Rorate Caeli

New translation of St. Robert Bellarmine autobiography (and more reader discounts!)

We have enjoyed a strong relationship with Catholic author and publisher Ryan Grant of Mediatrix Press for a few years. And we are pleased to bring to you his latest work, the first English translation of The Autobiography of St. Robert Bellarmine. Check out his site now, as he's added a number of new titles to the "Rorate Discount Page."

Besides the Saint's autobiography, this work also includes his model for composing sermons, and 7 sermons on the Annunciation which have rarely been seen before in Latin, and never before in English. The Autobiography was written by St. Robert in 1613-1614, at the request of some Jesuit brothers that wanted an account of his life. It is not terribly long, nor exhaustive of the Saint's life, but it is an account written by his own hand of the recollections he had as he approached 70. To this Mr. Grant has added numerous footnotes and some appendices so as to aid the reader in gathering the historical details surrounding St. Robert's life.

St. Robert Bellarmine was also an excellent preacher -- considered one of the best of his age -- and it is fitting that, as he speaks of preaching so frequently in the autobiography, that his Guide to Composing Sermons has been provided, along with 7 sermons on the Annunciation so as to demonstrate these principles in action. The Sermons combine St. Robert's considerable erudition and knowledge of Holy Scripture with his great piety, but simplified for to be for all.

In a special just for Rorate readers, you can now purchase this book by clicking here to receive a 20% discount ($15). Additionally, our readers can take advantage of special discounts explicitly for you, on other books published by Mediatrix Press. 

Lastly, the foreword for this book has been written by Fr. Philip Wolfe, FSSP, who is well known for his excellent traditional sermons. See the forward below:

During another chaotic time in the Church, St Philip Neri used to tell his directees that he didn’t care what they read, as long as the author’s name began with the letters “ST.”  That advice is just as helpful today as it was then, and with his Bellarmine Project, Ryan Grant is making the writings of one such author, the great Doctor of the Church, St Robert Bellarmine, available to the English speaking public.

This particular book has the added merit of containing the saint’s autobiography, (the only account currently in print in English); for that reason alone, it is worth reading.  St Robert himself explains the importance of knowledge of the lives of the saints: “The saints are so many models of virtue and norms of right conduct which God has given us to guide us in our course through life. But again, it is quite impossible to follow another person’s example if we do not know who he is or what virtues he practiced and trials he underwent. We cannot imitate an abstract generality. To paraphrase a statement of Christ, the sanctity of the saints is the candle that must not be put under a bushel but upon a candlestick...”

In his autobiography, he gives a perfect example of just such a norm of right conduct, a very sound, practical approach that should be employed by anyone considering a vocation to the priesthood or the religious life, when he tells how he asked a trusted Jesuit friend to speak to him plainly as to how he found life in the Society of Jesus, and whether or not there were any hidden evils or dangers lurking therein.  How many disasters could be avoided, how many ruined lives and vocations could be prevented, should everyone pursuing such a vocation follow a similar course of inquiry!

St Robert tells us that he began preaching years before being ordained, and relates that while he was in preaching in Louvain, “when the sermon was finished, and those present for it went out by different gates, two or three streets were so full that the citizens wondered from where so many men went out; for they said it was several thousands.” 

And he was truly an extraordinary preacher.  His contemporaries reported: “So compelling was the power of his genius that it drew vast crowds after him and caused his preaching to bear fruits almost beyond belief.”

In that regard, his short work, The Guide to Composing Sermons, is of particular interest to me. Given that Christ Our Lord established a Church in which the Faith is spread by hearing, (cf. Romans 10:14-17) having a correct and true understanding of the proper approach to writing sermons should be of paramount concern to anyone charged with the sacred office of preaching.  And here we have a saint, famous for his preaching (elsewhere we read that during his time in Louvain, hundreds of Protestants would travel all the way from England simply to hear him preach) explaining just what approach the preacher should take in the writing and delivery of his sermons.

A few excerpts: “many not only preach uselessly, but even with danger to their souls, who propose no scope for themselves.”  (How often have we suffered through some sermon, and were left wondering:  Now what was the point of all that?)

“The purpose of a Christian preacher ought to be to faithfully teach the people that which they ought … to know about divine doctrine. At the same time, he ought to move them to attain virtues and flee vices.”  “ is necessary that anyone that is going to preach should, first of all, set before him the scope to which he means to direct his whole action and... he should examine the individual parts of his sermon, and see whether they will bring about the proposed end.”  (As common sense as all that sounds, how often do we actually hear sermons composed in such a fashion?)

But the work speaks for itself.  Read it. 

And having read the holy Doctor’s advice, you can immediately see how he himself practiced it, by a careful study of the third part of this little work, the seven sermons on the Annunciation.  And here too, St Robert places before us another one of the norms of right conduct, when, in the beginning of his Third Sermon Missus est, speaking of St Gabriel greeting Our Lady by saying Ave Maria, he asks: “Why do all preachers begin their sermon with this salutation?”

Why do all preachers begin their sermon by saluting Our Lady with the words of St Gabriel?

Why indeed.

Would that it were true!

A few more comments. In his first sermon, we are treated to a beautiful meditation on the greatness of God.  St Robert’s words are very moving - at least to this reader; they’re really something to be pondered in a quiet moment of prayer, in front of the Most Blessed Sacrament.  I can’t believe that this sermon wouldn’t stir any believer in the depths of his soul, and this in spite of the fact that not only are they meant to be heard, and not read, we’re also reading them in translation; one can only imagine the powerful effect this would have had in actually hearing the saint preach this sermon himself.

We see his principles applied as we read his sermons.  But I don’t think that they should simply be read; if we really want to draw forth the fruit they contain, they should be read slowly, prayerfully, meditatively, in a quiet place or before the Tabernacle.

Although any Catholic can certainly draw good fruit from these works of the holy Doctor, I would especially recommend this to preachers, seminarians and deacons who are preparing to preach, or even catechists who share in this mission in a derived way, and I am grateful for Ryan Grant bringing these treasures before a wider audience.

Fr Phil Wolfe FSSP
Feast of St Albert the Great 2016