February 21, 2011
St. Peter Canisius is depicted in a stained glass window in the Luxembourg cathedral.

CNS PHOTO | CROSIERS

St. Peter Canisius is depicted in a stained glass window in the Luxembourg cathedral.

CINDY WOODEN
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

Even in the midst of the upheaval of the Protestant Reformation in Germany, St. Peter Canisius knew how to defend Catholic doctrine without launching personal attacks on those who disagreed, Pope Benedict said.

St. Peter, a 15th-century Jesuit sent on a mission to Germany, knew how to “harmoniously combine fidelity to dogmatic principles with the respect due to each person,” the pope said Feb. 9 at his weekly general audience.

The pope was beginning a series of audience talks about “doctors of the Church,” who are theologians and saints who made important contributions to Catholic understanding of theology.

In St. Peter Canisius’ own time, more than 200 editions of his catechisms were published, the pope said. They were so popular in Germany for so long that up until “my father’s generation people called a catechism simply a ‘Canisius.’”

The saint, who was born in Holland, insisted there was a difference between willfully turning away from the faith and “the loss of faith that was not a person’s fault under the circumstances,” Pope Benedict said.

“He declared to Rome that the majority of Germans who passed to Protestantism were without fault.”

“In a historical period marked by strong confessional tensions, he avoided — and this is something extraordinary — he avoided giving into disrespect and angry rhetoric. This was rare at that time of disputes between Christians.”

RENEWAL THROUGH EDUCATION

In fact, the pope said, St. Peter Canisius recognized that the Catholic Church needed to be renewed and revitalized. He also saw that such a process had to be built on solid education in the faith and in understanding the Scriptures, which is why his catechisms relied so heavily on the Bible.

His theological achievements, which earned him the title “doctor of the Church” in 1925, were effective because his study, preaching and writing all flowed from a personal friendship with Christ, long periods of prayer and unity with the Church under the leadership of the pope, he said.

With “peace, love and perseverance” he accomplished his task of renewing the Catholic Church in Germany even as Protestantism grew, the pope said.

PERSONAL PRAYER

The saint’s life teaches Catholics today that “the Christian life does not grow except with participation in the liturgy, particularly the holy Mass on Sundays, and with daily personal prayer,” the pope said.

“In the midst of the thousands of activities and multiple stimuli that surround us, it is necessary each day to find moments for reflection to listen to and speak to the Lord.”

St. Peter Canisius is a reminder that preaching the Gospel is effective only if the preacher has a personal relationship with Christ, is united with the Church and “lives a morally coherent life,” the pope said.