1558 would prove to be a monumental year. It was the year that England would be lost to the faith, with the death of Queen Mary and the rise of Elizabeth (although this was scarcely of importance on the Continent for 150 years). More importantly for that age, it saw the death of Charles V, the most powerful and titanic monarch of Europe. Far more importantly, it saw the entry into the Roman College of a man from Montepulciano, who would dominate a far greater dominion than Charles, but not by the sword, rather, with the pen. His name was St. Robert Bellarmine. While St. Peter Canisius was battling for the faith in Germany, producing the most scholarly texts available of St. Jerome as well as preaching to the Council of Trent, and winning many thousands of converts back to the Apostolic faith, Bellarmine was but an 18 year old of frail health in the Roman College. Already well trained in Latin, he suffered through numerous headaches to take in the teaching of Aristotle which made up his first courses. Bellarmine's true love was Theology, and pre-eminently, St. Thomas, though he did not resolutely follow St. Thomas on absolutely every question. Nevertheless, as his health declined, he was removed to Tuscany where gained a great reputation as a preacher. Though the young Jesuit was still completing his studies and not yet tonsured, nevertheless Bellarmine showed his great ability in Latin, his eloquent prose and preaching, his mastery of any subject he took up, to the great astonishment of seasoned theologians. He ran a Jesuit school where he was supposed to teach a class on a Greek text of Demosthenes, though he knew no Greek. He announced to his students that he would review the basics of Greek grammar first, and while doing that taught himself in the scanty free time allowed for him, all the grammar and vocabulary he would review the next day, and in this, surpassed them, and was later accounted one of the greatest Greek scholars of his age. He preached in Padua for several years, where he was regarded as the greatest preacher in Christendom, and at the age of 26, was called to Louvain to preach the course of Latin sermons there, but not without difficulty, as the Jesuits in Padua greatly resisted. Nevertheless, Bellarmine submitted with willing obedience, and in May of 1569, he first caught a glimpse of the spires of Louvain, the last Catholic refuge remaining in the north.
Louvain, a multi-lingual province of Flemish, French, German, English and to a lesser extent Italian peoples, was the greatest institution of learning in the Spanish Netherlands. To the North passed the wars of the Reformation between Spanish and Dutch, in the East in Germany the conflicts of Lutherans with the Empire, and Protestants on all sides being assisted by the French, so long as they were fighting France's enemis. Had the Paduan Fathers had their way, perhaps, Bellarmine would not have attained the learning and the knowledge for what would be the great work of his life.
Bellarmine was specifically commissioned to preach the course of Latin sermons in Louvain. These were not only attened by students, but even by the common faithful as Latin was a necessary means of communication in business, and most had a sufficient grasp of it to understand a sermon. Bellarmine's preaching was such that crowds came to listen, a Church which could fill 2,000 were packed. Yet people who heard Bellarmine preach often could not recognize him when they met him in public, as he was a short Italian, while from the pulpit he seemed a towering giant. The reason being that Bellarmine took to standing on a stool, which magnified his sense of presence.
Study of Protestants
While in Louvain, Bellarmine began studying the works of Protestants, which was a difficult task given his lack of time. He did this, largely out of professional interest, and since he had access to all of their works. It must be remembered, that the 16th and 17th centuries were an age of censorship, where books deemed to be dangerous to the public were banned. Just as in Elizabethan England owning Catholic books (including Bellarmine's, as we shall see) would incur the death penalty, in Catholic countries possessing Protestant works for no good reason let alone disseminating them could get one into serious trouble. Even in a university such as Louvain Bellarmine necessarily had to sit in the office of his Jesuit superior to read the works of Luther, Calvin, Peter Martyr and many others. Yet with but a few hours allowed for this study, Bellarmine became the master of their works, and though this study was undertaken in professional interest, nevertheless it was to bear fruit in a way he had not imagined. As it was, Bellarmine's lecture notes were requested of other professors, and of the English college at Douay, and even by professors in France. Yet now, Bellarmine was to enter a new phase, which would prove to be the most important of his life.
