St. Peter Canisius

St. Peter Canisius Peter Canisius was born in Nijmegen, Holland to a wealthy family in 1521. His father was Jakob Kanijis, an instructor of the princes court in the court of Duke Lorraine. He was a respected man, being appointed nine times as mayor of his native town. (McGraw-Hill) Although Peter's mother died at an early age, he had a loving step-mother who stressed education and raised him to fear God. Although Peter accused himself of wasting his youth, by the time he was 19, he had already earned a master of arts degree at Cologne University. As a teenager, Canisius began to find himself. Though giving in at first, he resisted his father's pushing him to become a lawyer and instead followed a path of studying theology. (Thurston and Attwater) At Cologne, Peter first started writing seriously, something that would mark the uniqueness of his entire career. Also, he made acquaintances in a circle of devout priests who worked to gain reforms within the Catholic Church. Soon, after attending a retreat headed by Peter Faber, one of the first six companions of Ignatius Loyola, he joined the Society of Jesus. By becoming a Jesuit, he began the significant part of his life. He quickly rose the ranks of the Jesuit hierarchy. Within years, he became renowned for his knowledge of the Bible and his ability to get to the hearts of people. Over his career, he was shuttled from location to location, mostly in Germany, counteracting the Protestant movement which had virtually destroyed the Catholic Church in many areas. He is often referred to as the Second ------------------------------------------------------------------- Apostle of Germany. From 1549 to 1580, he established twenty Jesuit colleges all over Europe, all of them marked by excellence and all of them producing strong Catholic political and spiritual leaders. (Eliade) At the core, though, the qualities that made him great were his writing, his knowledge of the Bible, his passive arguing style and his work ethic. Peter Canisius was among the members of the elite when it came to comprehension of spiritual matters or anything pertaining to God. He could "duke it out" with any of the Protestant theologians who were in general far more knowledgeable than the theologians of the Catholic church. He could base his arguments for doctrine on scripture just as well as any Protestant. (Bentley) It was not this alone, though, that caused others to follow him into Catholicism. It was the style in which his arguments were effected. Canisius was stern towards the leaders and propagators of Protestantism but he was gentle in his arguments. When arguing for Catholic doctrine, he thought it was important to not stress things the Protestants were leery of such as confession, purgatory and indulgences. Instead, "their need, as that of children, is for milk, and they should be led gently and gradually to those dogmas about which there is a dispute." He didn't scorn or scold those who had been born into or drifted towards Protestantism. He felt that they were headed in the wrong direction, but it wasn't because they were malicious or even because they were aware of the direction they were going. They had merely been misguided. Therefore he felt it was his job to show them the correct path that he felt was Catholicism. This was not an excuse to be discourteous --------------------------------------------------------------------- or to scold. Rather, it was a time to be gentle and polite. (Thurston and Attwater) Peter's gentle style of argumentation led to much success. He revived the Catholic church and sustained it in many areas including Ingolstadt, Vienna, Augsburg, Innsbruck, and Munich. In all of these places he taught and preached, but was never overly forceful. This is not to mention the other work he did while on location. He anointed the sick. He visited prisoners and attended to those who had been struck with the plague. It is estimated that he covered 6,000 miles in three years on horseback and foot. Peter Canisius was an indefatigable man. He had a work ethic that wouldn't quit. He said, "If you have too much to do, with God's help you will find time to do it all." Despite all these achievements, the work that Canisius is best known for is his writing. He was the first Jesuit writer. Despite having written from a fairly early point in his life, Peter was not the greatest writer in the world. He didn't write anything that was really new and he didn't have any literary ambition but his writing was still ingenious. What makes his works intriguing is the unheard of level of understanding that he acquired. His most famous writings were three catechisms, each with their own special purpose. The first catechism was entitled the Summa Doctrinae Christianae. It contained 213-223 detailed questions and answers about Catholic doctrine. It was designed as a compendium for universities and graduating classes of Jesuit schools. The second catechism was called Summa doctrinae christianae per questiones -------------------------------------------------------------------- tradita et ad captum rudiorum accomodata. It asks 59 questions on Catholic doctrine and gives short, but concise answers. It was intended to give initial religious instruction to children. The third catechism was entitled Catechismus Minor seu parvus Catechismus Catholicorum. This third catechism includes a detailed calendar with feasts and saints in addition to 124 questions and short answers. This catechism was intended to be a textbook for secondary Jesuit schools. All of these works were typical of Peter's character. They were detailed, concise and comprehensive. They clearly explained the Catholic church's views and were mass produced until the 19th century. These catechisms were so helpful to Catholics of the day that they were translated into dozens of languages. Altogether, there were about 200 editions of the catechisms put out, even while he was alive. (McGraw-Hill) By 1591, Peter was reaching old age. It was in this year that he suffered a paralytic seizure. This brought him to the brink of death but he managed to recover to the point where he could write again, with the help of a secretary. This was the beginning of the end, though for Peter Canisius. He died on December 21, 1597. In 1925, he was canonized. At the same time he was declared a Doctor of the Church for his catechetical studies. St. Peter was an unforgettable figure for the Catholic church in the 1500's. Through his knowledge, preaching and writing, he saved Catholicism in Germany. Were it not for him, Catholicism could possibly have been non-existent throughout much of eastern Europe. His gentle approach to defending Catholic doctrine was very important in terms of pulling back Protestants who had been misguided to the Catholic church. He was a tireless man to whom the Catholic church will always be indebted.

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