St Robert Bellarmine
St Robert Bellarmine Bishop Confessor Doctor of the Church (1542-1621)
Born on 4 October 1542 at Montepulciano, Tuscany, Robert was the son of Vincent Bellarmine and Cinthia Cervini, both of ancient, noble lineage. He joined the Jesuits at 18 and in 1569 was sent to Louvain, Belgium, the bulwark of Catholicism, to complete his studies. Familiarizing himself at close range with the Protestant heresies he gained a reputation as a controvçrsialist. In 1576 he was called to Rome by Pope Gregory XIII to train the German and English seminarians for the spiritual battles which they would face in their homelands.
Robert’s systematic approach to an issue, his amazing memory and familiarity with the works of the Church Fathers, his knowledge of foreign languages, all combined to attract great audiences. His lectures continued for 12 years and resulted, even before their publication under the title De Controversiis, in their being circulated throughout England and Germany, in transcriptions; the effect of his arguments, all so clear, erudite and dispassionate, was so impressive that special chairs were founded in Protestant Universities to formulate replies. His catechism, translated into 60 languages, is still in use in Italy today.
In 1592 he was made rector of the Roman College, in 1595 Provincial of Naples and in 1599 Cardinal by Pope Clement VIII who affirmed: “The Church has not his equal in learning.” Pope Leo XI recalled him from Capua where he had been made Archbishop and appointed him his chief theological adviser. Robert defended the Holy See with his writings against the anti clericals of Venice and the oath of allegiance to King James in England. He played a prominent role in the examination of Galileo’s writings. His famous treatise on the true relation between Church and State, to the effect that all authority comes from God but is vested in the people and that they entrust it to their rulers as they see fit, is the democratic concept on which the constitutions of many nations have been founded.
In the spirit of self-sacrifice, Robert Bellarmine, an ardent devotee of Francis d’Assisi, practised poverty to the hilt. He died on 17 October 1621 and was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1930. The following year he was declared doctor of the Church.