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Robert Bellarmine

Robert Bellarmine

Catholic cardinal, saint, and Doctor of the Church
Robert Bellarmine
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Catholic cardinal, saint, and Doctor of the Church
Was Religious scholar Theologian Writer Librarian Educator Priest
From Italy
Type Academia Literature Religion
Gender male
Birth 4 October 1542, Montepulciano, Province of Siena, Tuscany, Italy
Death 17 September 1621, Rome, Province of Rome, Lazio, Italy (aged 79 years)
Robert Bellarmine
The details

Biography

Saint Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (Italian: Roberto Francesco Romolo Bellarmino; 4 October 1542 – 17 September 1621) was an Italian Jesuit and a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. He was one of the most important figures in the Counter-Reformation.

He was a professor of theology and later rector of the Roman College, and in 1602 became archbishop of Capua. Bellarmine supported the reform decrees of the Council of Trent.

He was canonized in 1930 and named a Doctor of the Church. Bellarmine is also widely remembered for his role in the Giordano Bruno affair and the Galileo affair.

Early life

Bellarmine was born at Montepulciano, the son of noble, albeit impoverished, parents, Vincenzo Bellarmino and his wife Cinzia Cervini, who was the sister of Pope Marcellus II. As a boy he knew Virgil by heart and composed a number of poems in Italian and Latin. One of his hymns, on Mary Magdalene, is included in the Roman Breviary.

He entered the Roman Jesuit novitiate in 1560, remaining in Rome three years. He then went to a Jesuit house at Mondovì, in Piedmont, where he learned Greek. While at Mondovì, he came to the attention of Francesco Adorno, the local Jesuit Provincial Superior, who sent him to the University of Padua.

Career

Bellarmine's systematic studies of theology began at Padua in 1567 and 1568, where his teachers were adherents of Thomism. In 1569 he was sent to finish his studies at the University of Leuven in Flanders. There he was ordained, and obtained a reputation both as a professor and a preacher. He was the first Jesuit to teach at the university, where the subject of his course was the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. His residency in Leuven lasted seven years. In poor health, in 1576 he made a journey to Italy. Here he remained, commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII to lecture on polemical theology in the new Roman College, now known as the Pontifical Gregorian University. Later, he would promote the cause of the beatification of Aloysius Gonzaga, who had been a student at the college during Bellarmine's tenure.

New duties after 1589

Until 1589, Bellarmine was occupied as professor of theology. After the murder in that year of Henry III of France, Pope Sixtus V sent Enrico Caetani as legate to Paris to negotiate with the Catholic League of France, and chose Bellarmine to accompany him as theologian. He was in the city during its siege by Henry of Navarre.

The next pope, Clement VIII, said of him, "the Church of God had not his equal in learning". Bellarmine was made rector of the Roman College in 1592, examiner of bishops in 1598, and cardinal in 1599. Immediately after his appointment as Cardinal, Pope Clement made him a Cardinal Inquisitor, in which capacity he served as one of the judges at the trial of Giordano Bruno, and concurred in the decision which condemned Bruno to be burned at the stake as a heretic.

Upon the death of Pope Sixtus V in 1590, the Count of Olivares wrote to King Philip III of Spain, "Bellarmine ... would not do for a Pope, for he is mindful only of the interests of the Church and is unresponsive to the reasons of princes." In 1602 he was made archbishop of Capua. He had written against pluralism and non-residence of bishops within their dioceses. As bishop he put into effect the reforming decrees of the Council of Trent. He received some votes in the 1605 conclaves which elected Pope Leo XI, Pope Paul V, and in 1621 when Pope Gregory XV was elected. but his being a Jesuit stood against him in the judgment of many of the cardinals.

Thomas Hobbes saw Bellarmine in Rome at a service on All Saints Day (1 November) 1614 and, exempting him alone from a general castigation of cardinals, described him as "a little lean old man" who lived "more retired".

The Galileo case

In 1616, on the orders of Paul V, Bellarmine summoned Galileo, notified him of a forthcoming decree of the Congregation of the Index condemning the Copernican doctrine of the mobility of the Earth and the immobility of the Sun, and ordered him to abandon it. Galileo agreed to do so.

When Galileo later complained of rumors to the effect that he had been forced to abjure and do penance, Bellarmine wrote out a certificate denying the rumors, stating that Galileo had merely been notified of the decree and informed that, as a consequence of it, the Copernican doctrine could not be "defended or held". Cardinal Bellarmine believed such a demonstration could not be found because it would contradict the unanimous consent of the Fathers' scriptural exegesis, to which the Council of Trent, in 1546, defined all Catholics must adhere.

Bellarmine wrote to heliocentrist Paolo Antonio Foscarini in 1615:

The Council [of Trent] prohibits interpreting Scripture against the common consensus of the Holy Fathers; and if Your Paternity wants to read not only the Holy Fathers, but also the modern commentaries on Genesis, the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Joshua, you will find all agreeing in the literal interpretation that the sun is in heaven and turns around the earth with great speed, and that the earth is very far from heaven and sits motionless at the center of the world.

and

I say that if there were a true demonstration that the sun is at the center of the world and the earth in the third heaven, and that the sun does not circle the earth but the earth circles the sun, then one would have to proceed with great care in explaining the Scriptures that appear contrary, and say rather that we do not understand them, than that what is demonstrated is false. But I will not believe that there is such a demonstration, until it is shown me. Nor is it the same to demonstrate that by supposing the sun to be at the center and the earth in heaven one can save the appearances, and to demonstrate that in truth the sun is at the center and the earth in heaven; for I believe the first demonstration may be available, but I have very great doubts about the second, and in case of doubt one must not abandon the Holy Scripture as interpreted by the Holy Fathers.

