What Are We to Do About Robert Bellarmine?

Thomas M. Izbicki 

Thomas M. Izbicki. "What Are We to Do About Robert Bellarmine?". Early Modern Literary Studies 14.2/Special Issue 17 (September, 2008) 7.1-10 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/14-2/Izbibell.html>.

  1. In the year 1586 a somewhat peculiar polemic was published in London.  Although it appeared in London, the imprint said “Monaco,” the printer was described as “Giovanni Swartz,” the text was in Italian and its supposed author was French.  This is the Auiso piacevole dato alla bella Italia, da vn nobile giovane Francese, sopra la mentita data dal serenissimo re di Nauarra a Papa Sisto V.  This publication, attributed to one François Perrot, is a political polemic tied to the struggle for the French throne in the waning years of the Valois dynasty.[1]  The context of this polemic was the excommunication by a recently elected pope of Henry of Bourbon, the king of Navarre and heir presumptive to the French throne, and of his kinsman the prince of Condé.  This papal decree evoked replies by Henry addressed to the theological faculty of the Sorbonne and the Parlement of Paris.  More to our point, he and Condé issued a reply to “Monsieur Sixtus, self-styled pope,” accusing the Roman pontiff of “lying and heresy.”[2]  As is noted in the Short Title Catalogue, there are “Extensive quotations in Italian from Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio."[3]  This work by Perrot might be of little interest had it not been answered by the greatest Roman Catholic polemicist of the Counter Reformation, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine.[4]  Although his involvement in the condemnation of Galileo Galilei is better known today, this Jesuit theologian authored the massive Controversiae, in which he answered every possible Protestant argument on any theological topic of moment dividing Christian Europe.[5]  The answer Bellarmine wrote to the Auiso, included in the eighteenth-century edition of the Controversiae, replies to every point, including the French author’s quotations from Dante’s Divine Comedy.[6]

  2. Because the Auiso appears in Early English Books Online, it is a good example of the problems of tracing works that are related to one another, especially when one replies to another.  Some may be in the same database, as are the English polemics over Church issues mapped out in the bibliographies of Peter Milward;[7]  but others, like Bellarmine’s reply to Perrot, are not.  In fact, it is not available in either EEBO or in the section of the Ad Fontes databases digitizing Roman Catholic polemics of the Reformation and Counter Reformation eras.[8]  The English Short Title Catalogue[9] provides cross references within the database to certain works of Bellarmine in English translation, including an excerpt from the Controversiae entitled The peace of Rome. Proclaimed to all the world (1609).  It also lists replies to Bellarmine by King James I and other controversialists.   These polemics are focused on the Oath of Allegiance imposed by the English crown in Parliament after the Gunpowder Plot was foiled;  and they represent a significant issue in Early Modern political thought, fought out between thinkers in England and on the Continent.[10]  Nonetheless, there are few pointers to works, like the Controversiae, found outside the database but essential to understanding the debates between Catholics and Protestants written in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

  3. Here we come to the first of the challenges I see facing the providers of full-text historical databases.  How are texts to be provided that do not fit tidily into the existing tools?  All three of the databases that partner under the aegis of the Text Creation Partnership, Early English Books Online, Eighteenth Century Collections Online and the Evans Digital Edition - and other worth-while electronic resources -  represent coherent bodies of publishing in a particular region within an identifiable period of time.  Almost all published by the major vendors, however, are rooted in microform surrogates for original texts;[11]  and none of these databases contains relevant publications from outside that predetermined time and place.[12]  It is this last point that will need to be addressed in the future.  Where a significant portion of the material in the database replies to works outside the original microform source, how are we going to add these necessary titles to the corpus of digitized texts?  Here we might learn a lesson from reprint houses like Thoemmes, which has done the collection The Early Reception of Kant’s Thought in England, 1793-1838 London: Routledge/Thoemmes, 1993.[13]  Collections like it link, albeit in a limited print package, works replying to salient works of philosophy or science.  The electronic environment allows us to create such packages on a larger scale and without the limits of inclusion in a single printed set.  We must ask, however, whether libraries, digitizing from their holdings, or corporations, adding to their existing resources, are willing to fill gaps with essential titles connected to those already digitized.  If the libraries do the digitization, how will new resource fit technically into the existing resource picture, linking to relevant texts?  Moreover, resources created free are not guaranteed survival unless the institution has a strong program of digital publishing.  If a corporation does the work, will librarians be asked to pay the costs for additional content in an age of tight budgets?  Either way, if someone does not tackle a work as important as the Controversiae, we may be left with gaping holes in our online resources for historical study.

