A Model of Prayer: St. Robert Bellarmine

“Whoever finds God, finds everything; whoever loses God, loses everything.”

By Kimberly Bruce

He offers "a model of prayer, the soul of every activity: a prayer that listens to the word of God, that is satisfied in contemplating his grandeur, that does not withdraw into self but is pleased to abandon itself to God . . . He teaches with great clarity and with the example of his own life that there can be no true reform of the Church unless there is first our own personal reform and the conversion of our own heart."

So proclaimed Pope Benedict XVI (Fe. 23, 2011) of St. Robert Bellarmine, bishop and Doctor of the Church, whose feast celebrated on Sept. 17.

A life for Christ and His Church
Born Oct. 4, 1542, in Montepulciano in Tuscany, Italy, St. Robert was a nephew of Pope Marcellus II. The young Robert joined the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) at age 18 after completing his studies in the humanities. He subsequently began studying philosophy and theology at the Roman College in both Padua and Louvain. 

At 28, St. Robert was ordained a priest and became a professor of theology in Louvain. Later, he was called to be the apologetics chair at the Roman College to address the theological arguments that had arisen due to the Protestant Reformation.

His time as chair resulted in his Controversies, a series of lectures pertaining to the Sacraments, the nature of the Church, theological anthropology, and Divine Revelation. During this trying period, said Pope Benedict, “The Catholic Church was impelled to reinforce and confirm her identity,” and St. Robert aided her in this regard.

Under Pope Clement VIII in 1597, St. Robert became papal theologian. He was elevated to the College of Cardinals in 1599 and appointed as archbishop of Capua in 1602. He continued as papal advisor under the new pope, Paul V, in 1605.

Saint Robert was also the spiritual director of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, and helped St. Francis de Sales obtain approval of the Visitation Order.

Live simply and charitably
Saint Robert did not resort to harshness when vying with those bent on Protestant theology, but instead relied on reason and the Tradition of the Church, by which he illustrated “Catholic doctrine clearly and effectively,” said Pope Benedict.

Many other books were composed by St. Robert, namely his De ascensione mentis in Deum (Elevation of the mind to God) in which he writes, “Whoever finds God finds everything, whoever loses God loses everything.”

He wrote De arte bene moriendi (The art of dying a good death) in which he advises one to “live simply and charitably,” said Pope Benedict, being more concerned with laying up treasures in Heaven.

Another book, De gemitu columbae (The lament of the dove), speaks to the clergy and lay faithful alike about reforming their lives. Saint Robert believed, said Pope Benedict, that “there can be no true reform of the Church” without one’s personal conversion and reform of the heart.

Concerned about the spirituality of his flock, St. Robert wrote in De ascensione mentis, “If you have wisdom, may you understand that you have been created for the glory of God and for your eternal salvation. This is your goal, this is the centre of your soul, this the treasure of your heart. Therefore consider as truly good for you what leads you to your goal, and truly evil what causes you to miss it.”

Prayer, the foundation
Prayer, again, was an especially important topic for St. Robert in his evangelization efforts. He says in The art of dying a good death, "The necessity of prayer is so evident in Scripture that there is nothing more clearly taught or shown …" He continues:

First, prayer enlightens the mind … Second, prayer nourishes faith and trust … Third, prayer kindles love and prepares the mind to receive greater gifts … Fourth, prayer increases humility and holy fear … Fifth, frequent prayer leads to a contempt for all temporal things in the heart of the one who prays … Sixth, prayer brings forth an incredible delight since by its means a man begins to taste the sweetness of the Lord … Finally … prayer also confers upon one who prays no small dignity and honor.

Continuing as papal advisor to Pope Gregory XV when he was elected Pope in 1621, St. Robert retired shortly thereafter, due to his ailing health. He died on Sept. 17, 1621. He was both canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI in 1930 and 1931, respectively.

Saint Robert Bellarmine, pray for us!


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