Spee, Friedrich von
SPEE, FRIEDRICH VON
German poet, moral theologian, and pioneer opponent of trials for witchcraft; b. Kaiserswerth, near Düsseldorf, Feb. 25, 1591; d. Trier, Aug. 7, 1635. He entered the Society of Jesus at Trier in 1610 and after completing his studies at Fulda and Würzburg was ordained in 1622. After he served as a professor of philosophy at Paderborn (1623–26), he spent the next two years in teaching and missionary work, especially at Cologne and Wesel. While preaching near Peine, he was attacked and severely wounded by a fanatical opponent of Catholicism. He returned to Paderborn and was appointed professor of moral theology there in 1630, but found time to engage in pastoral work, which included giving spiritual help and comfort to those condemned and executed on the charge of witchcraft. From 1631 to 1633 he was professor of moral theology at Cologne, and from 1633 to 1635, at Trier. In the storming of that city by the imperial forces, he ministered zealously to the sick and wounded of both sides. He died of the plague, contracted in this charitable activity.
Among his works, three merit special mention. His Trutznachtigal, a collection of religious lyrics, composed in 1629, but first published in full in 1649, and his Guldines Tugendbuch, a poetic treatment of the theological virtues, composed in 1631, but again not published until 1649, give him a high place in German religious poetry. The second work was praised in the highest terms by Leibniz, and both have been repeatedly printed. He deserves to be remembered above all, however, for his Cautio criminalis, in which, with a psychological insight far in advance of his times, he attacked courageously and eloquently the terrible abuses of the witch trials and witch hysteria and advocated a whole series of reforms. This work, published in 1631, anonymously and apparently without the author's permission, involved him in temporary difficulties with his superiors and raised a storm of criticism against him. However, the Cautio, from the first, exercised a powerful influence against the evils it described, and was repeatedly published in new editions and in translation.
Bibliography: r. newald, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche 1 9:713–714. r. brouillard, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique 14.2:2474–77. Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus 7:1424–31. b. duhr, Geschichte der Jesuiten in den Ländern deutscher Zunge, 4 v. in 5 (Freiburg 1907–28) 2.2:745–766. e. rosenfeld, Friedrich Spee yon Langenfeld (Berlin 1958). h. wolter, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche 2 9:956.
[m. r. p. mcguire]