Saint of the Day: St. Robert Bellarmine
Roberto Francesco Romolo Bellarmino (1542 – 1621), a Jesuit who became a Cardinal and Doctor of the Church, was one of the major figures of the Counter Reformation. St. Robert Bellarmine has influenced Catholic Church positions on Protestantism, church-state relations, and the temporal power of the Church for 500 years.
St. Robert Bellarmine’s major contribution to Catholic theology was his organization and presentation of this large body of knowledge. The motivation was clearly to counter the position of the Protestant reformers. However, his work was part of a larger re-vitalization and reform movement within the Catholic Church. As the Archbishop of Capua, he implemented the reforms of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) which were to define Catholicism until the later part of the 20th century.
Although the Counter Reformation technically ended with the Thirty Years War in 1648, its general anti-Protestant thrust did not end until Protestants were admitted as observers and non-voting participants in the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965).
St. Robert Bellarmine’s extensive systematic writing defined a culture and world view which has not been displaced by Vatican II. His writing spells out clear boundaries and centralizes all authority, ultimately, with the Papacy. The limits of what is Catholic and Protestant are clear and all of the reasons as to why the non-Catholic position in any matter is wrong are also abundantly clear.
There is now a definite nostalgia for the security and limits of the pre-Vatican II Tridentine Catholic world, particularly among priests who have been ordained more recently. Pope Benedict XVI, who attended Vatican II as a theological adviser, has recently announced the revival of the Tridentine Latin Mass. Although the number of Catholics in the United States who support the return of the Latin Mass is only about 2%, there are substantial minority who fear that there has been too much deviation of belief and practice from the standards of the Counter Reformation.
The Vatican II Catholic Church endorsed certain points of the Protestant view that St. Robert Bellarmine and the Tridentine Church opposed. Liturgy in the language of the people, receiving the consecrated wine of communion, emphasizing the role of the laity, and simplifying or eliminating ritual were all opposed by the Council of Trent. To a great extent, Pope John Paul II occasioned the Restorationist movement by silencing dissent, forbidding discussion of the ordination of women, and training priests and appointing bishops who espoused more Tridentine views and devotional practices.
Whether one is a traditionalist or a progressive, the systematic theology of St. Robert Bellarmine forms a core of the identity of the Christian movement’s largest church.