Angelic Cardinal Reginald Pole - C. M. Antony




The Conclave
1547-1553

Edward VI, a little boy not ten years old, was brought from Hertford to London, upon the death of his father, by his mother's brother, the Earl of Hertford, who, immediately after Henry VIII.'s funeral, took the title of Duke of Somerset, and became Lord Protector of the realm. To this man, a peculiarly bigoted Protestant, were due not only the continued exile of Cardinal Pole, but the lapse into hopeless heresy into which the country now fell. One of his first acts was to issue, in the King's name, a general pardon, from which, however, four names were excluded, one being that of Reginald Pole.

The year 1547 was a year of deaths. Upon that of Henry VIII. Cardinal Pole wrote with equal generosity and charity: "In his words and most unjustifiable actions he never failed to allege the motive of conscience and religion."

No one else attempted to say more, or even as much; and the terrible man whose very death no one had dared to proclaim for three days after it had taken place, so greatly was he dreaded, went to his account amid the unspeakable, if unspoken, relief of his entire kingdom. Pole wrote to Paul III. advising him of the great opportunity which seemed to be presented now in England, and of the certainty that the Emperor would help in the establishment of peace and true religion; and saying that from his personal knowledge he felt sure that the most acceptable legate for this mission would be the Cardinal of Trent, who "never thinks he has done anything till he has brought it to a conclusion." He wrote, too, to the Privy Council of England, freely forgiving the injuries done to his family, saying that the Holy Father proposed sending him as legate to his country and begging them to receive him, in the Pope's name.

This letter, however, was refused, not being read, or even opened by the Council. Feeling was evidently strong against him. Not losing heart, Pole sent two of his household to England to ascertain the state of affairs. They spent some time on the way thither at the Emperor's court, where they consulted Father Soto, his Dominican confessor, as to what they should do—the influence of Charles being at this time great in England. This was in April 1547. At the same time Pole wrote a Treatise to the young King, which he intended to prefix to a new edition of De Unitate; explaining the writer's attitude to Henry VIII., and the reasons which had compelled him to write that work. The tone of the letter was manly and dignified, and should have impressed Edward; but it is more than probable he was never allowed to see it.

England now, under Somerset's rule, was given up to Protestantism. The last gleanings of the shrines and holy places—the rich harvest reaped by Henry VIII.—were now gathered in; and the doctrines of the German Heretics—especially those of Zuinglius—were incorporated into the new forms of worship. Edward VI. did not protest, like his father, that he lived and died "as good a Catholic as any"; he gloried in his Protestantism. The schism of Henry VIII. had brought forth its poisonous inevitable fruit—the heresy of his son.

On March 31 died Francis I., King of France, who was succeeded by his son, Henry II., perhaps as great a time-server as his father. At the beginning of the same month Cardinal Pole lost his great friend, Vittoria Colonna, Marchesa di Pescara, who passed away peacefully in the Convent of Orvieto. From Rome, on March 5, Pole writes a very tender letter of sympathy to her son, for whom he had a warm affection. The Marchesa seems to have been almost the only woman, with the exception of his mother, and Queen Mary, with whom Pole was on terms of friendship, or with whom he corresponded. After his mother's martyrdom he had taken Vittoria Colonna, as he told her, for a second mother, and he was in the habit of writing to her when he wanted prayers for any special intention, which she obtained for him in her convent. His letters to her are very beautiful. On March 9, 1547, the Council met once more at Trent; when a decree concerning the reform of the clergy was passed, and then the Pope adjourned it to Bologna. Charles V. was excessively angry, and withdrew his representatives. As temporal rulers he always distrusted the Popes, and suspected Paul III. of some political design in removing the Council from neutral into Papal territory—a suspicion absolutely unjustified by facts.

