This future saint was born in Tuscany to a very prominent but impoverished local family. His family had great ambitions for the future saint, but he wanted to be a priest. Over their objections, the young Robert joined the Society of Jesus in Rome, in 1560.
St. Robert was a brilliant scholar. He studied theology in the finest universities in Italy. He eventually became an academic. The Pope invited the young Jesuit to lecture at the prestigious Pontifical College in Rome. St. Robert eventually became a professor of theology.
He was held in high regard by both the Pope and the French monarch, and was sent on diplomatic missions by both. St. Robert was appointed a cardinal in 1599, and the Archbishop of Capua in 1602. St. Robert received several votes during the conclave for the election of a new Pope in 1605.
Several Popes sought St. Robert’s advice on the dispute between the Papacy and the Protestant Reformers. The saint was a firm defender of the Papacy and the Church. He entered into a public controversy with King James I of England over the ‘divine right of king’s doctrine’.
The saint was a friend of the great scientist Galileo, and tried to help him when he was brought before the Inquisition.
As an Archbishop he was a reformer. He implemented in full the decrees of the Council of Trent in his Archbishopric. St. Robert was considered a model ecclesiastical prelate, and his example persuaded many bishops to reform their Episcopal Sees.
St. Robert’s greatest contributions to the Church were his theological writings. From his studies grew his Disputationes (1581–1593). This major work was the earliest attempt to systematize the various religious controversies of the time. In this great work, he defended the teachings of the Catholic Church. His ideas were very influential in the Catholic Counter Reformation.
During his retirement, he wrote several short books intended to help ordinary people achieve a deeper relationship with God. These were very popular at the time, and they are still studied to this day.
Robert Bellarmine was canonized in 1930, and was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931.
His remains are held in the Chapel of the Roman College, in the Vatican. Over the centuries, there have been several miracles reported in the chapel, including the restoration of a child’s sight.
St. Robert Bellarmine believed that we need God’s guidance in our everyday life to live a good life:
“Lord Help us speak as you wish.”
He believed that learning and study was important for a good Christian:
“Give us understandings of your ways.”
St. Robert Bellarmine’s life and writings still guide Catholics to this day.