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  • Bellarmino: Una teologia politica della Controriforma
  • Robert Bireley S.J.
Bellarmino: Una teologia politica della Controriforma. By Franco Motta. (Brescia: Editrice Morcelliana. 2005. Pp. 683. €42.00.)

This difficult, densely written book does reward the reader who perseveres to the end. Its subject, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), stands out as a major figure in the Counter-Reformation; indeed, for Franco Motta in terms of the development of thought, he is the Counter-Reformation. The author considers his book to be neither a study of Bellarmine's theology nor an intellectual biography, but "an historical essay on the ideas of Bellarmine as they are found in the context of his biography"("un saggio di storia delle idee calata in un contesto biografico") (p. 10). He aims to uncover the fundamental idea in the cardinal's mentality, his forma mentis, which is at the root of his position on multiple theological issues. This centerpiece of Bellarmine's thought, and by extension that of the Counter-Reformation, turns out to be the principle of authority and its correlative, obedience. The author investigates this theme principally but not exclusively with regard to three issues: the composition of the Controversies (Disputationes de Controversiis Christianae Fidei adversus hujus temporis Haereticos)(3 vols., 1586-1593), the arsenal of Catholic apologetics and the most influential theological work of the Counter-Reformation; the conflict with King James I of England over the indirect power of the pope in temporal matters; and most extensively, the inner-Catholic dispute De Auxiliis over the role of grace and free will in the [End Page 327] process of salvation which finally ended with a 1607 degree of Pope Paul V exonerating both the Dominican and Jesuit adversaries of heresy but taking no position on the issue. Those interested in Bellarmine's role in the Galileo Affair will find nothing here.

Motta finds Bellarmine to have inclined to the principle of authority from the beginning as nephew of Marcello Cervini, a papal legate at the Council of Trent and briefly pope himself (1555), and then as a member of the Society of Jesus formed by the Spiritual Exercises; in these Motta takes the "Rules for Thinking with the Church" to be of central importance. From his earliest years Bellarmine was acclaimed as a preacher, but it was at Louvain from 1570 to 1576, where he experienced heresy at first hand during the Dutch rebellion, that he developed his controversial method. His Jesuit education in a rhetoric that aimed to persuade his adversaries of the truth of the Catholic faith brought with it an increasing emphasis on historical argument and on the various theological authorities, starting with the Bible and the Fathers. Neither he nor his Protestant opponents were speculative thinkers. But these authorities frequently did not provide conclusive answers. Eventually there had to exist one authority which could definitively decide controversial issues. For Bellarmine this had to be the pope, so that he arrived at papal infallibility out of the necessity for an ultimate judge in matters of controversy. Papal authority stood at the center of the Controversies. It was also this need for a central authority, according to Motta, that dictated Bellarmine's advocacy of the indirect power of the pope in temporal affairs. The pope as universal pastor had to be able to discipline and control kings and princes, who belonged to his flock, when they obstructed the way to salvation for their subjects. Motta reminds us of the part that the papal absolution of Henry IV from heresy (1595) played in the consolidation of his position as king of France.

Like Bellarmine, Motta considers the contest De Auxiliis between Jesuits and Dominicans to have been not only over grace and free will, important as that was, but over cultural dominance in the Church and two competing theologies. The Dominicans supported a conservative theology that saw itself maintaining traditional Augustinianism with its pessimistic vision of human nature and the Jesuits a theology more ready to adapt to the changing times with a more optimistic assessment of human nature based to a degree on their experience in the foreign missions. Motta argues that Bellarmine, as the principal papal consultant to...


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