As well as congratulating Mr and Mrs Rees-Mogg on adding to their brood, we might also applaud them on the name chosen for the bairn. He is baby number six, and therefore called Sixtus. However, the name also reminds us of a particularly interesting cast of characters in Catholic, particularly papal, history.
Sixtus IV, who reigned from 1471 to 1484, does a good job of summing up how brilliant and misguided a single pope could be. You turn Rome into a Renaissance city, build the Sistine Chapel, and establish the Vatican archives, but also find time to become chaotically distracted by furthering your family interests.
Sixtus was involved in the infamous Pazzi conspiracy of 1478, which culminated in an attack on two lofty members of the Medici family, killing one of them, and led to a rather pointless war with Florence. His historical reputation has been mixed, which might also be said of the next papal Sixtus, number five. He, too, was quite the builder, refashioning the Lateran, but politics and bureaucracy were his true passions.
As Rees-Mogg père could attest, such a path is fraught with perils. Much ink has been spilled on whether his reorganisation of the Roman Curia or his limitation of the maximum number of cardinals to seventy was good for business. Sixtus V certainly irked a good many bishops by instituting ad limina visits, requiring trips to Rome at least once every five years, but this, most of us would agree, was an excellent idea.
If, though, one were to pick a Sixtus for the young Rees-Mogg to study and admire, it would have to be Sixtus II. Long a focus of veneration, this saintly third century pope, was martyred by Valerian but, ahead of that, did more than most to calm tempers and limit controversy in the febrile early Church.
He might have been useful in today’s House of Commons.
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