Friedrich Von Spee
A poet, opponent of trials for witchcraft, born at Kaiserswerth on the Rhine, 25 February, 1591; died at Trier 7 August, 1635. On finishing his early education at Cologne, he entered the Society of Jesus in 1610, and, after prolonged studies and activity as a teacher at Trier, Fulda, Würzburg, Speyer, Worms, and Mainz, was ordained priest in 1622. He became professor at the University of Paderborn in 1624; from 1626 he taught at Speyer, Wesel, Trier, and Cologne, and was preacher at Paderborn, Cologne, and Hildesheim. An attempt to assassinate him was made at Peine in 1629. He resumed his activity as professor and priest at Paderborn and later at Cologne, and in 1633 removed to Trier. During the storming of Trier by the imperial forces in March, 1635, he distinguished himself in the care of the suffering, and died soon afterwards from the results of an infection contracted in a hospital. He was one of the noblest and most attractive figures of the awful era of the Thirty Years' War. His literary activity belongs to the last years of his life, the details of which are little known, Two of his works were not published until after his death: "Goldenes Tugendbuch" (Golden Book of Virtues ), a book of devotion highly prized by Leibniz, and the "Trutznachtigall", a collection of fifty to sixty sacred songs, which, though not free from the weaknesses of the day, take a prominent place among religious lyrics of the seventeenth century, and have been in recent times repeatedly printed and revised. But the assumption that the author in this work applied the metrical principle independent of Opitz, is at least doubtful. His principal work, through which he obtained a well-deserved and world-wide reputation, is the "Cautio Criminalis", written in admirable Latin. It is an arraignment of trial for witchcraft, based upon his own awful experiences probably principally in Westphalia, for the traditional assumption that he acted for a long time as "witch confessor " in Würzburg has no documentary authority. This work was printed in 1631 at Rinteln without Spee's name or permission, although he was doubtlessly widely known as its author. He does not advocate the immediate abolition of trials for witchcraft, but describes in thrilling language and with cutting sarcasm the horrible abuses in the prevailing legal proceedings, particularly the inhuman use of the rack. He demands measures of reform, such as a new German imperial law on the subject, liability to damages on the part of the judges, etc., which, if they had been conscientiously carried out, would have quickly put an end to the persecution of witches. Many a generation passed before witch burning ceased in Germany, the classic land of these outrages; but at all events the "Cautio Criminals" brought about its abolition in a number of places, especially at Mainz, and led the way to its gradual suppression. The moral impression created by its publication was very great. Even in the seventeenth century a number of new editions and German translations appeared, Protestants also eagerly assisting in promoting its circulation. Among the members of Spee's order his treatise seems to have usually found a favourable reception, although it was published without official sanction, and its publication led to a correspondence between the general of the Jesuits, the provincial of the order on the Lower Rhine, and Spee himself. The general wished more exact information as to how the printing took place and expressed the suspicion that Spee, even if he, perhaps, did not directly cause it, at least allowed it, and wrote him a mild rebuke.
More Catholic Encyclopedia
Browse Encyclopedia by Alphabet
The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.
Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.
No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.
Browse the Catholic Encyclopedia by Topic
Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912
Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online