  4. This is only the first of a series of questions that I would like to raise.  A second is how to connect the resources in one full-text collection with those in another.  Keeping to the name of Robert Bellarmine (indexed in most databases as Roberto Bellarmino, the Italian form of his name), we can seek out the English translations of his works done in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Here we find multiple translations of the Jesuit cardinal’s works, but we encounter some complications.  The Peace of Rome Proclaimed appears in the English Short Title Catalogue without Bellarmine as Author, although it is retrieved by an Author Keyword search;  and EEBO assigns principal authorship to Martín de Azpilcueta, the “famous casuist Nauarre,” a portion of one of whose works also was printed in this anti-Catholic polemic.  ECCO lists a work of Bellarmine translated as Ouranography: or Heaven Opened:  The Substance of Cardinal Bellarmine’s five books concerning the Eternal Felicity of the Saints (London: s. n., 1710).  Likewise it lists this and five other early eighteenth century translations of works by Bellarmine.  Some, like Ouranography, postdate EEBO’s period of coverage.  Others, like The Art of Dying Well, appeared as new versions of works previously Englished.[14]  Most - but not all - are listed by ESTC, among them Ouranography.[15]   For completeness, however, even when looking for translations, we must do a triangular set of searches for sixteenth- and seventeenth-century versions, eighteenth-century versions, and the substantial, almost complete listing in ESTC.[16] 

  5. The ESTC findings, useful as they are, do not yet provide links to either full-text resource, although they will search the library’s online catalog courtesy of SFX and its ilk.  In an age when library patrons, when they use our resources at all - and not Google, want seamless access, we are left with three useful tools, all lacking the Latin originals of Bellarmine’s works.  (And only one of Bellarmine’s polemical writings, his Apology, is in The Digital Library of the Catholic Reformation.[17])  Moreover, no one of these three covers every English translation known to us.  There is plenty of room here for partnering between the providers of these resources, perhaps under the umbrella of the Text Creation Partnership, to permit the making of these connections to results of full-text searches.  These connections could be made for TCP participants, thus safeguarding the legitimate interests of the database vendors.

  6. A third concern is the linking of resources within a database.  Here we are more fortunate, although more could be done. Let us use the English Oath of Allegiance as a test case.  ESTC offers subject tracings for some of the translations of Bellarmine’s works, although none are the works directly addressing the Oath.  The database lists 10 editions of the apology for the Oath of Allegiance authored by King James with subject headings that include:
    Bellarmino, Roberto Francesco Romolo, Saint, 1542-1621 – Controversial literature – Early works to 1800. 
    All works so described, however, are answers to Bellarmine, useful but without any records for the cardinal’s own polemics.[18]  EEBO too has subject headings, like:
    Catholic Church – Controversial literature – Early works to 1800.
    It lists 37 works, including The peace of Rome, under its attribution to Martín de Azpilcueta, and 11 editions of the polemics of James I.  In this case there is a link from James I to Bellarmine under:
    Bellarmino, Roberto Francesco Romolo, 1542-1621 – Controversial literature – Early works to 1800.
    However, it does not point to the cardinal’s works;  and so we still lack full references to, let alone digitized texts of,  the works to which King James, Lancelot Andrewes and others replied.[19]  The database lists multiple works related to the Oath controversy, too many to list without creating an annotated bibliography;  but the connector tissue of the controversy, a listing, even in bibliographic form, of the major continental Roman Catholic works answered by King James and the rest, is lacking, especially a full and convenient tracing of the controversy from one work to the next in chronological sequence.  Each work is traced in relationship to the one preceding, but no heading in either database links an entire exchange in a coherent manner beginning with the original publication that triggered it.[20]
  7. Here we are following past cataloging practice for books and microforms, including the hard and fast separation of author and subject, understandable in itself but insufficient for online research purposes.[21]  For the record, a more complete tracing of this thread of the controversy would include the proclamation of the Oath[22] and Bellarmine’s Epistola...ad Archipresbyterum Angliae, addressed to George Blackwell, the Roman Catholic archpriest of England, who tried to compromise with King James.  Then would come James’ own apology, Bellarmine’s reply under the name of his secretary, Matthaeus Tortus, Andrewes’ punning title Tortura Torti, a new edition by James of his tract, Bellarmine’s Apologia, and another reply by Andrewes.[23]  We could add here Samuel Collins’ Epphata, which defends Andrewes against criticism by Thomas Fitzherbert.[24]

