Saint Robert Bellarmine





On the last day, when the general examination takes place, there will be no question at all on the text of Aristotle, the aphorisms of Hippocrates, or the paragraphs of Justinian. Charity will be the whole syllabus.



Saint Robert Bellarmine was born in Montepulciano and was the third of ten children. His mother was a niece of Pope Marcellus II and was dedicated to almsgiving, prayer, and meditation. Growing up he knew the Virgil by heart and composed several poems in both Latin and in Italian. He joined the newly formed Society of Jesus in 1560, living first in Rome and then in a Jesuit house at Mondovi. While learning Greek there, the Provincial Superior Francesco Adorno found young Robert extremely studious and steadfast in his faith, and so in 1567 he arranged to have him study theology at the University of Padua.


Saint Robert finished his studies at the University of Leuven in Flanders and immediately following accepted a professorship. He is credited as the first Jesuit professor there and taught a course of the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. Poor health would force his return to Rome as a professor in the New Roman college, known now as the Pontifical Gregorian University. After accompanying Enrico Caetani in negotiations with the Catholic League of France he returned to Rome, where Pope Clement VIII would write of him:


"The Church of God had not his equal in learning"

The following years saw several titles for Saint Robert:

1592 - Rector of the Roman College

1598 - Examiner of Bishops

1599 - Cardinal and Cardinal Inquisitor


In 1600, he served as one of the judges in the trial of Giordano Bruno. Giordano was on trial for heresy - he believed there were many planets orbiting distant starts, some of which had life on them. While the Catholic church at the time held it not to be a defensible belief, Giordano's real charges for heresy were the rejection of the Trinity Doctrine, rejection of transubstantiation, rejection of the virginity of Mary, and the rejection of Jesus as Christ in addition to several others. As cardinal he lived an extremely austere life - limiting household expenses to bare necessities and eating only the food available to the poor. Famously, he removed the curtains and other decorative hangings in his Vatican apartment, giving them to clothe the poor and saying


"The walls won't catch cold"

Saint Robert was made archbishop of Capua in 1602. He wrote several books intended to help the laity including De ascensione mentis in Deum per scalas rerum creatorum opusculum (The Mind's ascent to God), Art of Dying Well, and The Seven Words on the Cross. He also published a Catechism in two versions that became the official teaching of the Catholic Church.


In 1616, under orders of Pope Paul V, Saint Robert summoned Galileo and informed him of the soon to come decree condemning the Copernican doctrine of the mobility of Earth around the sun. He explained to Galileo that the doctrine could not be "defended or Held" but that the certificate allowed Galileo to continue teaching the mathematical content of Copernicus' theory as theory. Saint Robert did not support the model of a heliocentric solar system due to lack of evidence :


"I will not believe that there is such a demonstration, until it is shown me"

Saint Robert retired to the Jesuit college of Saint Andrew in Rome. At the age of 78, he would die on September 17th, 1621. Saint Robert Bellarmine was canonized in 1930 by Pope Pius XI and declared a Doctor of the Church. His remains can be found today in his cardinal's red robes at the Church of Saint Ignatius. His feast day was moved from the 13th of May to the 17th of September under the 1969 revision.






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