Saint Peter Canisius – Catholic Telegraph
An important figure in the Catholic counter-reform which responded to the spread of Protestantism in the 16th century, the priest and doctor of the Church Saint Peter Canisius is recalled liturgically on December 21.
His efforts as a preacher, author, and religious educator strengthened the Catholic faith in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and parts of central Europe during a period of doctrinal confusion.
Writing on Saint Peter Canisius in 1897, Pope Leo XIII noted similarities between the late 19th century and the saint’s own life, “a period when the spirit of revolution and the loosening of doctrine resulted in a great loss of faith and a decline in morals “.
More recently, during a general audience in 2011, Pope Benedict XVI taught that the holy Jesuit has found success in ministry by living as “a personal witness of Jesus and an instrument at his disposal, closely linked to him through faith in his Gospel and in his Church. . “
Peter Kanis – his name later Latinized as “Canisius” – was born in the Netherlands in May 1521. His father Jacob was a wealthy civil servant, but his mother Aegidia died soon after his birth. Peter started his university studies in Cologne around the age of 15 and graduated before he was 20. His friends during this period included several men who held to the Catholic faith in opposition to the Protestant doctrines which were then gaining ground in Germany.
Despite his father’s preference for him to marry, Pierre made the decision in 1540 to remain celibate. Three years later, he entered the Society of Jesus under the influence of Blessed Peter Faber, one of the first companions of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. He founded the first Jesuit house in Germany and became a priest in 1546.
Only a year after his ordination, Peter accompanied the Bishop of Augsburg to the Council of Trent as a theological advisor. He spends part of his time in Italy working directly with Saint Ignatius of Loyola, before leaving for Bavaria where he will exercise the functions of university professor as well as catechist and preacher. This combination of academic and pastoral work continued in Vienna from 1552, allowing it to visit and assist many Austrian parishes which found themselves without a priest.
In the mid-1550s, Peter’s evangelistic journeys took him to Prague, where he eventually founded a Jesuit school with another in Bavaria, and later a third in Munich. The year 1555, in particular, was a milestone for Canisius: Saint Ignatius promoted him to a leadership position within the order, which he held until 1569, and he published the first and the longest version of his Catholic catechism. This work and its two shorter adaptations have been the subject of hundreds of prints and have remained in use for centuries.
Engaged in discussions with Protestants in 1557, Peter pleaded for the Church by showing how followers of Protestantism could not get along on matters of doctrine. During this time, he maintained his commitment to religious instruction at the popular level – teaching children, giving retreats, and preaching carefully crafted and doctrinal sermons to large crowds.
Canisius’ service to the Council of Trent continued in the early 1560s, but mostly at a distance. He maintained a demanding program of preaching and establishing universities, while ensuring that the decrees of the council were received and followed in Germany after its conclusion. His tireless efforts over the next two decades contributed to a major revival of German Catholicism.
A mystical experience in 1584 convinced Canisius that he had to stop his travels and stay in Switzerland for the rest of his life. He spent his last years building the Church in Freiburg through his preaching, his teaching and his writings. Peter suffered a near-fatal stroke in 1591, but recovered and continued as an author for six years. The Dutch Jesuit viewed writing as an essential form of apostolic work, a view supported by the continued use of his catechism long after his death on December 21, 1597.
Saint Peter Canisius was simultaneously canonized and declared Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI in May 1925. In a famous saying, the Jesuit priest revealed the secret behind the accomplishments of his energetic and fruitful life: “If you have too much to do, with the help of God, you will find the time to do everything.