Thursday, September 17, 2020
St. Robert Bellarmine (and Thomas Hobbes)
Here is a reprise of a post of mine from a few years ago about St. Robert Bellarmine on his memorial day, including a mention of the striking fact that Thomas Hobbes encountered Bellarmine from afar in Rome in 1614:
A few things for today's Memorial of Saint Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), the Counter-Reformation Jesuit cardinal and one of the great political theorists in the Catholic tradition:
Pope Benedict XVI's reflection on Bellarmine's legacy as a doctor of the Church is available here.
My friend Matthew Rose published a brilliant paper on Hobbes and Bellarmine in the Journal of Moral Theology over the summer (available here at page 43). A bit from that:
In the pope’s private chapel on All Saints Eve in 1614, an elderly Robert Bellarmine joined a group of fellow cardinals and Pope Paul V for Vespers. At the time an advisor to the Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition, Bellarmine could not have known he was being closely watched by a visitor, then in his late twenties, who would go on to compose the most important political treatise in the English language. The tutor to William Cavendish seems to have made a special point of bringing his pupil to see the Cardinal, whom his travel journals describe as a “little, lean old man” distinguished for his “rank” and “learning.”
Some thirty-five years later Thomas Hobbes would complete his observations of Bellarmine, granting him the distinction of being the only modern author identified by name in Leviathan.
Hobbes’s attack on Bellarmine is arguably the most mature expression of a debate between temporal and spiritual authority that had grown steadily in sophistication since the eleventh century. In the pages of Leviathan, it can for the first time be fairly described as a debate between the church and the fully modern state. Its most interesting feature is that, unlike previous iterations, it is not fundamentally about rival jurisdictions. Hobbes instead challenges Bellarmine with a rival account of Christianity itself, one that aims to show how classical forms of Christian theology need to be reformed by enlightened modes of thought. Hobbes argues that the pope’s “indirect power”—his alleged spiritual authority over temporal matters that involve man’s supernatural end—reflects a defective understanding of both revelation and reason.
Matthew Rose, "Hobbes contra Bellarmine," 4 Journal of Moral Theology 43 (2015), at 43, 45 (citations omitted).
And then this appreciation (qualified a bit later) from John Courtney Murray, SJ writing in Theological Studies:
An appreciation of Bellarmine's political theology must needs be generous; here it may also be brief. His defense of the permanent and absolute principles on which that theology rests was brilliant and effective. The essence of the "common cause" that he defended was, of course, the distinction of the two powers. Bellarmine gave it a newly luminous statement by his emphasis on the purely spiritual power of the Church, and by his elaboration of Thomistic political philosophy. In this respect he effected a doctrinal advance within the Church herself, by finally disposing of the confusions and exaggerations of the hierocrats. Moreover, out of this doctrinal synthesis, by analysis of its terms, he drew a newly effective statement of the second great principle that is part of the Catholic "common cause"; I mean the primacy of the spiritual power and the subordination of the temporal power. Here he did a service not only to the Church but to the spiritual freedom of mankind, in that he set a stern barrier to the tyrannical pretensions of royal absolutism. His doctrine shattered all three elements of the theory of "divine right": the exclusive rightness of the monarchical form of government, the belief in an individual monarch's inalienable right to govern, possessed independently of human agency, and the assertion of the irresponsibility of the king—his absoluteness. Here was a political as well as a theological achievement of a high order.
"St. Robert Bellarmine on the Indirect Power," 9 Theological Studies 491 (1948), at 532.