Saints & Angels

Saint Robert Bellarmine – Patron of Catechists

Today we celebrate the memorial of one of the two Jesuit Doctors of the Church, Saint Robert Bellarmine. In his Wednesday Audience from February 23, 2011, Pope Emeritus Benedict said about the Jesuit Saint and Doctor of the Church,

“His preaching and his catechesis have that same character of essentiality which he had learned from his Ignatian education, entirely directed to concentrating the soul’s energies on the Lord Jesus intensely known, loved and imitated. In the writings of this man of governance one is clearly aware, despite the reserve behind which he conceals his sentiments, of the primacy he gives to Christ’s teaching.

St. Bellarmine thus offers a model of prayer, the soul of every activity: a prayer that listens to the word of God, that is satisfied in contemplating his grandeur, that does not withdraw into self but is pleased to abandon itself to God.

A hallmark of Bellarmine’s spirituality is his vivid personal perception of God’s immense goodness. This is why our Saint truly felt he was a beloved son of God. It was a source of great joy to him to pause in recollection, with serenity and simplicity, in prayer and in contemplation of God.”

Saint Robert Bellarmine was born in Montepulciano, Tuscany, on October 4, 1542. He was the third child of ten children born to a noble family. Cinzia Cervini was his mother and a niece to Pope Marcellus II. She was a prayerful and holy woman that dedicated herself to fasting, almsgiving, and mortifications of the body.

In 1560, Robert entered the Society of Jesus, a newly formed order founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in 1540. With the Jesuits, he began his studies at the Collegio Romano (now the Pontifical Gregorian University), which housed the Jesuit schools in Rome. He then went on to study Thomistic theology at the University of Padua. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1569, Bellarmine taught at the University of Louvain from 1570-1576. He became quite famous for his Latin sermons.

St. Robert Bellarmine

In 1576, he was recalled from Padua and appointed to the chair of Controversial Theology at the Collegio Romano. As chair, St. Robert established the theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas as the core study for the Jesuit order. The study of Thomistic theology from that point on would become the cornerstone for Catholic theological studies for many years.  While at the Roman College, he preached a series of lectures that would eventually become his most famous of writings – the three-volume Disputations on the Controversies of the Christian Faith Against the Heretics of the Time.

The three-volume work is an apologetic text that focuses on the importance of Catholic doctrine, which was being persecuted at the time by the Reformers. He challenged the Protestant views throughout all of Europe, especially in England and Germany. He is considered one of the great apologists of the Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation, which occurred after the Council of Trent. He took on many academic Protestants of his time, even engaging King James I of England. He was a fantastic theological scholar and was a force to be reckoned with when it came to the doctrines of the Catholic Church.

In 1592, he became Rector of the Roman College. Also in 1592, he oversaw the revised edition of the Latin Vulgate Bible, known as the Sixto-Clementine. In 1594, he would become Providential of Naples for the Jesuit Order. Because of his dedication to the Apostolic See and his massive apologetic works in defense of the Catholic Church, Pope Clement VIII elevated him to be a Cardinal in 1598. As Cardinal, he wrote and established two catechisms that greatly impacted the Church.

St. Robert was no stranger to controversy since he courageously fought against those who attacked the Church, however, the most difficult controversy he faced was in 1616, when he had to take on his friend, Galileo, who claimed that the Sun was stationary and the Earth and other planets rotated around it. The Jesuits stood by Galileo, who is believed to have studied at the Roman College, until this point. Bellarmine delivered the rebuke on behalf of the Holy Office, which condemned Galileo, who had to recant his theories. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest. In the year 1992, Blessed John Paul II acknowledged the wrong committed by the Church when it condemned Galileo. In 2000, the Catholic Church formally apologized to Galileo.

St. Robert Bellarmine was the spiritual father to Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, another great Jesuit saint. He helped Saint Francis de Sales obtain formal approval of the Visitation Order. On September 17, 1621, St. Robert Bellarmine entered Eternal Glory. His canonization process began in 1627, but was delayed due to political reasons stemming from some of his writings. Pope Pius XI canonized him in 1930 and in the following year declared him a Doctor of the Church. He is the Patron of Catechists and Catechumens.


4 replies »

  1. St. Bellarmine was also an accomplished apologist for the Faith. All present-day apologists would do well to become very familiar with the Galileo story. Most of what people think they know about it is just plain wrong. To pick one example of Galileo’s errors, the Copernican system Galileo championed didn’t put the sun at the center of the Earth’s orbit.* I recommend Michael Flynn’s multipart blog series The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown – the first five parts are now available beginning here.

    * See the reproduction of the Copernican model at Figure 7 in Part One of Smackdown.

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