The Reform of Christian Doctrine in the Catechisms of Peter Canisius


The catechisms of Peter Canisius reveal the contours of the struggle within the Catholic Church to reframe Christian identity in response to the Protestant Reformation. Canisius published his first catechism in 1555, and immediately achieved phenomenal publishing success. Yet his catechisms received neither endorsement nor approbation from Rome. Canisius’s catechesis proposed a confident vision of Christian identity grounded in the practice of Catholic piety.
The Roman Curia increasingly conceived of catechesis as a defensive bulwark against Protestant assault. Although Canisius’s catechisms often appear in scholarship as representatives of a combative, post-Reformation style of defending Catholic orthodoxy, the combat in which they actually engaged was internal to the Catholic Church, over how to reframe post-Reformation Catholic identity.

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Thomas Flowers, S.J., PhD (2021), University of York, will begin as assistant professor of Ignatian formation at Saint Louis University in Autumn 2023. He has recently published articles in Archivum historicum Societatis Iesu and in Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits.

1 Introduction: A Question of Reform
 1 Crafting an Image
 2 Historical Traces

2 The Catechetical Tradition
 1 The Catechetical Tradition
 2 Canisius in Context

3 The Genesis of the Catechism: 1550–55
 1 Two Beginnings: The Catechism and the Compendium
 2 The Confusion of the Two Projects
 3 Misunderstanding the Catechism
 4 Publishing the Catechism

4 Jesuitical Catechesis
 1 A Jesuit Catechism
 2 The Principle and Foundation
 3 Embracing Justice
 4 The First Week
 5 The Second Week

5 Polemical Catechesis
 1 Two Catechetical Approaches
 2 A Question of Polemics

6 The Politics of the Catechism: 1555–64
 1 The Habsburg Plan
 2 The Jesuit Strategy
 3 The Roman Politics of Catechesis

7 Conclusion: The Roman Tradition
 1 A Roman Catechism
 2 Pietas and Veritas
 3 The Internal Debate
Appendix A: Contents of Canisius’s 1555 Summa doctrinae Christianae
Appendix B: Comparison of Catechism Contents
Appendix C: Lutheran Questions in the Summa doctrinae Christianae and the Catechismus Romanus
Appendix D: Comparison of Canisius’s Three Principal Catechisms
Appendix E: The Catholic Catechetical Norm
Scholars and students interested in early modern Christian identity, the history of pedagogy (particularly Christian pedagogy), and early modern Jesuit history. Keywords: German Reformation; Catechesis; Spiritual Exercises; Christian pedagogy; religious instruction; Jesuit way of proceeding; Ferdinand of Habsburg; Pierre Favre; Holy Roman Empire, Petrus Canisius.
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