Catholic Encyclopedia – Blessed Peter Canisius

[Saint Peter Canisius]Article

Kannees, Kanys, probably also De Hondt

Born at Nimwegen in the Netherlands, 8 May 1521; died in Fribourg, 21 November, 1597. His father was the wealthy burgomaster, Jacob Canisius; his mother, Ægidia van Houweningen, died shortly after Peter’s birth. In 1536 Peter was sent to Cologne, where he studied arts, civil law, and theology at the university; he spent a part of 1539 at the University of Louvain, and in 1540 received the degree of Master of Arts at Cologne. Nicolaus van Esche was his spiritual adviser, and he was on terms of friendship with such staunch Catholics as Georg of Skodborg (the expelled Archbishop of Lund), Johann Gropper (canon of the cathedral), Eberhard Billick (the Carmelite monk), Justus Lanspergius, and other Carthusian monks. Although his father desired him to marry a wealthy young woman, on 25 February, 1540 he pledged himself to celibacy. In 1543 he visited Peter Faber and, having made the “Spiritual Exercises” under his direction, was admitted into the Society of Jesus at Mainz, on 8 May. With the help of Leonhard Kessel and others, Canisius, labouring under great difficulties, founded at Cologne the first German house of the order; at the same time he preached in the city and vicinity, and debated and taught in the university. In 1546 he was admitted to the priesthood, and soon afterwards was sent by the clergy and university to obtain assistance from Emperor Charles V, the nuncio, and the clergy of Liège against the apostate Archbishop, Hermann von Wied, who had attempted to pervert the diocese. In 1547, as the theologian of Cardinal Otto Truchsess von Waldburg, Bishop of Augsburg, he participated in the general ecclesiastical council (which sat first at Trent and then at Bologna), and spoke twice in the congregation of the theologians. After this he spent several months under the direction of Ignatius in Rome. In 1548 he taught rhetoric at Messina, Sicily, preaching in Italian and Latin. At this time Duke William IV of Bavaria requested Paul III to send him some professors from the Society of Jesus for the University of Ingolstadt; Canisius was among those selected.

On 7 September 1549, he made his solemn profession as Jesuit at Rome, in the presence of the founder of the order. On his journey northward he received, at Bologna, the degree of doctor of theology. On 13 November, accompanied by Fathers Jaius and Salmeron, he reached Ingolstadt, where he taught theology, catechized, and preached. In 1550 he was elected rector of the university, and in 1552 was sent by Ignatius to the new college in Vienna; there he also taught theology in the university, preached at the Cathedral of Saint Stephen, and at the court of Ferdinand I, and was confessor at the hospital and prison. During Lent, 1553 he visited many abandoned parishes in Lower Austria, preaching and administering the sacraments. The king’s eldest son (later Maximilian II) had appointed to the office of court preacher, Phauser, a married priest, who preached the Lutheran doctrine. Canisius warned Ferdinand I, verbally and in writing, and opposed Phauser in public disputations. Maximilian was obliged to dismiss Phauser and, on this account, the rest of his life he harboured a grudge against Canisius. Ferdinand three times offered him the Bishopric of Vienna, but he refused. In 1557 Julius III appointed him administrator of the bishopric for one year, but Canisius succeeded in ridding himself of this burden. In 1555 he was present at the Diet of Augsburg with Ferdinand, and in 1555-56 he preached in the cathedral of Prague. After long negotiations and preparations he was able to open Jesuit colleges at Ingolstadt and Prague. In the same year Ignatius appointed him first provincial superior of Upper Germany (Swabia, Bavaria, Bohemia, Hungary, Lower and Upper Austria). During the winter of 1556-57 he acted as adviser to the King of the Romans at the Diet of Ratisbon and delivered many sermons in the cathedral. By the appointment of the Catholic princes and the order of the pope he took part in the religious discussions at Worms. As champion of the Catholics he repeatedly spoke in opposition to Melanchthon. The fact that the Protestants disagreed among themselves and were obliged to leave the field was due in a great measure to Canisius. He also preached in the cathedral of Worms.

