St. Robert Bellarmine and the Declaration of Independence

Today is the feast day of St. Robert Bellarmine!

FOTM, therefore, is paying homage to this saint by re-publishing joandarc’s post from last year. 🙂

Today, September 17th, is the Feast Day of a most remarkable man, St. Robert Bellarmine.

He was born on October 4, 1542, in Montepulciano near Siena, Italy.  He had an excellent education, being schooled in the humanities, theology and philosophy, ordained a Jesuit priest on March 25, 1570.  He was a Professor of Theology at Louvain and was summoned to teach at the Roman College as the Chair of Apologetics.  He is affectionaly known as the Patron Saint of Catechists and Apologists, having approached with charity, reason and thorough analysis, the heresies of his day.  He was made a Cardinal on March 3, 1599 and appointed the Papal Theologian by Pope Clement VIII, and on March 18, 1602, he was appointed the Archbishop of Capua.  He composed varous books on spirituality, on the Church and the Mystical Body of Christ.  Pope Benedict XVI tells us that, “Since as a priest and bishop he was first and foremost a pastor of souls, he felt it was his duty to preach diligently.”  He gave hundreds of sermons.  Pope Benedict XVI further tells us that the “hallmark of Bellarmine’s spirituality is his vivid personal perception of God’s immense goodness.  This is why our Saint truly felt he was a beloved Son of God.  It was a source of great joy to him to pause in recollection, with serenity and simplicity, in prayer and contemplation of God.”

What is most important is that Bellarmine taught that we must center on our own pesonal conversion in order to reform our lives so that we are pleasing to God.

Rev. John C. Rager, S.T.D., stated to Professor David A. Schaff in defense of Bellarmine, that “the Congressional Library still possesses a copy of Patriarcha, a book which once stood on the library shelf of Thomas Jefferson.  Patriarcha, was written by Robert Filmer, the privage theologian of James I of England in defense of the Divine Right of Kings and principally in refutation to the Jesuit Cardinal Bellarmine’s political principles of popular sovereignty.”

Father Rager provides us some interesting parallels, clause for clause, of the American Declaration of Independence and Bellarmine’s statments, to-wit:

With regard to the equaity of men:

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 Laicia” c. 6, note 1).

With regard to the function of government:

Declaration of Independence:  “To secure these rights governments are instituted among men.”

Bellarmine:  “It is impossible for men to live together without someone to care for the common good.  Men must be governed by someone lest they be willing to perish” (De Laicia,” c.6).

With regard to 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).

With regard to the right to change the government:

Declaration of Independence:  “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government. . .Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient reasons.”

Bellarmine:  “For legitimate reasons the people can change the government to an aristocracy or a democracy or vice versa” (De Laicis, c. 6).  “The people never transfers its power to a king so completely but that it reserves to itself the right of receiving back the power” (Recognitio de Laicis, c. 6).

And says Father Rager:

“If Jefferson ever read as many as four pages of this book, he read on the fourth page, the following:

Four times Bellarmine’s name is mentioned in bold print on this contents page of Patriarcha.  The first chapter of Patriarcha is again prefaced with its table of contents and Bellarmine’s name appears on it three times.  Then, if Jefferson read the first lines of the chapter he read this:

‘Since the time that school divinity began to flourish there hath been a common opinion maintained.  Mankind is naturally endowed and born with Freedom, and at liberty to choose what form of Government it please.  And that the Power which any one Man hath over others, was at first bestowed according to the discretion of the Multitude.’

If Jefferson ever read as many as four pages of this book, he read on the fourth page the following:

‘To make evidence the Grounds of this Question, about the Natural Liberty of Mankind, I will lay down some passages of Cardinal Bellarmine, that may best unfold the State of this controversie.  Secular or Civil Power is instituted by man; it is in the people, unless they bestow it on a Prince.  This Power is immediately in the whole Multitude, as in the subject of it; for the Power is in Divine Law, but the Divine Law hath given this Power to no particular man.  If the Positive Law be taken away, there is left no Reason why amongst a Multitude (who are Equal) one rather than another should bear Rule over the Rest.  It depends upon the Consent of the Multitude to ordain over themselves a King, Counsel, or other Magistrates; and if there be a lawful cause the multitude may change the Kingdom into an Aristocracy or Democracy.  Thus, far, Bellarmine, in which passages are coprised the strength of all that I have read or heard produced for the Natural Liberty of the Subject.’ “

And Father Rager asks, “Would not Jefferson, who was seeking a formulation of “the natural liberties of the subject,” be attracted to read and re-read this quotation from Bellarmine which “comprised the strength of all that had ever been produced for the natural liberty of the subject?”  And does not the American Declaration reflect strikingly this very passage of Bellarmine quoted by Filmer and lying open before the eyes of Jefferson?”

We will never actually be able to confirm or deny if Jefferson ever read the original works of St. Robert Bellarmine.  However, in the Library of Princeton University there was, according to Father Rager, “a copy of Cardinal Bellarmine’s works in the days of Jefferson.  James Madison, a member of the committee which drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights was a graduate of Princeton in 1771 and certainly had access to Bellarmine’s works.”

Pope Benedict XVI tells us that Bellarmine “died in Rome on 17 September 1621.  Pope Pius XI beatified him in 1923, canonized him in 1930 and proclaimed him a Doctor of the Church in 1931.”

One cannot help but find noteworthy the similarities in thought as set out above.  Happy Feast Day to you, Dear St. Robert Bellarmine!  I implore you to interecede for the people of America before the throne of the Triune God to help our country be rid of its present tyranny, of its present war on people of faith lodged by this administration, of its present war on the culture of life where millions and millions of innocent children have lost their lives to legalized abortion on demand.  We need your help Great Saint!

Sources:

General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI, February 23, 2011, Saint Robert Bellarmine, Vatican website.

Catholic Sources and the Declaration of Independence, Rev. John C. Rager, S.T.D., CERC Home website.

~Joan

See our other posts on saints and angels by going to that page. Click here!

~Eowyn

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7 responses to “St. Robert Bellarmine and the Declaration of Independence

  1. Your welcome Grouchy! There are actually numerous other quotations, but I chose some of the most important.

     
  2. Outstanding treatise on St. Robert, Joan!
    Bellarmine certainly anticipated the core beliefs and sentiments of the Declaration of Independence. It is reasonable for us to think that our Founding Fathers had knowledge of him and his works on the equality of man and on our right to self-government.

     
  3. Yes, St. Thomas Aquinas gave similar interpretations of government. However, St. Robert Bellarmine also came up with the idea of a division of government powers, which I did not go into, similar to our three branches of executive, legislative and judicial.

     
  4. Thank you Dr. Eowyn. Yes, most probably Cardinal Bellarmine’s works they read, as set forth by Father Rager.

     
  5. Jefferson may have been good for ideas on democracy, but in his correspondence he wrote, on more than a couple of occasions, that belief was “irrational” and “childish.” Certainly St. Robert Bellarmine is superior to Jefferson!

     
  6. Reblogged this on Catholic Glasses and commented:
    St Robert Bellarmine – pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

     

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