove the liberty which the council enjoyed: Pius IV. testifies in his bull for the confirmation of the council, that he left to them the discussion even of points of discipline peculiarly reserved to the holy see. The promises of God to his church are the anchor of the Catholic faith, which is handed down the same through all ages. See the ingenious Mr. Abraham Woodhead’s treatise on the Council of Trent; Mr. Jenkes on the same; also Mr. Philips in his Life of Cardinal Pole, sect. 6; and the History of the Council of Trent, elegantly written in Italian by Cardinal Pallavicini, in quarto, against that of Fra-Paolo Sarpi, provincial of the Servites at Venice, counsellor and theologian of that republic, during their quarrel with Paul V. This pope having laid that state under an interdict on account of certain laws concerning ecclesiastical matters, Fra-Paolo’s warmth carried him so far in his writings that the pope excommunicated him. He died in 1625. Many reflections which he inserted in his History of the Council, demonstrate him to have been in many points a Calvinist: of which many other proofs are produced. F. Courayer translated this history into French, in two volumes quarto; and has interspersed several new errors in the notes. An eminent French prelate declared that he had discovered in them a number of heresies. See Cardinal Tencin’s Pastoral Instruction against this work. It is manifest from the Life of Bishop Bedel, and from several letters of Fra-Paolo himself, that he was in his heart a Calvinist, and only waited to gain the republic had he been able to do it, before he declared himself; though, in the mean time, he continued to say mass to his death. From Courayer’s Life of this author, prefixed to his translation of this work, Fra-Paolo’s Calvinism undeniably appears, howsoever the translator labours to palliate it. Though a Calvinist he might have been a sincere historian; but his duplicity in dissembling his religious sentiments contrary to his principles, must weaken his credit; and that he has retailed notorious slanders to misrepresent the transactions of the popes, &c. is clearly proved upon him by Pallavicin., as Dr. Fiddes, in his Life of Cardinal Wolsey, acknowledges, and shows in an important instance. [back]
Note 7. Ciaconius, vit. Pontif. t. 3, p, 880. [back]
Note 8. Labbe, Conc. t. 14, p. 944. [back]
Note 9. Sess. xvii. in princ. et sess. 25. [back]
Note 10. See Bibliothèque choisie de Colomies, avec les notes de Bourdelot, de la Monnoye, &c. Guerin. 1731, p. 47. [back]
Note 11. Philip Buonamici, de claris Pontificiarum Litterarum Scriptoribus, ad Bened. XIV. an. 1753. [back]
Note 12. Ib. [back]
Note 13. Some
recommend this catechism and the Acts of the church of Milan, with Melchior
Cano, De Locis Theologicis, to the diligent study of young theologians, to form
their Latin style on ecclesiastical subjects. The charge of polishing the style
of the catechism was intrusted to the learned Julius Poggiani; not to Paul
Manutius, son of the famous Aldus, as is proved by Logomarsini, Not. in
Gratiani ep ad Card. Commend. Romæ, 1756, against Graveson, Hist. Eccl. t. 7,
p. 146, ed. Venet. 1740; and Apostol. Zen. Annot. in Bibl. eloq. Ital. t. 11,
p. 131, ad. Venet. 1733, Poggiani wrote in Latin with as much elegance as
Bembo, Sadolet, or Manutius; he was secretary to St. Charles, accompanied him
to Milan, and translated into Latin the acts of the first council which the
saint held there; but died soon after at the age of forty-six. Next to the holy
scripture, and canons, Cardinal Rezzonico (afterwards Pope Clement XIII.)
recommends to ecclesiastics the assiduous reading of the Discourses of the
ancient fathers, especially St. Chrysostom and St. Charles Borromeo, with the
Acts of the church of Milan, and the Roman catechism. See Breve Notizie per
Buona Direzione dell anime, Trent, 1759, in 12mo. The same pope, in the brief
by which he condemned, in 1761, Mezengui’s Exposition of the Christian
Doctrine, earnestly exhorts all pastors to read attentively the Roman Catechism
on every article, which they are to explain to the faithful.
