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Felix Hemmerlin

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A provost at Solothurn, in Switzerland, born at Zurich, in 1388 or 1389; died about 1460. He was educated at the school of the collegiate church of his native town, and afterwards entered the University of Erfurt, whence in 1408 he betook himself to the University of Bologna , where he studied law for four years. At the beginning of 1412 he became a canon of the collegiate church of Sts. Felix and Regula at Zurich. A little later a similar dignity was conferred upon him from the church of St. Mauritius, in Zofingen. In 1413 we find him once more at the University of Erfurt, where he won the degree of Bachelor of Canon Law. Soon after this he took part in the Council of Constance. He identified himself there with the Church Reform party, the principles of which were thenceforth to govern his religious activities and his attitude in matters of ecclesiastical policy. He became, in 1421, provost ( prœpositus ) of the collegiate church of St. Ursus at Solothurn. As such he undertook to reform the collegiate clergy, drew up new regulations bearing on Divine service on the ecclesiastical duties and the life of choir-members, and even defended energetically the rights of the collegiate church against the municipal authorities. Two years later he returned to the University of Bologna, from which he obtained in the year which followed the degrees of Licentiate and Doctor of Canon Law. His doctorate certificate is still in existence and is preserved in the public museum at Zurich. It is the most ancient doctorate diploma known to exist today in the original. His learning covered a very wide field. Besides his legal studies he had taken up ancient languages and knew Greek and Hebrew. On his return to Solothurn he devoted himself to theology, and was ordained a priest in 1430. He had great hopes of the Council of Basle, and took part in the deliberations which preceded the general sessions of the council, as well as in the debates with the Hussites. He also espoused at the outset the cause of the antipope Felix against Eugene IV. But the subsequent proceedings of the council offended him, and he became dissatisfied with the ecclesiastical conditions of his day. Meanwhile he reformed the clergy of the collegiate church of Zofingen. In January, 1439, he undertook the reform of the collegiate clergy of Zurich, where as early as 1428 he had become cantor. But here he met strenuous opposition. After he had written a violent pamphlet against the mode of living in this community, several members of the choir formed a plot against him, and he was seriously wounded. He recovered, however, and renewed his attacks against ecclesiastical abuses.

Hemmerlin composed more than thirty polemical treatises on various subjects, the chief of which were directed against the mendicant friars, the Beguines, and even against Nicholas of Cusa, against the cardinals, the Roman Curia, and even the pope. In politics, too, he sided earnestly with his native city, Zurich, allied with Austria against the Swiss confederates. He attacked the Swiss most violently in his work entitled: "De nobilitate et rusticitate" (completed in 1450). In this way he made numerous enemies, who sought a favourable opportunity to avenge themselves. In 1456 a popular celebration in honour of the reconciliation of the inhabitants of Zurich with the people of Switzerland was made the occasion of a popular outcry against Hemmerlin. He was seized in his own house, delivered to the Vicar-general of Constance, and was condemned by the episcopal court in that place to the loss of his canonicate at Zurich and to lifelong confinement. He was taken to Lucerne and underwent a mild imprisonment in the Franciscan monastery of that place. Numerous writings employed his time at Lucerne, and eventually he exchanged his provostship at Solothurn for the parish of Penthaz in the Diocese of Lausanne. Only a portion of his works have been printed. An edition appeared at Basic (s. d.) prepared by Sebastian Brant, and another at the same place in 1497. There is not the slightest justification for the attempt to present Hemmerlin as a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation.

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