Wimpheling, Jakob

Wimpheling, Jakob a German humanist, was born July 26, 1450. At Freiburg he was the pupil of Geiler von Kaiserberg (q.v.). An epidemic drove him to Erfurt, but he eventually completed his university course at Heidelberg. He became master in philosophy in 1471, and began the study of canon law, exchanging it, however, ere long for that of theology. In 1479 he was made dean of the philosophical faculty, in 1481 superintendent of the Artist College and rector, in 1483 bachelor of theology and licentiate. Soon afterwards he was consecrated to the priesthood, and made preacher and canon at the cathedral of Spires. He was, however, rather suited to be an educator than a preacher, by reason of physical debility and a weak voice, and the natural bias of his mind. He was incessantly busy with his pen, and constantly had charge of a number of young men, whom he inspired with a love of learning and of truth, which made them, as a rule, the ready, and, in some instances, effective supporters of the Reformation, when that movement began. In this period (1497) he wrote the Isidoneus Germanicus, one of his most important works, and one of the first to direct the course of education into a new channel. Fourteen years were spent at Spires, when he resolved upon retiring with Christoph von Utenheim (q.v.), Geiler von Kaiserberg, and others, to a hermitage in the depths of theBlack Forest, but was hindered from the execution of the plan by a transfer to the faculty of arts at Heidelberg, September 13, 1498. It was characteristic of his spirit that while concerned to introduce a purer Latin, and engaged in the delivery of lectures on rhetoric and poetry, he should confine himself chiefly to the teaching of Christian authors like Jerome and Prudentius, and that he should reject the study of heathen authors as being injurious to youth. From this judgment he excepted Cicero, Virgil, and a few others only; but slight as was this concession, it obliged him to deliver two apologetic discourses to prove, against the assaults of monastic adversaries, the utility of humanistic studies. In 1500 he resigned his professorship on the invitation of Utenheim, to resume the project of a hermit life, but while tarrying at Strasburg, Utenheim was made administrator of the diocese of Basle, and Wimpheling: accordingly remained with Kaiserberg, and completed (1502) the edition of Gerson's works, upon which the fatter had been employed since 1488. At this time he came into conflict with the notorious barefoot monk Thomas Murner (q.v.), through the publication of a work intended to promote the loyalty of Strasburg towards Germany, and basing its plea on the false statement that the Gaul of Coesar's time had never extended to the Rhine, but only to the borders of Austrasia, subsequently a German province; and as he was victorious in the dispute, he retained his erroneous opinion while he lived. In December 1502, Utenheim succeeded to the see of Basle, and invited Wimpheling to collect and examine existing synodal statutes, with a view to reforming the clergy of the diocese. After completing this work Wimpheling returned to Strasburg to take possession of a summissariat, to which he was appointed, but which was given to another person. He was therefore obliged to resume the training of young men as a means of earning a livelihood, and accepted a tutorship over the sons of his friends, Sturm and Paulus. A tract written at this time for one of these young men, in which he proved that Augustine had never been a monk, and that the boast of monasticism, that all wisdom takes refuge in a cowl, was false, since neither the ancient philosophers nor Moses, nor yet Christ and the apostles, the early fathers of the Church, and later venerable men, such as Gregory the Great, Bede, Alcuin, etc., were in any wise identified with monasticism, brought upon him the full weight of monkish fury, and made him the earliest of humanists to experience its rage. His books enraged many of the secular clergy also, as they contained frequent exposures of the abuses tolerated in the Church, and of vices existing among her ministers, and persisted in demanding a reform of these evils. He was accused at Rome, but pope Julius II commanded the ignorant monks to be silent. Wimpheling now undertook the work of improving the current methods of educating the young, but with indifferent success, as he received no encouragement from persons in authority. He also wrote a history of the diocese of Strasburg, which is still a source of some value. After the death of Geiler von Kaiserberg he wrote an appreciative characterization of the great preacher who had so long been his friend. His next important occupation was the drawing up of the list of complaints laid to the charge of the papacy by the German people, by direction of the emperor Maximilian I. To the list he added a number of recommendations, touching, e.g., the plurality of benefices, and an adaptation of the French Pragmatic Sanction to German conditions, which were favorably received, as was a supplementary work entitled Medulla, Sanctionis Pramaticae. A nunnery in the diocese of Basle was placed in his charge by his friend, bishop Utenheim, and in this place he spent several years. In 1512 he wrote a valuable psedagogical work, entitled De Proba Institutione Puerorum in Trivialibus et Adolescentum in Universalibus Gymnnasiis; but he felt himself to be too old to put his theories into practice at the head of a school, and therefore declined a call to teach theology at Strasburg. The warfare with the monks was continued steadily, and drew forth from him a number of exposures of their conduct, and ultimately a broadside from the authors of the Epistolce Obscurorum Virorum. Towards the close of 1515 he retired to his native town of Schlettstadt, and thenceforward made that place his home. He surrounded himself with a company of ambitious young men, and organized a literary society which included Bucer and Phrygio among its members, and for a time commended the Wittenberg scholars as promoters of improved methods of study. Wimpheliuig himself greeted the rise of the Reformation, and approved of Luther's course. In 1518 he submitted an opinion to the emperor at the diet of Worms, which, though guarded, was certainly not adverse to Luther's interests. He soon found, however, that the new movement was taking on more extensive proportions, and assuming a more radical character than he had expected, and, with the timidity which characterized the class to which he belonged, he not only withdrew from its support, but even wrote to Luther to persuade him that the canon of the mass contained nothing contrary to the doctrines and usages of the early Church. He saw with pain that the Reformation was the fruitage of a seed which he had himself helped to sow.

Wimpheling's life and character were full of contradictions, growing out of the fact that while he saw clearly the corruption and danger of the Church and the age, he yet failed to understand the methods through which alone a reform could be secured. He trembled at the idea of lay hands attempting an improvement, even though they might be the hands of emperor or king, and shrank in terror from the idea of assailing the pope and existing institutions in the Church. With scholarly bias he thought that the study of theology would alone elevate the clergy and reform the Church. His psedagogical writings contained many ideas which were reduced to practice by Protestant teachers in the next generation, though he was still too much a schoolman to intend more than a reform in grammatical and rhetorical instruction with his proposals. He cared more for a return to the elegant and correct style of classical writers than for the study of the teachings of antiquity as a means of culture for the mind. He studied the hymnology of the Church, and attempted its improvement. He also wrote an Epitome Rerum Germanicarum, which is interesting as the first essay towards the writing of German history. Wimpheling's style was easy and perspicuous, precise, often elegant, lively, and witty, though verbose. He wrote poetry which lacked inspiration and fancy, and which may be characterized as mere practice in Latin versification. He was, in brief, rather practical than speculative, and was devoid of originality. His writings were generally brief tractates, filled with citations from other books, and the influence they exerted was largely due to the elevated sentiments they expressed. His personal bearing was amiable, modest, and yet helpful. Reuchlin honored him as a sturdy supporter of religion, and, after his death, November 17, 1528, Erasmus wrote a very beautiful letter in his praise to Vlatten. For material towards his biography, consult Riegger, Amenuitates Literariae Friburgenses (Ulm, 1775; Fasc. 2), and see, generally, Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v.

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