Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

Greatest German satirist of the sixteenth century, b. at Oberehnheim, Alsace, 24 Dec., 1475; d. there, 1537. During the epoch immediately preceding and during the early years of the Reformation, three figures are especially prominent among the loyal champions of the Church in Germany, namely Johann Geller von Kaysersberg, his friend, Sebastian, the well-known satirist, and Thomas Murner, the ablest and most formidable of Luther's opponents. In 1481 Murner's parents, pious people in comfortable circumstances, settled in Strasburg, where his father practised as an advocate. Thomas, who was of delicate health, entered the Franciscan Order at the age of sixteen. After his ordination, he began his restless and unsettled life, visiting the most celebrated universities either as a student or as a teacher. He studied theology at Paris, philosophy and mathematics at Cracow, and law at Freiburg, where he was awarded the degree of bachelor of Theology in 1500. Six years later, when again at Freiburg, he was made Doctor of Theology. In 1518 he graduated Doctor of Laws at Basle. His impulse towards a roving life was due, not only to his love of learning, but also to his mission as a preacher and his zeal for the interests of his order. From 1519 he took part in the controversies which began with the appearance of Luther as a reformer. In 1523 he went to England and was cordially received by Henry VIII, whose book on the sacraments he had translated into German the previous year. On his return to Strasburg, he found himself compelled to fly before the rebellious peasants and seek refuge at Lucerne. Here he became the most determined adversary of Zwingli. Together with Dr. Eck, he took part in the religious discussion at Baden in 1526. When Lucerne was taken in the first War of Kappel (1529), Murner was to have been given up. He managed, however, to escape, and, after many wanderings, was appointed pastor in his birth-place, where he spent the rest of his days.

As an author, Murner was at first an enthusiastic friend of Humanism. In Cracow he lectured on literary æsthetics, and in Freiburg on Vergil, whose "Æneid" he had translated. In token of gratitude for his appointment as poet-laureate in 1505, he dedicated this translation to Emperor Maximilian. In his "Ludus studentum Friburgensium" (1511),Murner explains the rules of prosody and quantity after the fashion of a game of chess and backgammon. This method he had already employed four years before at Cracow in his "Chartiludium logic æ", but his application of it to jurisprudence provoked the derision of the lawyers. His sympathy with Humanism did not save him from the resentment of the Alsacian Humanists, when he attacked Wimpfeling's "Germania", which aimed at proving that Alsace had never belonged to France. Murner's defence of his position, the "Germania nova", was suppressed by the Strasburg authorities: a further attempt at justifying himself against the attacks of the partisans of Wimpfeling also proved unsuccessful, and did not prevent his opponents from distorting his name into Murnar (growling fool). Even, in this early controversy, Murner had shown a sharp eye for his opponents' weaknesses, and a marked gift for exposing them to ridicule: in his subsequent writings, he is revealed as a master of satire. Just as Geiler illustrated his popular sermons with comparisons drawn from everyday life, Murner compares, in his "Andächtige geistliche Badefahrt" (1511), the forgiveness of sins to a hydropathic treatment. In "Narrenbeschwörung" and "Schelmenzunft" he deals with the same subject as Brant's "Narrenschiff", but his work is entirely original in treatment and far surpasses the earlier work in its popular appeal, its wit, and its vigour¯degenerating, indeed, at times into coarseness. His subsequent satires, "Gäuchmatt" (Fools' Meadow) and "Die Mühle von Schwindelsheim und Gretmüllerin Jahrzeit", in which he severely criticizes a special kind of fools, the "fools of love ", form a kind of sequel to the "Schelmenzunft". There is no station, either clerical or lay, that is spared from his castigation.

The appearance of Luther diverted Murner's satire into a new course. Regarding the Wittenberg monk at first as a well-intentioned ally in the battle against the evils afflicting the Church, Murner addressed to him in 1520 an appeal entitled "Christliche und brüderliche Ermahnung an den hochgelehrten Doctor Martin Luther", which was followed by other pamphlets refuting and warning him and beseeching him to abandon his ruinous undertaking. In his "Neues Lied vom Untergang des christlichen Glaubens" (1521), Murner gives feeling expression to his sorrow over the destructive tendencies of the religious innovation. But, when the sole effect of his attempts at conciliation was to bring upon him a shower of lies and calumnies, Murner dealt Luther a crushing blow in his work, "Von dem grossen Lutherischen Narren wie ihn Doctor Murner beschworen hat". Here Murner rises to heights of satire elsewhere unattained during his whole epoch. All the reformatory endeavours are embodied in the "Great Fool", and the newly-founded church is treated allegorically as Luther's daughter Adelheid, who "has a shocking scald-head." Murner wrote many other satires against the reformers, but none which in energy and wit equals this work. This work, so full of fight and honest zeal for the old Faith, was subjected to much calumny and derision during his lifetime, but was never vanquished in controversy. Later generations did him justice. Lessing intended to write a "defence" of Murner, and literary historiographers (especially Kurtz, Vilmar, and Gödeke) have recognized his great importance in the history of literature. Critics have pointed out in his works a peculiar and original metrical and rhythmical system, which distinguished him from all poets of his time. His writings show that he possessed in a conspicuous degree the culture of his age. No doubt is entertained today of the purity of his intentions and the probity of his character.


More Encyclopedia

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.

Catholic Encyclopedia

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.

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


Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, First Corinthians 2:1-5
1 Now when I came to you, brothers, I did not come ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 119:97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102
97 How I love your Law! I ponder it all day ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 4:16-30
16 He came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for September 1st, 2014 Image

St. Giles, Abbot
September 1: St. Giles, Abbot (Patron of Physically Disabled) Feast day - ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter