Stiefel (Also Stifel, Stieffel, and Styfel), Michael
Stiefel (Also Stifel, Stieffel, And Styfel), Michael, an arithmetician, Millenarian, and coadjutor of Luther, was born April 19, 1486, at Esslingen, and became a monk in the Augustine convent of that town. In 1520 he went to Wittenberg, and was promoted to the degree of master and made preacher to count Mansfeld. While there he composed a hymn which reveals his intimate sympathy with the Reformatory spirit (Wackernagel, Das deutsche Kirchenliedes, p. 676 sq.). In June, 1525, Luther recommended him to George of Tolleth, in Upper Austria, as a "pious, learned, well-behaved, and industrious person" (De Wette, Briefe, 2, 677). A fine treatment of Psalm 10 by him excited a persecution against the evangelicals; and Stiefel was obliged to leave Austria in 1526 or 1527 and return to Wittenberg. Luther thereupon procured for him the parish of Lochau (October, 1528), and married him to the widow of the late pastor (De Wette, ut sup. p. 394, 405). Soon afterwards (in 1532) Stiefel published a treatise on the numbers in Daniel, entitled Ein Rechenbuchlein vom End Christi, in which he fixed the last day and hour to be Oct. 19, 1533, at 8 o'clock in the morning (see De Wette, 4, 462), with the result that the peasants neglected their labors and lost their harvests, but sued for damages when the prediction was not fulfilled. Stiefel was accordingly compelled to abandon his post; but received assistance in money, etc., from the elector, who also induced Luther to receive the misguided man, with his family, under his own roof for the purpose of imparting to him further instruction. In 1535 Stiefel was again a pastor, probably at Holtzendorff, near Wittenberg; and while there he published his Arithmetica Integra, with preface by Melancthon (Corp. Ref. 5, 6). In 1545 he issued an arithmetic in German; in 1546, the Rechenbuch von der welschen u. deutschen Practik. The battle of Muhlbach involved the destruction of his village; and after a sojourn at Frankfort-on-the-Oder he settled in the pastorate at Haberstro, near Königsberg, Prussia, in 1552. In 1553 he published the Cours (algebra) Christoph Rudolph's. He was also steadily engaged on the computation of the numbers in Daniel and the Apocalypse, and became the zealous opponent of Andreas Osiander. Soon afterwards he was pastor at Bruck, and in that character attended the convention of Coswig in 1557 (Salig, Gesch. d. Augsb. Conf. 3, 242); and in 1558 he was received into the philosophical faculty at Jena as teacher of arithmetic, a position he had temporarily filled ten years earlier. Here he was assailed by the Flacianists, but prevailed against them. He died, after having been made deacon of the town Church, April 19, 1567. The scanty information to be obtained respecting this remarkable, and in many respects peculiar, theologian shows him to have been possessed of a lively fancy and of extraordinary ability in mathematics. It was because of these qualifications that he went astray on the chiliastic question. He apprehended the Bible poetically, and believed that his mathematical acquirements afforded the means for an exact computation of its numbers. It is to be observed, moreover, that he was no pessimist. He regarded the Reformation as being simply the beautiful dawning of the day of the Lord, the breaking of a day of salvation, and Luther as the angel of revelation with the everlasting Gospel (Revelation 14); and he wrote against "Dr. Murner's false and invented hymn respecting the destruction of the Christian faith." Competent judges regard Stiefel as one of the greatest arithmeticians of his time. Unlike most scholars of that class, he regarded arithmetic as being not simply the art of reckoning, but also the science of numbers. His ingenious comparisons of arithmetical and geometrical progressions might easily have led to the discovery of the logarithm. As an algebraist he stood on the shoulders of Christoph Rudolph, and rendered meritorious service in extending the area of the study of algebra in Germany.