Angelic Cardinal Reginald Pole - C. M. Antony

The Great Victory

Reginald Pole did not die in a blaze of glory. God had yet in store for him the greatest trial of his life—the final test by which his beautiful soul was tried and perfected and released. We are not called upon to understand, much less explain, why these inexplicable events were allowed to take place. We can only believe, as he did, that they were permitted by Almighty God for His glory, and the perfection through suffering of His servant.

Almost the first act of the new Arch bishop was to "set up with Black Friars" the church of St. Bartholomew the Great, in Smithfield. The return of the banished religious was a subject both he and Mary had much at heart, and 1556 saw many restorations. The great monastery of Syon was re-established, and the Priory of St. John of Jerusalem. The Benedictines, under Abbot Feckenham, came back to Westminster in November; the Carthusians, too, returned to Sheen, and there were hopes of restoring beautiful ruined Glastonbury to its Benedictine founders, but funds fell short. The Legate succeeded Gardiner as Chancellor of Cambridge, and in October, 1556, he was elected to the same office at Oxford. There the shrine of St. Frideswide, patron of the university, had been grossly desecrated in the previous reign. The relics of the Saint, which had rested there for centuries, had been actually removed from her tomb in Christ Church to make room for the body of Peter Martyr's wife, an apostate nun, who had expressed a desire to be buried there. The Legate ordered the body of the unhappy woman to be removed, and the ashes of the Saint—which had been hidden in a corner of the church by a few pious Catholics—restored to their resting place. At Cambridge, a few months later, on the petition of the whole university, the bones of two notorious, persecuting heretics were removed from the churches in which they were buried, and interred in unconsecrated ground.

[Illustration] from Cardinal Pole by C. M. Antony


We touch now that period of Pole's life, when, but for his perfect humility and obedience, the sea of suffering into which he was plunged must have engulfed him. In order to grasp the circumstances we must glance for a moment at the reigning Pope, Paul IV., now eighty years old—a fiery Neapolitan whose ruling passion was hatred of the tyrant Spaniard, from whom his own beautiful country had suffered so greatly. His personally austere and blameless life and "great qualities were vitiated by a fierce and obstinate temper, a haughty and aspiring disposition, a mind incapable of yielding to opposition and greedy, above all things, of command," says a Catholic priest. The great sovereigns who revered him as the Vicar of Christ and their spiritual lord, disliked and despised him as a temporal monarch—though it is perfectly clear, even from the unedifying records of the time, that the aged Pope was animated by but two ideas—the furtherance of God's Kingdom in the Catholic Church and the salvation of his country; though his judgment was warped by his ungovernable temper.

Matters were terribly hard just now, from a political standpoint, for the Legate. England, of course, was definitely committed to Spain, and Spain was now openly in arms against the Holy Father, who was doing his best to expel Philip from his kingdom of Naples. At the same time England was in deadly hostility on her own account with France, and France was in close alliance with the Pope. Paul IV.'s "mad prank," as the Emperor contemptuously called it, was to fortify Rome, as he not unnaturally lived in constant expectation of a siege. In September, 1556, we have a most touching letter of Pole's to Cardinal Farnese, who had written to him in bitter anger about the cutting down by the Pope for this purpose of the magnificent trees in the Farnese gardens—a very human letter, in which he expresses his opinion that it had been done simply to hurt his feelings! Pole writes that he is assai sensuale as to trees and gardens, which he loves, to regret deeply these, which it seems to him, embellished not only the Farnese gardens but the whole of Rome. To think of it gave him more pain than he could have believed himself capable of feeling for such a loss. In conclusion he begs his friend to forgive Don Orsini, their executioner, who was only acting under Papal orders. In this same month of September he conducted Queen Mary through the grounds of Lambeth Palace. In January, 1557, a further complication was made by the open declaration of war between France and Spain, and shortly after this Philip returned from the continent in order to enlist England as the formal ally of the latter. The Cardinal-archbishop at once retired from court to his See of Canterbury, where he would fain have resided always, had the Queen, who desired his continual presence and counsel, permitted it. He could not, as Papal Legate, appear in public at the court of Paul IV.'s political enemy; but he paid a private visit to Philip, where his extraordinary tact and delicacy stood him once more in good stead.

