J.M. Stone.

Studies from Court and Cloister: being essays, historical and literary dealing mainly with subjects relating to the XVIth and XVIIth centuries online

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and Canisius wrote to his friends at Cologne: "As I am useless for any
spiritual office I am entrusted with the insipid department of belles
lettres. I teach rhetoric for which I have little aptitude, but I take
pains to form these good youths, and am always ready, with God's help,
to do all that obedience requires of me."

After a fruitful year, during which he had learned Italian, and having
preached in that language, had obtained some wonderful conversions from
sin, he was recalled to Rome, where he laid his four solemn vows* in
the hands of St. Ignatius. Immediately afterwards he was told to
prepare for his apostolate in Germany.

* The first three of the solemn vows taken by the Jesuits are those of
poverty, chastity, and obedience. The fourth vow is the promise to go
wherever the Pope may send them.

William IV., Duke of Bavaria, surnamed the valiant, on account of his
faithful adherence to the Catholic Church, at a time when so many of
the reigning princes of Germany fell away, saw, with distress and
alarm, the daily increasing dangers to which his beloved fatherland was
a prey. Even in the college which he had himself founded at Ingolstadt,
heresies were steadily gaining the upper hand, and he besought St.
Ignatius to send him learned men, imbued with the apostolic spirit, to
stay the progress of error.

The Church was not wanting at this time in men of learning and piety.
Theologians, such as Cardinal Cajetan, Gropper of Cologne, Eck of
Ingolstadt, Cochlaeus, and others, had a European reputation. The first
members of the Society of Jesus were all saints and scholars. Lainez,
Salmeron, Lefevre, Faber, Le Jay, Bobadilla, were formed for the
exigencies of the time; but for the special work required of him,
Canisius effaces them all, or rather, gathers up in his own character
each of the great qualities which they possessed. His strength,
moreover, was equal to his enormous task. Westphalia, Bavaria, Saxony,
Bohemia, Austria, Franconia, Suabia, Moravia, Tirol, Switzerland, from
the falls of the Rhine to its source in the Alps, both banks of the
Danube, from Freiburgim-Breisgau to Pressburg, the banks of the Main
and of the Vistula - all this was the scene of his labours during a
period of fifty-four years; and within these limits, it is an
incontrovertible fact that there is no city or district still remaining
Catholic but owes its faith to him.

St Ignatius answered the demand of the Duke of Bavaria by sending
Fathers Le Jay, Salmeron, and Peter Canisius, the three most
distinguished men of his Society. On the way to Germany they stopped at
Bologna, in order that the two first might receive the degree of
doctor, Canisius, as we know, being already a graduate of Cologne. The
German heretics prided themselves so much on the few individuals in
their ranks who had attained to it, that it was important to provide
them with opponents whom they might meet in controversy on equal
grounds. At Munich Duke William welcomed them, assuring them that
nothing lay nearer to his heart than the maintenance of the Catholic
religion in his states, but that heresy had already taken possession of
many of his towns and villages, and had even ventured to lift its head
in the University of Ingolstadt. The three missionaries proceeded at
once to that place, where they were received by the principal
dignitaries of the University.

A few days later they began their lectures: Salmeron, with a commentary
on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans; Canisius, with a dissertation
on the Sentences of Peter Lombard; Le Jay, with an exposition of the
Psalms. From the beginning their success was assured, but in a few
months the whole work devolved on Canisius, Le Jay being sent to the
Diet of Augsburg, Salmeron going to support Lainez, at the re-opened
Council of Trent, as the Pope's theologian.

So great was the confidence which Canisius inspired, that already, in
1550, the University, by unanimous consent, elected him its rector.
Humility prompted him to refuse the office, but St. Ignatius bade him
accept it. The need for drastic changes in various departments was only
too apparent; Canisius not only secured the good he aimed at, but by
his tact escaped the odium which so frequently attaches to the crusader
against time-honoured abuses. As he accepted none of the emoluments
belonging to his offices, he was the more free to insist on the perfect
probity with which the administration of the funds of all offices
should be conducted.

