Petrus Canisius

Petrus Canisius

Infobox Saint
name=Saint Peter Canisius
birth_date=birth date|1521|5|8|mf=y
death_date=death date and age|1597|12|21|1521|5|8|mf=y
feast_day=December 21; April 27 (General Roman Calendar, 1926-1969)
venerated_in=Roman Catholic Church

birth_place=Nijmegen in the Duchy of Guelders, Netherlands
titles=Confessor and Doctor of the Church
beatified_by=Pope Pius IX
canonized_date=May 21, 1925
canonized_by=Pope Pius XI
patronage=Catholic press, Germany

Saint Petrus Canisius (May 8, 1521 – December 21, 1597) was an important Jesuit who fought against the spread of Protestantism in Germany, Austria, Bohemia (Czech Republic), and Switzerland. The restoration of Catholicism in Germany after the Reformation is attributed to his work.

St Peter Canisius was beatified by Blessed Pius IX in the year 1864, and later canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church on May 21, 1925 by Pope Pius XI. [*"Lives of the Saints, For Every Day of the Year" edited by Rev. Hugo Hoever, S.O.Cist., Ph.D., New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1955, p.164] His feast day was included in the General Roman Calendar in 1926, for celebration on 27 April. In 1969 it was moved to 21 December, his day of death and so the normal day for celebrating a saint's entry into heaven. Use of the calendar included in the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal continues to be authorized under the conditions indicated in the motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum".


He was born Peter Kanis in the Duchy of Guelders (until 1549 part of the Spanish Netherlands within the Holy Roman Empire, now the Netherlands). In the University of Cologne, he met Blessed Peter Faber, one of the founders of the Society of Jesus. St Peter Canisius became the first Dutchman to join the Jesuit order in 1543.

Through his work in the order he became one of the most influential Catholics of his time. He supervised the founding and maintenance of the early German Jesuit Colleges, often with little resources at hand. Because of his frequent travels between the colleges, a tedious and dangerous occupation at the time, he became known as the Second Apostle of Germany.

St Peter Canisius also exerted a strong influence on Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I; he ceaselessly reminded Ferdinand of the imminent danger to his soul should he concede more rights to Protestants in return for their military support. When Peter Canisius sensed a very real danger of Ferdinand's son and heir, King Maximilian, openly declaring himself a Protestant, he convinced Emperor Ferdinand to threaten disinheritance should Maximilian desert the Catholic Faith.

St Peter Canisius was an influential teacher and preacher, especially through his "German catechism", a book that defined the basic principles of Catholicism in the German language and found many readers in German-speaking countries. He was offered the post of bishop of Vienna, but declined in order to continue his travelling and teachings. However, he was administrator of the Diocese of Vienna from 1554 to 1555 and main pulpit spokesman in Augsburg Cathedral from 1559 to 1568, where he strongly witnessed to his faith on three or four occasions each week. His preaching was said to have been so convincing that it attracted hundreds of Protestants back to the old faith. He was one of the main theologians at the Colloquy of Worms in 1557.

By the time he left Germany in 1590, the Jesuit order in Germany had evolved from almost nothing into a powerful tool of the Counter Reformation. Canisius spent the last 20 years of his life in Fribourg, Switzerland, where he founded the Jesuit College that became the core of today's University of Fribourg.

Theology of Petrus Canisius

Petrus Canisius lived in the age of reformation and dedicated much of his work to the clarification of the Catholic faith in light of emerging Protestantism. His lasting contribution are his three catechisms, which he published in Latin and German, which became widespread and popular in Catholic regions. In his fight with German Protestantism, he requested much more flexibility from Rome. “If you treat them right, the Germans will give you everything". Many err in matters of faith, but without arrogance. They err the German way, mostly honest, a bit simple-minded, but very open for everything Lutheran. An honest explanation of the faith would be much more effective than a polemical attacks against reformers. [Burg, Kontroverslexikon, Essen, 1903 224] He rejected Catholic attacks against Calvin and Melanchton with the words:" With words like these, we don’t cure patients, we make them incurable" [Burg 225]

Mariology of Canisius

main|Mariology of Petrus CanisiusWhile there are many roads leading to Jesus Christ, Marian veneration is the best way to him [Stegmüller, 1052)] Canisius tried to show practical and pragmatic rationale for Marian devotion and defended them against opposing Protestant arguments. His sermons and letters document a clear preoccupation with Marian veneration. [Stegmüller, 1052)] Under the heading “prayer” he explains the Ave Maria, Hail Mary, as the basis for Catholic Marian piety. [Streicher, 95,245,267 ] Less known are his Marian books, in which he published prayers and contemplative texts. Canisius published an applied mariology for preachers, in which Mary is described in tender and warm words. [Meditaciones, 1591-1593] He actively promoted the sodalities of our Lady and the rosary associations. He is credited with adding to the Hail Mary the sentence

* "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners." [This sentence appeared for he first time in his catechism of 1555 (Streicher Catechismi, I, 12)]

It was eleven years later included in the Catechism of the Council of Trent of 1566. Theologically, Canisius defended Catholic mariology, in his 1577 book, "De Maria Virgine Incomparabili et Dei Genitrice Sacrosancta Libri Quinque." The book was ordered by Pope Pius V to present an factual presentation of the Catholic Marian teachings. "Petrus Canisius provided a classical defence of the whole Catholic mariology against Protestantism", judged three hundred years later, a leading Catholic theologican. [Scheeben, Handbuch der kath. Dogmatic, 1882, 478] From today’s perspective, Canisius clearly erred in some of his sources, but, because of his factual analysis of original sources, represents one of the best theological achievements in the 16th century. [Otto Stegmüller 1063]


In recognition of his early work in the establishment of Jesuit education, there are multiple educational institutions named for St Peter Canisius. Among them is Canisius College, a Jesuit secondary school in his hometown of Nijmegen and the alma mater of Peter Hans Kolvenbach, recently retired Superior General of the Jesuit order. Another Canisius College, a post-secondary school, and Canisius High School, a secondary school, are located in Buffalo, New York. Furthermore, a Jesuit-run Canisius Kolleg can be found in Berlin, Germany. There is also a secondary or post-secondary complex of schools named for Canisius, Kolese Kanisius ("Collegium Canisianum" or "Canisius College"), on Jakarta, Indonesia. There is also a primary school: Basisschool Petrus Canisius in Puth in Limburg, The Netherlands. In 1850 they also founded the Canisius Hospital on the corner of the Houtmarkt and the Pauwelstraat in Nijmegen. In 1974 it has merged in to the Canisius Wilhelmina Hospital located at the Weg door Jonkerbos in Nijmegen. The 'Apologetische Vereniging St. Petrus Canisius' (apologetic association Petrus Canisius) was founded in the Netherlands in 1904. The purpose of this association was the defense of the Roman Catholic Church against new values of socialism and liberalism and the restoration of the society with a more Catholic way of life.


* (1555) "Summa doctrinae christianae"
* (1556) "Catechismus minimus"
* (1558) "Parvus catechismus catholicorum"


External links

* [ Catholic Encyclopedia: "St. Peter Canisius"]
* [ Canisius College Jakarta's official web site]
* [ Kolese Kanisius Jakarta in Wikipedia]
* [ Website of Canisius Kolleg Berlin, Germany (German)]
* [ Website of Canisius College, Buffalo, New York, United States]

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