Saint Robert Bellarmine, Bishop, and Doctor of the Church

May 13

Today is the feast day of Saint Robert Bellarmine.  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Robert Bellarmine was born at Montepulciano, Italy in 1542, the third of ten children. His father was Vincenzo Bellarmino, his mother Cinthia Cervini, sister of Cardinal Marcello Cervini, afterwards Pope Marcellus II.  (5)

After being educated by the Jesuits, he joined the Society of Jesus in 1560, and as a young man taught Greek, Hebrew and theology. While at Louvain University he became famous as a controversialist, and never afterwards did he cease to defend Catholic doctrine against its adversaries. He has enriched the Church with a large number of learned and valuable writings, among which are his Course of Controversy, his famous Commentary on the Psalms, and a treatise on The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ. (4)

from the Roman Breviary

St. Robert, a native of Montepulciano and of the noble family of Bellarmine, had for his mother the most pious Cynthia Cervini, sister of Pope Marcellus II. From the first he was conspicuous for exemplary piety and most chaste manners, earnestly desiring this one thing, to please God alone and to win souls to Christ. He attended the college of the Society of Jesus in his native town where he was highly commended for his intelligence and modesty. At the age of eighteen he entered the same Society at Rome, and was a model of all religious virtues. Having passed through the course of philosophy at the Roman College, he was sent first to Florence, then to Monreale, later to Padua to teach sacred theology, and afterwards to Louvain where, not yet a priest, he ably discharged the office of preacher. After ordination at Louvain, he taught theology with such success that he brought back many heretics to the unity of the Church, and was regarded throughout Europe as a most brilliant theologian; and St. Charles, bishop of Milan, and others keenly sought after him.

Recalled to Rome at the wish of Pope Gregory XIII, he taught the science of controversial theology at the Roman College, and there, as spiritual director he guided the angelic youth Aloysius in the paths of holiness. He governed the Roman College and then the Neapolitan province of the Society of Jesus, in accordance with the spirit of St. Ignatius.

In 1597 Clement VIII recalled him to Rome and made him his own theologian and likewise Examiner of Bishops and Consultor of the Holy Office. Further, in 1599 he made him Cardinal-Priest of the title of Santa Maria in viâ, alleging as his reason for this promotion that “the Church of God had not his equal in learning”. He was now appointed, along with the Dominican Cardinal d’Ascoli, an assessor to Cardinal Madruzzi, the President of the Congregation de Auxiliis, which had been instituted shortly before to settle the controversy which had recently arisen between the Thomists and the Molinists concerning the nature of the concord between efficacious grace and human liberty. Bellarmine’s advice was from the first that the doctrinal question should not be decided authoritatively, but left over for further discussion in the schools, the disputants on either side being strictly forbidden to indulge in censures or condemnations of their adversaries. Clement VIII at first inclined to this view, but afterwards changed completely and determined on a doctrinal definition. Bellarmine’s presence then became embarrassing, and he appointed him to the Archbishopric of Capua just then vacant. This is sometimes spoken of as the cardinal’s disgrace, but Clement consecrated him with his own hands–an honour which the popes usually accord as a mark of special regard. The new archbishop departed at once for his see, and during the next three years set a bright example of pastoral zeal in its administration. (5)

He wrote much, and in an admirable manner. His principal merit lies in his complete victory in the struggle against the new errors, during which he distinguished himself as a strenuous and outstanding vindicator of Catholic tradition and the rights of the Roman See. He gained this victory by following St. Thomas as his guide and teacher, by a prudent consideration of the needs of his times, by his irrefragable teaching, and by a most abundant wealth of testimony well-chosen from the sacred writings and from the very rich fountain of the Fathers of the Church. He is eminently noted for very numerous short works, for fostering piety, and especially for that golden Catechism, winch he never failed to explain to the young and ignorant both at Capua and a Rome, although preoccupied with other very important affairs. A contemporary cardinal declared that Robert was sent by God for the instruction of Catholics, for the guidance of the good, and for the confusion of heretics; St. Francis de Sales regarded him as a fountain of learning; the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XIV called him the hammer of heretics; and Benedict XV proclaimed him the model of promoters and defenders of the Catholic religion.

