Friedrich von Spee

Short Name: Friedrich von Spee
Full Name: Spee, Friedrich von, 1591-1635
Birth Year: 1591
Death Year: 1635

Spee, Friedrich von, son of Peter Spee (of the family of Spee, of Langenfeld), judge at Kaisers worth, was born at Kaisersworth, Feb. 25, 1591. He was educated in the Jesuit gymnasium at Cologne, entered the order of the Jesuits there on Sept. 22, 1610, and was ordained priest about 1621. From 1613 to 1624 he was one of the tutors in the Jesuit college at Cologne, and was then sent to Paderborn to assist in the Counter Reformation. In 1627 he was summoned by the Bishop of Würzburg to act as confessor to persons accused of witchcraft, and, within two years, had to accompany to the stake some 200 persons, of all ranks and ages, in whose innocence he himself firmly believed (His Cautio criminalis, sen de processibus contra sagas lib, Rinteln, 1631, was the means of almost putting a stop to such cruelties). He was then sent to further the Counter Reformation at Peine near Hildesheim, but on April 29, 1629, he was nearly murdered by some persons from Hildesheim. In 1631 he became professor of Moral Theology at Cologne. The last years of his life were spent at Trier, where, after the city had been stormed by the Spanish troops on May 6, 1635, he contracted a fever from some of the hospital patients to whom he was ministering, and died there Aug. 7, 1635. (Koch, iv. 185; Goedeke's Grundriss, vol. iii., 1887, p. 193, <&c.)

Spee was the first important writer of sacred poetry that had appeared in the German Roman Catholic Church since the Reformation. Among his contemporaries he was noteworthy for the beauty of his style, and his mastery of rhythm and metre. He seems to have come independently to much the same conclusions regarding measure and accent, and the reform of German prosody as did Opitz. He was however of a much deeper and purer nature than Opitz; and far surpasses him in originality, in imagination, and in poetic inspiration. His poems are characterised by a very keen love for the works of God in the natural world, and a delight in all the sights and sounds of the country, especially in spring and summer; and at the same time by a deep and fervent love to God, to Christ, and to his fellowmen. On the other hand his mannerisms are very pronounced; the pastoral imagery and dialogue which he is fond of using jar upon modern ears when used on such serious subjects as the Agony in Gethsemane. In the hymns to Jesus he is too subjective and sentimental, and works out the idea of Christ as the Bridegroom of the soul with unnecessary detail. His poems are often full of beauty, of pathos, and of genuine religious warmth, but they cannot be considered as suitable for public worship, and hardly any really came into use except as processionals sung by the people at the great festivals or at outdoor gatherings. A number passed into the Roman Catholic hymnbooks of the 17th century, and one or two still survive. His earlier poems are included in his (1) Trutz Nachtigal, oder Geistlichs-Poetisch Lust-Waldlein, &c, Cologne, 1649. [British Museum, Berlin Library, &c. The manuscript of this work, completed in 1634, is in the Town Library of Trier.] This is Spee's most important book; reached a 5th edition in 1683, and has been several times reprinted in this century. A few of the hymns had appeared in the Seraphisch Lustgart, Cologne, 1635; the Geistlicher Psalter, Cologne, 1638, and other Jesuit books. (2) Güldenes Tugend-Buch, &c, Cologne, 1649 [Gottingen Library]. This is a prose work on the Christian Graces of Faith, Hope, and Love, and has a few hymns interspersed.

The hymns by Spee which have passed into English appear to be only two, viz.:—
i. Bei stiller Nacht, zur ersten Wacht. Passiontide. In the Trutz Nachtigal, 1649, p. 225, in 15 stanzas of 4 lines, entitled "A mournful song on the agony of Christ on the Mount of Olives in the Garden." The translation in common use is:—
Within a Garden's bound. In full from the text of 1846, by Miss Cox for Lyra Mystica, 1864, p. 119, and in her Hymns from the German, 1864, p. 45.
ii. Der trübe Winter ist vorbei. Summer. In his Trutz Nachtigal, 1649, p. 35, in 12 stanzas of 10 lines, entitled “Love Song of the Bride of Jesus in the beginning of summer time." It is a beautiful poem rather than a hymn. Translated as:—
The gloomy winter now is o'er. By Miss Winkworth, 1869, p. 242. [Rev. James Mearns, M.A.]

--Excerpts from John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)

Wikipedia Biography

Friedrich Spee (also Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld; February 25, 1591 – August 7, 1635) was a German Jesuit priest, professor, and poet, most well-known as a forceful opponent of witch trials and one who was an insider writing from the epicenter of the European witch-phobia. Spee argued strongly against the use of torture, and as an eyewitness he gathered a book full of details regarding its cruelty and unreliability. He wrote, "Torture has the power to create witches where none exist."

Texts by Friedrich von Spee (16)sort descendingAsAuthority LanguagesInstances
Bei finstrer Nacht, zu ersten WachtFriedrich von Spee (Author)4
En Betleĥem' naskiĝisFriedrich von Spee (Author)Esperanto2
Hark, in the night The god of mightFriedrich von Spee, 1591-1635 (Author)2
Ĉielojn fendu, ho Sinjor'Friedrich von Spee (Author)Esperanto2
In deepest night when all was stillFriedrich von Spee, 1591-1635 (Author)English2
O Christ, hie merk den Glauben starkFriedrich von Spee (Author)4
O Christian, hark, this wonder markFriedrich von Spee (Author)3
O darkest woe! Tears overflowFriedrich von Spee, 1591-1635 (Author (st. 1))English2
O darkest woe! Ye tears forth flowFriedrich von Spee, 1591-1635 (Author (st. 1))English4
O heiland reiss die himmel aufFriedrich von Spee, 1591-1635 (Author)2
O Morning Star, O radiant SunFriedrich von Spee (Author (sts. 1, 3, 4))3
O Savior, open heaven wideFriedrich von Spee (Author)English3
O Savior, rend the heavens wide;Friedrich von Spee (Author)English9
O Savior, Savior, much weFriedrich von Spee (Author)2
O sorrow deep!Friedrich von Spee, 1591-1635 (Author (st. 1))English1
The whole bright world rejoices nowFriedrich von Spee, 1591-1635 (Author)English5

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