September 17, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wisdom of the saints: St. Robert Bellarmine

John F. FinkThis is the first in a series about the wisdom of the saints. Too often, we hear about the lives of saints, but not about what they wrote. I hope to tell about their lives briefly in order to concentrate on their wisdom.

St. Robert Bellarmine, whose feast is on Sept. 17, was born in 1542 and died on Sept. 17, 1621. When Pope Clement VIII made him a cardinal, he said it was because “he had not his equal for learning.” He wrote two catechisms while serving as the pope’s theologian. Pope Pius XI declared him a doctor of the Church in 1931.

In his treatise On the Ascent of the Mind to God, St. Robert asked who would not be willing and eager to give himself or herself to God’s service if he or she truly understood God’s fatherly rule.

He quoted Christ’s command, “Take my yoke upon you” (Mt 11:29). But Christ said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Mt 11:30). Who would not be glad to bear a yoke that not only was light but also caresses, St. Robert asked.

What is this yoke of which Christ spoke, which will enable us to “find rest for your souls,” he asked, and answered that it is the commandment that Christ called the greatest: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt 22:37).

What could be easier, sweeter or more pleasant than that, he asked. All we are asked to do is to love goodness, beauty and love because God is the fullness of those qualities.

Those who keep God’s holy commandments, he said, have been promised a reward more desirable than great wealth and sweeter than honey. It’s what the Letter of James called “the crown of life” (Jas 1:12).

And what does that mean? Surely, he said, it is more than we can conceive of or desire. It is what St. Paul said, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).

That first and greatest commandment, therefore, helps the one who obeys, he said, rather than the God who commands. All the commandments perfect those who obey them and provide what we need.

The wise person knows that he or she has been created for God’s glory and his or her eternal salvation, St. Robert said. That is our goal, the center of our life, the treasure of our heart. If we reach that goal, we will find happiness. If we don’t, we will find misery.

We must, therefore, consider good whatever leads to our goal and evil whatever leads us away from it, he said. Nothing in this world should be either sought or avoided for its own sake. If something contributes to the glory of God and our eternal salvation, it is good and should be sought, but if it detracts from that, it is evil and must be avoided. †

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