Today we celebrate Saint Robert Bellarmine, the saint passionate about truth and the Church

Every September 17, the Church remembers Saint Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), archbishop and cardinal, a man of great apostolic zeal and wisdom, who faced with singular firmness some of the most difficult moments that the Church has passed through throughout of your story.

Last year, 2021, his commemoration had special relevance since it was 400 years since his death (September 17, 1621) and, simultaneously, the 90 years since he was included in the list of Doctors of the Church (17 September 1931).

Walking the narrow path

“Consider authentic good for you that which leads you to your end, and authentic evil that which prevents you from reaching it”, Bellarmine once wrote, hinting at the importance of always seeking God’s designs for one’s own life, so that the soul may travel the path laid out by God to achieve happiness, fullness and holiness.

Saint Robert was a brave defender of the Catholic Church against those who wanted to destroy or harm it. It was the time of the Protestant Reformation, and, although this fact may incline the mind to look “outside” the Church, the truth is that powerful enemies weakened it “from within”: the deep crisis of the clergy is well known. and much of the hierarchy.

There is no greater treasure than Christ

Roberto was born in Tuscany (Italy) in 1542, and since he was studying at the Jesuit college he stood out for his intelligence. He would later discover himself called to serve God as his priest and for this reason he requested his definitive incorporation into the Society of Jesus.

Ordained a priest, he served as a teacher and trainer of novices. Roberto Bellarmine felt very comfortable as a Jesuit, since it allowed him to dedicate himself to his two great passions: prayer and study. He thought, deep inside him, that in this way he could avoid heavy ecclesial or hierarchical positions; however, God would take care of taking him down other paths.

The young Father Bellarmine had a deep love of learning and was very fond of preaching. Given his natural gifts, he strove to make his writings and homilies true pieces of scholarship -he handled the classics very well and was a great connoisseur of the Bible-, until he discovered that the richness of the Church’s message does not reside in the embellishments or rhetorical exuberance, but in the simplicity and depth of the person of Christ. It was precisely in this humble spirit that he wrote some of the most complete versions of the catechism that exist.

Against error, charity

Saint Robert fought various heresies and became one of the strongest promoters of the counter-reformation movement. His was not exactly what we would call “political correctness” today: he treated the Protestants simply as “heretics.” And his eagerness to make the correct doctrine known did not spring from contempt for the other, nor from a false superior conscience. Bellarmine only had one problem: the error he called “error” without ambiguity or scruples.

Among other responsibilities, Fr. Bellarmine served in the Roman curia as a consultor and prefect in various dicasteries. In fact, due to the charges he took part in the trials that followed Galileo Galilei and Giordano Bruno, in which he acted with prudence, charity and zeal for the truth.

A good son, a good servant of the Church

His mother’s teachings about humility and simplicity affected his way of being, once Roberto truly understood that his treasure was in Christ.

If from a human point of view it could be said that his talents placed him in an ascending or expectant position – formed by Saint Francis Borgia, ordained with speed and, at the personal request of the Pope, put in charge of the preparation of the priests of Rome so that they knew how to face the enemies of the faith-, his mother’s invocations always weighed heavily on his heart to put all of himself at the service of those who need it most.

With an eye on Rome

The fruit of the papal commission was a book called “Controversies”, which became compulsory reading for apologists and theologians wishing to clarify the doctrinal confusion that the expansion of the Protestant Churches entailed. Among those who recognized themselves influenced by this remarkable text was none other than Saint Francis de Sales.

Consecrated to his mission, Saint Robert directed a revised edition of the Bible (the Vulgate) and wrote two versions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: the “Abridged Catechism” and the “Explained Catechism.” Both texts were translated into various languages ​​and were used until the 19th century. He also served as spiritual director for years. Among those led by him was St. Aloysius Gonzaga.

For reasons like this, San Roberto, despite being a Jesuit and having promised not to aspire to ecclesial positions, was not only named archbishop but would eventually become a cardinal. Pope Clement VIII, on March 3, 1599, declared: “We have chosen this man because there is no one in the Church of God equal to his desire to learn.”

Saint Robert had begged his superiors to prevent the papal wishes from being carried out, but the Pope was not persuaded and ordered him – legend has it under threat of excommunication – to remain silent during the ceremony in which he was created cardinal.

“I have fought the good fight” (2 Tim 4, 7)

Shortly before he died, he wrote in his will that his belongings should be distributed among the poor, although in the end what he left behind was only enough to pay for his burial expenses. Saint Robert had retired to the novitiate of Saint Andrew in Rome and from there he left for the Father’s House on December 17, 1621.

Pope Pius XI beatified him in 1923 and canonized him in 1930 – several centuries after his death. On September 17, 1931 – one year after his canonization – he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pius XI himself.

intellectual legacy

The work of Saint Robert Bellarmine is very extensive, only comparable to that of saints such as Augustine of Hippo or Saint Thomas Aquinas.

In spite of this, in his book “De ascensione mentis in Deum” (On the elevation of the mind to God) the saint declares: “The wise man should neither look for prosperous or adverse events, riches and poverty, health and sickness, honors and outrages, life and death, nor flee from them per se. They are good and desirable only if they contribute to the glory of God and your eternal happiness; they are bad and you have to run away from them if they get in the way”.

If you want to know more about Saint Robert Bellarmine, we recommend this article from the Catholic Encyclopedia: https://ec.aciprensa.com/wiki/San_Roberto_Bellarmine.

To learn more about this brilliant Doctor of the Church, visit:

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