  8. Similarly, if we look at the earlier controversies aroused by the apologies of John Jewel, bishop of Salisbury, for the ecclesiastical policies of Elizabeth I, we are put to a great deal of trouble to trace work, reply and counter reply.  For the sake of brevity, the discussion will be limited to the early exchange between Jewel and Thomas Harding.  Harding had converted to Roman Catholicism during the reign of Queen Mary, but he had lost his living in the diocese of Salisbury when Jewel was elevated to that see by Queen Elizabeth.  This added piquancy to their exchange concerning the Royal Supremacy in the English church.[25]  Jewel’s Apologia appears in EEBO in multiple editions, but its subject tracings do not point to anything but generalities like:
    Church of England – Apologetic works.
    Harding’s critique of Jewel, as reproduced, does reference Jewel as a subject:
    Jewel, John, 1522-1571 – Controversial literature.
    Once again, we can refer backwards in time but not forwards.[26]  The same heading also links copies of John Rastell’s attacks on Jewel.[27]  This is just one example of the apparently endless exchanges between Catholic and Protestant, and between Catholics or between Protestants, that can be traced by EEBO with a bit of ingenuity.[28]

  9. A last observation on the existing subject headings for Elizabethan and Jacobean polemics: they are applied inconsistently.  For example, the Tortura Torti by Lancelot Andrewes exists in three versions, the original 1609 printing by Robert Barker, the Parker Society reprint and the AMS reissue of that reprint.  A quick look at the available online records shows considerable inconsistency.  Of the three records in WorldCat for the 1609 or the Parker Society reprint plus the records for the 1609 in ESTC and EEBO,[29] not a single one has the same subject tracings as any other, although there are overlapping uses of the same heading.  Nonetheless, even imperfect subject tracings are useful, including via Keyword searches that pick up terms useful in the present day but not in the terminology of past centuries.[30]

  10. At this point, some general observations are in order.  We are still employing the artifact-based subject headings, without consistent use of them, in the online environment.  We need to break out of those constraints and make better links within full-text databases.  As urgently, if not more so, we need to permit wider linking between databases even where corporate boundaries stand as obstacles.  As noted above, TCP is a possible umbrella under which this can be done, at least for some crucial resources.  Moreover, we need to identify missing texts significant to the content of the existing resources and add them.  They will need to be added in such a way that their long life in the digital environment is guaranteed.  This is more likely in the commercial than in the library environment.  Nothing I propose will be as simple as linking between databases from the same provider, the way we can cross-search ProQuest’s Acta Sanctorum and Patrologia Latina databases.  But all are worth undertaking in an effort to produce the relatively seamless environment our students now expect us to create and which our faculty users will expect in the future.


[1].  As described in Early English Books Online (accessed on July 26, 2006) the work is: François Perrot.  Auiso piaceuole dato alla bella Italia, da vn nobile giovane Francese, sopra la mentita data dal serenissimo re di Nauarra a Papa Sisto V. “Monaco” [i.e., London]: Appresso Giouanni Swartz [i.e. J. Wolfe], 1586.

[2].  Ronald S. Love. Blood and Religion: The Conscience of Henri IV 1553-1593. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2001. 134-37.

[3].  See above n. 1.

[4].  Bellarmine is listed first among the “Popish Writers” in Thomas Barlow, Popery, or, The principles & positions approved by the Church of Rome (when really believ'd and practis'd) are very dangerous to all and to Protestant kings and supreme powers, more especially pernicious, and inconsistent with that loyalty, which (by the law of nature and scripture) is indispensably due to supreme powers. In a letter to a person of honor / by T. Ld Bishop of Lincoln. London: T. Newcomb, 1679. [20].

