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Charitas Pirkheimer

Abbess of the Convent of St. Clara, of the Poor Clares, in Nuremberg, and sister of the celebrated Humanist Willibald Pirkheimer, b. in Nuremberg, 21 March, 1466; d. there 19 August, 1532. At the age of twelve she obtained a remarkable spiritual formation in the cloister of St. Clara. It is not known when she entered the religious life. She found a friend in Apollonia Tucher, whom her nephew, Christoph Scheurl, entitles "The crown of her convent, a mirror of virtue, a model of the sisterhood," and who became prioress in 1494. She also, toward the end of the century, became a friend of the cousin of Apollonia, the provost, Sixtus Tucher. This friendship finds expression in thirty-four letters of Tucher addressed to the two nuns, treating principally of spiritual subjects and of the contemplative life.

Charitas, who in 1500 was a teacher and perhaps also mistress of novices, was chosen on 20 December, 1503, as abbess. The first twenty years of her tenure of office she passed in the peace of contemplative life. She was able to read the Latin authors, and thereby acquired a classic style. The works of the Fathers of the Church , especailly of St. Jerome , were her favourite reading. In her studies her brother Willibald was her guide and teacher. He dedicated to her in 1513 his Latin translation of Plutarch's Treatise "On the Delayed Vengeance of the Deity " and praises in the preface her education and love for study, against which Charitas, "more disturbed than astonished", protested, claiming that she was not a scholar, but only the friend of learned men. In 1519 he dedicated to his sisters, Charitas and Clara, who since 1494 had also been a Poor Clare, the work of St. Fulgentius, and in 1521 he translated for them the sermons of St. Gregory of Nazianzus. Several of Pirkheimer's humanist friends became acquainted with the highly cultivated abbess. Conrad Celtes presented her with his edition of the works of the nun Hrosvit (Roswitha) of Gandersheim, and his own poems, and, in a eulogy, praises her as a rare adornment of the German Fatherland. Charitas thanked him, but advised him frankly to rise from the study of pagan writings to that of the Sacred Books, from earthly to heavenly pursuits. Christoph Scheurl dedicated to her in 1506 his "Utilitates missæ" (Uses of the Mass); in 1515 he published the letters of Tucher to Charitas and Apollonia. She was highly esteemed by Georg Spalatin, Kiliam Leib, Johannes Butzbach, and the celebrated painter, Dürer. But all the praise she received excited no pride in Charitas; she remained simple, affable, modest and independent, uniting in perfect harmony high education and deep piety. It was thus she resisted the severe temptations which hung over the last ten years of her life.

When the Lutheran doctrines were brought into Nuremberg, the peace of the convent ceased. Charitas had already made herself unpopular by a letter to Emser (1522) in which she thanked him for his valiant actions as "The Powerful Defender of the Christian Faith ". Since 1524 the governor had sought to reform the cloister and to acquire possession of its property. He assigned to the convent of the Poor Clares Lutheran preachers to whom the nuns were forced to listen. The acute and bigoted inspector, Nützel, tirelessly renewed his attempts at perversion, while outside the people rioted, threw stones into the church and sang scandalous songs. Three nuns, at the request of their parents and in spite of their resistance, were taken out of the convent by violence. On the other hand Melanchthon, during his residence in Nuremberg in 1525, was very friendly to them, and the diminution of the persecution is attributable to him. Nevertheless, the convent was deprived of the care of souls, was highly taxed and, in fine, doomed to a slow death. With constant courage and resourceful superiority, Charitas defended her rights against the attacks and wiles of the town-council, the abusive words of the preachers, and the shameful slanders of the people. Her memoirs illuminate this period of suffering as far as 1528. Her last experience of earthly happiness was the impressive celebration of her jubilee at Easter, 1529. At last a peaceful death freed her from bodily sufferings and attacks of the enemies of her convent. Her sister, Clara, and her niece, Katrina, daughter of Willibald, succeeded her as abbess. The last abbess was Ursula Muffel. Towards the end of the century the convent was closed.

Willibald Pirkheimer

German Humanist, b. at Eichstätt, 5 December, 1470; d. at Nuremberg, 22 December, 1530. He was the son of the episcopal councillor and distinguished lawyer, Johannes Pirkheimer, whose family came from Nuremberg, which Willibald regarded as his active place. He studied jurisprudence, the classics, and music at the Universities of Padua and Pavia (1489-95). In 1495 he married Crescentia Rieter (d. 1504), by whom he had five daughters. From 1498 to 1523, when he voluntarily retired, he was one of the town councillors of Nuremberg, where he was the centre of the Humanistic movement, and was considered one of the most distinguished representatives of Germany. His house stood open to everyone who sought intellectual improvement, and was celebrated by Celtis as the gathering place of scholars and artists. His large correspondence shows the extent of his literary connexions. In 1499, with the aid of a capable soldier, he led the Nuremberg contingent in the Swiss war, his classical history of which appeared in 1610 and won for him the name of the German Xenophon. Maximilian appointed him imperial councillor. He owes his fame to his many-sided learning, and few were as widely read as he in the Greek and Latin literatures. He translated Greek classics, e.g., Euclid, Xenophon, Plato, Ptolemy, Plutarch, Lucian, and the Church Fathers into Latin. Like Erasmus, he paid less attention to a literal rendering than to the sense of his translations, and thus produced works which can be compared with the best of the translated literature of that period. He also wrote a work on the earliest history of Germany, and was interested in astronomy, mathematics, the natural sciences, numismatics, and art. Albert Dürer was one of his friends and has painted his characteristic portrait. He defended Reuchlin in the latter's dispute with the theologians of Cologne.

At the beginning of the Reformation he took sides with Luther, whose able opponent, Johann Eck, he attacked in the coarse satire "Eckius dedolatus" (Eck planed down). On behalf of Luther he also wrote a second bitter satire, in an unprinted comedy, called "Schutzschrift". Consequently his name was included in the Bull of excommunication of 1520, and in 1521 he was absolved "not without painful personal humiliation", was requred to acknowledge Luther's doctrine to be heresy, and denounce it formally by oath. Nevertheless, up to 1525 his sympathies were with the Reformation, but as the struggtle went on, like many other Humanists, he turned aside from the movement and drew towards the Church, with which he did not wish to break. In Luther, whom he had at first regarded as a reformer, he saw finally a teacher of false doctrines, "completely a prey to delusion and led by the evil fiend ". Luther's theological ideas had never been matters of conscience to him, hence the results of the changes, the decay of the fine arts , the spread of the movement socially and economically, the religious quarrels, and the excesses of zealots repelled him as it did his friend Erasmus who was in intellectual sympathy with him. His sister, Charitas, was the Abbess of the Convent of St. Clara at Nuremberg, where another sister, Clara, and his daughters, Katharina and Crescentia, were also nuns. From 1524 they were troubled by the petty annoyances and "efforts at conversion " of the city council that had become Lutheran. This affected him deeply and aided in extinguishing his enthusiasm for the Reformation. His last literary labour, which he addressed to the council in 1530, was on behalf of the convent ; this was the "Oratio apologetica monialium nomine", a master-piece of its kind.


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