Abraham of Sancta Clara

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Discalced Augustinian friar, preacher, and author of popular devotional works; b. Kreenheinstetten near Baden, July 2, 1644; d. Vienna, Dec. 1, 1709. He was the son of Matthew Mergerle or Mergerlin, a tavern keeper in Kreenheinstetten, and received the name John Ulrich at baptism. He received his elementary education at the village school and at Messkirch, and he entered the gymnasium of the Jesuits at Ingolstadt in 1656. Upon the death of his father he was adopted by an uncle, Abraham von Mergerlin, a canon of Altötting, who transferred him to the Benedictine school at Salzburg in 1659. After three years there John Ulrich entered the Discalced Augustinians and at profession took the name of Abraham, doubtless out of courtesy to his uncle. He made his novitiate and completed his studies at Mariabrunn and was ordained in Vienna on June 8, 1668. After a brief assignment as preacher at the shrine in Taxa, near Augsburg, where he gained some fame for his dramatic sermons, Abraham went to Vienna, which was to be the chief center of his work. Leopold I named him preacher of the imperial court in 1677, and within the order he served as superior and prior of the convent in Vienna, as master of novices at Mariabrunn, and minister provincial of the Vienna province.

Abraham gained a reputation as a forceful orator with an unusual talent for presenting his themes in a graphic manner. Although accused by some of his contemporaries of being a buffoon in the pulpit, he seems in fact to have been a witty, cultivated, and learned man. He utilized his varied store of knowledge and exceptional ability in such a manner as to be an effective preacher.

Abraham was a prolific author and his works include a vast mélange of both sacred and secular writings. He was a literary master of both prose and poetry. Schiller characterized him as a man of marvelous originality, worthy of respect, and not easy to surpass in wit or cleverness. Abraham regarded his writings as an apostolate and even in his most humorous works aimed at the moral elevation of his readers. Abraham began his literary career in response to the plague that devastated Vienna in 1679. He wrote Merk's Wien! (Vienna 1680) as a dramatic description of the plague to show how death spares no one. He followed this with two lesser works, Lösch Wien (Vienna 1680) and Die grosse Totenbruderschaft (Vienna 1681), which exhorted the people to pray for the souls of those killed in the plague and listed personages of prominence who had succumbed. His next work, Auff, auff, ihr Christen (Vienna 1683) was an appeal to the Christian world to do battle against the Turks. This is chiefly remembered because Schiller used it as a model for the sermon of the Capuchin Friar in Wallenstein's Lager. A four-volume work, Judas der Erzschelm (Judas the archknave; Salzburg, 168695), is usually considered Abraham's masterpiece. The fruit of a decade of labor, this work sets forth the apocryphal life of Judas with moral applications for the daily spiritual life of the reader. The remaining works, constituting a mixture of the most varied sort, can be found in a collective edition published at Passau in 1846. They range from the serious Grammatica Religiosa (Salzburg 1691), a compendium of moral teaching, to Huy! und Pfuy der Welt (Ho! and phooey on the world; Würzburg, 1707), which shows the influence of Sebastian Brant's Narrenschiff (Ship of fools). Several volumes of literary works were published after his death, and various editions and collections have appeared down to the present century. These must be used with care since there are some doubtful and spurious entries.

Bibliography: g. dunnhaupt, ed., Stern so aus Jacob aufgegangen Maria (Rarissima litterarum) (Stuttgart 1994). k. bertsche, Die Werke Abrahams a Sancta Clara in ihren Frühdrucken (Schwetzingen 1922). w. brandt, Schwank und Fabel bei Abraham a Sancta Clara (Münster 1923). l. bianchi, Studien zur Beurteilung des Abraham a Santa Clara (Heidelberg 1924).

[a. j. clark]

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