During Advent and Christmas he visited the Bishop of Strasburg at Zabern, started negotiations for the building of a Jesuit college there, preached, explained the catechism to the children, and heard their confessions. He also preached in the cathedral of Strasburg and strengthened the Catholics of Alsace and Freiburg in their faith. Ferdinand, on his way to Frankfort to be proclaimed emperor, met him at Nuremburg and confided his troubles to him. Then Duke Albert V of Bavaria secured his services; at Straubing the pastors and preachers had fled, after having persuaded the people to turn from the Catholic faith. Canisius remained in the town for six weeks, preaching three or four times a day, and by his gentleness he undid much harm. From Straubing he was called to Rome to be present at the First General Congregation of his order, but before its close Paul IV sent him with the nuncio Mentuati to Poland to the imperial Diet of Pieterkow; at Cracow he addressed the clergy and members of the university. In the year 1559 he was summoned by the emperor to be present at the Diet of Augsburg. There, at the urgent request of the chapter, he became preacher at the cathedral and held this position until 1566. His manuscripts show the care with which he wrote his sermons. In a series of sermons he treats of the end of man, of the Decalogue, the Mass, the prophecies of Jonas; at the same time he rarely omitted to expound the Gospel of the day; he spoke in keeping with the spirit of the age, explained the justification of man, Christian liberty, the proper way of interpreting the Scriptures, defended the worship of saints, the ceremonies of the Church, religious vows, indulgences. urged obedience to the Church authorities, confession, communion, fasting, and almsgiving; he censured the faults of the clergy, at times perhaps too sharply, as he felt that they were public and that he must avoid demanding reformation from the laity only. Against the influence of evil spirits he recommended the means of defence which had been in use in the Church during the first centuries-lively faith, prayer, ecclesiastical benedictions, and acts of penance. From 1561-62 he preached about two hundred and ten sermons, besides giving retreats and teaching catechism. In the cathedral, his confessional and the altar at which he said Mass were surrounded by crowds, and alms were placed on the altar. The envy of some of the cathedral clergy was aroused, and Canisius and his companions were accused of usurping the parochial rights. The pope and bishop favoured the Jesuits, but the majority of the chapter opposed them. Canisius was obliged to sign an agreement according to which he retained the pulpit but gave up the right of administering the sacraments in the cathedral.

In 1559 he opened a college in Munich; in 1562 he appeared at Trent as papal theologian. The council was discussing the question whether communion should be administered under both forms to those of the laity who asked for it. Lainez, the general of the Society of Jesus, opposed it unconditionally. Canisius held that the cup might be administered to the Bohemians and to some Catholics whose faith was not very firm. After one month he departed from Trent, but he continued to support the work of the Fathers by urging the bishops to appear at the council, by giving expert opinion regarding the Index and other matters, by reports on the state of public opinion, and on newly-published books. In the spring of 1563 he rendered a specially important service to the Church; the emperor had come to Innsbruck (near Trent), and had summoned thither several scholars, including Canisius, as advisers. Some of these men fomented the displeasure of the emperor with the pope and the cardinals who presided over the council. For months Canisius strove to reconcile him with the Curia. He has been blamed unjustly for communicating to his general and to the pope’s representatives some of Ferdinand’s plans, which otherwise might have ended contrary to the intention of all concerned in the dissolution of the council and in a new national apostasy. The emperor finally granted all the pope’s demands and the council was able to proceed and to end peacefully. All Rome praised Canisius, but soon after he lost favour with Ferdinand and was denounced as disloyal; at this time he also changed his views regarding the giving of the cup to the laity (in which the emperor saw a means of relieving all his difficulties), saying that such a concession would only tend to confuse faithful Catholics and to encourage the disobedience of the recalcitrant.

