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St Peter Canisius Essay Research Paper St

St. Peter Canisius Essay, Research Paper

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


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.