Robert Bellarmine

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Robert Bellarmine, S.J.
Saint Robert Bellarmine.png
Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church
Born 4 October 1542
Died 17 September 1621(1621-09-17) (aged 78)
Jesuit college of St. Andrew in Rome
Venerated in Catholic Church
Beatified 13 May 1923, Rome by Pope Pius XI
Canonized 29 June 1930, Rome by Pope Pius XI
Major shrine Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio, Rome, Italy
Feast 17 September; 13 May (General Roman Calendar, 1932–1969)
Patronage Bellarmine University; Bellarmine Preparatory School; Fairfield University; Bellarmine College Preparatory; canonists; canon lawyers; catechists; Robert Barron (bishop); catechumens; Archdiocese of Cincinnati,
Bellarmine's coat of arms

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 canonized a saint in 1930 and named Doctor of the Church, one of only 36. He was one of the most important figures in the Counter-Reformation.

He was a professor of theology and later rector of the Roman College, and in 1602 became Archbishop of Capua. Bellarmine supported the reform decrees of the Council of Trent.

Bellarmine is also widely remembered for his role in the Giordano Bruno affair, the Galileo affair and the trial of Friar Fulgenzio Manfredi.[1]

Early life

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.[2] 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 Roman Breviary.

He entered the Roman Jesuit 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.[3]


Bellarmine's systematic studies of theology began at Padua in 1567 and 1568, where his teachers were adherents of Thomism. In 1569 he was sent to finish his studies at the University of Leuven in Flanders. There he was ordained, and obtained a reputation both as a professor and as 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 residency 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. Later, he would promote the cause of the beatification of Aloysius Gonzaga, who had been a student at the college during Bellarmine's tenure.[2]

New duties after 1589

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[4] to negotiate with the Catholic League of France, and chose Bellarmine to accompany him as theologian.[5] He was in the city during its siege by Henry of Navarre.

The next pope, Clement VIII, said of him, "the Church of God had not his equal in learning".[2] Bellarmine 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.[6]

Upon the death of Pope Sixtus V in 1590, the Count of Olivares wrote to King Philip III of Spain, "Bellarmine ... would not do for a Pope, for he is mindful only of the interests of the Church and is unresponsive to the reasons of princes."[7] 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 his being a Jesuit stood against him in the judgment of many of the cardinals.[2]

Thomas Hobbes saw Bellarmine in Rome at a service on All Saints Day (1 November) 1614 and, exempting him alone from a general castigation of cardinals, described him as "a little lean old man" who lived "more retired".[8]

The Galileo case

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.[9] Galileo agreed to do so.[10]

When Galileo later complained of rumours 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".[11] 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,[12] defined all Catholics must adhere.

Bellarmine wrote to heliocentrist Paolo Antonio Foscarini in 1615:[13]

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 supposing 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.

In his article on Bellarmine in the Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Ernan McMullin cites Pierre Duhem and Karl Popper as prominent adherents to an "often repeated" view that "in one respect, at least, Bellarmine had shown himself a better scientist than Galileo", insofar as he supposedly denied that a "strict proof" of the Earth's motion could be possible. McMullin himself emphatically rejects that view as untenable.[14]


In his old age Bellarmine 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.

16th-century portrait of Bellarmine


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.[15] 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.[2]


From his research grew Disputationes de controversiis christianae fidei (also called Controversiae), first published at Ingolstadt in 1581–1593. This major work was the earliest attempt to systematize the various religious disputes between Catholics and Protestants. Bellarmine calmly and fairly reviewed the issues[7] and devoted eleven years to it while at the Roman College. In August 1590 Pope Sixtus V decided to place the first volume of the Disputationes on the Index because Bellarmine argued in it that the Pope is not the temporal ruler of the whole world and that temporal rulers do not derive their authority to rule from God but from the consent of the governed. However Sixtus died before the revised Index was published, and the next Pope, Urban VII, removed the book from the Index during his brief twelve-day reign.[16]

In 1597 he wrote the Catechism (Dottrina cristiana) in two versions (short and full) which has been translated to 50 languages, becoming one of the greatest bestsellers and the official teaching of the Church in the 17th to 19th centuries.