In 1562 the College of Innsbruck was opened by Canisius, and at that time he acted as confessor to the “Queen” Magdalena (declared Venerable in 1906 by Pius X; daughter of Ferdinand I, who lived with her four sisters at Innsbruck), and as spiritual adviser to her sisters. At their request he sent them a confessor from the society, and, when Magdalena presided over the convent, which she had founded at Hall, he sent her complete directions for attaining Christian perfection. In 1563 he preached at many monasteries in Swabia; in 1564 he sent the first missionaries to Lower Bavaria, and recommended the provincial synod of Salzburg not to allow the cup to the laity, as it had authority to do; his advice, however, was not accepted. In this year Canisius opened a college at Dillingen and assumed, in the name of the order, the administration of the university which had been founded there by Cardinal Truchsess. In 1565 he took part in the Second General Congregation of the order in Rome. While in Rome he visited Philip, son of the Protestant philologist Joachim Camerarius, at that time a prisoner of the Inquisition, and instructed and consoled him. Pius IV sent him as his secret nuncio to deliver the decrees of the Council of Trent to Germany; the pope also commissioned him to urge their enforcement, to ask the Catholic princes to defend the Church at the coming diet, and to negotiate for the founding of colleges and seminaries. Canisius negotiated more or less successfully with the Electors of Mainz and Trier, with the bishops of Augsburg, Würzburg, Osnabrück, Münster, and Paderborn, with the Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, and with the City and University of Cologne; he also visited Nimwegen, preaching there and at other places; his mission, however, was interrupted by the death of the pope. Pius V desired its continuation, but Canisius requested to be relieved; he said that it aroused suspicions of espionage, of arrogance, and of interference in politics.

At the Diet of Augsburg (1566), Canisius and other theologians, by order of the pope, gave their services to the cardinal legate Commendone; with the help of his friends he succeeded, although with great difficulty, in persuading the legate not to issue his protest against the religious peace, and thus prevented a new fratricidal war. The Catholic members of the diet accepted the decrees of the council, the designs of the Protestants were frustrated, and from that time a new and vigorous life began for the Catholics in Germany. In the same year Canisius went to Wiesensteig, where he visited and brought back to the Church the Lutheran Count of Helfenstein and his entire countship, and where he prepared for death two witches who had been abandoned by the Lutheran preachers. In 1567 he preached the Lenten sermons in the cathedral of Würzburg, gave instruction in the Franciscan church twice a week to the children and domestics of the town, and discussed the foundling of a Jesuit college at Würzburg with the bishop. Then followed the diocesan synod of Dillingen (at which Canisius was principal adviser of the Bishop of Augsburg), journeys to Würzburg, Mainz, Speyer, and a visit to the Bishop of Strasburg, whom he advised, though unsuccessfully, to take a coadjutor. At Dillingen he received the application of Stanislaus Kostka to enter the Society af Jesus, and sent him with hearty recommendations to the general of the order at Rome. At this time he successfully settled a dispute in the philosophical faculty of the University of Ingolstadt. In 1567 and 1568 he went several times to Innsbruck, where in the name of the general he consulted with the Archduke Ferdinand II and his sisters about the confessors of the archduchesses and about the establishment of a Jesuit house at Hall. In 1569 the general decided to accept the college at Hall.

During Lent of 1568 Canisius preached at Ellwangen, in Würtemberg; from there he went with Cardinal Truchsess to Rome. The Upper German province of the order had elected the provincial as its representative at the meeting of the procurators; this election was illegal, but Canisius was admitted. For months he collected in the libraries of Rome material for a great work which he was preparing. In 1569 he returned to Augsburg and preached Lenten sermons in the Church of Saint Mauritius. Having been a provincial for thirteen years (an unusually long time) he was relieved of the office at his own request, and went to Dillingen, where he wrote, catechized, and heard confessions, his respite, however, was short; in 1570 he was obliged again to go to Augsburg. A year latter he was compelled to move to Innsbruck and to accept the office of court preacher to Archduke Ferdinand II. In 1575 Gregory XIII sent him with papal messages to the archduke and to the Duke of Bavaria. When he arrived in Rome to make his report, the Third General Congregation of the order was assembled and, by special favour, Canisius was invited to be present. From this time he was preacher in the parish church of Innsbruck until the Diet of Ratisbon (1576), which he attended as theologian of the cardinal legate Morone. In the following year he supervised at Ingolstadt the printing of an important work, and induced the students of the university to found a sodality of the Blessed Virgin. During Lent, 1578, he preached at the court of Duke William of Bavaria at Landshut. The nuncio Bonhomini desired to have a college of the society at Fribourg; the order at first refused on account of the lack of men, but the pope intervened and, at the end of 1580, Canisius laid the foundation stone. In 1581 he founded a sodality of the Blessed Virgin among the citizens and, soon afterwards, sodalities for women and students; in 1582 schools were opened, and he preached in the parish church and in other places until 1589.

