Consistorial address of the Supreme Pontiff Sixtus V in praise of the assassination of king Henry III of France by Br. Jacques Clement OP
Considering in my mind both often and earnestly, and bending my thoughts to muse upon those things, which by the providence of God are lately come to pass, methinks I may rightly usurp that saying of the Prophet Habakkuk, “A work is done in your days which no man will believe when it shall be reported”. The King of France is done to death by the hands of a monk, for unto this it fitly may be applied, albeit the Prophet spake properly of another thing, namely, of the incarnation of our Lord, which exceedeth all wonders and marvels whatsoever, even as the Apostle Paul doth most truly refer the very same words to the resurrection of Christ. When the Prophet speaketh of a work, he will not be understood of any vulgar or ordinary matter, but of some rare, some famous and memorable exploit, as where it is said of the creation of the world, “The heavens are the work of thy hands”; and again, “the seventh day he rested from all the works which he had made”: but where he saith, “It is done”, it is usual in Scripture to understand such a thing as falleth not out by blind chance, by hap hazard, by fortune, or at all adventures, but by the express will, providence, disposition and government of God: as when our Saviour saith, “Ye shall do the works which I do, and greater then these shall ye do”, and many such like places in holy Scripture, but where he saith it was already done, he speaketh after the manner of other Prophets, who for the certainty of the event, are wont to foretell of things to come, as if they were already past; for the Philosophers say that things past are in nature of necessity, things present in a state of now being, and things to come to be merely contingent, that is their judgment; in regard of which necessity, the Prophet Isaiah foretelling a long time before of the death of Christ, said even as after it was said again, “he was lead as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer, he opened not his mouth”; and such a thing is this, whereof we now entreat; this which hath happened in these our days, a work famous, memorable, and almost incredible, a work not wrought without the special providence and government of the almighty; a Monk hath slain a King, not a painted King, one figured out upon a piece of paper or upon a wall, but the King of France, in the middle of his army, being hedged in with his camp and guard on every side, which in deed is such a work, and so brought about as no man will believe it when it shall be reported, and the posterity perhaps will repute it for a fable.
That a King should die or should be slain, men are easily induced to think it, but that he should thus bee cut off, the world will hardly believe it; as that Christ should be borne of a woman, we do easily acknowledge it, but if ye add further that he was borne of a Virgin, my human wit cannot subscribe unto it; likewise that Christ should die it is as easily believed, but being dead to rise again (because that to a natural habit once wholly lost, there is no retiring back again) in the reach of mans capacity it is impossible, and by consequence incredible; that a man out of his sleep, out of his sickness, out of a swoon, or of an ecstasy should recover himself again (for that in the course of nature such things are usual) in human reason we accord unto it, but a dead man to rise again in the judgment of the flesh, it seemed so incredible, that when Paul made mention thereof amongst the Athenian Philosophers, they upbraided him as a “setter forth of strange gods”, and other (as Luke reporteth) laughed at him, and said, “we will hear thee about this matter again”: therefore in such things as are not wont to fall out according to the custom of nature and common course of the world, the Prophet saith that no man will believe when report shall be made, but yet when we remember Gods omnipotent power, and captivate our understandings to the obedience which is through faith, and to the will of Christ we are brought to believe, for by this means that which naturally was incredible is become credible. Therefore I which according to man do not believe that Christ was borne of a Virgin, yet when it is further added, that it was done by the working of the holy Ghost, above the compass of nature, I do verily assent and give credence to it; and when it is said that Christ rose again from the dead, according to mans wit, I cannot yield unto it; but when it is said again that it was done by a divine nature which was in him, then do I most assuredly believe it.