Whatever may he said against Philip, he at least treated England well; and his character, in contemporary records, appears in such a light that one is inclined to feel that he has, on the whole, been rather maligned by history! And then the blow Fell—a thunderbolt from a cloudless sky. Paul IV., smarting with the mortification of failure, determined to recall all his legates from Spanish possessions, as countries rebellious to the Holy See. On May 15, 1557, he cancelled both Pole's commission as Legate de latere, and that of Legatus natus, which he held in right of his archbishopric of Canterbury. There was universal horror in England at this proceeding. Philip and Mary, who certainly had a claim to be heard, wrote strongly to the Pope, who replied on June 14, that though he could not revoke Pole's recall as Legate de latere he might still retain the title of Legatus natus. But he was still recalled.

Meanwhile the Cardinal, who had been deeply shocked at the whole proceeding, was so much missed at court that both King and Queen summoned him to take part in the council; and on June 7, he had reluctantly given his consent to the war with France, during which England lost the very last of her French possessions—Calais.

The King and Queen again wrote to the Pope, pointing out the irremediable harm it would do the country, so lately returned from schism, if the Legate who had been the instrument of its restoration were recalled before his work of reform was finished. But Paul IV. had already made up his mind. On June 14, he proposed in consistory a new cardinal, Friar Peto, Queen Mary's confessor, a Minorite observant of Greenwich. He was a gentle and holy old man, of humble origin, now eighty years old, and totally unfitted for the position of Legate de latere in England, in which Paul IV. most illogically proposed to substitute him for Cardinal Pole.

To Mary, the Pope wrote that having once recalled the Cardinal he could not revoke his command; but that being quite as aware as she was of the necessity of a legate in England he had elevated Friar Peto to that dignity; and his cardinal's hat was even now on its way. This was in spite of the strongest warnings by Sir Edward Carne, English ambassador in Rome, who, to judge from his extraordinarily interesting dispatches, seems to have spoken his mind with perfect frankness throughout the whole affair. At the same time the Pope sent an official recall to Pole, though his acceptance of the archbishopric of Canterbury had been on the understanding that he should henceforth be allowed to reside there.

Mary was furious. She felt that England was being sacrificed to the Pope's obstinacy—not realizing that God could work by Peto as He could by Pole. She sent messengers to Calais to have all dispatches from the Pope stopped—including the new cardinal's hat, until she had obtained from Rome an answer to a further remonstrance. But fortunately for her, Pole discovered this, and also her temporary suppression of his recall. With all solemnity he assured her that the commands of no earthly monarch could come before the Pope; and he firmly refused the petition of Queen and council to continue his title and state as Legate de latere, both of which he immediately discarded. He then wrote a long letter of explanation to the Pope, and waited for his final decision.

Meanwhile, on July 2, the Pope, finding, it is to be feared, that it would be impossible to carry out the recall without some valid reason, had more than hinted to Sir Edward Carne that Pole's presence was required on a charge of heresy. It is only too evident that Paul IV.'s jealousy of Pole's Spanish influence, and his desire to withdraw him at all costs, led him to prefer a charge which he could not have seriously believed for an instant, but which Pole could not refuse to answer.

That the Angelical Cardinal, carnifex et flagellum ecclesiae Anglicanae, as he was described by his Protestant "successor" at Canterbury, known throughout Christendom as a champion of the Faith, as well as for the purity of his spotless life, should be the victim of such an inexplicable charge can only be comprehended by considering those brought against his Master.

A month later, on August 7, Queen Mary's remonstrance reached Rome, and was presented by Sir Edward Carne. The Pope, who seemed at first inclined to treat the matter jestingly, having read it "stood a great while with a heavy countenance, saying nothing."! At last, telling Carne it was a weighty matter which needed deliberation, he dismissed him. One cannot but feel great pity for the aged Pope on whose shoulders the burden of temporal power weighed so heavily.

Mary pointed out clearly that his action in recalling Pole was doing infinite harm among heretics, and even Catholics; amongst whom the incredible and infamous whisper of heresy was fast spreading, so that men were asking if the Cardinal-legate himself was suspected who then could be safe?

No one knew better than Paul IV. the futility of the charge, which was manufactured out of the old story of Pole's leniency to Lutherans; and of his inclining at the General Council, rather to the teaching of St. Basil and St. Chrysostom on the question of justification, than to that of St. Augustine, whose opinion was more generally received. Paul had himself twice publicly denounced these "charges," the second time when Pole became Archbishop; and Mary did not fail to remind him of this, saying that the heresy—if any—must have occurred within the last year when the Cardinal was exercising legatine duties!