The canton had not been left uninfluenced by the Protestant movement. Canisius worked indefatigably with the provost Peter Schnewly, the Franciscan Johannes Michel, and others, for the revival of religious sentiments amongst the people; since then Fribourg has remained a stronghold of the Catholic Church. In 1584, while on the way to take part in another meeting of the order at Augsburg, he preached at Lucerne and made a pilgrimage to the miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin at Einsiedeln. According to his own account, it was then that Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of Fribourg, made known to him his desire that Canisius should not leave Fribourg again. Many times the superiors of the order planned to transfer him to another house, but the nuncio, the city council, and the citizens themselves opposed the measure; they would not consent to lose this celebrated and saintly man. The last years of his life he devoted to the instruction of converts, to making spiritual addresses to the brothers of the order, to writing and re-editing books. The city authorities ordered his body to be buried before the high altar of the principal church, the Church of Saint Nicolaus, from which they were translated in 1625 to that of Saint Michael, the church of the Jesuit College.

Canisius held that to defend the Catholic truths with the pen was just as important as to convert the Hindus. At Rome and Trent he strongly urged the appointment at the council, at the papal court, and in other parts of Italy, of able theologians to write in defence of the Catholic faith. He begged Pius V to send yearly subsidies to the Catholic printers of Germany, and to permit German scholars to edit Roman manuscripts; he induced the city council of Fribourg to erect a printing establishment, and he secured special privileges for printers. He also kept in touch with the chief Catholic printers of his time-Plantin of Antwerp, Cholin of Cologne, and Mayer of Dillingen-and had foreign works of importance reprinted in Germany, for example, the works of Andrada, Fontidonio, and Villalpando in defence of the Council of Trent.

Canisius advised the generals of the order to create a college of authors; urged scholars like Bartholomæus Latomus, Friedrich Staphylus, and Hieronymus Torensis to publish their works; assisted Onofrio Panvinio and the polemic Stanislaus Hosius, reading their manuscripts and correcting proofs; and contributed to the work of his friend Surius on the councils. At his solicitation the “Briefe aus Indien”, the first relations of Catholic missioners, were published; “Canisius”, wrote the Protestant preacher, Witz, “by this activity gave an impulse which deserves our undivided recognition, indeed which arouses our admiration”.

The latest bibliography of the Society of Jesus devotes thirty-eight quarto pages to a list of the works published by Canisius and their different editions, and it must be added that this list is incomplete. The most important of his works are described below; the asterisk signifies that the work bears the name of Canisius neither on the title page nor in the preface. His chief work is his triple “Catechism”. In 1551 King Ferdinand I asked the University of Vienna to write a compendium of Christian doctrine, and Canisius wrote (Vienna, 1555), at first for advanced students, his “Summa doctrinæ christianæ . . . in usum Christianæ pueritiæ”, two hundred and eleven questions in five chapters (the first edition appeared without the name of the author, but later all three catechisms bore his name); then a short extract for school children, “Summa . . . ad captum rudiorum accommodata” (Ingolstadt, 1556), was published as an appendix to the “Principia Grammatices”; his catechism for students of the lower and middle grades, “Parvus Catechismus Catholicorum” (later known as “Institutiones christianæ pietatis” or “Catechismus catholicus”), is an extract from the larger catechism, written in the winter of 1557-58. Of the first Latin edition (Cologne, 1558), no copy is known to exist; the German edition appeared at Dillingen, 1560. The “Summa” only received its definite form in the Cologne edition of 1556; it contains two hundred and twenty-two questions, and two thousand quotations from the Scriptures, and about twelve hundred quotations from the Fathers of the Church are inscribed on the margins; later all these quotations were compiled in the original by Peter Busæus, S.J., and appeared in four quarto volumes under the title “Authoritates Sacræ Scripturæ et Sanctorum patrum” etc. (Cologne, 1569-70); in 1557 Johannes Hasius, S.J., published the same work in one large folio volume, entitled “Opus catechisticum”, for which Canisius wrote an introduction. The catechism of Canisius is remarkable for its ecclesiastically correct teachings, its clear, positive sentences, its mild and dignified form. It is today recognized as a masterpiece even by non-Catholics, e.g., the historians Ranke, Menzel, Philippson, and the theologians Kawerau, Rouffet, Zerschwitz.