Venetian Interdict

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, when in September 1607, an unfrocked friar and brigand by the name of Rotilio Orlandini planned to kill Sarpi for the sum of 8,000 crowns.[17] Orlandini's plot was discovered, and when he and his accomplices crossed from Papal into Venetian territory they were arrested.[18]

Allegiance oath controversy and papal authority

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.[19] It raised the profile of both protagonists, King James as a champion of his own restricted Calvinist Protestantism, and Bellarmine for Tridentine Catholicism.[20]

Devotional works

Dottrina cristiana breve, 1752

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,[21] The Art of Dying Well (1619) (in Latin, English translation under this title by Edward Coffin),[22] and The Seven Words on the Cross.

Canonization and final resting place

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. Saint Joseph's University, Fairfield University, and Seattle University all have a Bellarmine Hall dedicated to the saint. The Jesuit Sogang University in Seoul, South Korea, has a Bellarmino Dormitory, named after the saint's Italian name. The Ateneo de Manila University, another Jesuit institution in the Philippines, also has a Bellarmine Hall, which serves as a classroom building and home of the University Press.

St. Robert Bellarmine Church in Bayside Hills, Queens County, New York, of the Diocese of Brooklyn, was the original site of Our Lady of the Roses Shrine where the alleged Marian apparitions to Veronica Lueken occurred. Veronica Lueken's apparitions were condemned as "contrary to the Faith of the Catholic Church" by Bishop Francis Mugavero of the Diocese of Brooklyn.[23]


  1. ^ Gibbings, Richard (1852). Were "Heretics" Ever Burned Alive at Rome?. London: John Petheram. pp. 44–45.
  2. ^ a b c d e Wikisource-logo.svg Smith, Sydney Fenn (1907). "St. Robert Francis Romulus Bellarmine" . In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  3. ^ Rule, William Harris (1853). "A Jesuit cardinal: Robert Bellarmine". Celebrated Jesuits. 2. London: John Mason. p. 20.
  4. ^ Miranda, Salvador. "The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church – Biographical Dictionary – Consistory of December 18, 1585". Retrieved 2017-06-23.
  5. ^ Miranda, Salvador. "The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church – Biographical Dictionary – Consistory of March 3, 1599". Retrieved 2017-06-23.
  6. ^ Blackwell (1991, pp. 47–48).
  7. ^ a b "The Galileo Project | Christianity | Robert Cardinal Bellarmine". Retrieved 2017-06-23.
  8. ^ Martinich, A. P. (1999). Thomas Hobbes: a Biography. Cambridge: Cambridge U.P. p. 34.
  9. ^ Blackwell (1991, p. 126).
    The Vatican archives contain an unsigned copy of a more strongly worded formal injunction purporting to have been served on Galileo shortly after Bellarmine's admonition, ordering him "not to hold, teach, or defend" the condemned doctrine "in any way whatever, either orally or in writing", and threatening him with imprisonment if he refused to obey.
    However, whether this injunction was ever properly served on Galileo is a subject of much scholarly disagreement.(Blackwell, 1991, p. 127–128)
  10. ^ Fantoli (2005, p.119). Some scholars have suggested that Galileo's agreement was only obtained after some initial resistance. Otherwise, the formal injunction purporting to have been served on him during his meeting with Bellarmine (see earlier footnote) would have been contrary to the Pope's instructions (Fantoli. 2005, pp.121, 124).
  11. ^ Blackwell (1991, p.127). Unlike the previously mentioned formal injunction (see earlier footnote), this milder restriction would have allowed Galileo to continue using and teaching the mathematical content of Copernicus's theory as a purely theoretical device for predicting the apparent motions of the planets. Maurice Finocchiaro's English translations of the purported formal injunction, the decree of the Congregation of the Index and Cardinal Bellarmine's certificate are available on-line.
  12. ^ "Fourth Session of the Council of Trent". 8 April 1546.
  13. ^ Bellarmine's letter of 12 April 1615 to Foscarini, translated in Finocchiaro, Maurice A. (ed.) (1989). The Galileo Affair: a Documentary History. Berkeley: U. California P. pp. 67–8. ISBN 0520066626.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  14. ^ McMullin (2008)
  15. ^ On Laymen or Secular People; On the Temporal Power of the Pope. Against William Barclay; and On the Primary Duty of the Supreme Pontiff, are included in Bellarmine, On Temporal and Spiritual Authority, Stefania Tutino, trans., Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2012
  16. ^ Galileo, Bellarmine and the Bible, Richard J Blackwell, University of Notre Dame Press 1991 p.30
  17. ^ The Cambridge Modern History, Volume 4: Fra Paolo Sarpi (Cambridge University Press 1906), p. 671
  18. ^ Robertson, Alexander (1893) Fra Paolo Sarpi: the Greatest of the Venetians, London: Sampson, Low, Marston & Co. pp. 114–117
  19. ^ W. B. Patterson, James VI and I and the Reunion of Christendom (1997), pp. 76–77.
  20. ^ "Bellarmine, Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence". National Catholic Register. Retrieved 2017-06-23.
  21. ^ "Iacob's ladder consisting of fifteene degrees or ascents to the knowledge of God by the consideration of his creatures and attributes". Retrieved 2017-06-23.
  22. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Edward Coffin" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.


