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 Flanders, 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.
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.
vrijdag 25 februari 2011
Eergisteren sprak B16 tijdens de woensdagcatechese over een heilige van de Contrareformatie, Robertus Bellarminus (hieronder de vertaling van Zenit; Catholica.nl brengt inmiddels al een Nederlandse vertaling):