Sixtus V

Sixtus V (1520-1590) was pope from 1585 to 1590. A keenly intelligent man of driving energy and determination, he left his clear impress on the internal organization of the Church and on the physical character of Rome.

Felice Perreti, who became Sixtus V, was born on Dec. 13, 1520, in the village of Grottammare in the Mark of Ancona. His parents were poor, and as a boy he did the hard physical work of a peasant. At the age of 14 he entered the Conventual Franciscans. In his studies, which he pursued in various cities of northern Italy, he manifested a clear and forceful intelligence. In 1547 he was ordained a priest at Siena and the following year received his doctorate in theology from the University of Fermo. His abilities as a preacher and his deep concern for reform in the Church brought him to the attention of prominent churchmen in Rome, including two who subsequently became popes, Pius IV and Pius V. Twice appointed inquisitor in Venice, in 1557 and 1560, Perreti was forced to withdraw from the post because his sternness aroused much antagonism.

Pope Pius V advanced Perreti in several ways, in 1566 by making him bishop of Sant' Agata de' Goti and vicar general of the Conventual Franciscans, in 1570 by appointing him a cardinal, and in 1571 by assigning him to the See of Fermo. On April 24, 1585, Perreti was elected pope and took the name Sixtus V.

Sixtus's short reign of 5 years was filled with enormous achievements. He reorganized the curial system at the Vatican, unifying and amplifying the system of congregations and thereby centralizing the Church's business in Rome. He established 70 as the maximum number for the College of Cardinals, a rule changed in 1958 by Pope John XXIII. With his practical sense he insisted that bishops visit the Holy See periodically to render an account of their dioceses. Impatiently setting aside the scholarship of experts, he took upon himself the enormous task of preparing a revised edition of St. Jerome's translation of the Bible. So marred with mistakes was his work that it had to be corrected under Pope Clement VIII. A master of urban planning, Sixtus changed the face of Rome. By a series of roads which cut through all obstacles, he linked the outlying areas of the city with the central metropolis. He raised obelisks, brought fresh water by tunnel and aqueduct 14 miles from Palestrina, built the Lateran Palace, and finished the dome of St. Peter's Basilica.

Sixtus pursued foreign policy with equal vigor. Against the potential bloc of massive Spanish influence he worked to preserve France as a strong nation. Only with misgiving did he support the Armada of Philip II against England (1588). There is probably no other pope about whom so many anecdotes are told. Sixtus died on Aug. 27, 1590.

Further Reading on Sixtus V

Although research calls for some modification, the best modern comprehensive study of Sixtus V is Ludwig Pastor, History of the Popes, vols. 21-22 (trans. 1932). Sixtus V's career is also examined in Henry Daniel-Rops, The Catholic Reformation (1955; trans. 1962), and Arthur Geoffrey Dickens, The Counter Reformation (1969).

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