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St. Robert Bellarmine, May 13

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

Biographical selection:

Since the founding of the Church until our days, Divine Providence has always called illustrious men, who by their knowledge and sanctity have conserved and defended the truths of Catholic Faith against the attacks of heretics.

St Robert Bellarmine

Until today, the works of St. Bellarmine constitute a wall of defense against Protestantism, Liberalism, Modernism & Progressivism

Among these men shines St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), who was celebrated for his teachings and polemic works, as well as for his virtue and zeal for the Church. In truth, it would seem that the holy Cardinal had received from God the threefold gift of teaching the people, guiding the faithful, and confounding the Protestant heretics of the 16th century, a time when Protestantism was growing and spreading.

He was great as a preacher, professor and polemicist, receiving the title of “hammer of heresies” from Benedict XV. He wrote prodigiously, and to understand the worth of his books one need only read what St. Francis of Sales, his contemporary and friend, said about them: “I preached five years in Chablais with no other books than the Bible and the works of the great Bellarmine.”

His most famous work is The Controversies, a collection of the lectures he delivered at the Roman College. In it he set out the teaching of the Fathers, the Councils and the Church Law to victoriously defend the dogmas attacked by the Protestants. Clear, balanced, and forceful, this work is so well done that many considered it insuperable. When it was published, it raised as much joy among Catholics as hatred among the Church’s enemies. Theodore of Baise, a Protestant leader, used to say: “This is the work that defeated us.” Given the number of conversions for which it was responsible, reading it was forbidden under penalty of death in England by Queen Elizabeth. Only doctors of theology were permitted to read it.

In addition to disputing the heretics, he also wanted to prevent the faithful from falling into their errors. For this purpose he wrote his remarkable little catechism, A Summary of Christian Doctrine (Doctrinae Christianae breve, 1598), which he used to teach the children and simple lay people, even when he was very busy with other pressing matters. Among his many other works, at the end of his life he wrote his spiritual notes, which form five small ascetic treatises. The last of these works is called The Art of Dying Well (De arte bene moriendi, 1620).

Comments of Prof. Plinio:

Permit me to provide another fact from his life: St. Robert Bellarmine was the spiritual director of St. Louis Gonzaga. This alone would be honor enough in the life of a man.

What can be said about St. Robert Bellarmine? He was praised as “the hammer of heresies.” There was a time, before Vatican II, when this was a great eulogy. Pope Benedict XV granted him this title. Various other great saints who worked considerable damage on the heresies received similar epithets. He wrote many books demonstrating the Catholic truth and attacking the heretics. His arguments were forceful and hard, but they converted many of them.

 Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth forbade reading the works of St. Robert Bellarmine under the penalty of death

Theodore of Blaise, an important Protestant leader who succeeded Calvin, was fearful of St. Robert Bellarmine’s work. This man had a famous debate with St. Francis of Sales. Elizabeth I, the Queen of England, was also in a panic over his works, given the number of conversions they had occasioned. She was so fearful that she decreed that whosoever was not a doctor in theology was forbidden to read his works.

St. Robert Bellarmine understood that one cannot do away with a heresy only by preaching the truth. It is also necessary to attack and smash the error. Using this method he converted heretics, bringing them back into union with the Church. When the Catholic Church canonized him, she approved this method. She said that St. Bellarmine had practiced all the virtues to a heroic degree. Therefore, he acted according to charity, since it is one of the three theological virtues – faith, hope, and charity. He also acted according to justice and prudence since they are included in the four cardinal virtues: justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude. If his method was wrong, the Church would not have canonized him.

This is an important point to remember, since from the time of Vatican Council II, we have been taught that to attack heresy and heretics is harmful to the union of the churches. According to this conciliar mentality, every work of an apostolate should praise and applaud the heretics, and never forthrightly combat their errors. The life of St. Robert Bellarmine proves precisely the opposite.

It is also interesting to note the presence of harmonic contrasts in the life of St. Robert Bellarmine. He was a champion of orthodoxy and a great fighter, but at the same time he was a man able to direct the sensitive soul of St. Louis of Gonzaga, and guide him to sanctity. St. Louis Gonzaga was very pure and so concerned about guarding his chastity that some bad persons close to him spread that he was unbalanced. St. Robert Bellarmine was the one who understood that difficult-to-understand soul, knew how to deal with him, and guided him to become a masterpiece of sanctity.

Therefore, at the same time that he was a very busy polemicist, St. Robert Bellarmine took the time to direct souls and wrote profound spiritual treatises that earned him the title of Doctor of the Church. This capacity to revert back and forth from the mêlée of a fight and the direction of souls, while maintaining a spirit of meditation to write his books, is only possible when a man has a great calmness of spirit. This calm is, in a certain sense, one of the most profound notes of the soul of St. Robert Bellarmine.

Let us admire such a great saint and ask him to do with each one of us what he did with St. Louis Gonzaga, that is, to lead us on the road of sanctity.


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Dr. Plinio
Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Saint of the Day features highlights from the lives of saints based on comments made by the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Following the example of St. John Bosco who used to make similar talks for the boys of his College, each evening it was Prof. Plinio’s custom to make a short commentary on the lives of the next day’s saint in a meeting for youth in order to encourage them in the practice of virtue and love for the Catholic Church. TIA thought that its readers could profit from these valuable commentaries.

The texts of both the biographical data and the comments come from personal notes taken by Atila S. Guimarães from 1964 to 1995. Given the fact that the source is a personal notebook, it is possible that at times the biographic notes transcribed here will not rigorously follow the original text read by Prof. Plinio. The commentaries have also been adapted and translated for TIA’s site.

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