He next tools away from the students all heretical books, and obtained
from Duke William a mandate, forbidding the booksellers to sell such.
He abolished gambling, to which the students had been much addicted. He
settled disputes between them and their professors, and the ancient
rules and regulations concerning studies ceased to be a dead letter.
His words animated his hearers with a love of work, creating a stimulus
and a desire to excel. He re-established the unjustly discredited
syllogistic form of argument, and reverted to the learning of the
Schools in its primitive purity, deprived of the excrescences with
which would-be scholars had disfigured it. Lastly, he succeeded in
freeing the University from every reproach of immorality and license,
and this was, perhaps, his most signal victory at Ingolstadt. The
annals of the University abundantly testify to the greatness of the
work accomplished.

At the end of his six months' rectorship, Canisius gave an account of
his administration, and declined the chancellorship then offered to
him. Ingolstadt, in that short space of time, had been transformed, and
in order to perpetuate the benefits conferred on it, the Duke resolved
to found a college to be handed over to the sons of St. Ignatius.

Next to Bavaria, Austria was to share in the blessings which the very
presence of Canisius seemed to draw down from Heaven, but the whole
German-speaking world clamoured for his possession. The Bishop of
Saxony entreated him to come and change the deplorable state of his
diocese. Duke Albert, son and successor of William IV., stoutly
maintained that he was needed at Ingolstadt, and that he could not
suffer him to leave it; while St. Ignatius was besieged with demands
for the services of his most learned disciple. The Prince-Bishop of
Freising and the Bishop of Eichstadt each claimed him as his theologian
at the Council of Trent. Ferdinand, King of the Romans, urged that "the
Light of Germany" should be instantly sent to the capital of the
Austrian dominions, then plunged in the darkness of heresy. Pope Julius
III. solved the difficulty by desiring that he should proceed at once
to Vienna, and St. Ignatius softened the blow to Duke Albert in these
words: "The formal demand of his Holiness obliges me to send Father
Canisius to Vienna, but without taking him absolutely from your
Highness; I am merely lending him to the King of the Romans for a time,
after which he shall return to Ingolstadt."

The capital of Austria had fallen a complete prey to heresy. For twenty
years not a single priest had been ordained there; religious vocations
were no longer heard of. Scarcely the twentieth part of the population
had remained Catholic. Three hundred country parishes near the city
were entirely without priests. The University, instead of providing a
remedy, aggravated the existing evils by a teaching that was more or
less heterodox. Society, moreover, was rotten to the core, and needed
to be entirely reconstructed. Such was the condition of things when, at
the call of the feeble but devout Ferdinand I., Blessed Peter Canisius
arrived at Vienna in March 1552. Thirteen of his religious brethren had
preceded him by nearly a year, and had opened a college which already
promised well.

Canisius began by preaching sermons at court, and to the people, by
catechising children, and by seizing every possible opportunity of
doing good. Then the plague broke out, and he devoted himself to the
stricken. The Pope proclaimed a jubilee, and Canisius profited by the
occasion to vindicate the honour of indulgences. His method everywhere
seems to have been to do the next, the obvious thing, whatever it might
be, and to throw himself heart and soul into it. Not content with his
work in the city, he evangelised the country places. The poorest
hamlets attracted him most, and as he went on his way, he instructed,
consoled, heard the confessions of a life-time, gave the sacraments to
the living and the dying, and brought back many hundreds of lost sheep
to the fold. He continued to work thus without a break during the
winter months, among people who were Christian but in name,
intemperance, ignorance, and long neglect, having brutalised them
almost beyond human reach. But where he passed, every village changed
its aspect; conversions little short of miraculous marked his progress
everywhere. Words that from the mouth of another might have returned
unto him void, uttered by Canisius carried compunction into the hardest
hearts. It was his sanctity, his entire abnegation of self and
whole-hearted dependence on the Divine Will, far more than his
learning, vigour, or energy that gave his words wings, and worked
wonders among this forsaken and degraded country folk; and his charity
was such that he would have been well content to have laboured among
them for the rest of his life.

But meanwhile Vienna was suffering from his absence, and all sorts and
conditions of men clamoured for his return. The episcopal see having
become vacant, the king besought the Pope and St. Ignatius that it
might be conferred on Father Canisius. But the utmost he could obtain
after long importunity was that Canisius should administer the affairs
of the diocese for one year, pending the election of a bishop, with the
proviso that he should not touch a single farthing of the rich revenues
belonging to the see, which he was to govern as a simple religious.

