treatise “On the Ascent of the Mind to God”

St. Robert Bellarmine
Known as the Gentle Doctor of the Controversies

Saint Robert Bellarmine Cardinal; confessor of the faith. Born in 1542 in Montepulciano, Italy; died in 1621 at Rome, Italy. Some of his best known ascetical works are Ascent of the Mind to God (1615), and On the Seven Words of Christ (1618). Relics at the church of Saint Ignatius, Rome. Beatified on 13 May 1923; canonized on 29 June 1930. Feast, 17 September.

Incline my heart to your decrees

Sweet Lord, you are meek and merciful. Who would not give himself wholeheartedly to your service, if he began to taste even a little of your fatherly rule? What command, Lord, do you give your servants? Take my yoke upon you, you say. And what is this yoke of yours like? My yoke, you say, is easy and my burden light. Who would not be glad to bear a yoke that does not press hard but caresses? Who would not be glad for a burden that does not weigh heavy but refreshes? And so you were right to add: And you will find rest for you souls. And what is this yoke of yours that does not weary, but gives rest? It is, of course, that first and greatest commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart. What is easier, sweeter, more pleasant, that to love goodness, beauty and love, the fullness of which you are, O Lord, my God?

Is it not true that you promise those who keep your commandments a reward more desirable than great wealth and sweeter than honey? You promise a most abundant reward, for as your apostle James says: The Lord has prepared a crown of life for those who love him. What is this crown of life? It is surely a greater good than we can conceive of or desire, as Saint Paul says, quoting 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.

Truly then the recompense is great for those who keep your commandments. That first and greatest commandment helps the man who obeys, not the God who commands. In addition, the other commandments of God perfect the man who obeys them. They provide him with what he needs. They instruct and enlighten him and make him good and blessed. If you are wise, then, know that you have been created for the glory of God and your own eternal salvation. This is your goal; this is the center of your life; this is the treasure of your heart. If you reach this goal, you will find happiness. If you fail to reach it, you will find misery.

May you consider truly good whatever leads to your goal and truly evil whatever makes you fall away from it. Prosperity and adversity, wealth and poverty, health and sickness, honors and humiliations, life and death, in the mind of the wise man, are not to be sought for their own sake, nor avoided for their own sake. But if they contribute to the glory of God and your eternal happiness, then they are good and should be sought. If they detract from this, they are evil and must be avoided.

Source: The Liturgy of the Hours – Office of Readings

Saint Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) was born in 1542 in the town of Monte Pulciano in Tuscany. He entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and studied at Florence and Mondovi and then at Padua and Louvain. After ordination to the priesthood in 1570 he distinguished himself by brilliant disputations in defense of the Catholic faith. He also taught theology in the Roman College in Louvain, lecturing on St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica and gained a reputation for his learning and brilliant preaching. He studied Scripture and the Church Fathers and learned Hebrew. In 1576 he was called to Rome and taught at the newly founded Roman College for eleven years, during which time he prepared his monumental Disputationes de controversiis Christianae Fidei adversus hujus temporis Haereticos, a study of the Catholic faith to refute the Protestant Centuries of Magdeburg. In 1592 he was named rector of the Roman College and in 1594 became provincial of the Naples province of the Jesuits. He became Pope Clement VIII’s theologian in 1597 and in 1599 was elected to the College of Cardinals and named bishop of Capua. He became embroiled in the controversy over his friend Galileo, who accepted his admonition in 1610 that it would be wise to advance his findings as hypotheses rather than as fully proved theories. In the last decade of his life his writings were on spiritual matters, among them Art of Dying Well. He solved many pressing questions in the various Roman Congregations, was a champion of the papacy and brilliant defender of the faith in the wake of the Protestant reformation. He died at Rome in 1621 at age 79, was canonized in 1930 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931.

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