On November 4, we remember Saint Charles Borromeo who was a central figure in the Council of Trent, best remembered as a model for leadership during difficult times. This Council was the formal Roman Catholic reply to the doctrinal challenges of the Protestant Reformation.
Born into luxury in 1538 in Milan, Italy, St Charles was the son of noble parents. As a young man he signalled his intention to serve the Church, and asked his father to give away the majority of his money to the poor.
When he was 22, the young lawyer and canonist’s uncle was elected as Pope Pius IV. St Charles soon assumed staggering responsibilities, serving as a papal diplomat and supervisor of major Religious orders. He considered renouncing this lifestyle for the strict observance of a monastery. However he found himself more urgently needed in the work of concluding the Council of Trent.
The Church’s 19th Ecumenical Council had begun in late 1545, but experienced many delays. Its two-fold mission was to clarify the Catholic doctrine against Protestant objections, and to reform the Church internally against many longstanding problems.
As a papal representative, St Charles participated in the council’s conclusion in 1563, when he was only 25. He also played a leading role in assembling its comprehensive summary, the Roman Catechism (also known as the Catechism of the Council of Trent).
That same year St Charles assumed even greater responsibilities. He was ordained a priest during the Council, and later named as Archbishop and Cardinal only months later. Finding his diocese of Milan to be in a state of disintegration, he went about establishing schools, seminaries, and centres for religious life.
As a new Archbishop, St Charles’ efforts for catechesis and the instruction of youth were especially fruitful. These included initiating the work of the Confraternity for Christian Doctrine and the first “Sunday School” classes. He also gave pastoral attention to English Catholics who had fled to Italy to escape new laws against the Catholic faith.
St Charles’ amazing diligence, frequent travel and ascetic living however eventually took their toll. The once young prodigy of the Papal Court died young at the age of 46 on Nov 3, 1584. He was canonised 26 years later, in 1610.
St Charles is the patron saint of catechists and catechumens.
Catholic News Agency
St Charles Borromeo.