st.Robert Bellarmine-Cardinal, theologian, Doctor of the Church

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st.Robert Bellarmine

Feast Day : September 17



Patronage: canonists; catechists; catechumens



Robert Bellarmine was born on October 4, 1542, in Montepulciano, Tuscany, to a noble family. His mother, Cinzia Cervini, a niece of Pope Marcellus II (r. 1555), was a devout woman. In 1560 Robert joined the Jesuits and was sent to Rome to study at the Jesuit Roman College. In 1563 he taught classics at the Jesuit colleges of Florence and then Mondavì in Piedmont. In 1567 he went to the University of Padua to study Thomistic theology. Upon graduation he became the first Jesuit professor at the University of Louvain. He was ordained in 1570. For the next five years, he taught Thomistic theology, Greek and Hebrew at Louvain. He studied the Scriptures and began writing. In 1576 Pope Gregory XIII (r. 1572–85) brought him to Rome to be chair of controversial theology at the Roman College. The lectures that Robert gave at the college became the foundation for one of his most significant works, Controversies of the Christian Faith against the Heretics of This Time, a defense of Catholic theology against Protestantism. Three volumes of Controversies were published between 1586 and 1593. But Pope Sixtus V (r. 1585–90) thought Robert went too far in limiting the pope’s temporal jurisdiction, and he intended to include Controversies on his revised Index, a list of forbidden books. Sixtus died before the list was published, thus sparing Robert official censure. Despite his disapproval of Controversies, Sixtus, prior to his death in 1590, sent Robert to Paris to serve as theological adviser to Cardinal Enrico Gaetani during a bitter civil war. Robert was there during a siege of the city by Henry of Navarre, who claimed the throne as Henry IV, and his health, delicate from childhood, suffered. Upon his return to Rome Robert served as spiritual director of the Roman College, where he met Aloysius Gonzaga, destined for sainthood himself. In 1592 Robert was named superior of the college, and in 1594 or 1595 was named provincial of Naples. He was recalled to Rome in 1597 by Pope Clement VIII (r. 1592–1605), who appointed him his own theologian and also examiner of bishops and consultor of the Holy Office. In 1599 Clement made him a cardinal. When Clement died in 1605, Robert was put forward as a successor, but the electors did not care for the fact that he was a Jesuit. Pope Leo XI reigned only 26 days, and Robert was again advanced as a successor, but he lost to Pope Paul V (r. 1605–21). Robert remained as a member of the Holy Office and became involved in Church disputes and campaigns against heresies. He became head of the Vatican Library in 1605. In 1615, he warned that the heliocentric theory of the universe was “a very dangerous thing” because it contradicted the Scriptures, and urged Galileo to drop his defense of it. When the Holy Office condemned the theory, it fell to Robert to convey the decision to Galileo and receive his submission. He opposed severe action against Galileo. Robert lived long enough to see Pope Gregory XV (r. 1621–23) elected in 1621. His health failing, he died on September 17 of that year in Rome. His relics are in the church of St. Ignatius there. Robert’s career was propelled by his brilliant and prolific writings. At Louvain he authored a Hebrew grammar and a work on the Fathers of the Church. Besides controversies, he wrote two catechisms, one for children and one for teachers, both of which have had continual popularity. He also wrote numerous catechetical and spiritual treatises, commentaries on the Scriptures and other works. The Mind’s Ascent to God and The Art of Dying Well remain popular in present times. Throughout his life, even after his appointment as cardinal, Robert lived simply, practicing an ascetic life and giving most of his money to the poor. He once ripped the tapestries off his walls so that clothing could be made for the poor, saying, “The walls will not catch cold.”

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