September 17th: Saint Robert Bellarmine, SJ

Saint Robert Bellarmine, SJ

Born: 4 October 1542
Died: 17 September 1621

Beatified 13 May 1923, Rome by Pope Pius XI
Canonized 29 June 1930, Rome by Pope Pius XI

St Robert Bellamine
was born in Tuscany, Italy, the third of ten children. His father was the chief magistrate of the city and his mother was the sister of Pope Marcellus II. He was a brilliant student and his father had wanted him to do medicine but later gave his consent for Robert to join the Society of Jesus.

Despite his health problems, he was recognized as the outstanding student of his year at the Roman College. He taught for 4 years at the Jesuit colleges in Florence and Mondovi before studying Theology and was ordained in 1570. His sound and well-delivered sermons attracted many, including Protestants who came from England and there were many conversions. He was appointed the first Professor of Theology when the Jesuits opened their own Theologate in Louvain where he spent 7 years and became very well-versed with the writings of the Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin. He was also noted for his devotion to the writings of St Thomas Aquinas.

He was appointed to the Chair of “controversial theology” at the Roman College, a lectureship founded by the Jesuits to provide an answer in the language of the day to Protestant attacks, which were mainly against the nature and authority of the Church and the sacraments. He held this position for 11 years and many of his students became missionaries in England and Germany, some of whom were to shed their blood for their faith in England.

Fr Bellarmine’s lectures were first published under the title, “Disputation on controversies of the Christian faith against the heretics of this time” were the most complete defence of the Catholic Faith that the Church possessed and was widely acclaimed by Popes and bishops alike for three centuries. He also published his “Catechism” which enjoyed a wide audience and was translated into 62 languages and was still in use up to the middle of the 19th century. Although he was appointed a cardinal of the Roman Church and was surrounded by servants and gentlemen-in-waiting, Cardinal Bellarmine never relinquished being a Jesuit. Whenever the month’s accounts showed a surplus of funds, these he distributed amongst Rome’s poor. He also made an annual 8-day retreat which he later extended to an annual 30-day retreat.

At 77, he asked to step down, to return to live the simple life, but it was turned down by Pope Paul V. Finally at 79, Pope Gregory XV permitted him to return to the Jesuit novitiate but within 3 days of his arrival, he became sick with very high fever, and never recovered. He succumbed to death 3 weeks later with the name of Jesus on his lips.

At his request, Cardinal Bellarmine was buried at the feet of St Aloysius Gonzaga, whom he once guided as a young novice in Rome. He was canonized by Pope Pius XI and declared a Doctor of the Universal Church in 1931 .