Bellarmine, St. Robert (1542–1621)

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St. Robert Bellarmine, an Italian cardinal and controversialist, was born at Montepulciano in Tuscany and died at Rome. Educated in the Jesuit order, of which he became a member, he taught philosophy and theology at the University of Louvain (15701576), then at the Roman (Jesuit) College, where he later served as rector. After Bellarmine was created a cardinal in 1599, much of his time was devoted to the administrative and diplomatic affairs of the Roman Catholic Church, in which he is now venerated as a saint. His chief published work is the Disputations on Controversial Matters (Disputationes de Controversiis), in which Book III (De Laicis ) treats questions of political and social philosophy. Another treatise in political philosophy is the Defense of His Reply to King James I of England (Apologia Bellarmini pro Responsione Sua ad Librum Jacobi Magnae Britanniae Regis, reprinted in Giacon's Scritti politici ), concerning the theory of the divine right of kings.

In general, Bellarmine's philosophic thought is Thomistic. His lectures at Louvain covered all of Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae and are now preserved in the Vatican Archives, though they have not been printed. As a result, little is known of his metaphysical and psychological views, except for occasional explanations given in his more practical writings. It is assumed that he had a very sound understanding of the speculative thought of Thomas Aquinas, however, and the publication of the Louvaine lectures is a desideratum. In ethics and philosophy of law, Bellarmine is a strong opponent of the view that the source of justice is the will of God; instead, he argues that man's awareness of moral law derives from his understanding of the nature of man and his environment, and that ultimately the command (imperium ) of God's law is intellectual, stemming from the divine wisdom. Thus, he is opposed to voluntarism and defends intellectualism in morals and jurisprudence.

Bellarmine's political theories developed in part from opposition to King James's claim that both spiritual and temporal power belong to the civil monarch. In defending the autonomy of ecclesiastical authority, Bellarmine strongly supported the distinction and separation of the powers of church and state. In chapter 13 of the Apologia, he argued that, though the ultimate source of both powers is divine, the civil power is conferred on rulers, mediately, through the people as a medium. Thus, with Francisco Suárez, Bellarmine is one of the most prominent Catholic advocates of the "translation theory" of political sovereignty.

Bellarmine was firmly convinced of the importance of the individual citizen and the dignity of every person. His social and political thinking is reminiscent of the fourteenth-century views of Marsilius of Padua. There is a possibility that Bellarmine's arguments influenced British antimonarchist thinking and, through John Locke, the founders of American democracy. He also recognized something of the investment value of money and helped to modify the older Catholic theory that all taking of interest on loans was to be condemned as usury. In a treatise on the power of the pope (De Summo Pontifice, I, 9), Bellarmine favored the idea of a world state but admitted that a plurality of national states regulated by international law might be more practical.

About Bellarmine's role in the prosecution of Galileo Galilei it is hard to be precise; in 1616 he seems to have warned Galileo to discuss the Copernican theory merely as a "mathematical supposition," but he almost certainly did not enjoin him from "teaching or discussing Copernicanism in any way," as was charged after Bellarmine's death. Galileo's publication of the Dialogue of the Two Chief World Systems, in 1632, caused him to be prosecuted for heresy on the grounds that he had thereby violated the supposed stricter warning.

See also Thomism.


works by bellarmine

Disputationes de Controversiis Christianae Fidei Adversus Huius Temporis Haereticos. 3 vols. Ingolstadt: Ex Officina Typographica Davidis Sartorii, 15861593. Venice, 1596 (4 vols.). The Venice edition is the definitive Latin text.

Opera Omnia, edited by J. Fèvre. 12 vols. Paris, 18701874.

De Laicis or the Treatise on Civil Government. Translated by K. E. Murphy. New York: Fordham University Press, 1928.

Scritti politici, edited by C. Giacon. Bologna: Zanichelli, 1950. Selected politico-social writings in Latin.

works on bellarmine

Brodrick, J. Robert Bellarmine: Saint and Scholar. Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1961.

Davitt, T. The Nature of Law, 195218. St. Louis: B. Herder, 1951.

Kuntz, Paul G. "The Hierarchical Vision of St. Roberto Bellarmine." In Jacob's Ladder and the Tree of Life, edited by Marion Leathers. New York: Peter Lang, 1987.

Pera, Marcello. "The God of Theologians and the God of Astronomers: An Apology of Bellarmine." In The Cambridge Companion to Galileo, edited by Peter Machamer. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Riedl, J. "Bellarmine and the Dignity of Man." In Jesuit Thinkers of the Renaissance, edited by G. Smith, 193226. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1939.

Springborg, Patricia. "Thomas Hobbes and Cardinal Bellarmine: Leviathan and the 'Ghost of the Roman Empire.'" History of Political Thought 16 (4) (1995): 503531.

Vernon J. Bourke (1967)
Bibliography updated by Tamra Frei (2005)

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Bellarmine, St. Robert (1542–1621)

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