Bellarmine, Robert (Roberto), St.
BELLARMINE, ROBERT (ROBERTO), ST.
Cardinal and Doctor of the Church; b. Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy, Oct. 4, 1542; d. Rome, Sept. 17, 1621. Bellarmine's parents were Vincent Bellarmine and Cinthia Cervini; the latter was a sister of Marcellus II (d.1555). In 1560, Bellarmine entered the Jesuits' Roman College, made his first vows as a Jesuit, and began a study of Aristotelian philosophy.
Career as Teacher. After a brief study of Thomistic theology at Padua, Bellarmine was sent in 1569 to Louvain, Belgium, where he became the first Jesuit professor at the University of Louvain. He was ordained in 1570. Bellarmine taught theology from the Summa Theologiae of St. thomas aquinas in the Jesuit house of studies, and began the groundwork for his major work, the Controversies. The University of Louvain was part of the Church's front-line defense against the Reformers. The atmosphere was one of practical defensive scholarship rather than calm speculation or reasoned development of dogmas that were held securely. Both the history of the Catholic Church and patristic studies were in a sad state of neglect. As if in answer to the needs of the time, Bellarmine devoted his energy to the study of Scripture, Church history, and patristics in order to systematize Church doctrine against the attacks of the Reformers. He wrote a Hebrew grammar and compiled a patristic work, De Scriptoribus ecclesiasticis.
In 1576, gregory xiii requested that Bellarmine teach theology to English and German missionary students in the Roman College; Bellarmine continued teaching until 1588. The vast synthesis of Protestant and Catholic theology resulting from these lectures appeared in three volumes, Disputationes de Controversiis Christianae Fidei adversus hujus temporis haereticos (Igolstadt 1586-88-93). It is Bellarmine's largest and most important work, containing most of the ideas that he developed later. Particularly noteworthy are the sections on the temporal power of the pope and the role of the laity. Along with the De translatione Imperii Romani (Antwerp 1584), these constitute Bellarmine's earliest major writings on papal power. The Controversies are monumental because they put order into the chaotic argumentation of attack and defense waged between Reformers and Catholics. Bellarmine's criticism of reform theology was remarkably fair and just in that he pointed out its strengths as well as its weaknesses. This was in direct contrast to much of the polemic writing of the times. The Controversies were small enough to be carried by missionaries, yet afforded more than the excellent but sketchy catechism of St. Peter canisius for warding off the attacks of scholarly disputants. They were so effective a weapon against reform theology that special chairs of learning were erected just to combat their influence, and they seem to have occasioned the return of many to the Church.
In 1588, Bellarmine became spiritual director of the Roman College. His catechetical lessons to lay brothers and students resulted in the small catechism for children Dottrina cristiana breve (Rome 1597) and the catechism for teachers Dichiarazione più copiosa della dottrina cristiana (Rome 1598). clement viii (d. 1605) solemnly approved both manuals, which were often translated and widely used; they remained popular until Vatican Council I.
In 1590, Bellarmine experienced his first major difficulty over his theory of indirect papal power. Only the sudden death of sixtus v prevented the pope from putting the first volume of the Controversies, which contained this theory, on the Index.
Career as Churchman. Bellarmine served as rector of the Roman College (1592), provincial of the Jesuits' Neapolitan province (1594), and theologian to clement viii (1597), who made him a cardinal in 1599. From that time on, Bellarmine served as a member of all of the Roman Congregations and of many commissions. One of Bellarmine's continual concerns was the discipline of bishops, e.g., their appointment, residency, and transfer.
At the turn of the century, Bellarmine became involved in the controversy over efficacious grace. He defended his disciple Leonard lessius; wrote a report, De Controversia Lovaniensi, for the president of the congregatio de auxiliis; and debated on paper with Domingo baÑez (see bÁÑez and baÑezianism; grace, controversies on).
In 1602, Clement VIII personally consecrated Bellarmine an archbishop and sent him to Capua, where he lived a pastoral life of charity, preaching, and reform. In 1605, paul v recalled him to Rome to serve the Church at large.
Bellarmine spent the next few years in controversies involving papal power: against the Republic of Venice over clerical immunities, 1606–07; against King james i of england over the divine right of kings and the English oath of allegiance, 1607 to 1609; against the gallicanism of William Barclay and Roger Widdrington, 1610, which occasioned Bellarmine's famous Tractatus de potestate Summi Pontificis in rebus temporalibus adversus Gulielmum Barclaeum.
