Saint Charles Borromeo

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Carlo Borromeo painted by Giovanni Ambrogio Figino.

Carlo Borromeo (October 2, 1538 - November 4, 1584), saint and cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, son of Ghiberto Borromeo, count of Arona, and Margarita de' Medici, was born at the castle of Arona on Lago Maggiore.

When he was about twelve years old, Carlo's uncle, Giulio Cesare Borromeo, resigned to him an abbacy, the revenue of which he applied wholly in charity to the poor. He studied the civil and canon law at Pavia. In 1554 his father died, and, although he had an elder brother, Count Federigo, he was requested by the family to take the management of their domestic affairs. After a time, however, he resumed his studies, and in 1559 he took his doctors degree. In 1560 his uncle, Cardinal Angelo de' Medici, was raised to the pontificate as Pius IV.

Borromeo was made prothonotary, entrusted with both the public and the privy seal of the ecclesiastical state, and created cardinal with the administration of Romagna and the March of Ancona, and the supervision of the Franciscans, the Carmelites and the Knights of Malta. He was thus at the age of twenty-two practically the leading statesman of the papal court. Soon after he was raised to the archbishopric of Milan. In compliance with the pope's desire, he lived in great splendor; yet his own temperance and humility were never brought into question. He established an academy of learned persons, and published their memoirs as the Noctes Vaticanae.

About the same time he also founded and endowed a college at Pavia, which he dedicated to Justina, virgin and martyr. On the death of his elder brother Federigo, he was advised to quit the church and marry, that his family might not become extinct. He declined the proposal, however, and became henceforward still more fervent in exercises of piety, and more zealous for the welfare of the church. Owing to his influence over Pius IV, he was able to facilitate the final deliberations of the Council of Trent, and he took a large share in the drawing up of the Tridentine Catechism (Catechismus Romanus).

On the death of Pius IV (1566), the skill and diligence of Borromeo contributed materially to suppressing the cabals of the conclave. Subsequently he devoted himself wholly to the reformation of his diocese, which had fallen into a most unsatisfactory condition owing to the prolonged absences of its previous archbishops. He made a series of pastoral visits, and restored decency and dignity to divine service. In conformity with the decrees of the Council of Trent, he cleared the cathedral of its gorgeous tombs, rich ornaments, banners, arms, sparing not even the monuments of his own relatives. He divided the nave of the church into two compartments for the separation of the sexes. He extended his reforms to the collegiate churches (even to the fraternities of penitents and particularly that of St. John the Baptist), and to the monasteries. The great abuses which had overrun the church at this time arose principally from the ignorance of the clergy. Borromeo, therefore, established seminaries, colleges and communities for the education of candidates for holy orders. The most remarkable, perhaps, of his foundations was the fraternity of the Oblates, a society whose members were pledged to give aid to the church when and where it might be required. He further paved the way for the Golden or Borromean league formed in 1586 by the Swiss Catholic cantons of Switzerland to expel heretics if necessary by armed force.

In 1576, when Milan was visited by the plague, he went about giving directions for accommodating the sick and burying the dead, avoiding no danger and sparing no expense. He visited all the neighboring parishes where the contagion raged, distributing money, providing accommodation for the sick, and punishing those, especially the clergy, who were remiss in discharging their duties. He met with much opposition to his reforms. The governor of the province, and many of the senators, apprehensive that the cardinals' ordinances and proceedings would encroach upon the civil jurisdiction, addressed remonstrances and complaints to the courts of Rome and Madrid. But Borromeo had more formidable difficulties to struggle with, in the inveterate opposition of several religious orders, particularly that of the Humiliati (Brothers of Humility). Some members of that society formed a conspiracy against his life, and a shot was fired at him in the archiepiscopal chapel under circumstances which led to the belief that his escape was miraculous. The number of his enemies was increased by his successful attack on his Jesuit confessor, Ribera, who with other members of the college of Milan was found to be guilty of unnatural offences. His manifold labors and austerities appear to have shortened his life. He was seized with an intermittent fever, and died at Milan on the 4th of November 1584. He was canonized in 1610, and his feast is celebrated on the 4th of November.

Besides the Noctes Vaticanae, to which he appears to have contributed, the only literary relics of this intrepid and zealous reformer are some homilies, discourses and sermons, with a collection of letters. His sermons, which have little literary merit, were published by JA Sax (5 vols., Milan, 1747-1748), and have been translated into many languages. The record of his episcopate is to be found in the two volumes of the Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis (Milan, 599). Contrary to his last wishes a memorial was erected to him in Milan cathedral, as well as a statue 70 ft. high on the hill above Arona, by his admirers who regarded him as the leader of a Counter-Reformation.

His nephew, Federigo Borromeo (1564-1631), was archbishop of Milan from 1595, and in 1609 founded the Ambrosian library in that city.

See also:

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo


  • GP Giussano, Vita di S. Carlo Borromeo (1610, Eng. ed. by HE Manning, London, 1884)
  • A Sala, Documenti circa la vita e la gesta di Borromeo (4 vols., Milan, 1857-1859)
  • Chanoine Silvain, Histoire de St Charles Borrome (Milan, 1884)
  • A Cantono, Un grande riformatore del secolo XVI (Florence, 1904); article Borromus in Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopdie (Leipzig, 1897).

External link

de:Karl Borromus fr:Charles Borrome it:San Carlo Borromeo pl:Karol Boromeusz


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