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Posted by on Sep 17, 2008

St. Robert Bellarmine – September 17

St. Robert Bellarmine – September 17

Once again, the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine is upon us. Last year, Randy wrote a post about Bellarmine’s life and contributions. This year, I thought it would be interesting to hear what a few Jesuits might have to say about him. I wrote to several schools and other institutions named after Robert Bellarmine and to the Jesuit communities at several Jesuit universities. I received responses from people at many of them. Not all had comments they wanted to share, but these men did.  I offer their responses in order received, with my thanks to all those who took the time to respond.

From Alan Yost, SJ – Formerly of Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma, now working in a parish in Yakima, WA.

I don’t necessarily WANT people to know this about Roberto Belarmino, but since it’s true, and in a spirit of transparency, he was one of the main protagonists in the whole Galileo affair, arguing for the Church and against Galileo regarding the earth-centered vs. sun-centered model of the universe. In retrospect, it’s a little embarrassing, but we have to remember that he was a man of his time and that he was ardent in defending his beliefs and the beliefs of the Church at the time. Recall that Pope John Paul II offered a public apology to Galileo about 400 years after the fact.

From Rev. Clyde F. Crews – University Historian, Bellarmine University

We have had as our university motto, from the very beginning of this institution, the words taken from the introit of the Feast of St. Robert Bellarmine:  In Veritatis Amore.  To be truly engaged “in the love of truth” in all its dimensions, joys, tasks, and responsibilities remains a central part of our mission.  We are also struck by the fact that St. Robert was widely known – in the context of his times – for his tolerance, fairness, kindness, and generosity – especially to those in need.

From Fred Mayovsky, SJ – Math teacher at Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma

St. Robert Bellarmine defended Galileo.  OK, Bellarmine was the Pope’s man, but he handled GG with love and gentleness, guiding him (GG) as he (SRB) was telling him what he (GG) could and could NOT state.  SRB was a dove and not a hawk in bringing the Pope’s directives.  In that same vein, when I teach math and demand neatness and organized thought, I will explain HOW to do the homework and not merely expect my students to do what I “expect” but as I “direct”, so that they assimilate knowledge.

Yes, my reflections on Bellarmine, I teach at a school named after him, I teach in a spirit of which I think he would approve.  Sorry I do not have the time to ground and defend my reflections.  But they are MY reflections on a great man, and I have been trying to live by his spirit in HIS school.

From James Flaherty, SJ  Rector of the Jesuit Community at Marquette University

Bellarmine was probably the most important theologian of the Counter-Reformation era. You might check out the website of the Singapore Jesuits for further info. Just google them and look for their hagiographies on Jesuit saints.

My thanks to each of you for the insights you’ve shared. May the Lord richly bless your ministries.


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Posted by on Jun 21, 2008

St. Robert Bellarmine – September 17

St. Aloysius Gonzaga – June 21

St. Aloysius Gonzaga (1568-1591) is often portrayed as a weak dreamy sort of figure. Worse, he has been presented to young people as a patron and role model who rejected all of the fun, adventure, and rebellion of youth. The real story is far more compelling.

How St. Luigi Gonzaga became St. Aloysius in English is not clear. The Latin for Luigi would be Ludovicus. Alois would be the German equivalent.

The “spin” of 17th and 18th century writers on his life was more a pietist anti-intellectual critique of the secularist Enlightenment. To be impolitic, he comes across as some sort of bloodless, lily toting wimp with upward cast eyes. Although it is not uncommon for saints to be “martyred” posthumously and their lives used to advance a contemporary cause, the Renaissance Luigi Gonzaga, Marquis of Castiglione is more relevant to us as post-modern Christians.

The overall sketch of his life is a simple as it is dramatic. Luigi was the oldest son of Ferrante, the Marquis of Castiglione, and named for the founder of the Gonzaga family Luigi, Lord of Mantua (1328). He was a pious youth, despised the things of this world, joined the Jesuits, and died of the plague after contracting it from nursing its abandoned victims in the streets of Rome when he was barely 23.

