Among the 36 Doctors of the Church, St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) was unique for several reasons, all of which make up the singular admixture that was his person and position. 

One of only two Jesuit Doctors (the other is St. Peter Canisius, the “Second Apostle to Germany”), like Canisius, he composed a Catechism. And like the Seraphic Doctor, St. Bonaventure—who was made a Cardinal, as was Bellarmine, much against his wishes—he wrote a work entitled The Mind’s Ascent. And like Sts. Augustine (who was a bishop, as was Bellarmine), Thomas Aquinas (a professor, just like Bellarmine), and Albert the Great (a scientist), he was incredibly prolific, even by the standards of those multi-voluminous author-saint-doctors.

But as we find with Fr. Kenneth Baker’s new, massive (over 1,000 pages) translation of Bellarmine’s Controversies of the Christian Faith, published by Keep the Faith Books, this was a saint with a fight on his hands: namely the Protestants—or to use his own terminology, “the heretics”—who had brought about the Reformation. It was up to Cardinal Bellarmine to put into action the Council of Trent’s Counter-Reformation.

It is one thing, of course, to denounce heretics and schismatics for simply not toeing the Catholic Church’s line. It is quite another to systematically, sanely and piece-by-piece deconstruct their arguments and their very raisons d’etre. This was Bellarmine’s mission in his “Controversies”: to fight back the heretics, not with the Church Militant (and the secular arm), but with the Church Intelligent and Informed.

“We have to keep in mind that due to the Reformation, Germany was gone, parts of Poland were lost, and the Church was fighting to keep the Protestants out of France and Italy—it was literally war: The Wars of Religion were raging, and it was up to Bellarmine to advise a series of Popes on how to fight back,” says Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.

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