St. Peter Canisius, a great Apostle and Doctor of the Church

Source: District of Asia

St. Peter Canisius was born at Nijmegen, Netherlands, on May 8, 1521(this year being his 500th anniversary); he died at Fribourg, Switzerland on Dec. 21, 1597; was beatified by Pius IX: canonized and proclaimed Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI. His feast was extended to the universal Church on November 24, 1926. It is fitting that this Dutch saint should be called the Apostle of Germany, the hammer of heretics, the Jerome and Augustine of his century, the defender of the Church against the gates of hell. By his eloquent preaching, controversy and books of piety, by the foundation of several colleges, by the missions entrusted to him by four Sovereign Pontiffs, he stopped the progress of Protestantism and caused catholic life to flourish. He assisted in quality of theologian at the Council of Trent, and maintained the interests of the Church at the Diet of Augsburg and at the Conference or Worms. Profoundly humble, he refused the bishoprics of Vienna and Cologne. We owe to him the first catechism of Christian doctrine which suffices to entitle him to the gratitude of Catholics. He ended his days at the college of St. Michael, Fribourg, where pilgrims visit his room and pray at his tomb.

Following is an extract of a letter written by Rev. Fr. Włodzimierz Ledóchowski (1866-1944), the Superior General of the Society of Jesus. This letter was addressed to all the members of the Society on June 21, 1925.

An Inspiring life:

You all know, dear Fathers and Brothers, the providential design of entrusting an apostles’ task among the peoples of Germany to Canisius was shown in no uncertain way from the hour of his birth. For, “he was born in the year in which Luther in Germany by an act of open rebellion revolted from the Church, and Ignatius of Loyola in Spain renounced all earthly warfare to devote himself to fighting the battles of the Lord. Thus did God presage His future foes and the leader He would have in His sacred warfare!” You know likewise that, after Canisius had been trained in the Spiritual Exercises by that skilled master of holiness, Blessed Peter Faber, and had been received into the Society, he burned with so strong a desire to defend religious truth that, pledging his loyalty to God, he resolved to shrink from nothing in the task of aiding in every way the Church that was then so sorely beset. Thenceforth he had no other aim, no other desire. So much so, in fact, that our Holy Father Ignatius felt he must check somewhat Peter's apostolic eagerness.  Then, on making his solemn profession in the church of the Vatican, with a soul refreshed and strengthened by a heavenly light drawn from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he felt with growing conviction that to him were addressed the words: “Behold, I send you into the midst of wolves, go preach the Gospel to every creature.” “Inflamed, therefore, with this desire, spurred on by the divine impulse, Canisius set his feet upon this new path and for more than forty years traversed many districts of Germany. By sermons, the Spiritual Exercises, and controversy he toiled for souls of every class, and with such success as to protect against heresy or to win back to the Catholic faith many cities and provinces that had been infected with heresy. When he saw the havoc wrought by the bad books then being printed, he applied himself. with unflagging zeal from the first months of his religious  life to the task of writing and publishing works of brilliant merit. He was the first member of the Society to send out a book from the press, the first to plan the organization of a body of writers. It is marvelous how Canisius, amid so many pressing anxieties and apostolic labors, found time and strength to write such a number of weighty books, that have won him the distinction of being the first of our Society to be hailed with the title of Doctor of the Universal Church, and that too on the occasion of his solemn canonization. But this also is to be ascribed to the fire of charity is with which his heart was glowing, a flame enkindled from the depth of the Heart of Jesus, as I remarked before. To this source must trace all the other splendid achievements of Canisius. Besides establishing every-where colleges for the education of youths, he bent every effort to found at Rome the German College. He was present more than once and with marked distinction in the Council of Trent. In the Diet of Worms and at five imperial elections, as also on embassies undertaken by command of three Roman Pontiffs, he, with the divine help dispatched so successfully the important ecclesiastical business entrusted to him that, as Cardinal Baronius asserts, the words of the Apostle exactly apply to St. Peter, “whose services to the Gospel are praised in all the churches.” Many have been in the habit of comparing him with St. Francis Xavier, and justly too. For there is more than one point of resemblance between these two shining stars that appeared almost at the same time in the sky of the Church. Both were trained to solid virtue and filled with a burning- thirst for God's glory and the salvation of souls in the school of the Spiritual Exercises of our Holy Father St. Ignatius. Both eagerly grappled with hardship and toil in behalf of religion. Both greatly enriched the Church—Xavier by spreading the Faith among uncivilized peoples; Canisius by re-establishing it among heretics. Each deserved to be called an apostle, Francis of the Indies, Peter of Germany. However, not to Germany alone did he render great services but to neighboring countries as well, Switzerland especially. What is more, he dreamed of converting Russia, while showing himself keenly desirous of bringing assistance to other nations, be it by prayers and letters or by other means.