Pius V entrusted Canisius with the confutation of the Centuriators of Magdeburg. Canisius undertook to prove the dishonesty of the centuriators by exposing their treatment of the principal persons in the Gospel-John the Baptist, the Mother of God, the Apostle Saint Peter-and published (Dillingen, 1571) his next most important work, “Commentariorum de Verbi Dei corruptelis liber primus: in quo de Sanctissimi Præcursoris Domini Joannis Baptistæ Historia Evangelica . . . pertractatur”. Here the confutation of the principal errors of Protestantism is exegetical and historical rather than scholastical; in 1577 “De Maria Virgine incomparabili, et Dei Genitrice sacrosancta, libri quinque” was published at Ingolstadt. Later he united these two works into one book of two volumes, “Commentariorum de Verbi corruptelis” (Ingolstadt, 1583, and later Paris and Lyons); the treatise on Saint Peter and his primacy was only begun; the work on the Virgin Mary contains some quotations from the Fathers of the Church that had not been printed previously, and treats of the worship of Mary by the Church. A celebrated theologian of the present day called this work a classic defence of the whole Catholic doctrine about the Blessed Virgin; in 1543 he published (under the name of Petrus Nouiomagus) “Des erleuchten died Johannis Tauleri, von eym waren Euangelischen leben, Göttliche Predig. Leren” etc., in which several writings of the Dominican mystic appear in print for the first time. This was the first book published by a Jesuit. “Divi Cyrilli archiepiscopi Alexandrini Opera”; “D. Leonis Papæ huius nominis primi . . . Opera”, Leo is brought forward as a witness for the Catholic teachings and the discipline of the Church against the innovators; “De consolandis ægrotis” (Vienna, 1554), exhortations (Latin, German, and Italian) and prayers, with a preface by Canisius; “Lectiones et Precationes Ecclesiasticæ” (Ingolstadt, 1556), a prayerbook for students, reprinted more than thirty times under the titles of “Epistolæ et Evangelia” etc.; *”Principia grammatices” (Ingolstadt, 1556); Hannibal Codrett’s Latin Grammar, adapted for German students by Canisius, reprinted in 1561, 1564 and 1568; *”Ordnung der Letaney von vnser lieben Frawen” [Dillingen (1558)], the first known printing of the Litany of Loreto, the second (Macerata, 1576) was most probably arranged by Canisius; *”Vom abschiedt des Coloquij zu Wormbs”.