The arrangement was one admirably adapted to the restoration of order
in the existing state of chaos, while no sacrifice of its discipline
was forced on the Society by the promotion of one of its members to
rank and dignity.

Canisius was afterwards made Dean of the University, in the hope that
he would do for it what he had already done for Ingolstadt, and he set
about the work in the same masterly fashion that distinguished all his
schemes of reform. His first act was to obtain a royal decree, limiting
the admission of professors to those who had submitted themselves to a
rigorous examination in religious doctrine, and had given irrefragable
proofs of orthodoxy. The same conditions were in future to be exacted
of all who presented themselves for degrees. The university teemed with
Lutheran literature; it was swept away by the same inexorable
root-and-branch measures that had been so successfully employed at

The next care of the reformer was to petition the king for a seminary
wherein the ranks of the clergy, thinned almost to extinction, might be
reinforced by men carefully trained to a due appreciation of their high
calling. The result was the foundation of the seminary of priests of
noble family, recruited mainly from the college which the Jesuits had
opened at Vienna, and to which had flocked students from all the great
families of Hungary, Bohemia, Poland, etc. In conjunction with this
seminary, St. Ignatius, about the same tune, founded the celebrated
German College in Rome, for the regeneration of Germany by means of a
clergy that should be as learned as it was morally irreproachable.

In the midst of his multifarious occupations, Canisius continued his
sermons at court, in the Cathedral, and in the principal churches of
Vienna. Lutherans frequented them largely, and some, touched by the
power of his doctrine and eloquence, asked him for conferences, which
he gladly accorded them. Among these were two preachers of some
celebrity, pillars of Protestantism, who defied him to answer their
arguments in a public disputation. He accepted the challenge, and the
day, place, and hour were fixed. A great concourse of people, composed
largely of the new sectaries, were assembled, prepared to swell the
expected triumph of their champions. The two heretical doctors held
their dissertations, one after the other, and sat down amid the
applause of their sympathisers. Then Canisius stood up with religious
modesty and humility, his bearing expressive of the calmness and
benevolence of one who has the whole Catholic Church, past and present,
on his side. His prodigious memory and profound knowledge enabled him
to refute easily every charge brought by his adversaries, whom he
completely crushed with the overwhelming consistency of his logic. They
both acknowledged themselves defeated; one returned to the Catholic
Church, and a few months later entered the Society of Jesus, of which
he remained an edifying member till his death; the other became a more
determined advocate of heresy than before, and swore to avenge his
defeat by a persistent persecution of the Jesuits.

Nor were enemies wanting on any side; the more converts the Jesuits
made, the greater was the hatred they inspired. Calumnies were sown
broadcast, and the life of Father Canisius was in constant danger.
Ferdinand, warned of a plot to murder the holy man, obliged him,
greatly to his discomfiture, to accept a bodyguard whenever he went
out. But the work of reform and conversion went on steadily, and from
all parts of Germany, bishops, princes, and governors sought to obtain
the presence of the illustrious apostle. "I am ready," he wrote in this
regard to St. Ignatius, "to go wherever obedience calls me, and to work
for the salvation of souls however abandoned they may be, whether in
Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Tartary, or China, wherever I am sent."

He was sent to Prague, perhaps the most God-forsaken spot in the whole
empire. Every imaginable sect had accumulated in Bohemia during the
preceding twenty years. Scarcely a vestige of Catholicism remained, and
Hussites, Wicklifites, Vaudois, Lutherans, Zwinglians, and various
other offshoots of the principal sects, were busy relegating each other
in eloquent terms to eternal damnation, when the arrival of Catholic
missionaries gave the signal for a coalition against the common enemy
of them all. At Prague itself, where Canisius was charged to found a
college with the injunction not to leave Bohemia until it should be
solidly established and in a flourishing condition, the Hussites
outnumbered the others. Scarcely had he arrived and set to work, when
the Duke of Bavaria, reminding St. Ignatius that Canisius had only been
lent to Austria, claimed him, at least temporarily, for the foundation
of the college which the Society was to establish at Ingolstadt. The
claim was admitted to be just, and accordingly the affairs of Prague
could only be proceeded with four months later, when Canisius returned
from Germany, having been made provincial.

