Wednesday, September 17, 2008

St. Robert Bellarmine

Most people have no idea who Robert Bellarmine is. The ones who do know who he is probably just think of him as the jerk who condemned Galileo. The fact is that he's a great saint and Doctor of the Church. Oh, and Galileo had it coming anyway. I'll get to that in a second, though.

St. Robert really made his bones as a Super-Jesuit who taught polemical theology at the Roman College. During that time, he wrote his famous "Disputations" which was basically a huge and thorough work of dogmatic theology that had the effect of completely demolishing every Protestant argument in existence. The spawn of the Reformation actually set up special university chairs for the sole purpose of refuting St. Robert. It's a shame that you really can't find this work anywhere in English. Like his fellow Counter-Reformation Jesuit, St. Peter Canisius, Bellarmine's dogmatic works are just not available. Except, oddly enough, if you're a sedevacantist. They draw heavily on some of his work, but I have no idea where they are getting it from. Usually second or third hand quotations, which is enough to make their whole argument very shady, in my opinion.

The whole Galileo business was rather unfortunate. Yes, Galileo taught heliocentrism. Yes, he got into trouble for it. But why? It wasn't for believing that the sun was the center of the solar system. Copernicus had already said that and nobody in the Church was offended. It's a long story, so I'm not going to repeat the whole thing. Here's a good article about it from Catholic Education. The nutshell is that Galileo had a friend in St. Robert and could have avoided any censure altogether if he had just not tried to be a theologian. That the Church and St. Robert specifically have had to deal with historical revisionism of this point is not good, especially given Bellarmine's other fine qualities.

For example, St. Robert was also famous as an ascetic. Despite dwelling in a Vatican apartment, he lived very simply. This led to his writing some great spiritual works such as his Commentary on the Psalms and the much-celebrated Art of Dying Well. These works are available and, of course, should be read by all.

In this day of ecumenical madness where folks try to ignore the importance of dogma in the name of formless unity, we should remember guys like St. Robert and how they made it their life's work to defend the True Faith.

St. Robert Bellarmine, pray for us.

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