Thursday, August 11, 2016

Peter Canisius (1521-1597): Second Apostle of Germany

Fr. John J. Pasquini, Th.D.

Peter Canisius is often referred to as the “Doctor of the Catechism,” the “Patriarch of Switzerland,” the “Second Apostle of Germany,” and the “Creator of the Catholic Press.”  Peter Canisius would become one the preeminent leaders to confront the Protestant Revolution, and one of the foremost leaders of the counter-reformation.

Peter was the first German Jesuit and the first prefect of studies for the Jesuits at Messina.  He founded the first Jesuit house of study in Cologne and founded the first Jesuit University in Dillingen.  Peter Canisius would, by the end of his life, be responsible for instituting the Jesuit system of Catholic schools throughout Europe.  Through this Jesuit method of education, along with the reforms of seminary education, the Catholic faith would be restored to Europe.  The saying went: “If you entered a Jesuit college a Protestant, you left a Catholic!”

Peter was born on May 8, 1521 at Nijmegen—modern Holland.  It is providentially on that very day that Martin Luther was condemned by the Edict of Worms.  By the end of Canisius’ life, Lutheranism best days would be in the past.

On another May 8, in 1543, at the age of 22, after completing a retreat by one of the original Jesuits, Peter Faber, Canisius vowed to enter the Society of Jesus.  In 1546, in Cologne, at the age 25, he was ordained a priest. 

After ordination, Canisius was sent to teach at Messina.  Throughout his life, Peter wrote over 2000 letters, over 7000 pages of theology, and over 12,000 pages of sermons.  He wrote devotional books such as his Manual for Catholics, theological books such as Opus Marianums—a summary of Marian theology—and his Catechisms, defending and explaining the Catholic faith.  His large Catechism, often referred to as the Summa of Christian Doctrine, and his two smaller Catechisms were intended for the education of Catholics of all ages.

With Europe in religious turmoil, Emperor Ferdinand, in 1557, sought to bring Catholics and Lutherans together with the hope of reconciliation.  Ferdinand called upon the best of Catholic theologians and the best of Lutheran theologians to a Colloquy at Worms.  Peter represented the Catholic theologians and Melanchthon represented the Lutherans.  Unfortunately, the Lutherans, particularly the followers of Melanchthon and Flacian, could not agree on Luther’s teachings.  This led to the collapse of the Colloquy.  This Colloquy in many ways would foreshadow the future of Protestantism.

Peter’s final years were dedicated to preaching, teaching, and spreading the decrees of the Council of Trent to Europe. 


In 1597, after a good life, this giant of the counter-reformation, died quietly in his room.  Peter was a teacher, legate, administrator, confessor, preacher, writer, and lover of the poor and ill.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582): Doctor of Prayer

Fr. John J. Pasquini, Th.D.

Teresa of Avila is known as the “Doctor of Prayer” and a leader of the counter-reformation.
           
Teresa was born in Avila, Spain in 1515, two years prior to the Protestant Reformation.
           
Teresa’s early years were worldly. At the age of sixteen, her father, troubled by her worldly behavior, sent Teresa to a convent of Augustinian nuns.  However, one year after her entrance into the convent, at the age of seventeen, Teresa became seriously ill with malaria, and returned home to recover.
           
After her recovery and her reading of the Letters of St. Jerome, Teresa decided to become a nun.  She joined the Carmelite convent of the Incarnation.  Again becoming ill, she returned home to recover.
           
While recovering Teresa read The Spiritual Alphabet by Francis of Osuna. This reinvigorated her to return to the convent. 

Her early years of convent life were quite ordinary.  It is with the reading and reflecting upon Augustine’s Confessions that Teresa’s life would never be the same.  It is here that we can mark the beginning of Teresa’s journey toward being a great spiritual reformer and future saint.

Teresa engaged in the founding of reformed minded convents, convents of discalced (shoeless) nuns.  She established her first convent, St. Joseph’s, dedicated to a strictly observed cloistered life, quiet (silence) and poverty.  Near the end of her life, sixteen convents of discalced nuns had been established.

In 1568 Teresa met John of the Cross and Antony de Heredia and encouraged them to begin a male version of the Carmelite reform.  John of the Cross would be entrusted with leading the reform of the Carmelite order for men. 

Near the end of Teresa’s life, the priest Jerome Gratian would be appointed the Provincial of the discalced Carmelites—thus assuring the future success and independence of the new religious order.

As a nun, Teresa sought to guide her nuns and order through her example, works and writings.  Among her great writings, The Way of Perfection, Foundations, and The Interior Castle have become masterpieces in the spiritual life.


