The King of Noon

After Philip II died, never again has Christendom seen a monarch so Catholic and so submissive to Providence in the hour of suffering.

Newsroom (September 16, 2021, 20:20 PM, Gaudium Press) On September 13, 1598, as the first rays of the sun fell on the white slopes of Guadarrama,[1] the soul of a mysterious man departed this Earth and entered eternity. “If any prince personified the total confusion between the religious and the political order, marking either one with its principles, but at the same time supplying them with methods of action, then that was indeed this mysterious King. He was crowned with glory but also harshly marked by some setbacks. Spain witnessed him rule over it during the second half of the century in which it achieved its highest fate.

In his way, the prudent King Philip II (1527-1598), lord of half the world in the 16th century, was the “Sun King” for the war-torn Spain, yet luminous in its art and Catholicism.

The fall of Caesar: the rising of the sun

One wonders how a thin, slender, somewhat shy, and hesitant man would be born from an authentically Portuguese mother and an imperial Germanic father. Prince Philip had in him the blood of the noblest houses of Europe, notably that of the illustrious Habsburg dynasty; time would show how this weak son of Charles V would be the worthy successor of his lineage.

Around the year 1527, the Christian states were going through a tense moment. In addition to the endless fratricidal conflicts that broke up the Christian nations, the troops of the German Caesar dared to invade the pontifical domains as well.

Pope Clement VII felt powerless before the immense army that was plundering Rome. It was in this atmosphere of chaos and uncertainty that the heir to the Spanish Empire was born. In Valladolid, many wanted to see this as more than just a bad omen.

While still a child, Philip unexpectedly lost his mother. His father, Charles V, constantly absent due to wars and foreign incursions, had no choice but to entrust the prince’s education to servants and tutors.

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It would be a mistake to presume that the young man had received a dark upbringing – dominated by fanatical inquisitors, draconian and bloodthirsty ministers. The prince’s attitudes contradict this sinister scenario in which they intended to put him; always active, lively, and even adventurous in his pre-reign years, he was a great lover of the arts, especially music and literature.

However, a dilemma arose in the young prince’s soul in the first period of his life. He was used to being betrayed or even deceived, and Charles nurtured in Philip a deep sense of distrust of others; this was indeed fatal.

Nevertheless, “until his last years, Philip cultivated a kind of childlike simplicity, (…) inclined by nature to trust too much.”[3] Perhaps in this dichotomy of will lies the genesis of the indecision that would so torment him later.

Catholic King

At 16, Philip already found himself in charge of immense power, that for which his father had named him regent. Charles V was gradually detaching himself from that enormous realm in favor of those closest to him. Philip II then inherited Spain, Milan, Naples, the Netherlands, and all the domains of the New World.

As if this were not enough, by his marriage to the Queen of England, he was also sovereign of the British Isles; he really “owned” the world! But it was in God’s plans for this prideful Catholic King to be deprived of the most deserving rewards for his faith and dedication to the Church.

With the death of the English Queen, Philip lost any claim of the island. Calvinist in the Spanish Low Countries, promoted by English Protestants, armed themselves to break away from the Hispanic crown. The Vicar of Christ seemed at times to oppose to him, and the threat of the pirates was once again infesting the peninsular coasts. In this catastrophic climax, the qualities and genius of Philip II began to blossom.

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At the cost of hard work, he succeeded in reconstructing the dominion of that immense empire in ruins: he fiercely persecuted the heresies in his kingdom. He knew that religion had the first place; he built numerous churches and monasteries, led by the well-known San Lorenzo del Escorial. He also gave freedom to religious orders and sent them in large numbers to the Americas; and countless other works.

Pope Pius V spared no praise for the pious and brave nature of the Spanish monarch.

Past noon…

These facts highlighted the figure of the Catholic King as the supreme example and defender of Christianity; however, like a river that goes round and round before it enters the sea, Philip often distanced himself from the cause he so valiantly served. Taking advantage of the treasures of the Church and wanting to govern it excessively is only one example of Philip II’s deviant conduct.

His actions had already aroused the clamor and outrage of his subjects. When he returned to his palace in Madrid, he found a sealed letter on his desk. “Remember, sir, that King Saul was anointed and, notwithstanding, repudiated.” That is the only thing known of this mysterious letter. It was signed: Teresa of Jesus.

The renowned Carmelite mystic – as a nun would later recount – had been linked to the monarch’s action and mission to such an extent that, being in thanksgiving after communion, more than once she heard Christ himself plead to her:

“Daughter, I want [him] to be saved. Pray for him; God wants him. This person has passed through great trials, and still bigger ones await him.”[4]

She often urged her religious sisters to pray for a certain lord of the world, for he would have to suffer the betrayal of his subjects and the death of the ones closest to him; prophecies fulfilled literally.

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Undoubtedly, the words of the “abulense” saint engraved themselves with fire on that poor soul so loved by Christ.[5] St. Teresa was, without a doubt, the support of Philip’s perseverance in this difficult period after noon.

Still, more difficult trials await him

After the prideful and harsh years of Philip’s reign, Providence charged this monarch with still more for his faults.

Treason, failure, death, it would be too lengthy to list the misfortunes that befell Philip II in the last years of his life. And adding to his misery, a disgusting illness prevented him from leaving his bed and even changing his clothes. Horrible sores left him without a scrap of healthy flesh, and the King, who had triumphed over half the world, was literally rotting.

Philip II died after unspeakable sufferings, aggravated by the pity of seeing his empire left in the hands of a sterile daughter and an inexperienced boy.

God crowned with suffering this weak but faithful soul, holder of a great mission concerning His Church.

After Philip II died, we have never again seen such a Catholic sovereign. He was so conscious of his duty but also so submitted to Providence on accepting the suffering.[6]

By André Luiz Kleina

Compiled by Ena Alfaro

[1] Spanish mountain range where the palace-monastery of the Escorial, built by Felipe II, is located.

[2] ROPS, Daniel. The Church of the Renaissance and the Reformation: the Catholic Reformation. Trad. Emérico da Gama. São Paulo: Quadrante, 1999, p.167.

[3] WALSH, William Thomas. Philip II. Trad. Belén Moya. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1943, p.70.

[4] Cf. WALSH, William Thomas. Philip II. Trad. Belén Moya. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1943, p.537-538.

[5] Teresa kept up a prolific correspondence with King Philip until the end of her life.

[6] Cf. SCHNEIDER, Reinhold. Philip II. Trad. Álvaro Franco. Porto Alegre: Globo, 1935.


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