A lesson for us to learn:

Now the fittest motives for enkindling our zeal and those most in harmony with our spirit are precisely those which our Saints drew from the Book of the Exercises. First comes the feeling of compassion that is roused when we think of the vast number of those who fail to win eternal happiness—and this number is mentioned in the colloquy of the meditation on hell—as also when we ponder the pitiable plight of the human race described in the contemplation on the Incarnation. Indeed, if we keep sight of the facts that there are now countless men who either sit in darkness and the shadow of death or are infected with the poison of heresy, and that even among those who share the true faith there are many who, enslaved by blind and unbridled passions, are rushing headlong to eternal ruin, we shall assuredly understand that it is our duty to exert all our strength to succor so many unhappy souls and make them partakers of the abundant Redemption of Christ. Recall here the beautiful and compelling colloquy introduced by our blessed Father after the exercise on the triple sin, where he says: "Moreover I shall take myself to task, asking myself what up to now I have done for Christ that is worthwhile, what shall I do, what ought I to do?" Most certainly, if from the first question shame and confusion spring unbidden because of our sins, it is inevitable that the other questions must give birth to an ardent desire of making amends to the divine glory through the salvation of many helped by our efforts and example, according to the words of the repentant prophet: "I will teach the unjust Thy ways; and the wicked shall lie converted to Thee." "What shall I say of the summons of the Divine King set forth in the contemplation of the Kingdom of Christ All who are of sound mind should offer themselves wholly to Christ. But those who wish with a deeper loyalty to follow Christ, may not stop here. To them it belongs to pledge them-selves to more and nobler deeds than the service of Christ demands of all. And though our Holy Father Ignatius is not treating explicitly of zeal for souls, still no one will deny that the pinnacle of perfection in the imitation of Christ is reached by those who, not content to crush' their spiritual foes on the battleground of their own souls, help others also, that they too, after the same foes are vanquished and routed, may yield to Christ their King the tribute of a loftier service.

Bethink yourselves of the meditation on Two Standards, which while pointing out to us the path to the highest perfection, fires us also with the zeal of apostles "to enrich every class, rank, and condition of men with the doctrine of grace and salvation." There too is found a lifelike picture of Lucifer's envy and of his eagerness to do men mischief. For the leader of the demons assigns his emissaries, who are numberless, to every Part of the world and to every person, that they may drag as many victims as possible to eternal destruction. Are we, my cherished Fathers and Brothers, to be less active than the children of darkness? In these days of ours the infernal captain of the wicked, with newborn fury unknown to other ages, marshals his host to assail and, were it possible, to destroy the Church of God, using the weapons now of false doctrine, now of profligate living, now of worldwide hatred and confusion. And shall we, who battle under Christ our Leader and have named ourselves the companions of Jesus by a tale all our own, shall we seek lives of ease and leisure, content with the lighter labors of the apostolate? Oil, never, never! With eyes fixed upon our crucified Savior, whose arms are still outstretched in appeal to us, who still cries, "I thirst," I thirst for souls inflamed, with love of infinite Love, we shall not confine within narrow bounds the natural and supernatural gifts lavished on us by God without merit of our own for the salvation of souls, but ever more and more shall we employ them in loftier enterprises for God's glory and the salvation of our neighbor.