Seeing what he actually accomplished during that short period and reading what he still intended to do, it seems as if this Pope were not a link in the long chain of St. Peter’s successors but one of those “explosions of energy” which occur from time to time in the history of men.
Sixtus V was not a Roman nor even by descent an Italian. His origin was from the humblest condition in life. The family name of Peretti (a little pear) might have been taken by his father, an Illyrian immigrant of Slavonic origin, to denote his occupation, which was that of a fruit gardener. At twelve years of age this man’s son, Felix Peretti, became a Franciscan novice; and from that time the enthusiasm, ideals, and limitations of the great Order of St. Francis moulded and inspired a character formed by nature for leadership in any position to which it might attain. To an ardent temperament, an imperious will, and a strong intellect was added a constructive, even fantastic, imagination of a high order; but his lack of early culture and his exclusively monastic training had kept him in ignorance of all education not immediately connected with religion and had bred in him a hostility toward classic art almost amounting to fanaticism. Such was the great Franciscan friar, Felix Peretti who, after first becoming Cardinal Montalto, was elected Pope in 1585 and took the title of Sixtus V. It may be said that, although as head of the Roman See his abilities obtained a far wider scope than his order could have given him, yet from the point of view of character and ideals he remained the Franciscan friar all his life. His brief and splendid pontificate closed suddenly amid the last great political and religious struggle between France and Spain. To neither opponent had Sixtus, who could see both sides of the conflict, given his final support; and his suspension of judgment in a cause where the forces of Protestantism were still represented in the person of Henry of Navarre gave rise to suspicions, most unjust, of his orthodoxy. The Roman people forgot the benefits and glories of his reign and remembered only its severity, the destruction of their antiquities, the drain of his taxation, and his temperate policy toward a Protestant king. The marvel of his extraordinary rise to power had produced in the public mind fantastic theories, and when a great storm burst over the Palace of the Quirinal, where the Pope lay dying, it was commonly believed that “Friar Felix” had at last been called upon to fulfil his part of the compact which he had made with the devil for power and place.