Bellarmine is famous, not because he invented the theory of the indirect power of the pope in temporal affairs, but because he used it so effectively in the history of church and state relations, clearly distinguishing between the temporal and the purely spiritual power of the pope. By applying Thomistic political philosophy to the confusions and exaggerations of his age, he emphasized the purely spiritual power of the Church, yet showed that because the spiritual power of the Church is primary and the temporal secondary, the pope may act regarding those temporal things affecting the spiritual. While Bellarmine is famous for defending the distinction and subordination of powers as part of Catholic doctrine, his practical applications of these principles manifest a confusion of what is permanent with what was contingent in the Church's actual use of her power. Perhaps this stems from the fact that he looked upon the state not as having an existence independent of the Church but as making up one society with the Church. In addition, Bellarmine seems to have failed to note that the Church intervenes in temporal affairs for two basically different reasons: either she has a divine right to act or she fills a vacuum left by the failure of political society to act. No doubt Bellarmine's understanding of history was greatly influenced by the sources available to him.
The last major controversy of Bellarmine's life came in 1616 when he had to admonish galileo, whom he admired: he gave the admonition on behalf of the Holy Office, which had decided that the heliocentric theory of Nicolaus copernicus was contrary to Scripture. Although Bellarmine had served on commissions for the revision of the Vulgate and the Greek New Testament, there is some question whether he understood the Council of Trent's teaching on the interpretation of Scripture as well as Galileo did. Bellarmine also hesitated on the question of how to reconcile Scripture and science.
Bellarmine's ascetical works, such as In omnes Psalmos dilucida esposito (Rome 1611), De gemitu columbae (Rome 1615), and De arte bene moriendi (Rome 1620), appeared near the end of his life.
Bellarmine practiced self-sacrifice, poverty, disinterestedness, and devotion to duty. He fostered a special devotion to St. francis of assisi. The process for his canonization, begun in 1627, was delayed for political reasons until 1930. In 1931, pius xi declared him a Doctor of the Church. Bellarmine's body lies in the Church of St. Ignatius in Rome.
Feast: Sept. 17.
Bibliography: Collected Works. Opera omnis, ed. j. fÈvre, 12 v. (Paris 1870–74); Epistolae familiares, ed. j. fuligatti (Rome 1650): Opera oratoria postuma, ed. s. tromp, 9 V. (Rome 1942–50). c. sommervogel et al., Bibliotheque de la Compagnie de Jésus (Brussels-Paris 1890–1932) 1:1151–1254. x. m. lebachelet, Bellarmin avant son cardinalat: Correspondance et documents (Paris 1911). r. bellarmine, Auctarium Bellarminianum, ed. x. m. lebachelet (Paris 1913). j. brodrick, Robert Bellarmine: Saint and Scholar (London 1928, rep. London 1966). j. lebreton, Catholicisme. Hier, aujourd'hui et demain, ed. g. jacquemet 1:1379–84. s. merkle, "Grundsätzliche und methodologische Erörterungen zur Bellarminforschung," Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschicte 45 (1927) 26–73. f. z. arnold, Die Staatslehre des Kardinals Bellarmin (Munich 1934). r. j. blackwell, Galileo, Bellarmine, and the Bible (Notre Dame, Ind. 1991). t. dietrich, Die Theologie der Kirche bei Robert Bellarmin (Paderborn 1999). p. godman, The Saint as Censor: Robert Bellarmine between Inquisition and Index (Leiden 2000). t. harding, A briefe answere: Thomas Harding. Apologia Cardinalis Bellarmini (Ilkley, Eng.1976). e. a. ryan, The Historical Scholarship of Saint Bellarmin (New York 1936). j. c. murray, "St. Robert Bellarmine on the Indirect Power," Theological Studies 9 (1948) 491–535. n. hens, Die Augustinusinterpretation des hl. Robert Bellarmin bezüglich der wirksamen Gnade und der Vorherbestimmung nach der Kontroverse (Rome 1949). j. hardon, A Comparative Study of Bellarmine's Doctrine on the Relation of Sincere Non-Catholics to the Catholic Church (Rome 1951). j. beumer, "Die Frage nach Schrift und Tradition bein Robert Bellarmin," Scholastik 34 (1959) 1–22. r. s. westfall, Essays on the Trial of Galileo (Vatican City 1989).