Sunday, September 17, 2017

Bellarmine

Today is the memorial of St. Roberto Bellarmino, S.J., Doctor of the Church, the great polemicist of the Counter-Reformation.

He has an interesting passage in the Controversies in which he summarizes the travails of the Church using the Apostles' Creed. I'm not sure how hard it should be pressed as an intended historical thesis of how things have to unfold (since he clearly thinks there is overlap, and does regard all points as being under continual attack to varying degrees), rather than as an account of the thoroughness with which the Church is attacked on points of doctrine, which has its own natural order, but it does a good job of giving a sense of his sense of the spiritual war. It helps to know first the ordering of the articles, in their traditional enumeration.

1. I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
4. Under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified, died, and was buried.
5. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
7. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
8. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
9. the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
10. the forgiveness of sins,
11. the resurrection of the body,
12. and the life everlasting.

The enemy of the human race, although otherwise he is wont to be totally perverse and a disturber of good order, still he wishes to attack the truth of the Catholic Church not without a certain orderly procedure. Therefore, in the first two centuries from the foundation of the Christian Church, he was totally occupied in trying to destroy the first article in the Apostles' Creed. For what else did they want--the Simonians, the Menandrians, the Basilidians, the Valentinists, the Marcionists, the Manichaeans, and the whole school of the Gnostics--except that there is not one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth? But when he did not succeed in that, again at a later time about 200 years after the Lord, the devil established a new front, and he began to attack the second article of the Creed in which the divinity of Christ our Lord is explained....

...But since even then the gates of hell could not prevail against the Church, the devil, now taking a new third approach, began to oppose with even greater strength the third and at the same time the fourth, the fifth, the sixth and the seventh articles, because they have a certain connection and relationship with each other.

Therefore he stirred up Nestorius and Theodore of Mopsuestia after the year 400....

All of these, even though different among themselves and using contrary tactics and tricks, strove to destroy and overturn the last five articles of the Apostolic Creed concerning the one and the same mystery of the divine Incarnation, and also of the passion, of the resurrection and of his coming to judge the living and the dead.

He then assigns the schism between East and West to the attack on the eighth article, on the Holy Spirit, and then continues:

But certainly, when our cunning enemy realized that he was accomplishing very little by attacking those articles of faith, which pertain to the divine persons, he then dedicated himself completely to upset and destroy the truths concerning the Church and the sacraments. These two articles -- I believe in the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints and the forgiveness of sins, with all of his tricks and efforts, with the power of hell he has tried to pervert, and he is still trying even to this day; this has been his strategy since the year one thousand down to the present day; his forces have often been changed, increased and renewed -- by the Berengarians, Petrohrussians, Waldensians, Albigensians, Wycliffites, Hussites, Lutherans, Zwinglians, Confessionists and Anabaptists.

And here we still are, I suppose, still fighting the Battle over the Forgiveness of Sins in the longest and most subtle war.

[St. Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, S. J., Controversies of the Christian Faith, Baker, tr. Keep the Faith Inc., pp. 17-19.]

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