Friday, March 04, 2011

Saint Robert Bellarmine SJ

Gian Lorenzo Bernini
1598 - 1680
Bust of Saint Robert Bellarmine SJ
Left of high altar, Choir, Il Gesù, Rome

Behind the main altar of Il Gesù, under the apse, is an altar in memory of Saint Robert Bellarmine.

The saint`s body is actually in the Church of Sant`Ignazio in Rome.

The portrait bust was an ancient Roman sculptural type that was revived and developed in the 15th century, with the growing interest in the representation of the individual.

In 17th-century Rome, numerous busts were produced of Popes, prelates and other members of the elite. They were usually intended for public display or propaganda.

St. Robert Bellarmine was the subject of the Pope`s catechesis on 23 February 2011.

Along with St Peter Canisius (1521– 97) he wrote polemical works against Protestants, catechisms republished in hundreds of editions, and popular devotional books.

Ater the Council of Trent, he helped lead the renewed emphasis on traditional orthodoxy in the Counter-Reformation church which resulted in the condemnation of the writings of neo-Platonism as he concluded that Platonism was more dangerous to Christianity than Aristotelianism

He published Disputationes de controversiis christianae fidei (also called Disputationes), which was the earliest attempt to systematize the various controversies of the time and which refuted the other side`s arguments. It made an immense impression throughout Europe. Bellarmine was regarded by Protestants as the exponent of Catholicism whose views had to be defeated.

He became involved in celebrated controversies with Venice and also with King James I.

It was his role to undercut the intellectul basis of his opponents` positions which he did successfully

But the Pope in his speech preferred to concentrate on the other side of the great Doctor and Saint - not the great controversialist. For him religion was not an intellectual interest. It was a creed, a way of life.

One of the early Jesuits, his work is imbued with the spirit of Ignatius`s Spiritual Exercises.

The Pope said:

"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."