Professor of Controversial Theology
In 1574, Bellarmine was recalled to Rome. His fame as a theologian and his repute as a scholar, not to mention his holiness, had earned him great esteem, and the superior of the Jesuits, Aquaviva was keen to have him in Rome to teach young Jesuits at the Roman College. What he had in mind, was to establish a chair of Controversial Theology, which today we call Apologetics. This was a work that was sorely needed, although 2 previous attempts to establish such a chair had failed. Bellarmine seemed the ideal man for the job, and he proved to be so beyond all expectations. What was so impressive about Bellarmine, was that he had a masterful knowledge of the Church Fathers and the scholastics, and on any subject could expound at length on their teachings. Even on subjects which held little interest for him, such as the particulars of metaphysical questions, he could acquit himself at length without recourse to notes. In this task, Bellarmine demonstrated a penetrating knowledge of what the Protestants taught, and was able to systematically present refutations of them from the Fathers, even as St. John Fisher had done with Luther a generation earlier. His success was so rapid, that soon after he was asked to put his lectures into book form, which make up the most important theological work for hundreds of years, both for Catholics and Protestants, as well as the matter of our present appeal.
The De Controversiis
This work was published as De Controversiis, or On the Controversies of the Christian Faith, in three large volumes, though they took some time to publish. They were comprehensive, quoting Protestant authors at length and in context, and then supplying clear testimony from the Fathers of the Church, logic and reason to oppose their arguments. The work was everywhere well received, and dominated the field of apologetics for hundreds of years. Interestingly, the first print run was bought up, not by Catholics as much as by Protestants, to see what the latest arguments were coming out of Rome. Numerous Protestants took up the pen to attempt to refute Bellarmine, and one Calvinist by the name of Junius declared: ““Methinks it is not one Bellarmine who speaks in these pages. It is the whole Jesuit phalanx, the entire legion of them mustered for our destruction.” While it was a capital crime in Elizabethan England to possess a copy of the Convroversies, a London bookseller declared that he had made more money from selling it than any other book. Under the reign of King James I, a debate was held between the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, and a Jesuit, and the debate centered entirely around Bellarmine.
The work also produced numerous conversions. A canon of Canterbury and royal chaplain to King James, after reading through the volumes of the Controversies, took leave to visit Germany, where he was received into the Catholic faith. Thousands like him, both high and low, returned to the Catholic Church largely on account of Bellarmine's work. St. Francis de Sales, when making arduous journeys through the Swiss mountains at great personal risk, was forced to trim his luggage to bear necessities. When doing so he took only two books: The Bible, and Bellarmine's Controversies.
As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we find today that there is much confusion in the Church. Some, who have been through miserable formation and poor sermons in the years following Vatican II, can attest that some have said that we can “learn form Luther”, or even worse, that Luther got it right!
Bellarmine would disagree, and if you read his works it is clear why the foregoing claims are so absurd. Luther did not get it right, nor did Calvin, as even Protestants themsleves affirm who have to modify, change and adjust their teachings with the foundation of each new sect. Yet, this is the very problem. Bellarmine was trained in an age where knowing Latin was the mark of an educated man, for both Catholics and Protestants. His works were written in Latin, disseminated in Latin, to an audience who read Latin as fluently if not sometimes more so than their native tongue. This is no longer so, and with the general loss of Latinity there has also been the loss of access to many of the works of the great theologians, pre-eminently St. Robert Bellarmine. Now, I propose to change all that.
Who am I? My name is Ryan Grant, I have a bachelor's degree in Theology and Philosophy, and I have always had an abiding interest in history, especially that of the 16th and 17th centuries. There is also one thing I have persevered in throughout my adult life, and that is the study of Latin. Just as Bellarmine did with Greek and Hebrew, so I judiciously and with great care have learned Latin. I have been reading Latin for nearly 10 years and drink it as though it were milk. I am also a professional translator.