In 1633, nearly twelve years after Bellarmine's death, Galileo was again called before the Inquisition in this matter.

In his article on Bellarmine in the Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Ernan McMullin cites Pierre Duhem and Karl Popper as prominent adherents to an "often repeated" view that "in one respect, at least, Bellarmine had shown himself a better scientist than Galileo", insofar as he supposedly denied that a "strict proof" of the Earth's motion could be possible. McMullin himself emphatically rejects that view as untenable.

Death

In his old age Bellarmine was bishop of Montepulciano for four years, after which he retired to the Jesuit college of St. Andrew in Rome, where he died on 17 September 1621, aged 78.

Works

Bellarmine's books bear the stamp of their period; the effort for literary elegance (so-called "maraviglia") had given place to a desire to pile up as much material as possible, to embrace the whole field of human knowledge, and incorporate it into theology. His controversial works provoked many replies, and were studied for some decades after his death. At Leuven he made extensive studies in the Church Fathers and scholastic theologians, which gave him the material for his book De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis (Rome, 1613). It was later revised and enlarged by Sirmond, Labbeus, and Casimir Oudin. Bellarmine wrote the preface to the new Sixto-Clementine Vulgate.

Dogmatics

From his research grew Disputationes de controversiis christianae fidei (also called Controversiae), first published at Ingolstadt in 1581–1593. This major work was the earliest attempt to systematize the various religious disputes between Catholics and Protestants. Bellarmine calmly and fairly reviewed the issues and devoted eleven years to it while at the Roman College. In August 1590 Pope Sixtus V decided to place the first volume of the Disputationes on the Index because Bellarmine argued in it that the Pope is not the temporal ruler of the whole world and that temporal rulers do not derive their authority to rule from God but from the consent of the governed. However Sixtus died before the revised Index was published, and the next Pope, Urban VII, removed the book from the Index during his brief twelve-day reign.

In 1597 he wrote the Catechism (Dottrina cristiana) in two versions (short and full) which has been translated to 50 languages, becoming one of the greatest bestsellers and the official teaching of the Church in 17th-19th centuries.

Venetian Interdict

Under Pope Paul V (reigned 1605–1621), a major conflict arose between Venice and the Papacy. Paolo Sarpi, as spokesman for the Republic of Venice, protested against the papal interdict, and reasserted the principles of the Council of Constance and of the Council of Basel, denying the pope's authority in secular matters. Bellarmine wrote three rejoinders to the Venetian theologians, and may have warned Sarpi of an impending murderous attack, when in September 1607, an unfrocked friar and brigand by the name of Rotilio Orlandini planned to kill Sarpi for the sum of 8,000 crowns. Orlandini's plot was discovered, and when he and his accomplices crossed from Papal into Venetian territory they were arrested.

Allegiance oath controversy and papal authority

Bellarmine also became involved in controversy with King James I of England. From a point of principle for English Catholics, this debate drew in figures from much of Western Europe. It raised the profile of both protagonists, King James as a champion of his own restricted Calvinist Protestantism, and Bellarmine for Tridentine Catholicism.

Devotional works

During his retirement, he wrote several short books intended to help ordinary people in their spiritual life: De ascensione mentis in Deum per scalas rerum creatorum opusculum (The Mind's Ascent to God – 1614) which was translated into English as Jacob's Ladder (1638) without acknowledgement by Henry Isaacson, The Art of Dying Well (1619) (in Latin, English translation under this title by Edward Coffin), and The Seven Words on the Cross.

Canonization and final resting place

Bellarmine was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1930; the following year he was declared a Doctor of the Church. His remains, in a cardinal's red robes, are displayed behind glass under a side altar in the Church of Saint Ignatius, the chapel of the Roman College, next to the body of his student, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, as he himself had wished. In the General Roman Calendar Saint Robert Bellarmine's feast day is on 17 September, the day of his death; but some continue to use pre-1969 calendars, in which for 37 years his feast day was on 13 May. The rank assigned to his feast has been "double" (1932–1959), "third-class feast" (1960–1968), and since the 1969 revision "memorial".

Legacy

Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, is named after him, as are Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, California, and Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma, Washington. Saint Joseph's University, Fairfield University, and Seattle University all have a Bellarmine Hall dedicated to the saint. The Jesuit Sogang University in Seoul, South Korea, has a Bellarmino Dormitory, named after the saint's Italian name.

St. Robert Bellarmine Church in Bayside Hills, Queens County, New York, of the Diocese of Brooklyn, was the original site of Our Lady of the Roses Shrine where the alleged Marian apparitions to Veronica Lueken occurred. Veronica Lueken's apparitions were condemned as "contrary to the Faith of the Catholic Church" by Bishop Francis Mugavero of the Diocese of Brooklyn.

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