On Councils: Their Nature and Authority – Bellarmine

On Councils
On Councils
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In On Councils: Their Nature and Authority, St. Robert Bellarmine answers the attack of the early Protestant Reformers on by treating on all matters pertaining to Councils. Beginning with definitions and terms, Bellarmine explores in summary all the Councils approved in his day, as well as those only partially approved and those not approved at all. Then he examines their purpose and foundations in Scripture, the Fathers, and history. In the second book, Bellarmine examines the authority of Councils according to the same standard, proving especially that the Pope is above Councils and is the one to summon and confirm them. To prove his case he musters his considerable scholarship and answers not only the arguments of Luther and Calvin, but of each early Protestant to show that approved Councils do not contradict each other, and the Church does not put Councils above the Word of God.

Sample chapter:

Book I, CHAPTER IX
On the utility or even the necessity of celebrating Councils

Therefore, with all of this noted, we must explain in what things legitimate Councils consist, and these can be reduced to four: 1) the end; 2) efficiency; 3) matter and; 4) the form of Councils. Now let us begin with the end, which is the first of these reasons. It will be the first reason that must be briefly explained on account of which Councils are usually celebrated; then from those it will be determined whether a gathering of Councils is necessary or merely useful. Moreover, the particular reasons on account of which Councils are celebrated are usually numbered as six.
a) The first reason is a new heresy, i.e. something that had never been judged before, which is the very reason the first seven Councils were convened. The Church always so dealt with the danger of new heresies that she did not think it could be resisted otherwise than if all or certainly a great many leaders of the Churches, once their strength was joined as if it were made into a column of soldiers, would rush upon the enemies of the faith.
b) The second reason is schism among Roman Pontiffs; for a Council in the time of Pope Cornelius was celebrated for this very reason. Likewise, another in the time of Pope Damasus and again in the times of Symmachus, Innocent II and Alexander III, as well as Pisa and Constance in the times of Gregory XII and Benedict XIII, for there is no more powerful remedy than a Council as has so often been proved.
c) The third is resistance to a common enemy of the whole Church; in this manner Councils were convened by Urban II, Calixtus II, Eugene III, and other Popes, for war against the Saracens. Likewise, to depose an emperor, Gregory III celebrated Councils against Leo III the Iconoclast, as did Gregory VII against Henry IV, and Innocent IV against Frederick II.
d) The fourth reason is suspicion of heresy in the Roman Pontiff, if perhaps it might happen, or if he were an incorrigible tyrant; for then a general Council ought to be gathered either to depose the Pope if he should be found to be a heretic, or certainly to admonish him if he seemed incorrigible in morals. As it is related in the 8th Council, act. ult. can. 21, general Councils ought to impose judgment on controversies arising in regard to the Roman Pontiff—albeit not rashly. For this reason we read that the Council of Sinvessano in the case of St. Marcellinus, as well as Roman Councils in the cases of Pope Damasus, Sixtus III, and Symmachus, as well as Leo III and IV, none of whom were condemned by a Council; Marcellinus enjoined penance upon himself in the presence of the Council, and the rest purged themselves (See Platina and the volumes of Councils).
e) The fifth reason is doubt about the election of a Roman Pontiff. For if the cardinals could not or would not create a Pope, or certainly if they all died at the same time, or a true doubt should arise for another reason to whom an election of this sort would pertain, would look to a general Council to discern in regard to the election of a future Pope, although it does not seem to be realistic to expect this would ever happen.
f) The sixth reason is the general reformation of abuses and vices which crept into the Church; for even if the Pope alone can prescribe laws for the whole Church, nevertheless, it is by far more agreeable for matters to be done with the approval of a general Council when the Pope prescribes laws of this sort. Hence, we see nearly all general Councils published canons on reformation (See Juan Torquemada, lib. 3, cap. 9 &10).

On the Church Militant

On the Church Militant
St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J.
Translated by Ryan Grant
With a foreword by Dr. Michael Sirilla

ISBN-13: 978-0692736760
ISBN-10: 069273676X
178 pages

$18.00

Mediatrix Press continues its publication of St. Robert Bellarmine’s De Controversiis with his work “On the Church Militant.” In this work, Bellarmine lays out the principles that will ground the discussion of the Church throughout his remaining treatises on the subject. He begins with the notion of Church, the Catholic teaching of what the Church is, then a discussion of those who are and are not in the Church, as well as whether great sinners and secret heretics might be in the Church, concluding with a discussion of whether the Church is visible and whether it could defect. Bellarmine makes use first of Scripture, then the Fathers and finally logic and reason to refute the first Protestants who lived in his time and draw together all the teachings of ancient heretics and their refutations, resulting in clearly demonstrating that the Catholic Church’s Ecclesiology has never changed.