It was the beginning of Lent 1555, and on the 21st April twelve priests
sent to him from Rome by St. Ignatius, arrived to second him in his
perilous undertaking. The first time the Jesuits appeared in the
streets they were saluted with handfuls of mud cast at them by the city
urchins, who had been bribed to insult them. The cry "Dogs of Jesuits"
(a play upon the word Canisius) followed them wherever they went.
Father Peter was himself assailed with a large stone hurled through the
window of the church as he stood at the altar saying Mass. A plot was
formed to throw the whole community one by one into the Moldau, as they
passed over the bridge that connected the old and the new town; and
ruffians, who had received a part of their reward in advance, were
stationed in the middle of the bridge to waylay them. But a timely
edict issued by the Archduke of Bohemia threatened with the most severe
penalties whoever should raise a hand against any member of the
Society, or even treat any one of them disrespectfully. He went still
further, and sent a detachment of guards to the college daily, with
orders to accompany each of the priests wherever he went, and in
sufficient numbers to prevent any attack.

Added to the open enmity and fierce hatred which they inspired, the
Jesuits had to encounter the jealousy of the University professors, who
would have been willing enough that they should preach, but who, on the
opening of their college, did all they could to hamper them and
prejudice people against them.

The reputation of the Society for teaching was great all over Germany.
Wherever a college was established by them, it immediately attracted
students from all parts, and it was perhaps natural that other
educational institutions should fear for their own existence. But the
pettiness and meanness with which this fear was expressed at Prague
resulted for the Jesuits in a penury so abject, that for many months
they had nothing to eat but bread and cheese, and nothing to drink but
water from their own well. For several days they were even prevented
from going out for want of suitable garments. Nevertheless, however
much they might have to suffer in any one place, struggling through a
painful existence to the end in view, the work of reform went steadily

About this time, the cathedral at Regensburg was in need of a preacher;
the Diet was about to assemble in that city, all the princes and
electors of the empire were to take part in it, and the new sectaries
were expected in great numbers, in order to wrench, if it might be,
such concessions from the authorities as they had not yet been able to
obtain. The chapter therefore appealed to Father Canisius, and besought
him to throw himself into this important breach. Realising all that was
at stake, he started at once for Regensburg.

His first appearance in the cathedral pulpit was a splendid testimony
to the opinion in which he was held. The vast building was filled with
a brilliant throng, on the fringe of which the people hung in dense
crowds overflowing into the streets. In a letter to Father Lainez (who
had succeeded St. Ignatius as General of the Society) in September
1556, Canisius describes his efforts as successful in supporting and
strengthening the persecuted Catholics, but he goes on to say that the
Lutheran representatives at the Diet let loose a string of calumnies
against him, and did all they could to poison the minds of the weak and
simple. But for the States of the Empire they would have cast him out
of the city as one so dangerous to the Protestant cause that they
declared it would be wrecked altogether if Canisius continued to preach

However, continue he did during the whole of the sessions, save for a
short interval of absence. In this interval he visited Innsbruck, in
which town a college of the Society was nearing completion; and
Augsburg, whose bishop, his old friend the celebrated Otto Truchsess,
desired to consult him on the affairs of his diocese. There,
overwhelmed with his almost superhuman labours, Canisius fell ill. He
desired to be taken to the college at Ingolstadt, and Cardinal
Truchsess accompanied him thither, while the Duke of Bavaria sent him
his physicians. Thanks to their skill and to the enforced rest of his
mental and physical powers, he soon recovered, and was able on the 1st
December to return to his post at Regensburg. On all the Sundays of
Advent he preached at the cathedral, but as it could not contain the
vast concourse of people who crowded to hear him, he was obliged to
preach three times in the week also. From the pulpit he went to the
confessional, and when he returned to his lodging he was besieged by
those who came to seek his advice-princes, concerning the interests of
religion in their dominions, prelates, in regard to the reform of their
dioceses, or to their own spiritual needs. The King of the Romans, and
the Duke of Bavaria often sent for him to confer with him, and all
admired the humility, simplicity, and patience with which he listened,
no less than the frankness and freedom from human respect with which he
proffered his advice. But time was wanting for all the demands made
upon him; and that all might be satisfied he drew up for the use of
bishops a short treatise on the means of reforming the clergy, and of
introducing good morals among their flocks.

