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Help us to translate the De Controversiis of St. Robert Bellarmine into English!
1558 would prove to be a monumental year. 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 and producing scholarly texts while 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. At the age of 26, was called to Louvain to preach the course of Latin sermons there.
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 enemies.
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, Beza, Brenz, 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.
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 Controversies, 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 bare 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 is a witness to the Gospel!
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 themselves 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, preeminently 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. 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.
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.
Anyone who donates $50.00 or more, will receive 1 copy of Bellarmine’s work free, in addition to the collected works in e-book format.Donate $50.00
For $100.00 and you will receive both St. Robert Bellarmine’s catechism and St. Peter Canisius’ catechism for free, along with the e-books.Donate $100.00
For $500.00, you will receive the One Volume, 700 page On the Roman Pontiff, four other Bellarmine books including the Catechisms at the $100 level, and the entire series in e-book.Donate $500.00
For $1,000, you will receive the whole set in physical copy as well as in e-book format, and we will dedicate one of the volumes to you by name. Donors at this level will receive early access to each volume as they are released.Donate $1000.00
For $2,000, you will receive the whole set in physical hardcover copy as well as in e-book format, and we will dedicate one of the volumes to you by name. Donors at this level will receive early access to each volume as they are released.Donate $2000.00
You can combine your donations and I will track them over time, so if you want to get up to the $1,000 level gradually, just send us a message to let us know.
Patrons of the Bellarmine Project will also have a Traditional Latin Mass said for their intentions every month.
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.
Overall Project Status
On the Roman Pontiff
On the Church Militant
On the Marks of the Church
Passed over for a later date
On the Church Triumphant:
Book 1: On the Beatification and Canonization of the Saints
Book 2: On Images, Relics, the Sign of the Cross and the veneration of the Saints
Book 3: On Ceremonies
On the Sacraments
On Grace and Free Will
On the Word of God
[As these last two have already been translated, we may or may not venture on a translation except when the series is done so as to have a complete Opera Omnia].
De Romano Pontifice
On the Roman Pontiff is an important (as well as large) work positing the question: since Bellarmine proved in his treatise on the Word of God that Scripture is not a judge of controversies, what is? Christ, except that he ascended into heaven and is no longer physically with us as he was with the Apostles. Yet he is still with us in his Vicar, the Roman Pontiff. Therefore, is it so that the Pope is the visible head of the Church? In five books, Bellarmine examines first, whether monarchy is the best form of government so as to posit Christ gave the best form of government to his Church, and he established Peter in that Monarchy with Successors. Then, he shows the Pope is not the Antichrist, which was the one universal doctrine of all protestantism at that time; then he shows the Pope cannot err when teaching the whole Church in faith in morals, that Popes in history did not err and that in history no Pope has actually erred in teaching in faith. Then, in the final book, Bellarmine argues on the Pope’s temporal sovereignty, against the idea that the Pope is lord of the world and in favor of indirect temporal jurisdiction for the sake of the faith.
This important work on the Church will be in several volumes. The first will re-incorporate On the Marks of the Church (above) as well as On the Church Militant in its proper place as the 3rd and 4th book on the Church, the first two dealing with Councils and the Church, and the Authority of Councils. The second volume of this deals with a treatise on Ecclesiastical government, Church law etc., and on De Monachis (on Monks) where he refutes protestant teaching on religious orders, celibacy and vows, etc. This second volume, however, is lower down on the list of priorities, and the third book, De Laicis, on civil government, has already been translated.
De Ecclesia vol. 2 – On Purgatory
De Purgatorio is in two books, and brings Bellarmine’s considerable erudition in both the testimony of Scripture and the Fathers, coupled with reason on defending the one Catholic doctrine that few Protestants apart from C.S. Lewis have ever accepted. Book 1 sets out to prove that Purgatory exists, with copious exegesis on Old and New Testament passages, confirmed by the Fathers of the Church who witness prayer for the dead. Then, in book 2, Bellarmine takes up the Circumstances of Purgatory, that is where it is, what it is, who goes there, for how long? What is the suffering there etc. Bellarmine refutes Protestant errors on the subject, addresses errors of certain Catholic theologians, and shows what the Church teaches on the subject. In the future, this volume will be combined with the treatises on Clergy, Monks and Laity, when they are translated.
De Ecclesia vol. 3 – de Ecclesia Triumphante (On the Church Triumphant)
In three books: On the beatification and Canonization of the Saints; On Relics and Images; On the Rites of the Church
This work is also very important, dealing with an important topic which Protestants often attack the Church for even today. Is Canonization just apotheosis (making people gods)? Are relics superstitious? Can the Church cultivate the rites looking toward the heavenly Jerusalem? In Three books. We are currently translating this work now.
This is also an extremely important work, and in like manner very lengthy. It is the first book that prepares what became the traditional division of Theological manuals of treating the Sacraments in General, and the Seven Sacraments as such. It will be divided into 2 groups of volumes, the first containing Sacramentis in Genere – Baptism – Confirmation, with the second containing Eucharist, a third on the Eucharist, a volume on Penance, then indulgences (which was meant to accompany the volume on penance but was not complete in time for the printers in 1601), then Extreme Unction and Orders, then at last Matrimony. It will run many volumes.
On Grace, Free Will, and Justification
The final volume of the Controversies are De Gratia, De libro Arbitrio, de Justificatione. The completion schedule of this is entirely dependent on how much work we get through in the coming year.
This massive treatise on the very instance which caused the Reformation, will be put in the place Bellarmine had intended it, following his treatise on the Sacrament of Penance.
What happens when you are all done?
There is no end to the beautiful and amazing works that could be translated that hitherto have not seen the light of day in English. Not just Theological manuals, but great doctrinal and spiritual works from theologians of the 16th-19th centuries, and even the 20th. Works by authors such as Franzelin, Tanqueray, Billot, Prummer, Domingo de Soto an others. In fact, we are also working in tandem with this to translate the Theologia Moralis of St. Alphonsus Liguori.
Why Your Support Matters
Translation is not the easiest thing, even in someone like myself who can translate Latin without the aid of a dictionary. Translating theological Latin and the Ecclesiastical idioms in use in the 16th and 17th centuries is even more of a task without training. Thankfully I have received that training from several priests, nevertheless it still takes time and often the real issue is English more than it is Latin and the ever running challenge to keep things readable. Time is naturally what I don’t have.
Your contributions go exclusively to paying my bills as well as editing and publication costs while I work on this project. In return, you receive the books in physical copy or in e-book format, depending upon your donation as we outlined above. So you can think of it as an investment, whereby you contribute to the Church by saving Bellarmine from the obscurity our loss of Latin fluency has relegated him, and you gain access to the same works due to your donation. May God bless you for your generosity.
Managing Editor, Translator