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On the Education of the Pre-Reformation Clergy

  • Reinhold Kiermayr (a1)


No literary product of the humanistic period north of the Alps enjoyed a wider circulation or had a more lasting impact than satire. By far the best known of Erasmus's works today is In Praise of Folly, a satire that lays open and criticizes the foolishness of pre-Reformation society. Yet the prince of humanism had produced only a derivative of another satire, Sebastian Brant's Narrenschiff which also claimed a spot on the Western world's best-seller list for a few centuries. Sebastian Brant and Erasmus still are recognized as two of the severest critics of the society in which they lived, and their conception of pre-Reformation life set the trend for generations of historians to come. Erasmus's “Fool Stultitia continues, year after year, to climb her pulpit and deliver her oration to new audiences in every langauge…”



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1. Moriae Encomium was written in 1509 when Erasmus was in his forties. It was first printed in Paris in 1511; revised, expurgated, and added-on editions appeared in quick succession. The book became so popular that no less than forty editions appeared in Erasmus's lifetime.

2. Sebastian Brant (1457–1521) was the son of a Strasbourg innkeeper. He studied law in Basel, attained the degree of Dr. Utriusque Juris (1489), and later became dean of the faculty of law. After he returned to Strasbourg, he worked as legal adviser for the city government and capped his career as Strasbourg's city chancellor. Narrenschiff was first published in 1494 in Basel and appeared in six revised and enlarged original editions during Brant's lifetime. The reprints and translations are countless.

3. Kaiser, Walter, Praisers of Folly (Cambridge, Mass., 1963), p. 20.

4. Ranke, Leopold von, History of the Reformation in Germany, trans. Austin, Sarah (London, 1905), p. 132.

5. Brant, Sebastian, The Ship of Fools, trans. Zeydel, Edwin H. (New York, 1944), p. 243. See also Lortz, Joseph, Die Reformation in Deutschland, 2 vols. (Freiburg, 1948), 1:8586; and Moeller, Bernd, “Frömmigkeit in Deutschland um 1500,” in Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 56 (1965): 28.

6. Moeller, , “Frömmigkeit in Deutschland um 1500,” p. 28. The number of clerics includes nuns, monks, friars, and secular priests of all kinds. It is also important to note that Worms was an imperial administrative center; it was not only the see of a bishop but also the seat of an imperial court.

7. In 1500 only about five percent of all German communities had more than 3,000 inhabitants. See Moeller, Bernd, Deutschland im Zeitalter der Reformation (Göttingen, 1977), p 23.

8. Julius, Jaeger, ed., Urkundenbuch der Stadt Duderstadt bis zum Jahre 1500 (1885; reprint ed., Osnabrück, 1977), pp. 7576.

9. Provost Gotfridus and Abess Bethe [of Teistungenburg Abbey] to City Council of Duderstadt, June 1435, in Wolf, Johann, Geschichte und Beschreibung der Stadt Duderstadt (1803; reprint ed., Hannover-Döhren, 1979), no. 62.

10. Jaeger, ed., pp. 35–36.

11. Kronshage, Walter, Die Bevölkerung Göttingens: Ein Beitrag zur Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte vom 14. bis zum 17. Jahrhundert (Göttingen, 1960), p. 107.

12. Moeller, pp. 26–28.

13. Kampschulte, F. W., Die Universität Erfurt in Ihrem Verhältnis zu dem Humanismus und der Reformation (Trier, 1885), pp. 25, 20.

14. Alois, Gerlo et al. eds., La Correspondance d'Erasme, 8 vols. (Brussells, 19671979), 3:551.

15. Jaeger, ed., pp. 430–431.

16. On 11 May 1524 the chapter of Saint Martin's in Heiligenstadt complained in a letter to the city council of Duderstadt about the “lutterische Predigen” of Johannes Brandenborch and demanded his removal. The city refused. Dean and Chapter in Heiligenstadt to Mayor and City Council in Duderstadt, 11 May 1524, Correspondence File 1500–1544, City Archives, Duderstadt.

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
  • URL: /core/journals/church-history
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