Roberto’s family wanted him to become a politician, but God had him for much more.
Newsroom (September 17, 2020 11:05 pm Gaudium Press) — Robert’s family wanted him to become a politician. But God had great plans for him and made him a saintly doctor, cardinal, polemist. A humble, grandiose, writer. A giant. Even his opponents recognized his greatness. One of them, Theodore of Beza, was a successor to the Protestant Calvin. On referring to “Controversies” — perhaps the most famous of St. Robert’s books, — he would say: “Here is the book that lost us”. How did such giant emerge?
St Robert was born in Montepulciano, Tuscany, on October 4, 1542. His father was a nobleman, although in decline. He had been the city’s regent for several years. In other words, his family was prominent. And his mother was the sister of Pope Marcellus II. Robert was interested in studying since he was a child. He was also pious; he liked to go to church and to visit the Blessed Sacrament.
Robert Joins the Jesuits
At the age of 14, he entered the Jesuit school. The boy shone in conversations, in discussions, and the world began to hint at a brilliant career: after all, he was also the Pope’s nephew… At least he would end up at the Pontifical Court.
But Roberto was aware of the threat that a worldly career would bring to virtue, and so he chose the Jesuit community, who had, as a rule, to flee from the dignities.
He entered the Roman College in Rome and began to study philosophy at that main center of the Society of Jesus. He was a brilliant student, and by the age of 21, he was already teaching Humanities at the School in Florence. Also, he preached there on Sundays to the “crème de la crème” of the society; they began to admire him, because they realized that he practiced what he preached.
Saint Francis Borgia, the Superior, also pondered Robert’s qualities and arranged his transfer to the University of Louvain, where they were preparing the defence of the faith against Protestant attacks. He was supposed to stay there for two years but ended up remaining seven.
At Louvain University, he also preached at the church of the University. On Sundays, the church would fill up to listen to the brilliant and fragile man dressed in black: Catholics confirmed their faith, and more than a few Protestants returned to it. Some protestants, in turn, attended the preaching to rebuke and humiliate him in public; but they did not know what they were up against: the grace of God and the words of the Saint sweetly crushed them; and they returned contrite, repentant… and converted.
He became a priest in Ghent on March 25, 1570.
He studied Hebrew, the Fathers and the Doctors of the Church, and the doctrine of the Popes in depth.
The controversies with the Protestants led Fr. Robert to learn Hebrew to have a better basis for the interpretation of the scriptures. His intelligence was so outstanding that he soon composed for his personal use a grammar of that language.
He also studied the Fathers of the Church, the Doctors, the doctrine of the Popes; he immersed himself in the treasures of the Church doctrine. He built up in his mind, with the grace of God, an army of apologetics and affirmations of the faith. They appreciated him more and more, and they requested his presence in the most varied places, in the most brilliant Athenaeums.
Back to Rome
One day, he had to return to Rome. Gregory XIII ordered the creation of a department in the Roman College. It had the same name as his great book, Controversies, with an emphasis on the defense of the Catholic doctrine. For 12 years, St. Robert taught there, and his teachings were compiled in the book of the same name, which was the ‘Summa’ of St. Robert. His method of exposition was Thomistic: innocent, and formal, beginning with the presentation of the statements contrary to the true doctrine, which he methodically and brilliantly refuted.
One of the highlights of his life was being the spiritual director of another saint, St. Louis Gonzaga, an angel of purity, who also greatly admired St. Robert.
In 1592 he became the rector of the Roman College.
Among other pastoral assignments, he was Clement VIII’s theologian, consultant to the Holy Office, a theologian of the Apostolic Penitentiary; he worked on the commission that would prepare the Clementine edition of the Vulgate.
He was inevitably on his way to the cardinalate even though, as is the case with the saints, he did not want it. He was forced by the Pope to accept this honour. Then the Pope made him Archbishop of Capua.
There, he reformed the clergy and renewed the liturgy. Also, he preached as he had always liked, for the benefit of his listeners.
The Saint traveled throughout his diocese, consoling, encouraging, and delivering the sacraments; bringing the wonderful fragrance of Christ.
Being a good son of St. Ignatius, and following one of the principles that had guided his life, he encouraged the catechesis as much as possible in his diocese. But his many tasks did not take time away from prayer and meditation. How did he find the saintly time for so many things? God multiplied it for him.
They wanted to make him Pope.
Clement VIII died and Saint Robert went to the conclave where Leo XI was elected, only to due a month later. So he takes part in this second conclave, where he got a considerable amount of votes. Later, he revealed that, at that moment, he made an explicit request to God: from the Papacy, deliver me, Lord! He considered himself unsuitable for it. Sometimes we would wish the saints were less humble.
The new Pope, Paul V, wanted him by his side and made him come back from Capua. Almost always, his opinion on delicate matters had a decisive influence.
When he felt death approaching, he asked for a waiver from his many duties and retired to the novitiate of Saint Andrew, in the Quirinale, to be able to “wait for the Lord.”
He died on September 17, 1621. The people flocked to his deathbed and then to his grave.
Pius XI canonized him on June 29, 1930.