He was most zealous in the religious life and he maintained that manner of life after having been chosen as one of the empurpled cardinals. He did not want any wealth beyond what was necessary; he was satisfied with a moderate household, and scanty fare and clothing. He did not strive to enrich his relatives, and he could scarcely be induced to relieve their poverty even occasionally. He had the lowest opinion of himself, and was of wonderful simplicity of soul. He had an extraordinary love for the Mother of God; he spent many hours daily in prayer. He ate very sparingly, and fasted three times a week. Uniformly austere with himself, he burned with charity towards his neighbor, and was often called the father of the poor. He earnestly strove that he might not stain his baptismal innocence by even the slightest fault. Almost eighty years old, he fell into his last illness at St. Andrew’s on the Quirinal hill, and in it he showed his usual radiant virtue. Pope Gregory XV and many cardinals visited him on his deathbed, lamenting the loss of such a great pillar of the Church.

He fell sleep in the Lord in the year 1621, on the day of the sacred Stigmata of St. Francis, the memory of which he had been instrumental in having celebrated everywhere. The whole city mourned his death, unanimously proclaiming him a Saint. The Supreme Pontiff Pius XI inscribed his name, first, in the number of the Blessed, and then in that of the Saints, and shortly afterwards, by a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, he declared him a Doctor of the universal Church. His body is honored with pious veneration at Rome in the church of St. Ignatius, near the tomb of St. Aloysius, as he himself had desired. (2)

Saint Robert Bellarmine’s Writings

    A full list of Bellarmine’s writings, and of those directed against him, may be seen in Sommervogel’s “Bibliothhque de la compagnie de Jésus”. The following are the principal:

  • Controversial works. “Disputationes de Controversiis Christianae Fidei adversus hujus temporis hereticos”, of the innumerable editions of which the chief are those of Ingolstadt (1586-89), Venice (1596), revised personally by the author, but abounding in printer’s errors, Paris or “Triadelphi” (1608), Prague (1721), Rome (1832); “De Exemptione clericorum”, and “De Indulgentiis et Jubilaeo”, published as monographs in 1599, but afterwards incorporated in the “De Controversiis”; “De Transitu Romani Imperii a Graecis ad Francos” (1584); “Responsio ad praecipua capita Apologiae . . . pro successione Henrici Navarreni” (1586); “Judicium de Libro quem Lutherani vocant Concordiae” (1585); four Risposte to the writings on behalf of the Venetian Republic of John Marsiglio and Paolo Sarpi (1606); “Responsio Matthaei Torti ad librum inscriptum Triplici nodo triplex cuneus” 1608); “Apologia Bellarmini pro responsi one sub ad librum Jacobi Magnae Britanniae Regis” (1609); Tractatus de potestate Summi Pontificis in rebus temporalibus, adversus Gulielmum Barclay” (1610).
  • Catechetical and Spiritual Works. “Dottrina Cristiana breve”, and “Dichiarazione più copiosa della dottrina cristiana” (1598), two catechetical works which have more than once received papal approbation, and have been translated into various languages; “Dichiarazione del Simbolo” (1604), for the use of priests; “Admonitio ad Episcopum Theanensem nepotem suum quae sint necessaria episcopo” (1612); “Exhortationes domesticae”, published only in 1899, by Pére van Ortroy; “Conciones habitae Lovanii“, the more correct edition (1615); “De Ascensione mentis in Deum” (1615); “De Aeterna felicitate sanctorum” (1616); “De gemitu columbae” (1617); “De septem verbis Christi” (1618); “De arte bene moriendi” (1620). The last five are spiritual works written during his annual retreats.
  • Exegetical and other works. “De Scriptoribus ecclesiasticis” (1615); “De Editione Latinae Vulgatae, quo sensu a Concilio Tridentino definitum sit ut ea pro authenticae habeatur”, not published till 1749; “In omnes Psalmos dilucida expositio” (1611). Complete editions of Bellarmine’s Opera omnia have been published at Cologne (1617); Venice (1721); Naples (1856); Paris (1870). (5)

He was beatified 13 May 1923 by Pope Pius XI   He was canonized in 1930 by Pope Pius XI and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931. (1)

Image: Saint Robert Bellarmine (7)

Research by REGINA Staff

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