At the request of Ferdinand II of Tyrol, Canisius supervised the publishing of *”Von dem hoch vnd weitberhümpten Wunderzeichen, so sich . . . auff dem Seefeld . . . zugetragen” (Dillingen, 1580), and wrote a long preface for it; then appeared “Zwey vnd neuntzig Betrachtung vnd Gebett, dess . . . Bruders Clausen von Vnterwalden” (Fribourg, 1586); “Manuale Catholicorum. In usum pie precandi” (Fribourg, 1587); “Zwo . . . Historien . . . Die erste von . . . S. Beato, ersten Prediger in Schweitzerland. Die andere von . . . S. Fridolino, ersten Prediger zu Glaris vnd Seckingen” (Fribourg, 1590): in this, the first of the popular biographies of the saints especially worshipped in Switzerland, Canisius does not give a scholarly essay, but endeavours to strengthen the Catholic Swiss in their faith and arouse their piety; “Notæ in Evangelicas lectiones, quæ per totum annum Dominicis diebus . . . recitantur (Fribourg, 1591), a large quarto volume valuable for sermons and meditations for the clergy; “Miserere, das ist: Der 50. Psalm Davids . . . Gebettsweiss . . . aussgelegt” (Munich, 1594, Ingolstadt, 1594); “Warhafte Histori . . . Von Sanct Moritzen . . . vnd seiner Thebaischen Legion . . . Auch insonderheit von Sanct Vrso” (Fribourg, 1594); *”Catholische Kirchengesäng zum theil vor vnd nach dem Catechismo zum teil sonst durchs Jahr . . . zusingen” (Fribourg, 1596); “Enchiridion Pietatis quo ad precandum Deum instruitur Princeps” (s. l., 1751), dedicated by Canisius in 1592 to the future emperor Ferdinand II (Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie; XIV, 741); “Beati Petri Canisii Exhortationes domesticæ”, mostly short sketches, collected and edited by G. Schlosser, S.J. (Roermond, 1876); “Beati Petri Canisii Epistulæ et Acta”: 1541-65, edited by O. Braunsberger, S.J. (4 vols., Freiburg im Br., 1896-1905). There still remain unpublished four or five volumes containing eleven hundred and ninety-five letters and regesta written to or by Canisius, and six hundred and twenty-five documents dealing with his labours.

“Peter Canisius”, says the Protestant professor of theology, Krüger, “was a noble Jesuit; no blemish stains his character” (“Petrus Canisius” in “Geschichte u. Legende”, Giessen, 1898, 10). The principal trait of his character was love for Christ and for his work; he devoted his life to defend, propagate, and strengthen the Church. Hence his devotion to the pope. He did not deny the abuses which existed in Rome; he demanded speedy remedies; but the supreme and full power of the pope over the whole Church, and the infallibility of his teaching as Head of the Church, Canisius championed as vigorously as the Italian and Spanish brothers of the order. He cannot be called an “Episcopalian” or “Semi-Gallican”; his motto was “whoever adheres to the Chair of Saint Peter is my man. With Ambrose I desire to follow the Church of Rome in every respect”. PIus V wished to make him cardinal. The bishops, Brendel of Mains, Brus of Prague, Pflug of Naumburg, Blarer of Basle, Cromer of Ermland, and Spaur of Brixen, held him in great esteem. Saint Francis of Sales sought his advice by letter. He enjoyed the friendship of the most distinguished members of the College of Cardinals-Borromeo, Hosius, Truchsess, Commendone, Morone, Sirlet; of the nuncios Delfino, Portia, Bonhomini and others; of many leading exponents of ecclesiastical learning; and of such prominent men as the Chancellor of the University of Louvain, Ruard Tapper, the provost Martin Eisengrein, Friedrich Staphylus, Franz Sonnius, Martin Rithovius, Wilhelm Lindanus, the imperial vice-chancellors Jacob Jonas and Georg Sigismund Seld, the Bavarian chancellor Simon Thaddaeus Eck, and the Fuggers and Welsers of Augsburg. “Canisius’s whole life”, writes the Swiss Protestant theologian Gautier, “is animated by the desire to form a generation of devout clerics capable of serving the Church worthily” (“Etude sur la correspondance de Pierre Canisius”, Geneva, 1905, p. 46). At Ingolstadt he held disputations and homiletic exercises among the young clerics, and endeavoured to raise the religious and scientific standard of the Georgianum. He collected for and sent pupils to the German College at Rome and provided for pupils who had returned home. He also urged Gregory XIII to make donations and to found similar institutious in Germany; soon papal seminaries were built at Prague, Fulda, Braunsberg, and Dillingen. At Ingolstadt, Innsbruck, Munich, and Vienna schools were built under the guidance of Canisius for the nobility and the poor, the former to educate the clergy of the cathedrals, the latter for the clergy of the lower grades. The reformed ordinances published at that time for the Universities of Cologne, Ingolstadt, and Vienna must be credited in the main to his suggestions.