Pole was kept at Rome by the Holy Father, who during the acute diplomatic crisis, felt the urgent necessity of his wisdom and tact, in dealing with the infuriated sovereign; besides which, the affairs of the Council pressed heavily, and of these, no one understood the details like Pole. He was too honest and straightforward to become a great diplomatist—at any rate in those days—but the deep respect which even Charles felt for him, and his universal reputation for sanctity, as well as knowledge and wisdom, gave his advice great weight.

Much time was consumed over the negotiations with Mendoza, the Imperial ambassador, and at last Pole drew up his final pronouncement to the Emperor, in which he warned him that no heresies—nor even the Emperor himself—could overthrow the Catholic Church or impeach its authority, Jesus Christ having said that the gates of hell should not prevail against it.

He was so far successful that two Spanish delegates sat at Bologna on January 16, 1548; but Charles, whose pride was deeply hurt, and who was very angry at the delay of the Council—which was entirely caused by his own action—chose to draw up for the benefit of his subjects, a confession of faith, called the Interim, in July, 1548. It was to be in force until the General Council came to a decision upon the points in question. It was an unheard-of thing for a Catholic sovereign to do, and Charles was perfectly aware of the fact. Nevertheless, it was received at the Diet of Augsburg. It consisted of thirty-six articles, two at least of which (as to the marriage of priests and communion in both kinds) were displeasing to Catholics.

Cardinal Pole was desired to write against it, which he did, from Viterbo, plainly setting forth its evil tendency, and speaking the truth quite fearlessly to Charles, who had enough generosity in his character to appreciate his courage.

Meanwhile little was done at Bologna. Both French and Imperial representatives had been withdrawn, and only the Italian ecclesiastics were present. Paul III., in despair, decided to prorogue the Council indefinitely; and this was done on Good Friday, 1549, to the intense grief of Pole, who shed bitter tears at what seemed the downfall of all his hopes for reformation within and without. The Pope had declared his intention of establishing a congregation in Rome, to deal with matters of reform and discipline, but that did not comfort him.

Writing to a friend he speaks of the great hopes he had had of the work of the Council, but that in spite of the present cruel disappointment he trusted implicitly in God; "after the example of the disciples, who hoped in Him against hope itself." He points out, in describing his own feelings, the analogy of the day: "I was no other wise affected than if I saw my Saviour's dead body before my eyes." He firmly hoped, however, through these sufferings, to see the resurrection: "So His mystic body, the Church . . . might rise again . . . the Holy City, the new Jerusalem."

In June 1549, we find him spending the summer at Civitella, a beautiful place twenty miles from Rome, to which the Pope had given him leave to retire during the heats. He was staying in a castello belonging to the monks of St. Paul. He wrote to a friend that it was "a very convenient and opportune place for the season," and he hoped to pass the rest of the summer there.

On June 4 the Protector Somerset wrote him an insolent letter, from Greenwich, in answer to the Cardinal's of May 6 (of which we have no record in the State Papers). He hoped, he said, that Pole at last perceived the "errors and abuses of the Church of Rome"; and urged him to take advantage of the King's "mercy," and return to England. He also sent him—evidently with perfect gravity—a copy of the "Book of Common Prayer"! This was the "First Prayer book of Edward VI.," a far more "Catholic" production than the second, which was published in 1552, and is still used in the Church of England, though with some slight modifications in a Catholic direction.

On September 7 Pole replied to this effusion, which he said he should rather take to be the work of some ignorant secretary than that of a gentleman of Somerset's undoubted birth and breeding. He wrote to the Protector what is practically a Treatise, in which with infinite patience he once more described his dealings with Henry VIII., and the utterly unjustifiable anger with which that monarch received his conscientious opinion about the Divorce and Royal Supremacy. Yet, says the Cardinal, the King, after having read it, had said to Lord Montague, when walking with him in "a privy garden": "that I had spoken the truth, nor could . . . [he] . . . ever feel any anger against me, as although the writing was very contrary to his will, he nevertheless recognized in it my love for him, and the sincerity with which I had written it."

