St Charles Borromeo by Cesare Orsenigo, translated by Rudolph Kraus, 375 pages
St Charles Borromeo was born into a wealthy Italian noble family in the 16th century. When he was only twenty-one, his uncle was elected pope, taking the name Pius IV. In perhaps the most justifiable act of nepotism in history, Pius made his young nephew a cardinal and his secretary, later appointing him Archbishop of Milan. Rooted in the humanism of 16th century Italy as well as the faith of the Church, St Charles gradually asserted himself as a determined social and ecclesiastical reformer, becoming regarded, even in his lifetime, as the ideal Tridentine bishop. Weakened by his exertions and ascetic practices, he died at the age of 46, and such was his reputation for sanctity that he was canonized a mere 26 years later.
Msgr Orsenigo writes well, if unimaginatively. His decision to dedicate each chapter to one element of St Charles' life, rather than following a chronological sequence, is effective in giving as full a portrait as possible of a man with such varied talents and concerns. He makes it clear throughout that St Charles only achieved as he did because of his great personal holiness - had he made the same changes as a mere disinterested administrator, they would not have succeeded. For St Charles, reform of the world began with, and flowed from, the reform of the self.