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.