St. Charles took care of the new edition of the Roman Missal and Breviary. The Rubrics (or prescriptions and directions relating to the rites observed in the liturgy) formerly were comprised in books apart. Burchard, master of ceremonies to Innocent VIII., compiled the most correct collection, which was printed at Rome in the first edition of the Pontifical, in 1485, and inserted in a missal printed at Venice, in 1542. At the suggestion of St. Charles, Pope Pius V. caused them to be reduced into better order, and printed in all missals, in 1570. The original or first edition of St. Charles’s Councils, or Acta Ecclesia Mediol. is in two vols. folio, Mediolani, 1599. [back]
Note 14. Vida, the delight of Christian poets, was born at Cremona, in 1470, was made bishop of Alba in the Montferrat, in 1533, and died on the 27th of September, in 1566, in the ninety-sixth year of his age. His poem On the Art of Poetry is excellent; that On the Game at Chess, and his Christiados, and some of his hymns and pastorals are justly admired; but the Silk-worm is his masterpiece. See De Thou. Hist. 1. 38, Baillet, Jugem. des Sçavans, t. 3, and his Life prefixed to his works. [back]
Note 16. Lewis Cornaro, a nobleman of Venice, was cured of a complication of diseases, and protracted a life which was despaired of at forty, to a hundred years, by taking to a spare diet; his daily allowance of bread and other eatables being only twelve ounces, and of drink fourteen. He died at Padua in 1566. His book On the Advantages of Temperance, or of an Abstemious Sober Life, was translated into Latin by Lessius, who, by the same method, restored a weak broken constitution, and died in 1623, sixty-nine years old. [back]Note 17. Cardinal Frederic Borromeo (younger son of Count Julius Cæsar, brother to Count Gilbert, our saint’s father,) walked in the steps of St. Charles, was consecrated archbishop of Milan in 1595, and died in 1632. He celebrated the seventh council of Milan in 1609, wrote several pious works, and founded the famous Ambrosian Library at Milan, which is said now to contain thirty-eight thousand volumes, including fourteen thousand manuscripts, with many excellent pictures, and literary curiosities and monuments. [back]
Note 19. St. Charles received with open arms many English clergymen who were voluntary exiles for their faith. Hugh Gryffydh, a Welch priest, nephew to Dr. Owen Lewis, also a Welchman, St. Charles’s last grand vicar, (and after his death bishop of Cassano, in Italy,) was afterwards provost of our Lady’s at Cambray, and alive in 1600. He gave Saint Charles’s cardinal’s cap to Mr. Harley, provost of St. Gery’s, who, in 1616, gave it to the English secular college at Douay, where it is preserved in a decent reliquary. Bishop Owen Lewis was sent by Gregory XII. in quality of nuncio to the Switzers, and died at Rome in 1595. See Ughelli, Ital. Sacra. t. 9. [back]
Note 20. Pope Benedict XIV. expressed on every occasion the highest veneration for the memory of those great men and holy martyrs, Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More. See L. de Canoniz. SS., &c. The life of the former by Dr. Bailey is very defective. His manuscript life in the Norfolk Library, belonging to the Royal Society, furnishes other memoirs. Sir Thomas More’s life by his grandson is justly esteemed; also that written by Dr. Stapleton is well executed; but even the former is capable of very great improvements, both from our own and foreign writers, and from his own works.
Cardinal Pole, equally great in prosperity and in adversity, whom many trials of the severest kind seem to have equalled to martyrs, was not a less honour to his age and country than the two foregoing great men. His life is well written in English, in two volumes, by Mr. Thomas Philips, canon of Tongres. It was printed at Oxford, and reprinted in Dublin in 1765. [back]Note 21. The clergy of France, in their general assembly, in 1657, ordered St. Charles’s instructions to confessors to be printed at their common expense; and with the highest commendations of the holy author, and of the wisdom of the regulations which they contain, strongly recommended them to all their colleagues. St. Charles caused a great number of his sermons to be translated into Latin by another hand. These were preserved in manuscripts in the Ambrosian Library, till the learned keeper thereof, Joseph Antony Saxius, published them in a most elegant edition, in five volumes in folio, at Milan, in 1747. By these it sufficiently appears that the saint was a good orator, that his discourses were elegant and methodical; that the genuine simplicity of his style never sunk into conceptions or expressions that were flat or low, and that by a sweet and natural vein of piety they were strongly affecting. In the sermons which he made to his clergy in his synods, the style is more elegant and lofty. Cardinal Frederic Borromeo (De Episcopo concionante, p. 133.) observes, that the excellence to which this saint attained by the dint of pains and assiduity, in spite of natural impediments, is the condemnation of slothful pastors. [back]
Note 23. Helyot, Hist. des Ord. Relig., t. 8, p. 29. Giussano. l. 5, c. 24, p. 417. [back]
(3 novembre: A Milano, anniversario della morte di san Carlo Borromeo, vescovo, la cui memoria si celebra domani).
Carlo nacque ad Arona, sul Lago Maggiore, nel 1538, in una nobile e ricca famiglia. Il padre, Gilberto, era noto per la profonda religiosità e per la sua generosità verso i poveri. Anche la madre, Margherita, era piissima: purtroppo morì quando Carlo aveva solo nove anni. Questo influsso dei genitori rimarrà fondamentale nella sua educazione.
A 12 anni, Carlo fu nominato commendatario di un’abbazia benedettina di Arona, che fruttava una rendita di 2000 scudi.
Una cifra considerevole. Nonostante l’età, però, il ragazzo aveva già le idee chiare.