I have translated The Parvus Catechismus of St. Peter Canisius, which you can find by the title of “A Small Catechism for Catholics”, which is an acclaimed translation by all who have read it. I have also translated the great treatise on Tradition of Cardinal Franzelin, De Divina Traditione, which you will find published in a month or so. I have also worked on several other projects.
I propose to you, that as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, that we need the most able writer against the errors of Protestants in English to assist us with the challenges we face today. For, although Protestantism has changed and there have been new writers and new theologians, from Isaac Waats to Rick Warren, nevertheless the very foundation of Protestantism, sola fide and sola scriptura, remain just as much the bedrock of the whole of it as they were when St. John Fisher first took up his pen to refute Luther in 1523. Bellarmine, as he was the greatest author in the field then, is still so today, but for the language barrier. I propose we change that, by providing a lucid translation of the great saint and scholar's works into the English language. To do that, however I need your help.
To do translation takes time, effort, great attention to detail, and again time. The oft repeated expression, time is money, is unfortunately very true, and especially for me. To do this work I need to have funding. Thus I need you. I welcome very large donations, but I also welcome whole heartedly very small donations. There are some however, who would scoff at all this, and say well, you should give it to the Church for free. In a world where I had no bills, no children to feed and clothe and no need of food myself that would be fine. Or conversely, I could do this an hour a day as a hobby and get done in 40 years. Either way, like with all things, such a view is simply unrealistic. It is written, the laborer is worth his wage. If such a work is to be done at all, it requires donations. For those who still think such things should be done for free, consider it this way. You are investors, receiving returns on your investment according to the measure you invest, which will be detailed below. Therefore consider a few dollars. If everone who saw this gave a few dollars, I should have scarcely any trouble completing it. As it is, the first volume, On the Marks of the Church, has taken me considerably longer, because I have had to stop to do other work to make ends meet.
Moreover, editors do not work for free, at least if they are competent, particularly if they are competant in Latin and Theology, and to do this work well one always requires an editor. I lucked out with a favor from a friend with On the Marks of the Church, I will not be so lucky again. Thus indeed, I neeed sufficient funds to hire someone to edit the books if I'm to get major works in print.
The works to be translated include: De Verbo Incarnato (On the Incarnate Word); De Christo; De Romano Pontifice (an important work if there ever was one); de Ecclesia: de Conciliis (on the Church, which divides into several works, the first on Councils and their authority); on the members of the Church, the Church Militant, Suffering (Purgatorio) and Triumphant; on the Notes (Marks) of the Church (published 21 January 2015); and de Sacramentis (On the Sacraments, in Genere and then on the 7 in particular). Add to this his sermons, many of which have not been translated, and his work on a Christian prince, wherein he lays out his philosophy of Government (often misunderstood as being whiggish, though it contrasts sharply from the views of the day). Other works of St. Robert Bellarmine, such as his sermons on death, heaven and hell, together with other works such as the Art of Dying Well, or his great commentary on the Psalms, I will not be translating, as these have already been done and are in print. All of the translated works will be published through my publisher Mediatrix Press, and will be very affordable. For a 250-350 page volume, the price is projected to be in the range of $20- $30, depending on the volume and its size.
The money raised will go to paying off expenses, which are not only my bills but also my editor's bills, while devoting 100% of my working day to translation.
Second, everyone who donates $20.00 or more will receive the entire series in e-book format for free.
Anyone who donates $50.00 or more, will receive 1 copy of Bellarmine's work free, in addition the collected works in e-book format, plus the Small Catechism for Catholics, my translation of the St. Peter Canisius' catechism into English. $100.00 and you will receive both St. Robert Bellarmine's catechism (when it is translated) and St. Peter Canisius' catechism free along with the e-books. $1,000, and you will receive the whole set in hardcopy as well as in e-book format.
Update: I am adding that for a $10.00 donation, you will receive 5 e-books of St. Robert Bellarmine's works.
There is and continues to be much confusion in the Church today. This project is aimed at getting the tools to understanding the faith, from two great Saints and Doctors of the Church, which have remained obscure due to the loss of Latinity in the modern age. God bless you for your generous support.
- paul Zhang
- Bernard Hennessy
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