The Cardinal declines the invitation sent by the Council to return and become one of their number, in spite of Somerset's information that through that enlightened body "the purity of the Word of God, and the doctrine of Christ [was] sent forth . . . and taught more purely now than ever it was before." He speaks most powerfully about the title "natural and supreme Lord," assumed by Edward, which he does not deny "may be true in one sense."

The Treatise is too long and deals with subjects too important to be paraphrased even in outline, but every word is of the deepest interest, and it amply repays careful study. In conclusion, Pole warns Somerset of the great and terrible dangers to which England is exposed—which the Protector will not see; desiring "no other grace of omnipotent God than what is for [its] safety and for the Honor of his Divine Majesty, whom may it please to have under his merciful protection, you, and the whole kingdom."

The Cardinal wrote from Rome, where stirring events were about to take place, of which we have a most vivid—and very often a most amusing—picture in the letters to his government of Matteo Dandolo, the Venetian ambassador in the holy city. He seems to have been a delightful, but slightly irreverent person, with a keen sense of humor; and was also evidently a man of considerable influence and importance.

On November 10, 1549, Pope Paul III. died, and his successor was not declared until February 7, 1550, after the longest conclave (then) on record. On the day of his death—Pole whose name was in the mouth of every one as the future Pope—became titular Abbot of Sta. Maria di Gavello, on the Polesine. Dandolo tells us (though the epigram is necessarily spoilt in translation): "his Right Reverend Lord ship is styled Angelical rather than Anglican" (porta piu presto nome di Angelica che di Anglico), or, as another puts it: non Anglus sed Angelicus.

He had been the head of the late Pope's Council, and necessarily took a leading part in affairs when the Conclave was assembling, though not after it was, on November 30, "closed," i.e., walled-up in the Vatican. He spent the long weeks almost entirely in his cell, writing a very important treatise on the duties of that Pontificate to which it was his daily prayer that he might not be called . . . if such were the will of God.

On December 5, Dandolo writes: "Until after the eighteenth hour we remained [outside the Vatican] awaiting the announcement of [Pole's] election; and then . . . people drew breath, for no one can imagine how very unpopular it is, as they consider that the whole of this court would have to lead a new life . . . but the minority wishes for it greatly." He was, as the Archbishop of Cornaro tersely puts it: "A man of everlasting virtue; and such, in the sixteenth century, were not always the most popular candidates for the Papacy."

The contemporary letters and documents in the State Papers are full of vivid pictures and graphic details. At the beginning of the Conclave the French cardinals, detained by bad weather, were not present, and much time was lost. "Thus do they delay," says Dandolo, referring to some technical proceedings of the Conclave; "awaiting these blessed Frenchmen!" When they did arrive, however, they voted against Cardinal Pole, on political grounds; as the Emperor was known to be keenly anxious for his election.

Of the three methods of electing a Pope—by scrutiny, acclamation, and adoration—the first was followed for some time without any direct result. No cardinal had a distinct majority of votes. "Never were the times more perilous, or the Conclave fuller or more divided." Cardinal Farnese, a member of the late Pope's family, was most anxious for Pole's election. On one occasion, when but two votes were wanting in his favor, he was perfectly calm, unmoved either by the prospect of the Pontificate, or the calumnies which, even in the Vatican, were whispered against him. Such were the old absurd charge of heresy, especially in his leniency as Governor of Viterbo to Lutherans; and another wicked and groundless accusation, arising out of his great and secret charity, which was dissipated by inquiry. A cardinal who was against him observed to a friend that Pole had no more feeling than a log—being affected neither by ambition, nor by the intrigues against him! On one occasion, when two-thirds of the votes had been given in his favor, Cardinal Farnese came to his cell, and begged him to receive the Pontificate by "adoration." It was late at night. Pole refused, saying that night and darkness was not the time for such a ceremony, but that it must take place in the morning, after High Mass—always provided that the Conclave was still of the same mind.