[5]Disputationum Roberti Bellarmini politiani. s .r. e. cardinalis, de controversiis christianæ fidei: Adversus hujus temporis hæreticos, quatuor tomis comprehensarum, 4 vols. Milan:  ex typographia hæredum Dominici Bellagattæ, 1721.

[6]. Bellarmine 1: 1013-1044, where the Auiso is described as anonymous but Bellarmine called the author a follower of John Calvin.  Dante is treated as the most serious of the three Italian luminaries, Petrarch and Boccaccio being censured for their veneration of Venus and Cupid.

[7].Religious Controversies of the Elizabethan Age: A Survey of Printed Sources. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997);  —. Religious Controversies of the Jacobean Age: A Survey of Printed Sources. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.  See, for example, the controversies focused on the writings of the Jesuit Robert Persons (or Parsons).

[8]Digital Library of the Catholic Reformation; see the content listed at:  http://www.ad-fontes.com/learnabout.asp (accessed on July 26, 2006).  The only work of Bellarmine listed is the 1609 edition of Apologia Roberti Bellarmini.

[9].  Accessed on July 28, 2006.

[10].  Paolo Prodi. Il sacramento del potere: il giuramento politico nella storia costituzionale dell’occidente. Bologna: Il mulino, 1992.

[11].  An exception is the Readex American Broadsides and Ephemera database.  On the partnership of Readex and the American Antiquarian Society, see Robert Scott. “The Readex Corporation, the American Antiquarian Society, and the Brave New World of Electronic Text: A Librarian’s Perspective.” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 115 (2005): 295-316.

[12].  A different approach is taken by Alexander Street, which designs databases “from the ground up.”

 [13].  See also David Berman, ed. George Berkeley: Eighteenth-Century Responses. 2 vols. New York: Garland Publishing, 1989; James Fieser (ed.), Early Responses to Hume’s Writings on Religion, 2 vols. (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1999).

[14].  Accessed July 29, 2006.

[15].  Accessed July 29, 2006.

[16].  ESTC lacks the 1621 edition of The art of dying well found in EEBO, but it has two editions of An ample declaration of the Christian doctrine (1617 and 1624) not in EEBO, A short Christian doctrine (1675) not in EEBO, and The art of dying well (1723) not in ECCO.

[17].  This database was formerly part of Ad Fontes.  It is now an Alexander Street product.

[18].  Accessed on July 31, 2006.  Works listed include: Robert Abbot. Antichristi demonstratio, contra fabulas pontificias, & ineptam Roberti Bellarmini de Antichristo disputationem. Authore Roberto Abbatto, Oxoniensi, olim e Collegio Baliolensi, sacræ Theologiæ Professore... London: Robert Baker, 1603.

[19].  Accessed on July 31, 2006.  Andrewes’ Tortura Torti is listed under that subject link.

[20].  One simple expedient that might be employed is adding a work in its earliest edition to any subject headings mentioning it.  The convenience of access should outweigh any sense that we have made a work its own subject.

[21].  The headings used in the databases resemble those in WorldCat (accessed August 2, 2006).

[22].  England and Wales. Sovereign (1603-1625 : James I).  By the King a proclamation, whereby it is commanded that the oath of allegeance be administred according to the lawes. London : By Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most Excellent Maiestie, 1611.  From EEBO, accessed on August 21, 2006.

[23]Religious Controversies of the Jacobean Age. 89-94.

[24].  EEBO accessed on August 14, 2006.

[25]Religious Controversies of the Elizabethan Age. 1-6.

[26].  EEBO accessed August 2, 2006.

[27]Religious Controversies of the Elizabethan Age. 6-8.

[28].  In some cases, authors can be found disputing each other’s use of a particular source in fine detail; see Thomas M. Izbicki, “Their Cardinal Cusanus”: Nicholas of Cusa in Tudor and Stuart Polemics,” [forthcoming].

[29].  EEBO, ESTC and WorldCat accessed on August 14, 2006.

 [30].  Jeffrey Garrett, “Subject Headings in Full-Text Environments: The ECCO Experiment,” College & Research Libraries 68 (2007): 69-81.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.

© 2008-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).