Saturday, September 17, 2011

St. Robert Bellarmine and the English Reformation

Today's saint has connections to England and the aftermath of the English Reformation. First, his book addressing Protestant teaching and doctrine, The Controversies, based on lectures he gave at the Roman College, proved so effective that Queen Elizabeth I banned its publication and distribution in England.

Robert Bellarmine conducted disputations with James I of England and one of the king's favorite Anglican bishops, Lancelot Andrewes. Bellarmine did not support James I's doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings, arguing that the true source of political power was indeed from God, but that the power of the king or magistrate depended on the consent of the people and that, indeed, the people may withdraw their consent and change the form of government. This scholar even argues that Bellarmine's disputations with King James I provided Thomas Jefferson with some of the terminology of the Declaration of Independence.

For example:

Equality of man

Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”

Bellarmine: “All men are equal, not in wisdom or grace, but in the essence and nature of mankind” (“De Laicis,” c.7) “There is no reason why among equals one should rule rather than another” (ibid.). “Let rulers remember that they preside over men who are of the same nature as they themselves.” (“De Officus Princ.” c. 22). “Political right is immediately from God and necessarily inherent in the nature of man” (“De Laicis,” c. 6, note 1).

The source of power

Declaration of Independence: “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Bellarmine: “It depends upon the consent of the multitude to constitute over itself a king, consul, or other magistrate. This power is, indeed, from God, but vested in a particular ruler by the counsel and election of men” (“De Laicis, c. 6, notes 4 and 5). “The people themselves immediately and directly hold the political power” (“De Clericis,” c. 7).

The late great Fr. Hardon provides this overview of Bellarmine's life and works. He died on September 17, 1621 and was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church on the same date in 1931. The Art of Dying Well is certainly one of those works that contributed to his being named a Doctor of the Church.

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