“The Second Apostle of Germany”

“The Second Apostle of Germany” December 21, 2008

Today is the Feast of St. Peter Canisius (1521-1597), who is best known for his work in sixteenth century Germany. He was the first Dutch Jesuit (former Jesuit General Peter Hans Kolvenbach is among the more recent). Ordained in 1546, he taught in the first-ever Jesuit school, started in Messina in 1548. In 1549, Pope Paul III sent him to lead Counter-Reformation efforts in Germany. He was very successful, so much that he became known as the “Second Apostle of Germany” (St. Boniface being the first). He rejected a condemnatory approach: “With [harsh] words… we don’t cure patients, we make them incurable.” His 1555 catechism, Summary of Christian Doctrine, was the first real catechism ever created by Catholics. It was the single most successful tool he employed. (Protestants were the first to use catechisms; Catholics were newcomers in the field.) Canisius also bears the distinction of being the first Jesuit publisher. In 1925, Pope Pius XI canonized him and named him a Doctor of the Church. (This is the hardest doctorate to get; only 33 have been awarded in the last two thousand years. The most recent recipient being St. Therese of Lisieux in 1997.)
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