Society of Jesus Celebrates Feast of St. Robert Bellarmine, SJ

September 15, 2017 — Sunday, September 17, is the feast day of Saint Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621), a Jesuit who was one of the most important cardinals of the Catholic Reformation and became a Doctor of the Church. Despite being one of the most powerful men in Rome, he lived an austere life and gave most of his money to the poor. 

St. Bellarmine was born to an impoverished noble Italian family, and his early intellectual accomplishments gave his father hope that St. Bellarmine would restore the family’s fortunes through a political career. His mother’s wish that he enter the Society of Jesus prevailed.

He entered the Society in 1560, and after his ordination he taught at the University of Louvain in Belgium, where he became famous for his Latin sermons. In 1576 he accepted the invitation of Pope Gregory XIII to teach polemical theology at the new Roman College.

St. Bellarmine spent the next 11 years teaching and writing “Disputations on the Controversies,” a three-volume defense of the Catholic faith against the arguments of the Protestant reformers. A confidant to the popes, St. Bellarmine held a number of positions, including rector of the Roman College, examiner of bishops, cardinal inquisitor, archbishop of Capua and bishop of Montepulciano.

Through his writings St. Bellarmine was involved in the political, religious and social issues of the time. He argued with King James I of England and also communicated the decree of condemning the Copernican doctrine of the movements of the earth and sun, issued by the Congregation of the Index to Galileo Galilei in 1616.

St. Bellarmine gave generously to the poor and gave up most of his material possessions. Once, he gave the tapestries from his living quarters to the poor, saying that the walls wouldn’t catch cold. While he took little regard for his own comforts, he always made sure his servants and aides had everything they needed.

He retired to the Jesuit college of St. Andrew in Rome, where he died on September 17, 1621, at age 78. St. Bellarmine was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1930 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931. [Sources: Ignatian Spirituality,]

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