Infatti, appena ricevuta l’investitura, corse dal padre per dirgli che aveva deciso di spendere quei soldi in aiuto dei poveri. Non c’è male per un dodicenne. I suoi pari di oggi sono anni luce lontano da lui.
Arrivati i 14 anni si recò a studiare prima a Milano poi a Pavia, portando con sé solo un piccola somma di denaro. Ma a lui questa condizione di strettezza economica (relativamente al suo rango) non pesava più di tanto. Nella condizione di studente rivelò ben presto i suoi numerosi talenti: grande intelligenza, carattere tenace e riflessivo, era portato all’essenziale, a non perdersi cioè in tante banalità ed esperienze superficiali, non infrequenti a quell’età. Nel 1559, diventò dottore “in utroque jure” ed aveva solo 21 anni.
A Roma, intanto, alla fine dello stesso anno ci fu il cambio di guardia in Vaticano. Era stato eletto un nuovo Papa, Pio IV, nella persona di Gianangelo de’ Medici, suo zio materno. Questo fatto impresse una svolta alla sua vita. Fu infatti chiamato dallo stesso Papa nella Città Eterna insieme al fratello Federico.
Carriera ecclesiastica a Roma
Nel caso di Pio IV ci troviamo davanti ad un raro caso di nepotismo positivo per la Chiesa. Il Papa promosse immediatamente i due nipoti: Federico (1561) ebbe la carica di capitano generale della Chiesa, Carlo non ancora ventiduenne, fu nominato cardinale con un incarico che oggi potremmo chiamare di Segretario di Stato. Poco dopo gli affidò anche l’amministrazione della diocesi di Milano con l’obbligo di restare però... a Roma. E questa non era l’unica carica. Ne ebbe parecchie altre con l’inevitabile cumulo anche dei rispettivi benefici economici. Gli storici dicono che l’accordo tra Papa e nipote fu sempre perfetto. Carlo nonostante le cariche rimaneva sempre un uomo di cultura.
Al tal fine fondò un’accademia a carattere umanistico-letterario, composta da amici, chiamata Notti Vaticane. Si era anche comprato un fastoso palazzo con servitù a seguito, in cui organizzava fastosi e festosi ricevimenti. Erano i tempi: il tutto non per vanità ma perché lo riteneva opportuno per la carica che ricopriva e per la fama e decoro della famiglia da cui proveniva.
L’improvvisa morte del fratello Federico (1562) gli fece cambiare radicalmente vita. La interpretò come un segno da parte di Dio per riformare la propria vita ancor più in senso evangelico. Così cambiò radicalmente: addio ai festosi ricevimenti, addio ai divertimenti anche moralmente leciti, addio alle Notti Vaticane che divennero un cenacolo di cultura religiosa. Ridusse il proprio tenore di vita, intensificando la penitenza, i digiuni e le rinunce. Riprese inoltre, con più impegno, la propria formazione teologica e pastorale. Era pur sempre vescovo di una diocesi anche se non esercitava direttamente.
Il Papa vide perplesso la trasformazione in senso ascetico del prezioso nipote (che qualche volta chiamava “il mio occhio destro”). Scosse la testa: il tutto gli sembrava esagerato. Giunse persino a sgridarlo (addebitando l’eccessivo zelo ascetico ai consigli dei suoi direttori spirituali e all’influsso di personaggi contemporanei del calibro di Ignazio di Loyola, Gaetano da Thiene, Filippo Neri: guarda caso tutti Santi dichiarati tali dalla Chiesa). Il Papa lo scoraggiò, lo rimproverò, ma lo lasciò fare, e alla fine lo... imitò.
Ma il più grande merito di Carlo Borromeo fu che convinse il Papa a riconvocare il Concilio di Trento sospeso nel 1555. Se questo lavorò tanto e bene e se finì gloriosamente e proficuamente per la Chiesa (1563) il grande merito fu di Carlo. Egli ne fu la mente organizzatrice e l’ispiratore.
Nel luglio 1563, fu ordinato sacerdote e poco tempo dopo vescovo. Voleva fare il pastore di anime nella sua diocesi di Milano e ne aspettava l’occasione.
Il Concilio era finito ma bisognava assicurarsi che anche il successore di Pio IV avesse l’intenzione di continuare la riforma che ne era scaturita. Carlo credeva nell’azione dello Spirito Santo nella direzione della Chiesa, ma, nello stesso tempo, faceva umanamente quello che lui stesso pensava utile. Al vecchio e ammalato zio infatti suggerì i nomi dei nuovi cardinali del futuro conclave: doveva promuovere solo quelli favorevoli alla riforma della Chiesa voluta dal Concilio di Trento. Fatto questo gli chiese di poter presiedere, come legato papale, il consiglio provinciale che si teneva a Milano (la sua diocesi) per attuare le disposizioni conciliari. Lo zio Papa acconsentì. E Carlo partì. Ma poco tempo dopo dovette in tutta fretta fare ritorno a Roma (in compagnia di Filippo Neri) perché il Papa era ormai alla fine. Pio IV infatti morì tra le sue braccia il 9 dicembre 1565.