Teresa died in 1582 after journeying to the convent in Alva de Tormez.  Her life and work would do much to reconvert Europe to the Catholic faith.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380): Mystic and Reformer

Fr. John J. Pasquini, Th.D.
           
Catherine was born in Fontebranda, Siena.  At the age of seven, she dedicated herself to God and to a life of virginity.  At fifteen Catherine was encouraged by her parents to marry. She refused. At eighteen she became a member of the third order of St. Dominic, an order dedicated to prayer and service to the poor and sick.
           
Catherine’s life was marked by many mystical experiences, such as the “mystical marriage,” the “mystical death,” and the “invisible stigmata.”  She merged the mystical life with its fruits, a love for the poor, the sick and the dying.
           
Catherine’s prayer life also led her to immerse herself into every aspect of life, from Church reform, to the preaching of a Crusade, to the reforming of the clergy.  Her greatest religious-political accomplishment was to return the pope, Gregory XI, from Avignon, France to Rome.  With the death of Gregory and the election of Urban VI, opponents of Urban elected an anti-pope, Clement VII.  Catherine would spend her life supporting the true pope, Urban VI. Sadly, the issue would not be resolved during her lifetime.
           
In her lifetime, Catherine dictated over 400 letters and her famous book The Dialogue. Her 400 letters give spiritual and prudential advice to popes, sovereigns, republics, and leaders of armies.  The Dialogue is a series of treatises on providence, discretion, obedience, and prayer.  It is a work on how to fulfill one’s spiritual potential.
           

Catherine died at the age of thirty-three.  Her life can be summarized by a heart on fire for union with God and a hunger for the salvation of souls.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274): Greatest Mind in Christendom

Fr. John J. Pasquini, Th.D.
           
Thomas Aquinas, the “Patron of Universities and Schools,” the “Angelic Doctor,” the “Common Doctor,” is undeniably the greatest mind in Christendom.  His synthesis of Augustine with Aristotle, his emphasis on philosophy as a perquisite for theology, his blending of solid thought, doctrine and beauty, and his emphasis on the inseparability of reason with faith has made Aquinas the greatest mind and theologian in Catholic history—and the foundation upon which all future theologians would build upon.
           
The man who gave us the famous Benediction hymns of O’Salutaris and Tantum Ergo was born in 1225 in Aquino, Italy in the Castle of Roccasecca to a wealthy and noble family. 

At the age of five the family sent Thomas to be educated by the Benedictines at the Monastery of Monte Cassino.  In his teens he was sent to Naples to continue his studies under the tutelage of the Dominican friars. 

Despite family opposition, Thomas would join the Order of St. Dominic.

Between 1248 and 1252 he studied in Cologne under Albert the Great (Albertus Magnus).  It is in Cologne that he would be ordained to the priesthood—date unknown.

Through the influence of Albert, the Dominicans sent Thomas to Paris to teach and study. 

In 1259 he was appointed the “preacher general” of the Dominican Order in Italy.

From 1261 to 1265 he served Pope Urban IV as the curia’s theologian and teacher.

In 1269 Thomas returned to Paris to resume his teaching at the University of Paris.  It is here and at this time that he would write the bulk of his works.  He wrote the great work Against the Errors of the Greeks to heal the Great Schism.  He wrote Summa Contra Gentiles--a piece, according to scholars, that likely saved western civilization and Christianity—by addressing the teachings of Islam.  And he began his great work, the Summa Theologica, a summary of theology for beginners, which would earn him the title of “Greatest Mind in Christendom.”

In 1272 Thomas was appointed to found, upon the request of the Dominican’s provincial chapter, the Stadium Generale—a school of study in Naples.

In 1274, on his way to the Council of Lyons, he struck his head against a tree branch, severely injuring himself.  He was brought to the Cistercian Monastery of Fossanova to recover.  He would never fully recuperate and would die on March 7, 1274.

Thomas Aquinas was an “Angelic Doctor” for he was pure, innocent, charitable, humble, and wise beyond all who had gone before him.  He taught the world that God created us for here—to learn truth and thus to learn how to be happy amidst the trials and tribulations of life—and for the afterlife—to experience the fullness of truth and happiness in the beatific vision. 

Aquinas taught about the beauty, harmony, and equality that exists between the body and the soul—a radical departure from previous Platonic influenced Christian thought—and the inseparability between truth and faith, reason and belief.


Thomas Aquinas sought to know, love, and serve God through a life of lecturing, studying, writing, and praying.  He was a humble and tireless worker in the vineyard of the Lord. The Church affixed to Aquinas the title “Common Doctor,” for his theology would become the foundation upon which all Catholic theologians of the future would build upon.