With apostolic zeal he loved the Society of Jesus; the day of his admission to the order he called his second birthday. Obedience to his superiors was his first rule. As a superior he cared with parental love for the necessities of his subordinates. Shortly before his death he declared that he had never regretted becoming a Jesuit, and recalled the abuses which the opponents of the Church had heaped upon his order and his person. Johann Wigand wrote a vile pamphlet against his “Catechism”; Flacius Illyricus, Johann Gnypheus, and Paul Scheidlich wrote books against it; Melanchthon declared that he defended errors wilfully; Chemnitz called him a cynic; the satirist Fischart scoffed at him; Andreæ Dathen, Gallus, Hesshusen, Osiander, Platzius, Roding, Vergerio, and others wrote vigorous attacks against him; at Prague the Hussites threw stones into the church where he was saying Mass; at Berne he was derided by a Protestant mob. At Easter, 1568, he was obliged to preach in the Cathedral of Würzburg in order to disprove the rumour that he had become a Protestant. Unembittered by all this, he said, “the more our opponents calumniate us, the more we must love them”. He requested Catholic authors to advocate the truth with modesty and dignity without scoffing or ridicule. The names of Luther and Melanchthon were never mentioned in his “Catechism”. His love for the German people is characteristic; he urged the brothers of the order to practise German diligently, and he liked to hear the German national hymns sung. At his desire Saint Ignatius decreed that all the members of the order should offer monthly Masses and prayers for the welfare of Germany and the North. Ever the faithful advocate of the Germans at the Holy See, he obtained clemency for them in questions of ecclesiastical censures, and permission to give extraordinary absolutions and to dispense from the law of fasting. He also wished the Index to be modified that German confessors might be authorized to permit the reading of some books, but in his sermons he warned the faithful to abstain from reading such books without permission. While he was rector of the University of Ingolstadt, a resolution was passed forbidding the use of Protestant textbooks and, at his request, the Duke of Bavaria forbade the importation of books opposed to religion and morals. At Cologne he requested the town council to forbid the printing or sale of books hostile to the Faith or immoral, and in the Tyrol had Archduke Ferdinand II suppress such books. He also advised Bishop Urban of Gurk, the court preacher of Ferdinand I, not to read so many Protestant books, but to study instead the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers. At Nimwegen he searched the libraries of his friends, and burned all heretical books. In the midst of all these cares Canisius remained essentially a man of prayer; he was an ardent advocate of the Rosary and its sodalities. He was also one of the precursors of the modern devotion of the Sacred Heart.

During his lifetime his “Catechism” appeared in more than 200 editions in at least twelve languages. It was one of the works which influenced Saint Aloysius Gonzaga to enter the Society of Jesus; it converted, among others, Count Palatine Wolfgang Wilhelm of Neuburg; and as late as the eighteenth century in many places the words “Canisi” and catechism were synonymous. It remained the foundation and pattern for the catechisms printed later. His preaching also had great influence; in 1560 the clergy of the cathedral of Augsburg testified that by his sermons nine hundred persons had been brought back to the Church, and in May, 1562, it was reported the Easter communicants numbered one thousand more than in former years. Canisius induced some of the prominent Fuggers to return to the Church, and converted the leader of the Augsburg Anabaptists. In 1537 the Catholic clergy had been banished from Augsburg by the city council; but after the preaching of Canisius public processions were held, monasteries gained novices, people crowded to the jubilee indulgence, pilgrimages were revived, and frequent Communion again became the rule. After the elections of 1562 there were eighteen Protestants and twenty-seven Catholics on the city council. He received the approbation of Pius IV by a special Brief in 1561. Great services were rendered by Canisius to the Church through the extension of the Society of Jesus; the difficulties were great: lack of novices, insufficient education of some of the younger members, poverty, plague, animosity of the Protestants, jealousy on the part of fellow-Catholics, the interference of princes and city councils. Notwithstanding all this, Canisius introduced the order into Bavaria, Bohemia, Swabia, the Tyrol, and Hungary, and prepared the way in Alsace, the Palatinate, Hesse, and Poland. Even opponents admit that to the Jesuits principally is due the credit of saving a large part of Germany from religious innovation. In this work Canisius was the leader. In many respects Canisius was the product of an age which believed in strange miracles, put witches to death, and had recourse to force against the adherents of another faiih; but notwithstanding all this, Johannes Janssen does not hesitate to declare that Canisius was the most prominent and most influential Catholic reformer of the sixteenth century. “Canisius more than any other man”, writes A. Chroust, “saved for the Church of Rome the Catholic Germany of to-day”. It has often been declared that Canisius in many ways resembles Saint Boniface, and he is therefore called the second Apostle of Germany. The Protestant professor of theology, Paul Drews, says: “It must be admitted that, from the standpoint of Rome, he deserves the title of Apostle of Germany”.

