Saint Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (Italian: Roberto Francesco Romolo Bellarmino; 4 October 1542 – 17 September 1621) was an Italian Jesuit and a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. He was one of the most important figures in the Counter-Reformation. He was canonized in 1930 and named a Doctor of the Church. Bellarmine is also widely remembered for his role in the Galileo affair.
Bellarmine was born at Montepulciano, the son of noble, albeit impoverished, parents, Vincenzo Bellarmino and his wife Cinzia Cervini, who was the sister of Pope Marcellus II. As a boy he knew Virgil by heart and composed a number of poems in Italian and Latin. One of his hymns, on Mary Magdalene, is included in the Breviary.
He entered the Roman novitiate in 1560, remaining in Rome three years. He then went to a Jesuit house at Mondovì, in Piedmont, where he learned Greek. While at Mondovì, he came to the attention of Francesco Adorno, the local Jesuit Provincial Superior, who sent him to the University of Padua.
Bellarmine's systematic study of theology began at Padua in 1567 and 1568, where his teachers were adherents of Thomism. In 1569 he was sent to finish it at the University of Leuven in Flanders. There he was ordained, and obtained a reputation both as a professor and a preacher. He was the first Jesuit to teach at the university, where the subject of his course was the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. His residence in Leuven lasted seven years. In poor health, in 1576 he made a journey to Italy. Here he remained, commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII to lecture on polemical theology in the new Roman College, now known as the Pontifical Gregorian University.
Until 1589, Bellarmine was occupied as professor of theology. After the murder in that year of Henry III of France, Pope Sixtus V sent Enrico Caetani as legate to Paris to negotiate with the Catholic League of France, and chose Bellarmine to accompany him as theologian. He was in the city during its siege by Henry of Navarre.
The next pope, Clement VIII, set great store by him. He was made rector of the Roman College in 1592, examiner of bishops in 1598, and cardinal in 1599. Immediately after his appointment as Cardinal, Pope Clement made him a Cardinal Inquisitor, in which capacity he served as one of the judges at the trial of Giordano Bruno, and concurred in the decision which condemned Bruno to be burned at the stake as a heretic.
In 1602 he was made archbishop of Capua. He had written against pluralism and non-residence of bishops within their dioceses. As bishop he put into effect the reforming decrees of the Council of Trent. He received some votes in the 1605 conclaves which elected Pope Leo XI, Pope Paul V, and in 1621 when Pope Gregory XV was elected, but only in the second conclave of 1605 was he papabile.
In 1616, on the orders of Paul V, Bellarmine summoned Galileo, notified him of a forthcoming decree of the Congregation of the Index condemning the Copernican doctrine of the mobility of the Earth and the immobility of the Sun, and ordered him to abandon it. Galileo agreed to do so.
When Galileo later complained of rumors to the effect that he had been forced to abjure and do penance, Bellarmine wrote out a certificate denying the rumors, stating that Galileo had merely been notified of the decree and informed that, as a consequence of it, the Copernican doctrine could not be "defended or held". Cardinal Bellarmine believed such a demonstration could not be found because it would contradict the unanimous consent of the Fathers' scriptural exegesis, to which the Council of Trent, in 1546, defined all Catholics must adhere. Moreover there wasn't a scientific certainty in the Copernicanism and, in very truth, the reality showed the opposite: our own eyes can observe the sun moves, while there's no evident trace of the movement of the earth and of the immobility of the sun, except for some hypothetical "results" of these phenomenons (as the tidal movement, studied by Galileo), which don't represent any logical necessity of them.
Bellarmine wrote to heliocentrist Paolo Antonio Foscarini:
the Council [of Trent] prohibits interpreting Scripture against the common consensus of the Holy Fathers; and if Your Paternity wants to read not only the Holy Fathers, but also the modern commentaries on Genesis, the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Joshua, you will find all agreeing in the literal interpretation that the sun is in heaven and turns around the earth with great speed, and that the earth is very far from heaven and sits motionless at the center of the world.
I say that if there were a true demonstration that the sun is at the center of the world and the earth in the third heaven, and that the sun does not circle the earth but the earth circles the sun, then one would have to proceed with great care in explaining the Scriptures that appear contrary, and say rather that we do not understand them than that what is demonstrated is false. But I will not believe that there is such a demonstration, until it is shown me. Nor is it the same to demonstrate that by assuming the sun to be at the center and the earth in heaven one can save the appearances, and to demonstrate that in truth the sun is at the center and the earth in heaven; for I believe the first demonstration may be available, but I have very great doubts about the second, and in case of doubt one must not abandon the Holy Scripture as interpreted by the Holy Fathers.
In 1633, nearly twelve years after Bellarmine's death, Galileo was again called before the Inquisition in this matter.