St. Robert Bellarmine’s theological writings on the Church of Christ constitute an invaluable treasure not only for Catholics, but for the commonweal and eternal salvation of humanity itself. This is no slight exaggeration. His is the very first independent theological and dogmatic treatise on the Church. Patristic and medieval Catholic authors treated on the mystery of the Church, to be sure; but they provided no free-standing treatment de ecclesia. Bellarmine’s is the first and the best of its kind.

-Dr. Mike Sirilla

 

Papal Error?

Papal Error?
A Defense of Popes said to have Erred in Faith

St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J.
Translated by Ryan Grant
125 pages.
ISBN: 069256599X

$11.00

$5.99 Kindle!

St. Robert Bellarmine again takes up his pen to defend Popes who historically were said to have erred in faith.

This little work is an excerpt from Bellarmine’s larger treatise On the Roman Pontiff, book 4, which follows after the assertion of what was already universally taught at that time, but not completely understood nor decreed by the Church’s solemn magisterium, that the Pope was infallible in his teaching on faith and morals when teaching the whole Church. These chapters then, being 8-14 of that work, follow to test and prove this claim historically, wherein he posits exculpatory evidence against claims that 40 Popes had grievously erred in matters of faith.

Much as with the doctrine of Papal infallibility itself, St. Robert Bellarmine does not endeavor to show the impeccability of Popes, rather that in matters of faith, where the Popes are actually authoritative, they did not err. Some matters treated here are the objection of certain Protestants, while others are even of Catholics who are confused on the decrees or behavior of certain Popes.

These chapters were used as a blueprint at Vatican I by the fathers of that Council to further scrutinize these cases and be sure of the limits and nature of papal authority.

Bellarmine thus lays out four basic propositions; Two of these Catholics must believe with divine faith per the subsequent decree of Vatican I (which was no less incumbent upon the believer in Bellarmine’s time, though then it were the universal teaching of all theologians), namely that the Pope is infallible when judging matters of Faith and Morals and defining these as matters that must be believed by all the faithful. This particular distinction is important, for the Pope, outside of this very narrow category, does not enjoy infallibility, thus in private letters, private teaching, their acts, behavior, etc., Popes can give scandal, they can give opinions that are in fact false, but they cannot teach the whole Church and bind it to believe error.

To quote Bellarmine himself: “For to this point no Pope has been a heretic, or certainly it cannot be proven that any of them were heretics; therefore it is a sign that such a thing cannot be.” (On the Roman Pontiff, book 4, ch. 6.)

In this treatise Bellarmine endeavors to show that this is the case.

On the Roman Pontiff, by St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J.

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At long last, the very first translation of St. Robert Bellarmine’s masterpiece of a theological tract on the Papacy.

For the first time in history, St. Robert Bellarmine’s work, De Romano Pontifice, On the Roman Pontiff, has been translated and made available in English!
In this Theological treatise, St. Robert Bellarmine takes on Protestant as well as Greek Orthodox objections to the Papacy.
This Volume contains books 1 and 2, with 3-5 forthcoming in June. These two books take up two subjects:
First, that Christ established the Primacy of Peter by means of an Ecclesiastical Monarchy, which takes up subjects as diverse as: What is the best form of government? Why it is fitting the Church’s government should be a monarchy; Exegetical Commentary on the Lord’s words in Matthew 16 and John 21, along with copious Patristic testimony.
The second subject, which is taken up in Book 2, is whether Peter has successors in the Ecclesiastical Monarchy, wherein Bellarmine defends the Church’s position on: The true history of Peter; that Peter truly went to Rome; that Peter was truly a Bishop there; that upon his death he was succeeded by men in the Ecclesiastical monarchy, as well as its proof from the Fathers, then through all the refutations, Bellarmine asks what would happen if the Pope were a heretic.
This important work was foundational to the thought of the Council Fathers at Vatican I, where Bellarmine enjoyed as great a prestige as St. Thomas Aquinas at the Council of Trent.

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