St Robert Bellarmine SJ
St Robert Bellarmine SJ

Robert Bellarmine SJ

Robert Bellarmine was born in 1542 and studied at the Universities of Padua and Leuven where he was the first Jesuit to teach: the subject of his course was the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. He was made rector of the Roman College (later renamed the Pontifical Gregorian University) by Pope Clement VIII in 1592 and was appointed Cardinal in 1599.

As bishop, Bellarmine put into effect the reforming decrees of the Council of Trent and was considered a possible candidate for the papacy in the conclave of 1605.

In 1616, on the instructions of Pope Paul V, Bellarmine notified Galileo (Galileo Galilei) of a forthcoming decree of the Congregation of the Index that condemned the Copernican doctrine of the mobility of the earth and the immobility of the sun, and ordered him to abandon it, which Galileo duly did.

From his extensive theological research, Bellarmine wrote his best known works, Disputationes, which addressed the various religious controversies of the time. They considered such matters as the Word of God, of Christ, and of the Pope; the authority of ecumenical councils, and of the Church; the sacraments, Divine grace, free will, justification, and good works.

During his retirement at the Jesuit College of St Andrew in Rome, Cardinal Bellarmine wrote several short books intended to help ordinary people in their spiritual life including The Mind's Ascent to God (published in English as Jacob’s Ladder). He died on 17 September 1621, aged 78, and was canonised by Pope Pius XI in 1930. The following year he was declared a Doctor of the Church. His remains, in a cardinal's red robes, are displayed behind glass under a side altar in the Church of Saint Ignatius in Rome.

Heythrop College, University of London, which was founded in 1614, has been dedicated to Robert Bellarmine since 1926 and the ecclesiastical faculties of Theology and Philosophy at the college are known as the Bellarmine Institute. The ecclesiastical faculties were first established at Heythrop College in 1964 when it was located in Oxfordshire. They were re-activated by decree of the Congregation for Catholic Education on 17 September 2013, the feast day of St Robert Bellarmine.