Disputationes de Controversiis Christianae Fidei adversus hujus temporis Haereticos
Title page of the first volume, 1586
AuthorRobert Bellarmine
CountryIngolstadt, Duchy of Bavaria, Holy Roman Empire

Disputationes (full title: Disputationes de Controversiis Christianae Fidei adversus hujus temporis Haereticos), also referred to as De Controversiis or the Controversiae, is a work on dogmatics in three volumes by Robert Bellarmine.

The Disputationes has been described as "the definitive defence of papal power".[1] After its publication, Bellarmine's Disputationes was regarded as the Catholic Church's foremost defence of its doctrine, and especially the papal power.[2]

It was written while Bellarmine was lecturing at the Roman College, and was first published at Ingolstadt in three volumes (1586, 1588, 1593[3][4]).[1] This work was the earliest attempt to systematize the various controversies of the time, and made an immense impression throughout Europe, the strength of its arguments against Protestantism so acutely felt in Germany and England that special chairs were founded in order to provide replies to it.[5] Thomas Hobbes,[1] Theodore Beza and John Rainolds[6] were among those who wrote counter-arguments against the work.

"The complete edition, reviewed and corrected by the author, which became the standard for all further editions, appeared in Venice in 1596."[7]


The final edition of 1596 of the Controversiae contains a total of 17 controversies:[7]

  1. The Word of God
  2. Christ
  3. The Pope
  4. Councils
  5. The Members of the Church
  6. The Church Suffering
  7. The Church Triumphant
  8. The Sacraments in General
  9. Baptism and Confirmation
  10. The Sacrament of Eucharist
  11. Penance
  12. Extreme Unction, Orders, and Matrimony
  13. The Grace of the First Man
  14. The Loss of Grace
  15. Grace and Free Choice
  16. Justification
  17. Good Works

Content of the original three volumes

Volume I

The first volume treats of the Holy Scriptures, of Christ, and of the pope.

The third section discusses the Antichrist. Bellarmine gives in full the theory set forth by the Church Fathers, of a personal Antichrist to come just before the end of the world and to be accepted by the Jews and enthroned in the temple at Jerusalem—thus endeavoring to dispose of the Protestant exposition which saw in the pope the Antichrist.

The most important part of the work is contained in the five books regarding the pope. In these, after a speculative introduction on forms of government in general, holding monarchy to be relatively the best, Bellarmine says that a monarchical government and the related temporal power are necessary for the Church, to preserve unity and order in it.

Such power Bellarmine considers to have been established by the commission of Christ to Saint Peter. He then proceeds to demonstrate that this power has been transmitted to the successors of Peter, admitting that a heretical pope may be freely judged and deposed by the Church since by the very fact of his heresy he would cease to be pope, or even a member of the Church. The fourth section sets forth the pope as the supreme judge in matters of faith and morals, though making the concessions that the pope may err in questions of fact which may be known by ordinary human knowledge, and also when he speaks as a mere unofficial theologian. Bellarmine took in particular the example of Pope Honorius I, who had been anathemized by the Third Council of Constantinople as holding to monothelitism. He claimed that although monothelitism had been rightly condemned, Honorius was however orthodox as he had not really held these views, and that papal authority did not extend itself to the factual interpretation of what was to be found in Honorius or not."[8]

Volume II

This volume treats of the sacraments: sacraments in general: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, and Holy Matrimony.

Volume III

This volume is about divine grace, free will, justification, and good works.

Almost in the Index

See also: Plenitudo potestatis

As much as Protestants disliked Bellarmine's theories, he was in fact moderate in his defence of papal power.

In 1590, Pope Sixtus V had, of his own initiative, placed the first volume on a new edition of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum for denying that the pope had direct temporal authority over the whole world. The entry concerning Bellarmine reads: "Roberti Bellarmini Disputationes de Controversiis Christianae fidei adversus huius temporis haereticos. Nisi prius ex superioribus regulis recognitae fuerint." However, Sixtus V died before he could promulgate the bull which would have made this new edition of the Index enter into force. The successor of Sixtus V, Urban VII, asked for an examination and after it was done Bellarmine was exonerated and the book removed from the Index.[9][10] Bellarmine's reasoning was that though the pope is the vicar of Christ, since Christ did not exercise his temporal power, nor may the pope.[11]

Translation into English

Though several books of this work have been translated into English in the past, only recently is it seeing its first complete translation project in full, in an English translation made by Ryan Grant. Several parts of the work have been translated, and the whole project will be resumed after the translation project of Theologia Moralis by Saint Alphonsus Liguori is completed.[12]

In 2016, Kenneth Baker's translation of the first three controversies was published as Controversies of the Christian Faith.


  1. ^ a b c Springborg, Patricia. "Thomas Hobbes and Cardinal Bellarmine: Leviathan and 'the ghost of the Roman empire' ". History of Political Thought. XVI:4 (January 1995), pp. 503-531: 506.
  2. ^ Springborg, Patricia. "Thomas Hobbes and Cardinal Bellarmine: Leviathan and 'the ghost of the Roman empire' ". History of Political Thought. XVI:4 (January 1995), pp. 503-531: 515-516.
  3. ^ "Robert Bellarmine | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2020-02-17.
  4. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bellarmine, Roberto Francesco Romolo, Duc de" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 695.
  5. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Robert Bellarmine". www.newadvent.org. Retrieved 2020-02-13.
  6. ^ Springborg, Patricia. "Thomas Hobbes and Cardinal Bellarmine: Leviathan and 'the ghost of the Roman empire' ". History of Political Thought. XVI:4 (January 1995), pp. 503-531: 516.
  7. ^ a b Richgels, Robert W. (1980). "The Pattern of Controversy in a Counter-Reformation Classic: The Controversies of Robert Bellarmine". The Sixteenth Century Journal. 11 (2): 3–15. doi:10.2307/2540028. ISSN 0361-0160. JSTOR 2540028.
  8. ^ "Robert Bellarmine". masterliness.com. Archived from the original on 2008-07-26. Retrieved 2008-09-25.
  9. ^ Vacant, Alfred; Mangenot, Eugene; Amann, Emile (1908). "Bellarmin". Dictionnaire de théologie catholique : contenant l'exposé des doctrines de la théologie catholique, leurs preuves et leur histoire (in French). Vol. 2. University of Ottawa (2nd ed.). Paris: Letouzey et Ané. p. 563-564.
  10. ^ Blackwell, Richard J. (1991-01-31). "Chapter 2: Bellarmine's Views Before the Galileo Affair". Galileo, Bellarmine, and the Bible. University of Notre Dame Press. p. 30. doi:10.2307/j.ctvpg847x. ISBN 978-0-268-15893-4. Bellarmine himself was not a stranger to theological condemnation. In August 1590 Pope Sixtus V decided to place the first volume of the Controversies on the Index because Bellarmine had argued that the pope is not the temporal ruler of the whole world and that temporal rulers do not derive their authority to rule from God through the pope but through the consent of the people governed. However Sixtus died before the revised Index was published, and the next pope, Urban VII, who reigned for only twelve days before his own death, removed Bellarmine’s book from the list during that brief period. The times were precarious.
  11. ^ Springborg, Patricia. "Thomas Hobbes and Cardinal Bellarmine: Leviathan and 'the ghost of the Roman empire' ". History of Political Thought. XVI:4 (January 1995), pp. 503-531: 516-517.
  12. ^ "Saint Robert Bellarmine Translation Project". Mediatrix Press.



In Latin