"His Holiness," says Carne on August 14, is so wedded to his own opinion, and so terrible to such as speak against him that [the cardinals] hold their tongues, and let him do what he will." He was all this time cruelly harassed and grieved about the terrible Spanish war proceeding in Italy. However, a fortnight later the Pope discussed the Queen's letter in consistory, but it was an unfavorable moment. Those cardinals friendly to the Queen (says Carne), "perceiving his holiness to be in ... choler," moved that they should wait until the special messenger sent by Pole could be heard. This was his datary, Monsignor Ormaneto, who was thereupon bidden to wait on the Pope without delay; but though he did wait nearly twenty-four hours, the Pope refused him audience, merely accepting Pole's letter of explanation, which had been delayed seven weeks. "His Holiness," says Carne, "is in a peck of troubles, and his proceedings are such as satisfy no man."

However, on September 12, 1557, peace was concluded with Spain, largely by Mary's influence; and Paul IV., overjoyed, promised to consider Pole's recall in consistory; but, doubtless because he thought it best to let the matter drop, he did not do so. Nothing further was said about the recall, or the reasons for it, which the Pope, not unnaturally, seems to have wished to forget. Meantime, poor Friar Peto, whose election was most unpopular in England, was in an anomalous position which to his humble nature was intensely trying. He was looked upon as a sort of rival candidate to the beloved Cardinal, and mocked and insulted when he appeared in public. It is even said that his death, in April, 1558, was caused by a blow thus received. In any case he was the greatest sufferer, and an absolutely innocent one.

About the middle of December, 1557, Pole appealed to the Pope's nephew, Cardinal Caraffa, to beg the Holy Father to settle, once for all, the question of the still uncanceled recall, and the heresy charge. It was breaking his heart, but he does not say so. Referring to his old friendship for the Pope, and to the work in England, which is "not his, but God's," he says he cannot understand why "he should so strenuously impede me from serving God and His church, and seek to do me such great dishonor, as never cardinal nor legate, however worthlessly he might have served, had ever received from any pontiff." He dwelt on the fact that no charge of heresy had been made against him at his formal recall. Even this letter, if the Pope ever saw it, made no impression; though a few months later (March 17, 1558) Carne gives it as his opinion that "His Holiness is somewhat acrazed." Possibly this is the most charitable solution.

At the end of March Pole wrote a last dignified letter of appeal and remonstrance, and henceforth, as far as Paul IV. was concerned, the matter completely dropped.

But Pole's gentle heart was broken. This last suffering had been keen enough to complete the martyrdom of the martyr's son. His health, too, was failing, as was also the Queen's. Writing to Philip on September 5, 1558, and again on the 26th, he tells him he is suffering from a "double quartan ague," which "at his age and with his constitution" seriously indisposes him. He knew that the end was near.

In his will, drawn up a little later, after a touching allusion to the Pope, whose blessing he asks, he leaves a number of legacies Priuli to be his heir, and coexecutor with certain ecclesiastics. We have some deeply pathetic details from Monsignor Priuli on this matter. A few days before the Cardinal's death, Geoffrey, the brother who had so deeply wronged his family, died, leaving numerous sons and daughters, and "a small property scarcely sufficing to maintain them in poverty." "And these" says his friend, "are the poor relations to whom his right reverend lord ship desired that part of his property should be distributed. You must know that during his life time both in Italy and here, the Cardinal never failed to succour them, though he never asked or received anything . . . for them or for anyone else, either friend, relation or dependent on him in any manner." No one will ever know all his beautiful, secret charity.

"My belief," says the compiler of the Venetian Calendar, "is that he did more to maintain the repute of his country for high breeding, scholarship, integrity and consistency, than any other Englishman I ever heard of;" and this seems to have been the universal contemporary opinion. All who knew him, loved him.

Priuli, however, refused to accept anything from the Cardinal. His legacy, he said, was his friendship with Pole. But he asked for his friend's diurnal and breviary, which he used until his death, scarcely two years later.