In like manner, albeit according to the wisdom of the flesh and mans understanding, it be incredible or at least very improbable, that so mighty a Prince in the midst of his camp, so guarded with such an armed troupe, should be slaughtered by the hands of one poor silly Friar, yet when I call to mind on the other side, the most heinous misdemeanour of the King, the particular providence of the Almighty ruling in this action, and how strangely and wonderfully God executed his most just decree against him, then do I verily and steadfastly believe it; for why?* We may not refer so notable and strange a work to any other cause, then to the especial providence of God (as we understand, that some there be who ascribe it to other ordinary causes, to fortune and chance, or some such like accidentary event) but they which narrowly look into the course of the whole proceedings, may clearly see how many things were brought about, which without the special supply of a divine assistance, could never be achieved of any man. And certainly we may not think that God doth loosely govern the state of Kings and Kingdoms, and other so excellent and weighty affaires; there are in the holy stories of the bible examples of this kind, to none whereof we can assign any other author then God, but there is none, wherein more clearly shineth the superior working of God then this which now we have in hand. We read that Eleazar to the end he might destroy the persecuting King and enemy of Gods people, did put himself in danger of inevitable death, “When as beholding in the conflict one Elephant more conspicuous then the rest upon which the King was like to be, he rushed violently amidst the route of the enemies, and making way on both sides came to the beast, gat under him, and slew him with his sword, which in the fall fell down upon him, and crushed him to death”; and hear for zeal, for valour of mind, and for the issue of the thing attempted, we finde some resemblance and equality, but for the rest no one thing comparable. Eleazar was a professed soldier, trained up in arms and in the field, one purposely picked out for the battle, and as it oft falleth out enraged with boldness and fury of mind, whereas our monk was never brought up in such broils and martial encounters, but by his trade of life so abhorring from blood, that haply he could scarce endure to see himself let blood; he knew before both his manner of death and place of burial, as that more like one swallowed up into the bowels, then pressed down by the fall of the beast he should be entombed in his own spoils: but this man was to look for both death and tortures more bitter than death, such as he could not dream of, and little doubted he to lie unburied: besides many other points of difference that are between them. And well known likewise is the famous story of the holy woman Judith, who to set free her own besieged city and people of God, took in hand an enterprise (God doubtless directing her thereunto) about the killing of Holofernes, then general of the enemies forces, and in the end she did effect it: in which attempt albeit there are both many and manifest tokens of a superior direction, yet in the death of this King, and deliverance of the city of Paris, wee may see far greater arguments of Gods providence, in as much as in the judgement of man, it was more difficult and impossible than that, for that holy woman opened her purpose to some of the governors, and in their presence, and by their sufferance passed through both the gates and guard of the city, so that she could not be in danger of any search or inquisition, which during the time of assault, is wont to be so straight,* that scarce a fly may pass by unexamined: but being amongst the enemies, through whose tents and several wards she must needs pass, after some trial and examination, for that she was a woman, and had about her neither letters nor weapons, from whence might grow any suspicion, and rendering very probable reasons of her coming to the camp, of her flight and departure from her countrymen, she was licensed to pass without any let, so that as well for those causes, as for her sex and excellent beauty, she might be admitted into the presence of so unchaste a governor, upon whom being intoxicate with wine, she might easily wreak her purpose. This did she, but ours a man of holy orders did both assay and bring about a work of more weight, full of more encumbrances, and wrapt in with so great difficulties & dangers on every side, as it could be accomplished by no wisdom, nor humane policy, neither by any other means but by the manifest appointment and assistance of God: it was requisite that letters of commendation should be procured from them of the contrary faction, it was necessary that he should pass out by that gate of the city, which lead unto the enemies camp, which doubtless was so warded in that troublesome time of the siege, that nothing was unsuspected, neither was any man suffered to pass to and fro, but after a most straight inquiry what letters he conveyed, what news he carried, what business, what weapons he had: but he (a wondrous thing) passed through the watches without all examination, and that with letters of credence to the enemy, which if the citizens had intercepted, without all reprisal or further judgement he had surely died: this was an evident argument of Gods providence; but a greater wonder was that, that the same man soon after without all examination passed through the camp of the enemies likewise, through the sentinels and several watches of the soldiers, and through the guard which was next the body of the King, and in a word, through the whole army, which for the most part was compact of heretics, he himself being a man of holy orders, and clad in a Friars weed, which in the eyes of such men was so odious, that in the places adjoining to Paris, which a little before they had surprised whatsoever monks they took, they either slaughtered, or else most cruelly mistreated; Judith was a woman, therefore no whit hated, and yet often examined, neither carried she ought about her which might endanger her, but this man was a monk, and therefore detested, and came very suspiciously with a knife provided for the feat, and that not closed up in a sheath (which had been more excusable) but altogether naked and hid in his