High above the entrance to Cohasset Harbor, across the water from Bassing Beach, there stands a stately building called Bellarmine House. Owned by Boston College, it has long served as a vacation site, a respite from the teaching and other ministries performed by the members of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). I mention this because on Monday we celebrate the feast day of St. Robert Bellarmine, Jesuit, priest and Doctor of the Church. Born in 1542 Robert Bellarmine was ordained a priest, a member of the Society of Jesus, at the age of 28. His first task was as professor of theology at the University of Louvain, Belgium, and later in Rome. He was recognized as a brilliant scholar and preacher. Later named a Bishop and then a Cardinal, he was called by Pope Clement VIII to be papal theologian. As a writer he was an impressive apologist for the Church in the post Tridentine era (Council of Trent) at the time of the Counter Reformation. He upheld the rights of the pope to interfere in temporal affairs and he spoke out against the divine rights of kings, which earned him some opposition. These are not burning issues of our times, but in the late 16th and early 17th centuries they had to be dealt with, and Robert Bellarmine was equal to the task. Scientists may remember that it was St. Robert Bellarmine who delivered the admonition to Galileo not to press the theory of Copernicus on the sun as the center of the universe.
In his personal life, Robert Bellarmine was an austere ascetic, and tried always to lead his life as closely as possible like the poor of his day. To them he always was kind and generous, sharing all that he had. Thomas Jefferson, in writing the Declaration of Independence, incorporated the teaching of St. Robert Bellarmine on the inalienable rights of the person. Bellarmine lived in stormy times. The decades following the Council of Trent were charged with emotion. We learn from him that then as now there are matters that can change, but there were also lasting and permanent truths and realities that do not. In the last years of his writing, Bellarmine turned to spiritual matters, commenting on the scriptures and incorporating his reflections into his writings and his preaching. He died in 1621 and the following year he was declared a Doctor of the Church. Canonized a saint in 1930, today he is hailed as the patron saint of catechists and catechumens.
Fr John R. Mulvehill