Who was Robert Bellarmine?
Saint Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (Italian: Roberto Francesco Romolo Bellarmino; 4 October 1542 – 17 September 1621) was an Italian Jesuit and a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. He was one of the most important figures in the Counter-Reformation. He was canonized in 1930 and named a Doctor of the Church. Bellarmine was born at Montepulciano, the son of noble, albeit impoverished, parents, Vincenzo Bellarmino and his wife Cinzia Cervini, who was the sister of Pope Marcellus II. As a boy he knew Virgil by heart and composed a number of poems in Italian and Latin. One of his hymns, on Mary Magdalene, is included in the Breviary.
He entered the Roman novitiate in 1560, remaining in Rome three years. He then went to a Jesuit house at Mondovì, in Piedmont, where he learned Greek. While at Mondovì, he came to the attention of Francesco Adorno, the local Jesuit Provincial Superior, who sent him to the University of Padua. Bellarmine's systematic study of theology began at Padua in 1567 and 1568, where his teachers were adherents of Thomism.
In 1569 he was sent to finish it at the University of Leuven in Flanders. There he was ordained, and obtained a reputation both as a professor and a preacher. He was the first Jesuit to teach at the university, where the subject of his course was the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. His residence in Leuven lasted seven years. In poor health, in 1576 he made a journey to Italy. Here he remained, commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII to lecture on polemical theology in the new Roman College.
New duties after 1589
Until 1589, Bellarmine was occupied as professor of theology. After the murder in that year of Henry III of France, Pope Sixtus V sent Enrico Caetani as legate to Paris to negotiate with the Catholic League of France, and chose Bellarmine to accompany him as theologian. He was in the city during its siege by Henry of Navarre.
The next pope, Clement VIII, set great store by him. He was made rector of the Roman College in 1592, examiner of bishops in 1598, and cardinal in 1599. Immediately after his appointment as Cardinal, Pope Clement made him a Cardinal Inquisitor, in which capacity he served as one of the judges at the trial of Giordano Bruno, and concurred in the decision which condemned Bruno to be burned at the stake as a heretic.
In 1602 he was made archbishop of Capua. He had written against pluralism and non-residence of bishops within their dioceses. As bishop he put into effect the reforming decrees of the Council of Trent. He received some votes in the 1605 conclaves which elected Pope Leo XI, Pope Paul V, and in 1621 when Pope Gregory XV was elected, but only in the second conclave of 1605 was he papabile.
The Galileo case
In 1616, on the orders of Paul V, Bellarmine summoned Galileo, notified him of a forthcoming decree of the Congregation of the Index condemning the Copernican doctrine of the mobility of the Earth and the immobility of the Sun, and ordered him to abandon it. Galileo agreed.
When Galileo later complained of rumors to the effect that he had been forced to abjure and do penance, Bellarmine wrote out a certificate denying the rumors, stating that Galileo had merely been notified of the decree and informed that, as a consequence of it, the Copernican doctrine could not be "defended or held".
Cardinal Bellarmine was himself ambiguous about heliocentrism, personally noting that further research had to be done to confirm or condemn it. Nearly twelve years after Bellarmine's death, Galileo would again be called before the Inquisition in this matter, in the year 1633.
Death In his old age he was bishop of Montepulciano for four years, after which he retired to the Jesuit college of St. Andrew in Rome, where he died on 17 September 1621, aged 78.
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