Soon after his death reports spread of the miraculous help obtained by invoking his name. His tomb was visited by pilgrims. The Society of Jesus decided to urge his beatification. The ecclesiastical investigations of his virtues and miracles were at first conducted by the Bishops of Fribourg, Dillingen, and Freising (1625-90); the apostolic proceedings began in 1734, but were interrupted by political and religions disorders. Gregory XVI resumed them about 1833; Pius IX on 17 April, 1864, approved of four of the miracles submitted, and on 20 November, 1869, the solemn beatification took place in Saint Peter’s at Rome. In connection with this, there appeared between 1864-66 more than thirty different biographies. On the occasion of the tercentenarv of his death, Leo XIII issued to the bishops of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland his much-discussed “Epistola Encyclica de memoria sæculari born Petri Canisii”; the bishops of Switzerland issued a collective pastoral; in numerous places of Europe and in some places in the United States this tercentenary was celebrated and about fifty pamphlets were published. In order to encourage the veneration of Canisius there is published at Fribourg, Switzerland, monthly since 1896, the “Canisius-Stimmen” (in German and French). The infirmary of the College of Saint Michael, in which Canisius died, is now a chapel. Vestments and other objects which he used are kept in different houses of the order. The Canisius College at Buffalo possesses precious relics. In the house of Canisius in the Broersstraat at Nimwegen the room is still shown where he was born. Other memorials are: the Canisius statue in one of the public squares of Fribourg, the statue in the cathedral of Augsburg, the Church of the Holy Saviour and the Mother of Sorrows, recently built in his memory in Vienna, and the new Canisius College at Nimwegen. At the twenty-sixth general meeting of German Catholics held at Aachen, 1879, a Canisius society for the religious education of the young was founded. The general prayer, said every Sunday in the churches originated by Canisius, is still in use in the greater part of Germany, and also in many places in Austria and Switzerland. Various portraits of Canisius exist: in the Churches of Saint Nicolaus and Saint Michael in Fribourg; in the vestry of the Augsburg Cathedral; in the Church of Saint Michael at Munich; in the town hall at Nimwegen; in the town hall at Ingolstadt; in the Cistercian monastery at Stams. The woodcut in Pantaleo, “Prosopographia”, III (Basle, 1566), is worthless. Copper-plates were produced by Wierx (1619), Custos (1612), Sadeler (1628), Hainzelmann (1693), etc. In the nineteenth century are: Fracassini’s painting in the Vatican; Jeckel’s steel engraving; Leo Samberger’s painting; Steinle’s engraving (1886). In most of these pictures Canisius is represented with his catechism and other books, or surrounded by children whom he is instructing.

MLA Citation

  • Otto Braunsberger. “Blessed Peter Canisius”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. Saints.SQPN.com. 9 May 2012. Web. 1 September 2014. <http://saints.sqpn.com/catholic-encyclopedia-blessed-peter-canisius/>