Saint Robert Bellarmine

Feast Day - September 17

Patron Saint of Canon Lawyers, Canonists,
Catechists and Catechumens

St Robert BellarmineWhen Robert Bellarmine was ordained in 1570, the study of Church history and the fathers of the Church was in a state of neglect.  A promising scholar from his youth in Tuscany, he devoted his energy to these two subjects, as well as to Scripture, in order to systematize Church doctrine against the attacks of the Protestant Reformers.  He was the first Jesuit to become a professor at Louvain.

His most famous work is his three-volume Disputations on the Controversies of the Christian faith.  Particularly noteworthy are the sections on the temporal power of the pope and the role of the laity.

He incurred the anger of monarchists in England and France by showing the divine-right-of-kings theory untenable.  He developed the theory of the indirect power of the pope in temporal affairs; although he was defending the pope against the Scottish philosopher Barclay, he also incurred the ire of Pope Sixtus V.

Bellarmine was made a cardinal by Pope Clement VIII on the grounds that "he had not his equal for learning."  While he occupied apartments in the Vatican, Bellarmine relaxed none of his former austerities.  He limited his household expenses to what was barely essential, eating only the food available to the poor.  He was known to have ransomed a soldier who had deserted from the army and he used the hangings of his rooms to clothe poor people, remarking, "The walls won't catch cold."

Among many activities, he became theologian to Pope Clement VIII, preparing two catechisms which have had great influence in the Church.

The last major controversy of Bellarmine's life came in 1616 when he had to admonish his friend Galileo, whom he admired. Bellarmine delivered the admonition on behalf of the Holy Office, which had decided that the heliocentric theory of Copernicus (the sun as stationary) was contrary to Scripture.   The admonition amounted to a caution against putting forward-other than as a hypothesis-theories not yet fully proved. This shows that saints are not infallible.

 Bellarmine died on September 17, 1621. The process for his canonization was begun in 1627 but was delayed until 1930 for political reasons, stemming from his writings.  In 1930, canonized him and the next year declared him a doctor of the Church.

By universal consent, Thomas Aquinas is the preeminent spokesman of the Catholic tradition of reason and of divine revelation.  He is one of the great teachers of the medieval Catholic Church, honored with the titles Doctor of the Church and Angelic Doctor.

In 1239 he was sent to Naples to complete his studies. It was here that he was first attracted to Aristotle‚Äôs philosophy.  At the University of Naples, he showed exceptional ability in speech and logic.  Influenced by the Dominicans, Thomas entered the religious life, which was unheard of for a person of his noble status; his family, especially his mother, did not support his decisions to become a poor friar.  And when the Order sent Thomas to Rome, his brothers kidnapped him, at their mother's insistence, and detrained him in the hopes of changing his mind.  They even tempted him with women, but Thomas's virtue was too strong.  During his 2-year confinement, his sister brought him books on religion and philosophy, so that he continued to learn.

Realizing the futility of his imprisonment, his mother finally set Thomas free.  Thomas received his bachelor of theology in Paris and gained a reputation as an influential speaker.  Before receiving this degree of Doctor of Theology, he successfully argued a case before the Pope, to excuse the friars from taking an oath with which they did not agree but which was mandated by the University.  He held two professorships at Paris, lived at the court of Pope Urban IV, directed the Dominican schools at Rome and Viterbo.

Through his preaching and writings Thomas demonstrated that faith and reason could abide together.  He was in great demand, but continued to write his Summa Theologica, a key treatise that helped fashion the theological language of the Catholic Church.  He even turned down the archbishopric of Naples so that he cold lecture and write.  Even on his deathbed in 1274, he continued to dictate his clear-minded ideas.

The unity, harmony and continuity of faith and reason, of revealed and natural human knowledge, pervades his writings. One might expect Thomas, as a man of the gospel, to be an ardent defender of revealed truth. But he was broad enough, deep enough, to see the whole natural order as coming from God the Creator, and to see reason as a divine gift to be highly cherished.




God our Father, you gave Robert Bellarmine
wisdom and goodness to defend the
faith of your Church. By his prayers may
we always rejoice in the profession of our faith.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
your Son, who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.



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