Modern physicist Pierre Duhem "suggests that in one respect, at least, Bellarmine had shown himself a better scientist than Galileo by disallowing the possibility of a 'strict proof of the earth's motion,' on the grounds that an astronomical theory merely 'saves the appearances' without necessarily revealing what 'really happens.'"
In his old age he was bishop of Montepulciano for four years, after which he retired to the Jesuit college of St. Andrew in Rome, where he died on 17 September 1621, aged 78.
Bellarmine's books bear the stamp of their period; the effort for literary elegance (so-called "maraviglia") had given place to a desire to pile up as much material as possible, to embrace the whole field of human knowledge, and incorporate it into theology. His controversial works provoked many replies, and were studied for some decades after his death. At Leuven he made extensive studies in the Church Fathers and scholastic theologians, which gave him the material for his book De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis (Rome, 1613). It was later revised and enlarged by Sirmond, Labbeus, and Casimir Oudin. Bellarmine wrote the preface to the new Sixto-Clementine Vulgate.
From his research grew his Disputationes de controversiis christianae fidei (also called Disputationes), first published at Ingolstadt in 1581–1593. This major work was the earliest attempt to systematize the various religious controversies of the time. Bellarmine devoted eleven years to it while at the Roman College. The first volume of the Disputationes treats of the Word of God, of Christ, and of the Pope; the second of the authority of ecumenical councils, and of the Church, whether militant, expectant, or triumphant; the third of the sacraments; and the fourth of Divine grace, free will, justification, and good works.
Under Pope Paul V (reigned 1605–1621), a major conflict arose between Venice and the Papacy. Paolo Sarpi, as spokesman for the Republic of Venice, protested against the papal interdict, and reasserted the principles of the Council of Constance and of the Council of Basel, denying the pope's authority in secular matters. Bellarmine wrote three rejoinders to the Venetian theologians, and may have warned Sarpi of an impending murderous attack.
For more details on this topic, see Oath of Allegiance of James I of England.
Bellarmine also became involved in controversy with King James I of England. From a point of principle for English Catholics, this debate drew in figures from much of Western Europe. It raised the profile of both protagonists, King James as a champion of his own restricted Calvinist Protestantism, and Bellarmine for Tridentine Catholicism.
During his retirement, he wrote several short books intended to help ordinary people in their spiritual life: De ascensione mentis in Deum per scalas rerum creatorum opusculum (The Mind's Ascent to God) (1614) which was translated into English as Jacob's Ladder (1638) without acknowledgement by Henry Isaacson, The Art of Dying Well (1619) (in Latin, English translation under this title by Edward Coffin), and The Seven Words on the Cross.
Bellarmine was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1930; the following year he was declared a Doctor of the Church. His remains, in a cardinal's red robes, are displayed behind glass under a side altar in the Church of Saint Ignatius, the chapel of the Roman College, next to the body of his student, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, as he himself had wished. In the General Roman Calendar Saint Robert Bellarmine's feast day is on 17 September, the day of his death; but some continue to use pre-1969 calendars, in which for 37 years his feast day was on 13 May. The rank assigned to his feast has been "double" (1932–1959), "third-class feast" (1960–1968), and since the 1969 revision "memorial".
Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky is named after him, as are Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, California and Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma, Washington. Fairfield University has a Bellarmine Hall dedicated to the saint. A Jesuit Sogang University in Seoul, Republic of Korea has a Bellarmino Dormitory, named after the saint's Italian name.
St. Robert Bellarmine, a church in the New Orleans suburb of Arabi, Louisiana, was destroyed shortly after its completion by Hurricane Betsy in 1965. The church was put completely underwater in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina and took on more water from Hurricane Rita less than a month later. The parish was permanently dissolved by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans immediately after Rita, and its territory was absorbed by Our Lady of Prompt Succor in neighboring Chalmette.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has both a local territorial parish and a parochial school named in honor of Robert Bellarmine. The parish is located on the Northwest side of Chicago in the Jefferson Park neighborhood at 4646 N. Austin Ave., Chicago, IL 60630. St. Robert Bellarmine Parish was founded in 1930.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia has a St. Robert Bellarmine Parish based in Warrington, Pennsylvania. The parish was founded in 1968.
St. Robert Bellarmine Church in Bayside Hills, Queens County NY, of the Diocese of Brooklyn was original site of Our Lady of the Roses Shrine where Veronica Lueken's apparitions by Our Lady's request began June 18, 1970 outside by the old church statue. Rosary Vigils on the eve of the feast days were held until the crowds were too large in 1975 and relocated to Flushing Meadows at the Vatican pavilion - site of the old world's fair grounds - and continue today.