Morto un Papa, se ne fa un altro, così dice il proverbio. E così fu. Il 7 gennaio 1566, il Nostro avrebbe potuto farsi eleggere Papa con facilità, la sua “lobby” infatti era fortissima. Ed inoltre, era degnissimo. Ma lo Spirito Santo e lui non vollero. Fu eletto il Card. Michele Ghislieri, domenicano, favorevole all’attuazione del Concilio di Trento. E Carlo fu uno dei suoi “sponsor”.
Un pastore “di ferro” che dà la sua vita
Nell’aprile del 1566, raggiunse Milano, dove iniziò subito la grande opera di riforma secondo il Concilio di Trento. Fu un organizzatore geniale e un lavoratore instancabile tanto che Filippo Neri esclamò: “Ma quest’uomo è di ferro”.
Organizzò la sua diocesi in 12 circoscrizioni, curò la revisione della vita della parrocchia obbligando i parroci a tenere i registri di archivio, con le varie attività e associazioni parrocchiali. Si impegnò molto nella formazione del clero creando il seminario maggiore e minore. Fu soprattutto instancabile nel visitare le popolazioni affidate alla sua cura pastorale e spirituale, iniziando la sua prima visita nel 1566 subito dopo l’arrivo a Milano.
La sua visita in una parrocchia era preparata spiritualmente con la preghiera e con la predicazione che doveva portare ai sacramenti. Il vescovo all’inizio faceva una riunione con i notabili del paese ai quali chiedeva tra l’altro: “Come si comportano in chiesa i parrocchiani? Ci sono eretici, usurai, concubini, banditi o criminali? Ci sono seminatori di discordia, parrocchiani che non osservano la Quaresima?... I padri di famiglia educano bene i propri figli? Non c’è lusso esagerato nel vestire da parte degli uomini e delle donne? Se ci sono delle istituzioni di beneficenza e di aiuto sociale, sono ben amministrate?”. E altre domande simili. Come si vede concrete.
Tutto bene quindi nella sua opera di riforma? Non proprio. Incontrò difficoltà e talvolta anche ostilità. Come nel caso dell’attentato che subì il 26 ottobre 1569 ad opera di quattro frati dell’Ordine degli Umiliati. Uno di questi gli sparò mentre era in preghiera nella sua cappella privata. Motivo? Il Borromeo voleva riformare quell’ordine religioso ormai decaduto. Ma le riforme proposte furono viste dagli Umiliati come umiliazioni. La pallottola gli forò il rocchetto, ma lui rimase illeso miracolosamente ed il popolo lo interpretò come un segno dall’alto della bontà delle sue riforme. E gli Umiliati, di nome, furono umiliati anche di fatto e per sempre con la loro cancellazione definitiva.
Ma lo spessore della sua personalità di pastore e del suo amore più grande che “dona la vita per i suoi amici”, la mostrò in occasione della peste del 1576. Assente dalla città perché in visita pastorale, rientrò subito, mentre il governatore spagnolo e il gran cancelliere fuggivano via.
Fece subito testamento sapendo che la peste non aveva riguardo per nessuno, nemmeno per l’alto clero: organizzò l’opera di assistenza, visitò personalmente e coraggiosamente i colpiti dal terribile morbo, aiutò tutti instancabilmente fino al punto da meritarsi un rimprovero dal Papa di Roma.
Nonostante tutta l’attività pastorale, il Borromeo fece quattro viaggi a Roma e quattro a Torino. Era molto devoto della sacra Sindone. Fu proprio nel 1578 che i duchi di Savoia la portarono a Torino perché al vescovo di Milano, che aveva chiesto di venerarla personalmente, fosse risparmiato il difficile e pericoloso attraversamento delle Alpi (motivo ufficiale), ma anche per difenderla dalle brame dei Francesi (motivo politico). L’esposizione della reliquia fatta a Torino nel 1978 fu per ricordare questo suo arrivo nella città.
A causa della sua attività pastorale senza sosta, dei frequenti viaggi, delle continue penitenze, la sua salute peggiorò rapidamente. La morte lo colse preparatissimo il 3 novembre del 1584, ed il suo culto si diffuse rapidamente fino alla canonizzazione fatta nel 1610 da Paolo V.
Carlo Borromeo moriva fisicamente ma la sua eredità, fatta di santità personale e di azione instancabile per la Chiesa era più viva che mai, e sarebbe continuata nei secoli. Fino ad oggi.
Autore: Mario Scudu sdb