Hermannus Contractus

views updated


Monk and polymath (called also Herman the Lame or Herman of Reichenau); b. Saulgau, Württemberg-Hohenzollern, Germany, July 18, 1013; d. Abbey of Reichenau, Germany, Sept. 24, 1054. The son of Count Wolverad II of Altshausen, he was a cripple (hence contractus ) from birth, and although practically helpless physically, through an iron will he triumphed intellectually over his impairment, becoming skilled in theology, astronomy, mathematics, history, poetry, Arabic, Greek, and Latin. He was entrusted at age seven to berno, Abbot of the Benedictine monastery of reichenau, and he seems to have lived practically his entire life on the island occupied by the abbey in Lake Constance. He took monastic vows there in 1043 and in time became a noted and remarkably capable teacher, no less by his admirable learning than by his charm and attractiveness of manner. His Chronicon is an account of the most important events in history since the birth of Christ, in the tradition of various medieval annals and chronicles but remarkable for its objectivity and careful chronology (ed. Pertz, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores, 5:67133). In astronomy his De astrolabio displays wide learning (Patrologia Latina 143: 379412), while his mathematical writings are various and important (see M. B. Cantor, Vorlesungen über Geschichte der Mathematik 1:759889). His lengthy poem De octo vitiis principalibus [ed. F. Dümmler, Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum (1867) 13:385434] is addressed to a group of nuns. His mouthpiece is the muse Melpomene, who converses with Hermannus and the nuns in various skillfully employed meters. Melpomene's burden of address to the nuns is de contemptu mundi, and she includes a warning against the seven capital sins. Hermannus is important, too, in the history of the sequence, though the great alma redemp toris mater and salve regina have been incorrectly ascribed to him. His, however, are the De sancta cruce and the Rex regum Dei agne (ed. G. Dreves, Analecta hymnica 50:308319), and they are composed basically in the tradition of notker balbulus. After his death Hermannus became the object of a local cult, which was confirmed by the Holy See in 1863 and assigned a feast on September 25, although he is not generally regarded as a saint by most authorities.

Bibliography: Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne, 217 v., indexes 4 v. (Paris 187890) 143:9458. h. hansjakob, Herimann, der Lahme von der Reichenau (Mainz 1875). k. beyerle, ed., Die Kultur der Abtei Reichenau, 2 v. (Munich 1925), passim. a. m. zimmermann, Kalendarium Benedictinum: Die Heiligen und Seligen des Benediktinerorderns und seiner Zweige, 4 v. (Metten 193338) 2:482484. m. manitius, Geschichte der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters, 3 v. (Munich 191131) 2:756777. f. j. e. raby, A History of Christian-Latin Poetry from the Beginnings to the Close of the Middle Ages (2d ed. Oxford 1953) 225229. f. karlinger, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 5:250. j. c. didier, Catholicisme 5:663664.

[w. c. korfmacher]