Spee, Friedrich Von

Spee, Friedrich Von a German Jesuit and composer of religious poems, was born at Kaiserwerth in 1591 of the noble family Spee von Langenberg, entered the Order of Jesuits at the age of nineteen (1610), and was employed in the school at Cologne as teacher of grammar, philosophy, and morals. He was afterwards removed (about 1627) to Würzburg and Bamberg, and transferred to the pastorate, a measure which is supposed to indicate dissatisfaction with his teaching on the part of his superiors. He had acquired both reputation and popularity with his auditors; but later events reveal a degree of liberality in his views such as Jesuitism does not often tolerate. While acting as a pastor Spee was often obliged to minister to the unfortunates who were accused of witchcraft, and, after having been compelled by torture to make the most improbable confessions, were condemned to death by fire. More than two hundred of these miserable victims came under his care in the course of a few years. It is related that he was asked by John Philip of Schonborn, subsequently the elector of Mayence; why his head was gray at the early age of thirty; and that he gave as a reason the fact that he had been obliged to accompany so many witches to the stake, though every one of them was innocent. He gave a more emphatic expression to his sentiments upon this matter by the (anonymous) publication of a Cautio Criminalis, v. de Processu contra Sagas Liber, in which he stripped off the false gloss from the principles and the indefensible judicial methods by which such prosecutions were controlled. He would seem to have been suspected of the authorship by his superiors, as he was soon afterwards sent to Lower Saxony to attempt the conversion of Protestants to Roman Catholicism. He actually succeeded in gaining over a Protestant community; but, according to Jesuitical authorities, came near to suffering a martyr's death in consequence. He was attacked by an assassin, said to have been employed by the Protestants of Hildesheim, who beat him unmercifully; and having lost his enthusiasm for missionary work, as the result, he went to Treves. This place afforded him a wide field of pastoral usefulness, especially during the siege and storm of 1635 by Imperialists and Spaniards. He was indefatigable in his labors for the sick, wounded, and dying, and also for the impoverished and the prisoners. While engaged in such work he was taken with fever, and died Aug. 7, 1635. Spee's reputation rests on his religious poems, which are contained in two collections, the Trutz-Nachtigall and the Guldenes Tugendbuch. The former was first issued at Cologne in 1649, and appeared afterwards in several editions; but was then lost from observation until Brentano republished it in a somewhat modernized form in 1817. The latter, which received high commendation from Leibnitz (Theodicoe, § 96), likewise appeared for the first time after the author's death, in 1643, perhaps not earlier even than 1649. As a poet Spee stands alone, holding no relation to any of the schools of his century. He possessed a fine sense of prosody and euphonic forms, and felt profoundly the spirit of his compositions. He was, moreover, entirely rational, a lover of nature; and, consequently, in no danger of a mystical absorption in God or of a theosophic pantheism. His poems are not. however, hymns; they were composed without the slightest reference to use by a Christian congregation. Their subject is always either some observation of nature or an expression of the author's intense and glowing love for Christ. Occasional stanzas are worthy of comparison with the productions of the most eminent lyric poets of his country; but the adoption of the pastoral as a medium for expressing the poet's admiration of God will serve to show how utterly unsuited are his works for a place in the worship of the congregation. Spee's writings were published by Smets (Fromme Lieder Spee's [Bonn, i849]); and earlier by Forster, in Muller's Biblioth. deutscher Dichter des 17fen Jahrhunderts (Leips. 1831, vol. 12), the latter preserving the original form more faithfully than the other. The Guldenes Tugendbuch, somewhat changed, was republished at Coblentz in 1850 as a Roman Catholic manual of devotion. See Hauber, Biblioth. Magica, vol. 3; Gorres, Christl. Mystik, vol. 4.

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