Saint of the Day – 17 September – St Robert Bellarmine SJ (1542-1621) Priest of the Society of Jesus, Bishop, Confessor, Cardinal, Theologian, Professor, Writer, Preacher, Mediator, Doctor of the Church – Roberto Francesco Romolo Bellarmino (4 October 1542 at Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy as Roberto Francesco Romolo – the morning of 17 September 1621 at Rome, Italy of natural causes) He was buried in Rome and his relics were translated to the church of Saint Ignatius, Rome on 21 June 1923. Patronages – • canon lawyer, catechists, catechumens, Cincinnati, Ohio Archdiocese of. Bellarmine University, Fairfield University, Bellarmine College and School. He was Beatified on 13 May 1923, Rome by Pope Pius XI and Canonised 29 June 1930, Rome by Pope Pius XI – he was named a Doctor of the Church by the same Pope a year later. He is remembered as one of the most important Cardinals of the Catholic Counter Reformation.
Robert Bellarmine was born to an impoverished noble Italian family. His early intellectual accomplishments gave his father hope that Bellarmine would restore the family’s fortunes through a political career. His mother’s wish that he enter the Society of Jesus prevailed. The young Bellarmine, a very small, frail but lively fellow excelled in his studies, especially Latin and Italian poetry. It didn’t take long for it to become obvious that he wished to join the Society of Jesus. The rector of the college described him as “the best of our school and not far from the kingdom of heaven.” On completion of his studies, Bellarmine taught first at the University of Louvain in Belgium. In 1576 he accepted the invitation of Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585) to teach polemical theology at the new Roman College. When he was ordained in 1570, the study of Church history and the fathers of the Church was in a sad state of neglect. He devoted his energy to these two subjects, as well as to Scripture, in order to systematise Church doctrine against the attacks of the Protestant Reformers. He was the first Jesuit to become a professor at Louvain.
Robert Bellarmine spent the next 11 years teaching and writing his monumental Disputations on the Controversies of the Christian Faith., a three-volume defence of the Catholic faith against the arguments of the Protestant reformers. Particularly noteworthy are the sections on the temporal power of the pope and the role of the laity. To this day, it is considered one of the most important texts of Catholic theology ever written. Three hundred years after its publication, it was called “the most complete defence of the Catholic teaching”. A confidant to the Popes, Bellarmine held a number of positions, including rector of the Roman College, examiner of bishops, Cardinal Inquisitor, Archbishop of Capua, and Bishop of Montepulciano.
Through his writings Bellarmine was involved in the political, religious and social issues of the time. Bellarmine incurred the anger of monarchists in England and France by showing the divine-right-of-kings theory untenable. He developed the theory of the indirect power of the Pope in temporal affairs; although he was defending the pope against the Scottish philosopher Barclay, he also incurred the ire of Pope Sixtus V. He argued with King James I of England and was a judge at the trial of Giordano Bruno. Bellarmine also communicated the decree of condemning the Copernican doctrine of the movements of the earth and sun, issued by Congregation of the Index to Galileo Galilei in 1616. Among many activities, Bellarmine became theologian to Pope Clement VIII, preparing two catechisms which have had great influence in the Church.
Much to the amazement of all, at the height of his career, at the age of 60, Pope Clement VIII appointed Robert Bellarmine the Archbishop of Capua. Bellarmine had never been in pastoral ministry. Nevertheless, he began a new dimension of his Priesthood with his usual enthusiasm. He would spend the next three years introducing the reforms of the Council of Trent in his Archdiocese. He travelled everywhere, preaching to the people. He visited his clergy as well as religious men and women to encourage them to renew the Church. He won the love of everyone.
The last major controversy of Bellarmine’s life came in 1616 when he had to admonish his friend Galileo, whom he admired. He delivered the admonition on behalf of the Holy Office, which had decided that the heliocentric theory of Copernicus was contrary to Scripture. The admonition amounted to a caution against putting forward—other than as a hypothesis—theories not yet fully proven.
Although he was one of the most powerful men in Rome and was made a cardinal by Pope Clement VIII on the grounds that “he had not his equal for learning.” While he occupied apartments in the Vatican, Bellarmine relaxed none of his former austerities. He limited his household expenses to what was barely essential, eating only the food available to the poor. He was known to have ransomed a soldier who had deserted from the army and gave most of his money to the poor. Once he gave the tapestries from his living quarters to the poor, saying that the walls wouldn’t catch cold. While he took little regard for his own comforts, he always saw to it that his servants and aides had everything they needed.
Robert Bellarmine died at Rome on 17 September 1621 at the age of 79. If his early career featured brilliant polemics and his middle years gentle, loving, pastoral life, his final years brought him transcendent peace. His writings turned spiritual. He wrote several works, the classics being “The Ascent of the Mind to God” and “The Art of Dying.” He wrote that this was his way of preparing for death and to move closer to his God. The process for his Canonisation was begun in 1627 but was delayed until 1930 for political reasons, stemming from his writings. In 1930, Pope Pius XI Canonised him and the next year declared him a Doctor of the Church.