21 December 2006

Hammer of the Heretics

It's not inaccurate to say that, had St. Peter Canisius not brought the Catholic faith to Southern Germany with such missionary zeal, we would not have the pleasure of the current Pope on the seat of St. Peter. Today is his feast day.

From pagan beginnings, Prussia was converted to the faith in the 13th century after being conquered by the Teutonic Knights. Poland and Lithuania ousted the Order in 1454. In 1525, Grand Master Albrecht von Brandenburg most unfortunately left the faith for that of Martin Luther. After the Reformation, during which Prussia swallowed wholesale Luther's novelties, the nation adopted the apt Protestant motto, Suum cuique, "to each his own”.

It was during this turbulent period that St. Peter Canisius began his work fortifying the Catholics of Southern Germany and preaching the faith. A Jesuit back when the Jesuits were truly "The Pope's Men", he founded the first house of the order in Cologne. Among his many other achievements, he also opened Jesuit houses in Ingolstadt and in Prague. St. Ignatius, founder of the order, appointed him first provincial superior of upper Germany (Swabia, Bavaria, Bohemia, Hungary, Lower and Upper Austria), and Peter spoke out publicly against the reformer Melanchthon. He published a number of apologetic works, and his Catechism influenced St. Aloysius Gonzaga to join the Society of Jesus.

He defended the notion of the communion of saints, the liturgies of the Church, religious vows, and indulgences. He encouraged obedience to the Church, receiving the sacrament of penance and the Eucharist often, as well as performing acts of mortification, including fasting, and almsgiving. He rebuked the clergy for their laxity and faults (which made him at times unpopular among the objects of his censure). He rejected the Protestant innovation of Communion under both kinds, arguing against offering the Cup to the laity. His zeal won him the title Hammer of the Heretics, and, after his death, the Apostle of Germany.

Thanks to St. Peter, Bavaria and Austria remain strongly Catholic to this day. Even Otto von Bismarck's kulturkampf could not weaken the faith; it served only to strengthen the resolve of those the Chancellor targeted, and brought the faith to our own shores in the waves of German Catholic immigrants who fled his persecution. Many of them moved westward, and settled here in Indiana (where I currently reside), founding parishes all over the state. My own parish can also doff its cap to St. Peter, as the three F.S.S.P. priests we have had made their studies in the seminary's Bavarian headquarters, in devoutly Catholic Wigratzbad.

St. Peter Canisius, pray for us.