The context of his life and his status as an imperial prince give us a fuller understanding of who he was. According to John Coulson, the editor of The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary:

It is impossible to estimate Aloysius’ (Luigi’s) career without some idea of his appalling heredity and environment. The Gonzaga tyrants rank with the Visconti, the Sforza, and the D’Este. They entered history about 1100; the first Gonzaga, lord of Mantua, was Luigi (1328), whose third marriage took place on the same day as his son’s and grandson’s: the three brides entered Mantua together in triumph. Already their cliff-like fortress was looming over the city. These despots displayed an amazing mixture of qualities. The Gonzaga clan survived one assassination after another and became allied to most of the reigning houses; but Luigi Gonzaga (141), grimly surnamed ‘The Turk,’ kept up three printing-presses and had for clients men like Platina, or Mantegna, who painted the scenery–now at Hampton Court–for the plays to which the Gonzaga were devoted. The French Parliament petitioned against the introduction of these plays into France–they were a ‘high school of adultery’–and no one would now dare paint the pictures with which some of the Gonzaga palaces were adorned. Yet these princes could care for agriculture, irrigation, checks on usury; and their insane debaucheries alternated with explosions of a genuine underlying faith. Their subjects, bled white by taxation, thrilled by their exotic pageantries, worshipped them till they broke into bloody but useless revolution.

The life of a Renaissance prince was far from any story book. St. Aloysius’ primary schooling was at the Medici Court in Florence. While he received the best academic training of the day, there was a bigger focus on swordsmanship, riding, and intrigue. He also spent significant time at the Spanish Court of King Philip II. His mother was a Valois and a relative of the Queen and his father had turned down a position of Master of the Horse in the English Court of Henry VIII in favor of Spain. At the time, the Spanish Empire was at its height of power and global dominance. Philip II also became king of Portugal as Philip I and ruled the Portuguese Empire as well.

As the oldest son, Luigi was trained to fulfill the duties of a prince and to prepare to succeed his father in the wealth, power, and literal back stabbing of the Gonzagas. As a child, though, he was appalled at what he saw and experienced, including the murder of close relatives. Fortunately, he came under the influence of St. Robert Bellarmine, who gave him his First Communion as a teenager. His rebellion was to reject it all and to enter the Church. His mother was not opposed to the idea, since it was not uncommon for powerful families to place prominent younger sons in key church positions that controlled considerable wealth and property. Luigi’s desire to join the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) was another matter. It would mean that he would forgo any type of service that could make him a powerful or wealthy cleric. Ironically, it was a wealthy and powerful churchman – Luigi’s cousin Cardinal Scipione Gonzaga – who prevailed on Ferrante to permit his son to join the Jesuits.

However, even as a Jesuit scholastic (student for the priesthood), he was still a celebrity who received celebrity treatment by those outside the order. Luigi probably over-compensated for this and his spiritual director and personal mentor, St. Robert Bellarmine, told him to ease up on prayer and penance and live a more moderate life. If we look between the lines, fitting a Renaissance prince into a religious house was not the easiest task for Luigi or his fellow religious. In fact, St. Ignatius’ famous letter on obedience was motivated in part to try to redirect the religious enthusiasm of these men to the ultimate in penance – to do what you are told whether you like it or not.

One can only imagine what it was to see a Gonzaga nursing victims of the plague on the streets of Rome.

There is a wonderful statue of St. Luigi outside St. Aloysius parish on the grounds of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington which shows a vital, caring, young man tending to a plague victim.

For some time when Gonzaga University was at the height of its fame as a basketball champion, there was a slogan which the University ran on national TV – Gonzaga: a Way of Life. The possibility of taking a brand like “Gonzaga” and making it stand for an impassioned life of faith inspired service is due to a young man caught up in grace. Isn’t that what we want for all young men and women?

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Posted by on Sep 17, 2007

St. Robert Bellarmine – September 17

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.

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