Friday
April 27, 2007
vol 18, no. 117

Saint Peter Canisius


The Windmill of Wisdom

    The twenty-fifth Doctor in this chronological series on the Doctors of the Church was a Dutch-born Jesuit priest who played a key role in the landmark Council of Trent and played a vital role in debating the Protestant heresies throughout Europe, especially in his native Netherlands and Germany, Austria, Bohemia and Poland. He was a great eloquent preacher sought by prince and pauper alike. He served as mediator between Holy Roman Emperors and Popes. He also founded the University of Fribourg in 1580. One of his most famous works was "Manuel of Catholics" and he is referred to as the "Second Apostle of Germany," giving way only to the great Saint Boniface as the "First Apostle of Germany." Because of his efforts, the counter-reformation was a resounding success in Bavaria. He was Saint Peter of Canisius.

    Born in at the height of the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation, Peter Canisius went on to become one of the greatest Dutch Saints in the history of the Church. He was born in Nijmegan in the Netherlands on May 8, 1521 to a distinguished family of Holland. Peter studied in Cologne and received his license as doctor of civil law; he then went to Louvain (Belgium) to learn canon law. There he was moved during a retreat given by Blesed Peter Fabre of Mainz and it prompted him to join the Jesuits, just being formed by Saint Ignatius of Loyola and a few others. He was inspired to respond to the vitrolity that had occurred after the Augustinian monk Martin Luther had burnt the papal bulls at Wittenberg, Germany. Soon Saint Peter became a Jesuit and assigned by St. Ignatius to teach at Messina at the first school run by the Company of the Society of Jesus. While also teaching at the University of Cologne, he was thrown into the foray when the unfortunate archbishop of that city fell into the new heresy of Protestantism. The Catholics who desired to depose him needed a deputy to the emperor to present their request, and Saint Peter was chosen.

    His mission, seconded by the Holy Ghost, succeeded; and the deputy was recommended by a Cardinal, who desired to send him to the Council of Trent as his representative and theologian. Saint Peterís superior, Saint Ignatius of Loyola himself, approved this choice, and the young Jesuit took his place among the Fathers of the Council as a periti in the northern mountains of Italy. He was commissioned to draft a memoir on the exact nature of the errors being propagated in the lands of the reform, in consort with the Popeís theologian, another Jesuit named Jacques Laynez. Their work was admired; the Council was dissolved soon afterwards, however, and Saint Peter was recalled to Rome by Saint Ignatius, to consult with him concerning the formation of the religious and the future of their Order.

    Afterwards Saint Peter and two other Jesuits founded a college at Ingolstadt, going there with only two books in their baggage, the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius and the famous Ratio Studiorum, or Plan of Studies of their Order. Saint Peter was named Rector of the University by that institution.

    He was in demand everywhere; King Ferdinand of Rome obtained his presence for Vienna. A pestilence broke out there, and he was most often found at the bedside of the dying, caring for the bodies and regenerating the souls of the unfortunate citizens. He opened a boarding school for boys, and Vienna soon found itself reborn in the faith: the famous Catechism of Saint Peter Canisius had much to do with the renovation. During his lifetime it appeared in more than 200 editions, in at least twelve languages. It remains a monument of the triumph of the Church over error in the time of Luther.

    Its author had tried to keep his name a secret but did not succeed, and then several nations disputed the honor of his presence. But Saint Peter was Provincial of Germany, named by Saint Ignatius, and he concerned himself above all with the colleges at Prague, Ingolstadt and Munich. Until his death in 1597 the Apostle of Germany continued the valiant and perpetual combat of the Church against error. For a long time forgotten, Saint Peter was canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI in 1927.

    In 1591 he suffered a stroke which hindered his speaking engagements, but he continued his writings with the help of a scribe as he dictated to him. Six years later, at the age of 76 this noble man died at Fribourg. Pope Pius XI canonized him in 1925, at the same time declaring him a distinguished Doctor of the Church.


    Note: [editor's bold, brackets and italicized for emphasis] Some of the sources taken from: Dictionary of Saints, John J. Delaney (Doubleday); Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butlerís Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894; Saints of the Roman Calendar, Enzo Lodi).

For the chronological list of the Doctors of the Church to date, see www.DailyCatholic.org/2004doc.htm Archives.


      Doctors of the Church Series