August 7th 1635 - Friedrich Spee of Langenfeld
† in Trier
Friedrich was born in Kaiserswerth on February 25nd 1591. He visited the Dreikönigskolleg in Cologne and entered on February 22th 1610 in Trier the Jesuit Order. During his theological studies in Mainz he took the holy orders in 1622.
Due to the Thirty Year's War turbulent years lay ahead. First he lectured philosophy in Paderborn, then in Cologne. During his mission activity in the Diaspora he was attacked by heretics and wounded heavily in the area Peine on April 20th 1629. He could recover from it only laboriously after months, and in 1630 he took over a professorship for moral theology in Paderborn. Two years later he took over the same chair in Trier. His heroic charity unfolded in the service of the plague-ill soldiers. He got infected and died on August 7th 1635 at the age of 44 years.
He was buried in the crypt of the Jesuit Church in Trier, in which after him still more than hundred Jesuits found their last resting-place. In the year 1980 Doctor Anton Arens, then Rector of the Trier seminary, let excavate the crypt. There one found the remnants of Spee, how the anatomical institute in Frankfurt confirmed by comparison of the jaw-bone with living persons of the family Spee.
Spee's importance lies on two fields. He belongs to the most outstanding poets of the Baroque period, as his 'Güldenes Tugendbuch' and his song collection 'Trutznachtigall' prove. Not few of his songs are taken up into the prayer and song book 'Gotteslob', and are still today gladly sung; for example: 'Zu Bethlehem geboren' or 'Ist das der Leib' or 'Dich liebt o Gott' or 'O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid' or 'Ihr Freunde Gottes'. His songs are tender and intimate.
Spee's other importance lies in his engaged and courageous fight against the witch mania of his time. He accompanied some of its victims to the stake. His 'Cautio criminalis' proves how greatly Spee stood up for the human rights. It was an engagement with his whole person, and with his life.
Spee could not dare to submit his manuscript to the Order's censorship, and to let it print under his name. A publishing house in Rintelen/Weser had taken over the print (1631). The General in Rome, Father Vitelleschi, recommended to dismiss Father Spee from the Order, but the Provincial, Father Goswin Nickel hesitated. When in 1632 in Frankfurt a second edition of the Cautio appeared, again anonymous and without printing licence of the Order, Father General demanded to dismiss Father Spee. The recommendation had become an order.
At that time the Provincial Father Nickel was placed before a heavy test of his intelligence. He hoped to be able to defuse the situation by transferring Spee to Trier. Father Nickel, himself a theology professor in Cologne, had much experience. He had been Rector in several colleges (Cologne, Aachen and Düsseldorf). From 1630 to 1637 he was Provincial of the Nether Rhine Province. His behaviour in the affair Spee did not cost him his office. He remained Provincial and became it even a second time from 1639 to 1643. As Assistant for Germany he became in 1652 the tenth General of the Order.
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