  • Bellarmine, Robert (2016). On the Roman Pontiff: In Five Books. Translated by Ryan Grant. Post Falls, ID: Mediatrix Press. ISBN 9780692705704.
  • Bellarmine, Robert (1989). Roland J. Teske and John Patrick Donnelly, eds. Spiritual Writings. New York: Paulist Press. ISBN 0-8091-0389-3.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  • Blackwell, Richard J. (1991). Galileo, Bellarmine, and the Bible. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. ISBN 0-268-01024-2.
  • Fantoli, Annibale (2005). The Disputed Injunction and its Role in Galileo's Trial. In McMullin (2005, pp.117–149).
  • McMullin, Ernan, ed. (2005). The Church and Galileo. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. ISBN 0-268-03483-4.
  • McMullin, Ernan (2008). "Robert Bellarmine". In Gillispie, Charles. Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Scribner & American Council of Learned Societies.
  • Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bellarmine, Roberto Francesco Romolo, Duc de" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

External links

  • CERL-Thesaurus on Robert Bellarmin (1542-1621)
  • Bellarmine, Robert (1614). A Shorte Catechisme of Card.all Bellarmine Illustrated with the Images. On Google Books.
  • Bellarmine, Robert (n. d.). On the Roman Pontiff. An Extract from St. Robert Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice, lib. II, cap. 30. Translated by Jim Larraby. With Introductory Remarks by John Lane. Archived from the original on 2018-12-06.
  • Bellarmine, Robert (1705). Steps of Ascension to God. Second Edition. London: W. Freeman. On Internet Archive.
  • Bellarmine, Robert (1847). The Art of Dying Well. Translated by John Dalton. London: Richardson and Son. On Internet Archive.
  • Bellarmine, Robert (1847). The Art of Dying Well. Translated by John Dalton. London: Richardson and Son. PDF File. Archived from the original on 2008-12-18.
  • Bellarmine, Robert (2008). The Art of Dying Well. Read by Maureen O'Brien. Audiobook. On Internet Archive.
  • Bellarmine, Robert (n.d.). The Eternal Happiness of the Saints. London: Richardson and Son. On Internet Archive
  • Bellarmine, Robert (n.d.). The Eternal Happiness of the Saints. London: Richardson and Son. PDF File. Archived from the original on 2015-09-08.
  • Bellarmine, Robert (n.d.). The Seven Words on the Cross. Archived from the original[permanent dead link] on 2016-03-02.
  • Butler, Alban (1866). May XIII. St. Robert Bellarmine, Archbishop of Capua and Cardinal, Doctor of the Church, A.D. 1621. In The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints. Dublin: James Duffy. PDF File. Archived from the original on 2011-06-05.
  • Dulles, Avery (1994). Saint Robert Bellarmine: A Moderate in a Disputatious Age. Archived from the original on 2016-04-18.
  • Needham, Guil., Battely Jo., Maurice, Hen., imprimatur (1687). The Notes of the Church, as Laid down by Cardinal Bellarmin; Examined and Confuted. London: Printed for Richard Chiswell. On Internet Archive.
  • Rager, John C. (1930). Catholic Sources and the Declaration of Independence. The Catholic Mind, XXVIII, no. 13. Contains notable quotations by St. Robert Bellarmine and St. Thomas Aquinas in reference to the Declaration of Independence. Archived from the original[permanent dead link] on 2014-07-11.

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