Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Was Robert Bellarmine Ahead of His Time?

So asks this book review essay by John M. Vella in the on-line version of Homiletic & Pastoral Review:

Empire of Souls: Robert Bellarmine and the Christian Commonwealth. By Stefania Tutino (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 416 pp. ISBN 978-0-19974-053-6.
On Temporal and Spiritual Authority. By Robert Bellarmine. Edited, translated and with an introduction by Stefania Tutino (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2012), 500 pp. PB: ISBN 978-0-86597-717-4.

In Empire of Souls, Stefania Tutino offers a fresh perspective on the central role Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) played in the development of post-Reformation Catholicism, and its relationship to the early modern state. Tutino compliments her study with a newly published collection of writings, never before translated into English, that she believes best represents Bellarmine’s political theology. These two impressive scholarly achievements go beyond the standard story of a reactionary crusader battling anti-papal princes, and protesting Protestants, typical of most traditional studies. Rather, Bellarmine is portrayed sympathetically as a controversial figure whose political theology was too liberal, or better yet, Whiggish, for some members of the Roman Curia who doubted his commitment to papal supremacy. Yet, his sophisticated defense of papal spiritual authority was influential enough to provoke many critical responses from across Europe. For Tutino, Bellarmine was not only the central figure in the debate over the proper relationship between Church and state in early modern Europe; his vision of the papacy still resonates today, perhaps more than it did during his lifetime.

However, his relevance in our day should not diminish in our minds how preeminent he was in his time. Before he began teaching at the Roman College in 1576, Bellarmine established a reputation as a distinguished scholar and preacher at Louvain, where he lectured on Aquinas at the Jesuit College. While there, he would counsel apologists to master the core of Catholic theology. He followed his own advice when he wrote his three-volume, Disputationes de controversies Christianae fidei (or Controversiae for short), by weaving contemporary controversies into the larger fabric of the faith, presenting a comprehensive understanding of Christian doctrine. He re-imagined the Catholic Church as a res publica Christiana, a theo-political organism that enveloped into itself all Christian commonwealths without violating their temporal jurisdiction. This concept of Christian empire was a reconstruction of medieval Christendom with the pope as its spiritual head. Tutino believes this expansive vision of the Catholic Church as an empire of souls was a notable departure from the theological approaches of Bellarmine’s contemporaries. . . .

This is the William Barclay referrred to later in the review essay, not to be confused with the other William Barclay from Scotland.

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