On St. Robert Bellarmine

«The End of Our Life Is the Lord»

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 23, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience, held in Paul VI Hall. In his Italian-language address, the Pope focused his meditation on the figure of a Jesuit saint, Robert Bellarmine, cardinal, bishop and doctor of the Church (1542-1621).

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

St. Robert Bellarmine, about whom I would like to speak to you today, carries our memories to the time of the painful division of Western Christianity, when a serious political and religious crisis caused the severance of whole nations from the Apostolic See.

Born Oct. 4, 1542, in Montepulciano, near Siena, he was the nephew, on his mother’s side, of Pope Marcellus II. He had an excellent formation in the humanities before entering the Society of Jesus on Sept. 20, 1560. His studies in philosophy and theology, which he carried out between the Roman College, Padua and Leuven, centered on St. Thomas and the fathers of the Church, and were decisive for his theological orientation. He was ordained a priest on March 25, 1570, and was for a few years a professor of theology at Leuven.

Subsequently, called to Rome as professor at the Roman College, he was entrusted with the chair of «Apologetics»; during the decade that he had this office (1576-1586), he prepared a course of lessons that came together later in the «Controversiae.» This work became famous immediately because of the clarity and richness of the contents and because of a primarily historical style. The Council of Trent had recently ended and for the Catholic Church it was necessary to strengthen and confirm her identity in regard to the Protestant Reformation. Bellarmine’s activity comes within this context. From 1588 to 1594 he was first spiritual father of the Jesuit students of the Roman College — among whom he met and directed St. Aloysius Gonzaga — and then religious superior. Pope Clement VIII appointed him papal theologian, consultor of the Holy Office and rector of the College of Penitentiaries of St. Peter’s Basilica. In the two-year period of 1597-1598 his catechism was published, the brief «Christian Doctrine,» which was his most popular work.

On March 3, 1599, he was created cardinal by Pope Clement VIII and, on March 18, 1602, he was appointed archbishop of Capua. He received episcopal ordination on April 21 of the same year. In the three years in which he was a diocesan bishop, he was distinguished for his zeal as a preacher in his cathedral, for the weekly visits he made to parishes, for three diocesan synods and for a provincial council that he motivated. After having participated in the conclaves that elected Popes Leo XI and Paul V, he was recalled to Rome, where he was a member of the Congregations of the Holy Office, of the Index, of Rites, of Bishops and of the Propagation of the Faith. He also had diplomatic tasks in the Republic of Venice and England, to defend the rights of the Apostolic See. In his last years he composed several books on spirituality, in which he condensed the fruit of his annual spiritual exercises. Reading these, the Christian people draw again today great edification. He died in Rome on Sept. 17, 1621. Pope Pius XI beatified him in 1923, canonized him in 1930 and proclaimed him a doctor of the Church in 1931.

St. Robert Bellarmine played an important role in the Church of the last decades of the 16th century and the early years of the next century. His «Controversiae» was a point of reference — that is still valid — for Catholic ecclesiology on questions regarding revelation, the nature of the Church, the sacraments and theological anthropology. There, the institutional aspect of the Church is highlighted because of the errors that circulated then on such questions. However, Bellarmine also clarified the invisible aspects of the Church as Mystical Body and he illustrated this with the analogy of the body and the soul, in order to describe the relationship between the interior riches of the Church and the external aspects that render her perceptible. In this monumental work, which attempts to synthesize the various theological controversies of the time, he avoids every controversial and aggressive style in confronting the ideas of the Reformation, and, using the arguments of reason and Church Tradition, illustrates Catholic doctrine in a clear and effective way.

However, his legacy is found in the way in which he conceived his work. Onerous government posts did not impede him, in fact, from daily striving for holiness with fidelity to the demands of his state as a religious, priest and bishop. His commitment to preaching derived from this fidelity. Being, as a priest and bishop, first of all a pastor of souls, he felt the duty to preach assiduously. There are hundreds of his sermons — homilies given in the Fiandre, in Rome, in Naples and in Capua on the occasion of liturgical celebrations. Not less abundant are his expositions and explanations for parish priests, women religious and students of the Roman College, which often centered on sacred Scripture, especially the Letters of St. Paul. His preaching and his catecheses have that characteristic of simplicity that he gleaned from his Ignatian education, all directed at concentrating the strength of the soul on the Lord Jesus, deeply known, loved and imitated.</p>

In the writings of this man of government one sees very clearly, even in the reserve with which he concealed his sentiments, the primacy that he assigns to the teachings of Christ. St. Bellarmine thus offers a model of prayer, the soul of every activity: a prayer that listens to the Word of the Lord, is fulfilled in contemplating grandeur, does not withdraw into itself, finds joy in abandonment to God.