sleeve, which had they bolted out, there had been no way but present execution: these are al so manifest tokens of God’s especial providence, as no exception can be taken against them, nor could it otherwise be but that God even blinded the eyes of the enemies least they should descry him, for as before we said, albeit some there be who unjustly ascribe these things to chance and fortune, we notwithstanding cannot be persuaded to refer them to any cause but to the will of God, nor truly should I otherwise think, but that I have subdued mine understanding to obedience in Christ, who after so wonderful a manner, provided both to set at liberty the city of Paris, which then we understood to be many ways in great perplexity and distress, as also to avenge the most heinous misdeeds of the King, and to take him out of the world, by so unhappy and reproachful a death: and truly we did heretofore with some grief, foretell that it would in time fall out, that as he was the last of his house, so was he like to come to some strange and shameful end, which not only the Cardinals of Joyeuse, of Lenoncourt, and Paris, but the ambassador likewise, which then was liedger with us can well avouch I spake, for why, we call not the dead, but men alive to witness of our words, which all of them full well remember: notwithstanding, howsoever we are now enforced to plead against this hapless king, we do in no wise touch the kingdom and royal state of France, which as we have heretofore, so still hereafter we will prosecute with all fatherly affection and honourable regard, but this we have spoken of the king’s person only, whose unfortunate end hath deprived him of all those rites, which this holy seat, the mother of all the faithful, and specially of Christian princes, is wont to perform to emperors and kings after their decease, which for him likewise we had solemnised, but that the Scripture in such a case doth flatly forbid us. There is (saith Saint John) a sin unto death, I say not for that that any man shall pray, which may be understood either of the sin itself as if he should say, for that sin, or else for the remission of that sin I will not that any man should pray, because it is unpardonable; or that which sorteth to the same end, for that man who committeth a sin unto death, I will not that any man should pray, of which kind likewise our Saviour Christ in Matthew maketh mention, that to him which sinneth against the Holy Ghost, there is no remission either in this world, or in the world to come, where he maketh three sorts of sin, against the Father, against the Son, and against the Holy Ghost, the two former are not so grievous but pardonable, but the third is not to be forgiven: all which difference (as the schoolmen out of the Scriptures deliver it) ariseth out of the diversities of the properties, which are severally ascribed to the several persons of the Trinity: for albeit as there is the same essence, so there is the same power, wisdom and goodness of all the persons (as we learn out of the Creed of Athanasius, when he saith the Father is omnipotent, the Son omnipotent, and the Holy Ghost omnipotent) yet by way of attribution unto the Father is ascribed power, to the Son wisdom, and to the Holy Ghost love, each whereof as they are called properties are so proper to every person, as they cannot be put upon another, and by the contraries of these properties, we come to know the difference and weight of sin; the contrary to power (which is the attribute of the Father) is weakness, so that whatsoever we commit through infirmities and weakness of our nature, may be said to be committed against the Father: the contrary of wisdom is ignorance, through which when a man offendeth, he is saide to offend against the Son, so that those sins which are committed either through mans frailty or ignorance, may easily obtain a pardon: but the third which is love, the property of the Holy Ghost hath for his contrary ingratitude, a most hateful sin, whereby it commeth to pass, that man doth not acknowledge God’s love and benefits towards him, but forgetteth, despiseth, and groweth in hatred of them, and so at length becometh obstinate and impenitent, and this way men offend more grievously and dangerously toward God, then by ignorance or infirmity: therefore these are called sin against the Holy Ghost, which because they are not so often and so easily forgiven, and not without a greater measure of grace, they are reckoned in a sort unpardonable, when as notwithstanding only by reason of man’s impenitence, they are absolutely and simply unpardonable; for whatsoever is committed in this life, though it be against the Holy Ghost, yet by a timely repentance it may be blotted out, but he that persevereth unto the end, leaveth no place for grace and mercy, and for such an offence, or for a man so offending, the Apostle would not that after his death we should pray. And now for that unto our great grief, we are given to understand that the aforesaid King died thus impenitent, as namely, amidst a knot of heretics (for of such people he had mustered out an army) and likewise for that upon his death-bed, he bequeathed the succession of his Kingdome to Navarre, a pronounced and excommunicate heretic, and even at the last point and gasp, he conjured both him and such like as were about him, to take vengeance of those whom he suspected to be the authors of his death: for these and such like manifest tokens of impenitence, our pleasure is that there shall no dead man’s rites be solemnised for him, not for that we do in any sort prejudice the secret judgement and mercy of God toward him, who was able according to his good pleasure, even at the very breathing out of his soul, to turn his heart and have mercy upon him, but this we speak according to that which came into the outward appearance. Our most bountiful Saviour, grant that others being admonished by this fearful example of God’s justice, may return into the way of life, and that which he hath thus in mercy begun, let him in great kindness continue and accomplish, as we hope he will, that we may yield unto him immortal thanks, for delivering his Church from so great mischief and dangers.
And having thus definitely spoken, he dismissed the consistory with a blessing.
O terque quaterque beati.
a. d. iii Ides Sep.
Anno Domini MDLXXXIX