St. Robert Bellarmine
A Rising Theologian
St. Robert Bellarmine was born on October 4, 1542 in Montepulciano near Siena, Italy. He was the nephew, on his mother’s side, of Pope Marcellus II. He had an excellent academic formation in the humanities prior to his entry to the Society of Jesus on September 20, 1560. At the Roman College in Padua and at Louvain, both his philosophical and theological studies focused on St. Thomas Aquinas and the Fathers of the Church. These were very important and crucial to his theological inclination.
Robert Bellarmine was ordained to the priesthood on March 25, 1570. For some years, he was a professor of theology in Louvain. Later on, he was summoned to Rome by Pope Gregory XIII where he was assigned to teach at the Roman College. While he was there, he was entrusted with the chair of apologetics. During the decade in his post, he compiled a series of lessons which subsequently formed the Controversiae, an opus whose clarity, richness in content and generally historical tone had earned it renown.
The Council of Trent had just concluded in the face of the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic Church was obliged to reinforce, strengthen and confirm Her identity. In this context, Bellarmine’s action fitted. From 1588 until 1594, he was assigned as the first spiritual director of the Jesuit students at the Roman College. Among these students whom he met and gave direction was Aloysius Gonzaga, who later became a saint. After some period, he became the religious superior.
Bellarmine’s Untiring Service
Pope Clement VIII appointed Bellarmine to various offices namely, as Papal Theologian, consultor to the Holy Office and rector of the College of Confessors at St. Peter’s. Some years later, he was created cardinal on March 3, 1599 by the same Pontiff and was appointed Archbishop of Capua on March 18, 1602. In his three years as bishop, he distinguished himself by his zeal as an outstanding preacher in his cathedral, by his weekly visitations to parishes, by the Diocesan Synods and by a Provincial Council which he established. Although he was named a cardinal, he lived a humble and caring life. He gave most of his money to the poor. While he took little regard for his own comforts, he always saw to it that his servants and aides had everything they needed.
Cardinal Bellarmine took part in the conclaves that elected Pope Leo XI and Pope Paul V. After this, he was called to Rome again where he was appointed member of the Congregations of the Holy Office, of the Index, for the Rites, for Bishops and for the Propagation of the Faith. He also held diplomatic responsibilities in the Republic of Venice and in England to defend the rights of the Apostolic See.
In his last years, Cardinal Bellarmine composed various works on spirituality in which he concentrated the results of his yearly spiritual exercises. On September 17, 1621, Cardinal Bellarmine died in Rome. He was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1923, was canonized in 1930 and proclaimed him a Doctor of the Church in 1931. His feast day is September 17.
Five Interesting Facts About St. Robert Bellarmine
- St. Robert Bellarmine is one of the patron saints of catechists and catechumens.
- Under the order from Pope Paul V in 1616, St. Robert Bellarmine notified Galileo Galilei that his heliocentric theory was opposed to biblical teaching and could not be supported by the Church at the time.
- St. Robert Bellarmine was St. Aloysius Gonzaga’s spiritual director and was also present during the latter’s death in 1591. St. Robert Bellarmine helped get St. Aloysius Gonzaga beatified.
- A story was told about a miracle attributed to St. Robert Bellarmine. When he was walking on the banks of a river one night, he caught sight of fishermen who had no catch. He told the men to lower the nets and leave them for a while, and with a loud voice he cried out “Come, fish, come!”, the fishermen lifted their nets filled with fish.
- St. Robert Bellarmine wrote a hymn to Mary Magdalene. This hymn is now included in the Roman Breviary.
Prayer to St. Robert Bellarmine
O God, who adorned the Bishop Saint Robert Bellarminewith wonderful learning and virtueto vindicate the faith of your Church,grant, through his intercession,that in the integrity of that same faithyour people may always find joy.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever. Amen.