A distinctive sign of Bellarmine’s spirituality is the lively and personal perception of the immense goodness of God, by which our saint felt that he was truly a beloved son of God and which was a source of great joy in recollecting himself, with serenity and simplicity, in prayer, in contemplation of God. In his book «De Ascensione Mentis in Deum» (The Mind’s Ascent to God), composed following the structure of St. Bonaventure’s «Itinerarium,» he exclaims: «O soul, your exemplar is God, infinite beauty, light without shadow, splendor that surpasses that of the moon and the sun. Raise your eyes to God in whom are found the archetypes of all things, and of whom, as from a source of infinite fecundity, derives this almost infinite variety of things. Hence you must conclude: Whoever finds God finds everything, whoever loses God loses everything.»

In this text one hears the echo of the famous «contemplatio ad amorem obtineundum» — contemplation to obtain love — from the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Bellarmine, who lived in the ostentatious and often unhealthy society of the end of the 1500s and the beginning of the 1600s, drew practical applications from this contemplation and projected forward the situation of the Church of his time with lively pastoral inspiration. In the book «De Arte Bene Moriendi» (The Art of Dying Well), for example, he indicates as a sure norm of good living and also of good dying, the frequent and serious meditation on the fact that one will have to render an account to God for one’s actions and way of living, and to seek not to accumulate riches on this earth, but to live simply and with charity in order to accumulate goods in Heaven. In the book «De Gemitu Columbae,» (The Mournful Cry of the Dove) — where the dove represents the Church — he calls the clergy and all the faithful to a personal and concrete reform of their life following what Scripture and the saints teach, among whom he mentions in particular St. Gregory of Nazianzen, St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome and St. Augustine, in addition to the great founders of religious orders such as St. Benedict, St. Dominic and St. Francis. Bellarmine teaches with great clarity and with the example of his own life that there cannot be a true reform of the
Church if there is not first our personal reform and the conversion of our hearts.

From the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, Bellarmine drew counsels to communicate in a profound way, even to the most simple, the beauty of the mysteries of the faith. He wrote: «If you have wisdom, understand that you were created for the glory of God and for your eternal salvation. This is your end, this is the center of your soul, this is the treasure of your heart. Because of this, esteem as truly good for yourself that which leads you to your end, and as truly evil what makes you lack it. Prosperous or adverse events, riches and poverty, health and sickness, honors and insults, life and death — the wise man must never seek or flee from them for himself. But they are good and desirable only if they contribute to the glory of God and to your eternal happiness, they are bad and to be fled from if they impede it» («De Ascensione Mentis in Deum»).

These, obviously, are not words that have gone out of style, but words for us to meditate upon today at length in order to orient our journey on this earth. They remind us that the end of our life is the Lord, the God that revealed himself in Jesus Christ, in whom he continues to call us and to promise us communion with him. They remind us of the importance of trusting in the Lord, of spending oneself in a life faithful to the Gospel, of accepting and enlightening every circumstance and every activity of life with faith and with prayer, always tending to union with him. Thank you.

[Translation by ZENIT] [The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our catechesis today deals with Saint Robert Bellarmine, the great Jesuit theologian and Doctor of the Church. In the period following the Council of Trent, Saint Robert taught theology, first at Louvain and then in the Roman College. His most famous work, the Controversiae, sought to address the issues raised by Protestant theology from a serene historical and theological perspective, while his most popular work remained his brief catechism of Christian doctrine. He also served as spiritual father to the Jesuit students of the Roman College, including Saint Aloysius Gonzaga. Saint Robert was created Cardinal by Pope Clement VIII, and made Archbishop of Capua, where he spent three years in preaching and pastoral activity before being recalled to Rome and the service of the Holy See. In his later years, he composed a number of works of spirituality which reflect his deep Ignatian formation, with its stress on meditation on the mysteries of Christ and the loving imitation of the Lord. May the example of Saint Robert Bellarmine inspire us to integrate our work and our pursuit of Christian holiness, to grow in closeness to God through prayer, and to contribute to the Church’s renewal through our own inner conversion to the Lord and the truth of his word.

A new and powerful earthquake, even more devastating than the one last September, has struck the city of Christchurch, in New Zealand, causing considerable loss of life and the disappearance of many people, to say nothing of the damage to buildings. At this time, my thoughts turn especially to the people there who are being severely tested by this tragedy. Let us ask God to relieve their suffering and to support all who are involved in the rescue operations. I also ask you to join me in praying for all who have lost their lives.

Finally, I would like to greet the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Ireland, Sweden, Japan and the United States. I also thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings.

Copyright 2011 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[He concluded in Italian:]

Finally, I address an affectionate thought to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Today we celebrate the liturgical memorial of St. Polycarp. May his example of fidelity to Christ inspire in you, dear young people, resolutions of a courageous evangelical witness. May it help you, dear sick, to offer your daily sufferings so that the civilization of love will spread in the world. May it sustain you, dear newlyweds, in your commitment to place as the foundation of your family intimate union with God.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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