September 17, 2018 — Today is the feast day of Saint Robert Bellarmine
(1542–1621), a Jesuit who was one of the most important cardinals of the
Catholic Reformation and became a Doctor of the Church. Despite being one of
the most powerful men in Rome, he lived an austere life and gave most of his
money to the poor.
St. Bellarmine was born to an impoverished
noble Italian family, and his early intellectual accomplishments gave his
father hope that St. Bellarmine would restore the family’s fortunes through a
political career. His mother’s wish that he enter the Society of Jesus
He entered the Society in 1560, and after
his ordination he taught at the University of Louvain in Belgium, where he
became famous for his Latin sermons. In 1576 he accepted the invitation of Pope
Gregory XIII to teach polemical theology at the new Roman College.
St. Bellarmine spent the next 11 years teaching
and writing “Disputations on the Controversies,” a three-volume defense of the
Catholic faith against the arguments of the Protestant reformers. A confidant
to the popes, St. Bellarmine held a number of positions, including rector of
the Roman College, examiner of bishops, cardinal inquisitor, archbishop of
Capua and bishop of Montepulciano.
Through his writings St. Bellarmine was involved
in the political, religious and social issues of the time. He argued with King
James I of England and also communicated the decree of condemning the
Copernican doctrine of the movements of the earth and sun, issued by the Congregation
of the Index to Galileo Galilei in 1616.
St. Bellarmine gave generously to the poor and
gave up most of his material possessions. Once, he gave the tapestries from his
living quarters to the poor, saying that the walls wouldn’t catch cold. While
he took little regard for his own comforts, he always made sure his servants
and aides had everything they needed.
He retired to the Jesuit college of St. Andrew
in Rome, where he died on September 17, 1621, at age 78. St. Bellarmine was
canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1930 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931.
[Sources: Ignatian Spirituality, Catholic.org]