St. Robert Bellarmine

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Robert Bellarmine (1542 – 1621) was an Italian Jesuit and a cardinal of the Catholic Church. 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 along with Bellarmine to negotiate with the Catholic League of France, which was formed with the intention of the eradication of Protestantism from Catholic France.  Bellarmine was, therefore, in the city during its siege by Henry of Navarre.

Bellarmine 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 condemning Bruno.  He was then to be burned at the stake as a heretic, which was the form of public capital punishment used by secular courts. In 1602 he was made archbishop of Capua and put into effect the reforming decrees of the Council of Trent.

In 1616, on the orders of Pope 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 to do so, but when Galileo later complained of rumours to the effect that he had been forced to abjure and do penance, Bellarmine wrote out a certificate denying the rumours, 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”. Unlike the previously mentioned formal injunction, this certificate would have allowed Galileo to continue using and teaching the mathematical content of Copernicus’s theory as a purely theoretical device for predicting the apparent motions of the planets.

Bellarmine wrote to heliocentrist Paolo Antonio Foscarini in 1615:

“I say that if there were a true demonstration that the sun is at the center of the world and the earth in the third heaven, and that the sun does not circle the earth but the earth circles the sun, then one would have to proceed with great care in explaining the Scriptures that appear contrary, and say rather that we do not understand them, than that what is demonstrated is false. But I will not believe that there is such a demonstration, until it is shown me.” -Bellarmine’s letter of 12 April 1615 to Foscarini, translated in Finocchiaro, Maurice A., ed. (1989). The Galileo Affair: a Documentary History. Berkeley: U. California P. pp. 67–8.

Bellarmine retired to the Jesuit college of St. Andrew in Rome, where he died on 17 September 1621, aged 78.  He was canonized a saint in 1930 and named Doctor of the Church, one of only 37. He was one of the most important figures in the Counter-Reformation.


  • De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis
  • Disputationes de controversiis christianae fidei
  • De ascensione mentis in Deum per scalas rerum creatorum opusculum (The Mind’s Ascent to God by the Ladder of Created Things 1614)
  • The Art of Dying Well
  • The Seven Words on the Cross

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