The Diet of Regensburg ended in nothing but resolutions to continue the
controversy at Worms, and fearing the objections of Canisius, who was
known to feel great repugnance towards these public conferences with
heretics which never came to any practical conclusion, Ferdinand sought
to anticipate his refusal by obtaining a promise from Father Lainez
that so able a defender of Catholic doctrine should also be present.

Canisius had already written to the general thus: -

"Knowing as I do my poverty of intellect, my great want of aptitude,
and my incapacity, I confess that I should like to run away from this
place, and would rather go and beg in India than involve myself in
those dangerous disputes, out of which nothing can come but perpetual
disgrace to religion, and great harm to the rights of the Church. But
the Lord God will make known to me His will by His servant my Superior,
and when I know it I shall have no further fear, but shall appear with
boldness in the enemy's camp; for all my confidence and all my strength
are in obedience. I can be nothing else but a beast of burden in the
house of the Lord all the days of my life."

Father Lainez shared to the full the opinion of Canisius as to the
uselessness of these conferences, which were exacted by the Lutherans
in the hope of wresting something to their own temporal advantage, and
the Pope differed from neither in his estimation of the small amount of
good to be hoped from them. But as the Emperor was not to be restrained
from granting concessions which all Catholics agreed were futile, it
was extremely important that the interests of religion and the rights
of the Holy See should be ably defended; and Father Lainez therefore
insisted that Canisius should not only remain at the Diet of Regensburg
to the bitter end, but that he should hold himself in readiness to
reopen the campaign at Worms.

In the interval Canisius went to Rome to pay his respects to the new
General, and on his return to Germany visited Munich. The capital of
Bavaria was also a hot-bed of heresy, and after a brief sojourn there
he wrote to Father Lainez, entreating that he would send some Fathers
capable of attracting people by their sermons and of edifying them by
the holiness of their lives. He then went to Ingolstadt, and was
greatly consoled by the results that had been obtained by the newly
founded college. Heresy no longer ventured to raise its head where
formerly it had flaunted its colours unabashed, and in every respect
the university was worthy of the care that had been bestowed upon it.
The place was naturally dear to his heart, as the magnificent
first-fruits of his labours for Germany, but tearing himself
reluctantly from the piety and peace which he had so successfully
planted there, he proceeded to confront the enemy at Worms.

The greater number of the Lutheran disputants had already arrived, but
of the six Catholic theologians deputed to enter the lists against
them, the most celebrated, Johann Gropper, Archdeacon of Cologne, was
conspicuous by his absence. Canisius wrote to entreat him to come, but
Gropper was so thoroughly convinced of the uselessness of the
disputations, that he persistently refused to take part in them. The
organisation of the whole matter therefore devolved on Canisius, who
prepared the plan of defence, and appointed to each Catholic theologian
the subject of which he was to treat. Besides this, he continued to
preach, to hear confessions and to take counsel with his colleagues
daily. At night he allowed himself but a brief interval of sleep, the
rest of the time being spent in prayer and study.

He had stipulated before the opening of the conferences that none but
those Protestants who belonged to the Confession of Augsburg, and who
were the only regular, and to some extent, disciplined body among them
should take part in the disputations. This condition had been accepted,
but from the very beginning, Anabaptists, Sacramentarians, and heretics
of every imaginable sect appeared, and claimed the right of speech.
Those of the Augsburg Confession were furious, and refused to make
common cause with the new arrivals. Recriminations, invectives, and
threats were hurled about the Protestant camp till a formidable tumult
ensued. The Augsburg Lutherans at last succeeded in turning out the

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Online LibraryJ.M. StoneStudies from Court and Cloister: being essays, historical and literary dealing mainly with subjects relating to the XVIth and XVIIth centuries → online text (page 10 of 28)