School Stuff

Help or Hurt

January 1, 2018

Cardinal Armand Richelieu, Oliver Cromwell, and Pope Sixtus V all held important offices, wielding power that significantly influenced the Catholic Church. Richelieu was appointed to the holy rank of cardinal at a young age, but he left his episcopate several times for the royal court before he secured high political status. Soon Richelieu, a favorite of King Louis XIII, had all France under his personal control. Cromwell was raised a commoner, but he slowly made his way into public affairs. His real art, though, was not politics; Cromwell had a mind and heart for the battlefield, which enabled him to rule England. Sixtus V was a man of strong personality. With a harsh and uncompromising attitude, Sixtus cleansed Rome of crime, forced his bishops to adhere to their duties, and strove fervently to keep balance among the European powers. Clearly, each man had the power to gravely affect the Church.

Cardinal Richelieu controlled much more than France and his diocese. Although he nominally was only young Louis XIII’s advisor, Richelieu ruled almost entirely in the king’s stead. If Richelieu had stayed true to Catholicism, nobody can gauge how great a peak Christendom might have reached in France in the seventeenth century. However, the ambitious cardinal saw and seized opportunities to augment French power and prestige, concurrently numbing attempts to catholicize by other countries. The vulnerable and Calvinist Low Countries were his friends; Catholic Spain, the greatest power in the world, was Richelieu’s mortal enemy. Pouring soldiers and money into Dutch, Swedish, and German groups that were also Calvinist, Richelieu shattered the puissance and prestige of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, both of which would never return to the glorious heights they once enjoyed. The weak Pope Urban VIII refused to excommunicate the powerful Richelieu for fear that the independent cardinal would set up an independent French Church. Urban did not even reprimand him. Richelieu altered religion in Europe and in the Americas, which were being colonized at that point. With so much hunger for French domination, Richelieu humiliated his Catholic peers.

Oliver Cromwell changed European governments and religious outlook for ages to come. Although he was a country squire for much of his youth, Cromwell managed to cleverly work his way into politics. Supporting John Pym, a charismatic speaker, Cromwell helped Parliament take full control of England from the monarchy in the English Civil War. However, he influenced the government more by sword than by words. In the midst of the civil war, Cromwell, disgusted by the amateur soldiers Parliament had provided, built his own outstanding force and turned the tide of the war. After Parliament executed Charles I and abolished the monarchy, Cromwell’s New Model Army forcefully dismissed Parliament. So started the Cromwellian dictatorship. This sudden seizure of control following Parliament’s own power grab surpassed political treachery. “Cromwell marched into the chamber where the ‘rump’ of the Long Parliament, elected thirteen years before, was still officially sitting, and declared: ‘I say you are no Parliament; I will put an end to your sitting…. In the name of God, go!’ ” (Carroll 622). Although Cromwell died just a decade later, he pioneered the French, Russian, and American Revolutions. These three uprisings resulted in extreme loss of life and radical government flipping.

Pope Sixtus V, who ascended to the Chair of Peter in 1585, was steadfast in the Faith. During a time when zeal for Catholicism was spreading in several countries, Sixtus V oversaw and guided religious efforts in Germany and Spain. However, back at the Vatican, Sixtus also was active. “Pope Sixtus V told his cardinals entrusted with keeping public order, his military commanders and his chief barons that he would hold them personally responsible for suppressing crime and administering justice. If they failed, he would execute the generals and the barons and lock up the cardinals in the prison cells of Rome’s impregnable fortress, the Castel Sant’Angelo” (406). While strong convictions are vital to a papacy, Sixtus’ threats were shockingly harsh. No man required to rule God’s church should deal in such a manner. However, to Sixtus’ credit, Our Lord had said “Thou are Peter, and upon this rock I shall build my church” (Douay-Rheims Matthew 16.18), and as Peter’s successor, Sixtus V was a rock that never crumbled.

Cardinal Richelieu, Oliver Cromwell, and Sixtus V were important men in the West. Richelieu guided France to unmatchable supremacy in Europe, in the process disregarding the indelible moral corruption it caused. Cromwell held wavering England in the palm of his hand, inspiring countless terrifying, bloody revolutions elsewhere. Sixtus V staunchly forwarded the Catholic cause, piloting well a series of crusading endeavors. As eminent as these individuals were, did their lives solely alter Europe’s course in history? Men like these can be found at every turn in history, and one can overly attribute changes to their actions. The better question is: did they help or hurt the Church? The evidence is clear:  Sixtus helped; Richelieu and Cromwell hurt.



Works Cited

Carroll, Warren H. The Cleaving of Christendom. Front Royal, VA, 1993.

Holy Bible: Douay-Rheims Version. Saint Benedict Press, 2009.



Joey P.

Age: 16 Grade: 10 Hobbies: reading, coding games, and playing many sports (including basketball, football, baseball and hockey) Patron/Favorite saints: Saint Joseph, Saint Nicholas, and Saint Edmund Campion Favorite school subjects: Math and History Other: I love playing bridge (card game) whenever possible due to its highly complex nature.

Comments (1)

  • January 28, 2018 by Genevieve L.

    Genevieve L.

    I remember reading about Richelieu andCromwell in my world history last year.