At the end of September Pole heard of the death of the Emperor; and on October 4, he sent his chaplain to the Queen, to lay before her an account of the temporal matters of his legateship and archbishopric, and then gave himself wholly to preparation for death. The common report of his vast wealth was dissipated when after his death Priuli met the Earl of Rutland on behalf of Elizabeth and proved, by the careful and minute accounts kept of the Legate's expenditure, that all his revenues from his own property abroad, as well as the little he had received for his expenses in England, had all been spent in providing for "the expense of many ministers," to whom he had to give "board and stipend." Of the ecclesiastical property ceded by the Queen and placed unreservedly in his hands, the accurate accounts kept by Henry Pening showed that under the management of several bishops, every crown had been disbursed for the church. In order to obtain enough money for the funeral it was even considered necessary to sell his plate, nearly all of which he had brought with him from the continent—some of which he had doubt less used in his early days at Padua.

Queen Mary, too, was dying, and daily messages passed between the cousins. Daily was the Holy Sacrifice offered in the chamber of the dying Cardinal, and daily, weak as he was from fever, he would be lifted from his bed to fall on his knees at the elevation. He communicated daily, and seemed to live in the visible presence of God. Priuli writes: "When from the progress of the disease his lordship was obliged to keep constantly in bed, yet wishing to communicate as he had already done frequently, he chose to hear Mass, and get out of bed at that part where he had to communicate although unable without very great inconvenience and fatigue; and when about to communicate, being supported by two persons (as otherwise he could not have kept his feet) he bowed his head almost to the ground, and with many tears and sobs said inwardly the Confiteor. When I saw him thus I thought I saw the picture of our Lord's Blessed Mother as she is represented at the foot of the cross, supported by the two Maries; and in truth I never witnessed in any other person such deep expression of contrition and devotion, so true and cordial. He communicated several times even after this, and till the last day chose to hear daily not only the Mass, but also the office, and three hours before his death he heard vespers and compline."

On November 15, both the Queen and Cardinal received extreme unction; "after which," says Priuli, "it seemed as if they rallied, and were much comforted, according to the fruit of that most holy medicine . . . and gave clear proof of increasing spiritual vigour, not less than corporal improvement." Nevertheless on this day the hopeless condition of the Queen was gently broken to him.

Next day he heard Mass of the most Blessed Trinity, and communicated devoutly, sending and receiving thereafter affectionate messages from Queen Mary. He was growing rapidly weaker, burnt with the paroxysms of the intermittent fever. On November 17, the Feast of St. Hugh of Lincoln, came the end. "On the next morning [i.e., the 17th] which was his last," writes his faithful friend, "he listened to the Mass of the Angel, who, we may verily believe, accompanied that sainted soul to Heaven." One of his Italian attendants broke to him, sooner than was intended, the news of the death of the Queen while hearing Mass of St. Hugh when she "yielded her mylde and glorious spirit into ye Hande of her Maker; at the very moment of the "levacion of the Sacrament."

He received the news in silence, remaining some time in prayer; after which he spoke to Priuli, and the Bishop of St. Asaph of the wonderful way in which God's providence had dealt with both Mary and himself, who were near relations, and had so much in common—how both had suffered and labored for the same cause, and were now dying together. He could not but fear for the troubles coming upon the country (for he was not unacquainted with its future Queen), "yet by God's grace, that same faith and reliance on the Divine Providence which had ever comforted him in all his adversities greatly con soled him likewise in this so grievous a final catastrophe."

Then, for in spite of his serenity "the blow had entered into his flesh," he felt that the end was close. Another cruel paroxysm of fever left him with "more intense cold than he had hitherto experienced." He asked that the Book of Prayers for the dying should be placed at hand. "Now is the time to use it," he said gently, when the bishop showed it to him.

"He then," says his devoted friend, "had vespers repeated as usual, and the compline, which part of the office then remained for him to hear; and this was about two hours before sunset." "In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum" were probably the last words he heard, on earth. "In fine it was evident that as in health that sainted soul was ever turned to God, so likewise in this long and troublesome infirmity did it continue thus, until his end, which he made so placidly that he seemed to sleep rather than die."

His body lay in state in Lambeth Palace, where four masses were daily said for the repose of his gentle soul; and then, by his own wish, taken to his Cathedral at Canter bury, "in a sumptuous herse," in solemn procession, being met there by a "great concourse of clergy and people."

Here in the chapel of St. Thomas of Canterbury the body of the last of his successors was laid to rest; with the simple inscription: "Beati mortui qui in Domino moriuntur" over the words "Depositum Cardinalis Poli"

Beati pacifici . . . beati mundi corde, quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt.