Sunday, April 30, 2017

Pope Saint Pius V and the excommunication of Queen Elizabeth I

"All the evils of the world are due to lukewarm Catholics."
~Attributed to Pope St. Pius V, source unknown
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Today is the feast day of one of the great popes, Pius V, now recognized as a saint. Though perhaps best known as the Pope whose call for prayer to all of Christendom helped the Holy League destroy the Turkish fleet at Lepanto, Pius V's short but eventful pontificate (1566-1572) also featured the standardization of the Mass following the Council of Trent (see Quo Primum) and the excommunication of the English queen, Elizabeth I.

The short document setting out the rationale for the excommunication, Regnans in Excelsis, is worth reading. Most Catholics in the US, with our deficient, protestantized Catholic education, have absorbed a positive view of Elizabeth I, not realizing that "Good Queen Bess" was an inveterate persecutor of Catholics, directly responsible for deaths of many martyrs, including saints Edmund Campion and Margaret Clitherow. In Regnans in Excelsis, Pius unleashes some tough language at the so-called "virgin queen" of England:
"...The number of the ungodly has so much grown in power that there is no place left in the world which they have not tried to corrupt with their most wicked doctrines; and among others, Elizabeth, the pretended queen of England and the servant of crime, has assisted in this, with whom as in a sanctuary the most pernicious of all have found refuge. This very woman, having seized the crown and monstrously usurped the place of supreme head of the Church in all England to gather with the chief authority and jurisdiction belonging to it, has once again reduced this same kingdom—which had already been restored to the Catholic faith and to good fruits—to a miserable ruin."
Pius then proceeds to ennumerate her various crimes which compel him, as pastor and guardian of the deposit of faith and of all Christians, to take drastic action:
"Prohibiting with a strong hand the use of the true religion, which after its earlier overthrow by Henry VIII (a deserter therefrom) Mary, the lawful queen of famous memory, had with the help of this See restored, she has:
  • followed and embraced the errors of the heretics;
  • removed the royal Council, composed of the nobility of England, and has filled it with obscure men, being heretics;
  • oppressed the followers of the Catholic faith;
  • instituted false preachers and ministers of impiety; 
  • abolished the sacrifice of the mass, prayers, fasts, choice of meats, celibacy, and Catholic ceremonies;
  • ordered that books of manifestly heretical content be propounded to the whole realm and that impious rites and institutions after the rule of Calvin, entertained and observed by herself, be also observed by her subjects.
  • dared to eject bishops, rectors of churches and other Catholic priests from their churches and benefices, to bestow these and other things ecclesiastical upon heretics, and to determine spiritual causes;
  • has forbidden the prelates, clergy and people to acknowledge the Church of Rome or obey its precepts and canonical sanctions;
  • has forced most of them to come to terms with her wicked laws, to abjure the authority and obedience of the pope of Rome, and to accept her, on oath, as their only lady in matters temporal and spiritual;
  • has imposed penalties and punishments on those who would not agree to this and has exacted then of those who persevered in the unity of the faith and the aforesaid obedience;
  • has thrown the Catholic prelates and parsons into prison where many, worn out by long languishing and sorrow, have miserably ended their lives.
All these matter and manifest and notorious among all the nations; they are so well proven by the weighty witness of many men that there remains no place for excuse, defense or evasion."
Having exhausted the usual means of correction, Pius imposed the penalty of excommunication on Elizabeth I, and not only on her but on any of her courtiers and countrymen who remained bound to her by choice and obeyed her commands. He also absolved her subjects from any obligations to her that they owed due to sworn oaths, and stripped her of her "pretended title to the crown."

Read all of Regnans in Excelsis here.

In our current age, when statements from the Vatican are normally pronounced in obscure language varnished over with layer after layer of incomprehensible nuance, it's refreshing to read a document couched in such clear and emphatic terms.

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