Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Question from Kymberly - Pope Pius V in Elizabeth I's reign

Hello! I am merely a curious person who wonders if Pope Pius V realized the pickle he was putting Catholic subjects in during the reign of Elizabeth l. Was he aware? Did he care? History suggests Elizabeth herself preferred to live and let live, and her actions prior to the bull establish that. The edict against her seems a logical explanation for her change in policy regarding her Catholic subjects. But is there any reason that can excuse Pius V's risking lives not his own, lives of those who were even sympathetic to his beliefs? Am I looking at Pius V through too modern a lens? Was he in emotional competition with Elizabeth, desiring evidence of greater deference to himself over the Queen of England? Are there any surviving documents that explain the pope's decision to place other Catholic lives in such peril? I am sooo curious! Thank you! Sincerely, Kymberly


PhD Historian said...

As usual, my response is lengthy and must be split into two uploads (LOL).

If I may, I will begin in the middle of your question and say that yes, you are looking at the issue through a lens that is much too modern. Religion played a far larger role in English/British persons’ lives in the sixteenth century than it does today. Reference to “emotional competition” and “desire[s] for greater deference” bring to mind something akin to a modern popularity contest, though I am sure that you did not mean it in precisely that way. But because we have no evidence regarding the innermost thoughts and motivations for any of the parties involved, we must instead work only with the evidence that we do have.

PhD Historian said...


Therefore, we must regard Pius V’s bull Regnans In Excelsis of 1570 as a sincere effort on the part of the Roman Catholic Church to protect the immortal souls of all of the English people. In the view of the Roman Catholic Church and Pius V, Elizabeth of England and most members of her government were heretics. As such, they were in essence “tools of Satan,” to use the common language of the day. Therefore, anyone who obeyed Elizabeth and her ministers were, by extension, following the desires and commands of Satan. The Roman Catholic Church viewed the English government as “ungodly.” And anyone who followed an ungodly path placed their own immortal soul in jeopardy. Pius issued Regnans In Excelsis in an effort to safeguard those immortal souls by instructing all Catholics to ignore the orders of Elizabeth and her government (and by extension, the temptations and orders of Satan). Yes, failure to obey the Queen and her government could place the mortal lives of English subjects at risk. But in the longstanding view of the Roman Catholic Church, it was better to lose one’s mortal life than to lose one’s immortal soul.

Potentially, anyone who died as a result of obeying the papal bull might be considered a martyr to the Roman Catholic faith. And the reward for true martrydom was a guaranteed place in heaven.

(NB: If any of the above should seem sympathetic to the Roman Catholic cause, please know that I am an atheist and thus have no bias for or against any particular religion or denomination.)