Nor could his friend's entreaties move him—wisely, as it turned out; for in the morning, for some unexplained reason, the imperial delegates voted against Pole, as well as the French representatives, and there could be then no question of his election. Almost all the cardinals on this day voted for Cardinal Morone, who, after a scrutiny in which he failed by two votes, begged the Conclave to elect Pole. But Pole, who thought far too much time had been lost already, refused a second time. They might now, he said, be more than certain that the Holy Spirit had not elected him; and in order to leave them greater freedom in their deliberations he would retire, praying and beseeching them to lose no more time over him, but make this holy and necessary election in some other person. His fellow cardinals besought him not to make certain yet that this was God's will. A Conclave was always long, and he could neither assume nor divest himself of the Pontificate at his own will, but only according to that of the Holy Spirit, who alone could guide the election aright. Nevertheless, Pole was now certain that it was not God's will that he should be Pope; though he refused more than once to give to another cardinal the votes which had been given to him. He had never sought them, nor wanted them; but he did not think it right to transfer them to someone else.

"The Right Reverend of England," says Dandolo, "whose election, should it take place, may be believed to proceed from God; although urged by many of the cardinals to assist himself on this so great an occasion . . . answered that he could never utter one single word, even were his silence to cost him a hundred lives; not choosing to deviate from his ancient maxim which enjoined him to follow the Lord God, and to desire nothing but His will." His firm and unbroken resolution never to seek votes, even indirectly, was well known even to those "outside the Vatican."

Meanwhile, the Conclave was suffering terrible inconveniences. Though many of the cardinals were old and infirm, on December 26, 1549, they besought the officials who supplied them with food to bring them henceforth only bread and water—a request which does not appear to have been granted, as on January 1, 1550, we find a note that only "one single dish, roast or boiled" was to be supplied daily to each member. On January 22, one of the most famous physicians of the century, Nursia, who appears to have been admitted to attend one of the cardinals, who was ill, threatened the whole Conclave with "plague, or falling sickness," on account of the insanitary condition of the building. Most of them appear to have suffered greatly, but it was not until February 7, 1550, that Cardinal del Monte was elected Pope, with the title of Julius III. This pontiff, the former president of the council of Trent, had for some reason opposed Pole's election; but as soon as there was a prospect of his being chosen himself he received Pole's warm support. This generosity affected Pope Julius so deeply that he was accustomed to refer to his hostility to the Angelical Cardinal as "the great sin of his life."

The next three years were spent peacefully by Pole between Viterbo, Capranica, and Rome. In 1550, the new Pope commissioned him to draw up the bull for the reassembling of the General Council, but he took very little part in public affairs. The case of England just now was hopeless, he could only pray and wait. He had lost, too, several of his dearest friends, amongst them being Sadolet, and Abbot Cortesio of Venice. At Contarini's death in 1542, he had succeeded that prelate as Cardinal-protector of the Benedictine Order, to which he had always been much attached. During this interval of quiet he sought and obtained permission from Julius III. to retire to Maguzzano, a monastery of that order, situated upon Lake Como; and to resign his governorship. Here he lived like a religious, delighting in the peace and tranquility of his beautiful surroundings. Here he revised once more his monumental work De Unitate, with the preface intended for Edward VI.; here too, he gained a measure of health, while leading a life of austerity and strict retirement, in preparation, though he knew it not, for the last great endeavor of his life.

It is in connection with this time that an old writer says of him: "He was much addicted to prayer, and the contemplation of divine matters. Before he entered Holy Orders he received the Blessed Eucharist on all Sundays, and . . . his chaplain used to relate of him that at Capranica and elsewhere he assisted the priest at the altar, and even put on and took off his vestments, and rendered him, both before and after the sacrifice, all the offices of a menial clerk. His accuracy in all the ceremonies and rites of the Liturgy was as observable as the collected air with which he performed them; the very tone of his voice, his countenance, every gesture, spoke of the awe with which he was penetrated, and the attention with which he offered to Almighty God the great sacrifice of atonement and praise; of impetration and thanksgiving."