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St Robert Bellarmino

  • International
  • September 17, 2012
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Robert was born into an aristocratic family in Montepulciano, Tuscany, at a time when the Reformation was tearing the fabric of Christianity apart in Europe. As a young man of 18, he entered the Society of Jesus. All his life would be spent in debates and controver-sies against the Protestant reformers, and in building up the Catholic faith through his lectures and writings.

In 1576, the Pope Gregory XIII, a good friend of the Jesuits, appointed Robert to train the German and English seminarians for the spiritual battles they would fight in their home-lands. This would be Robert’s vocation for the rest of this life, a writer and a teacher.

Robert’s systematic approach to an issue, his amazing memory, his familiarity with the works of the Church Fathers and his knowledge of foreign languages all combined to attract great audiences. His lectures of 12 years were published in book form, On Controversies, and became a best seller in Catholic countries for its clarity and dispassionate reasoning. Nay, even the Protestants modeled their arguments on his when they prepared their theses. His Catechism, translated into 60 languages, is still in use today. Well did Pope Clement VIII who made him bishop and cardinal declare, “The Church has not his equal in learning.”

We remember Bellarmino today largely because of his involvement in the controversy involving Galileo, whose personal friend he was. But he is also famous for his theories on Church and State, in which he ruled that all authority came from God, but is invested in the people, who entrusted it to their rulers as they see fit. This is a democratic concept far ahead of its time, but that is what Robert Bellarmino was. One of his sayings is as true today as when it was uttered: “Grace is that with which no one is lost, and without which no one is saved.”
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