Jakob Wimpfeling (1450–1528) was a prolific German humanist, historian, poet, and advocate of a renewal within the Catholic Church based on the reorganization of the education system. He denounced the wrongdoing inside the clergy and committed to educate young people through the reading of the classics. Because of the fame acquired, his advice was greatly considered by Emperor Maximillian I in affairs concerning diplomatic relations.
Jakob Wimpfeling (or Jacob Wimphenling) was a German theologian born in Schlettstadt, nowadays Sélestat in France. Following the versatile attitude of humanist scholars, his written production concerns numerous areas of interests, ranging from literature to pedagogy and history, making him an illustrious exponent of humanism in Germany (Spitz 1963, 41–60). Specifically his works display fervid patriotism for German identity and resolute pedagogic vocation (Könneker 1987, 448).
After his father’s death in 1463, his uncle Ulrich, parish priest in Sulz, took care of his upbringing and set Wimpfeling on the path of academic education and ecclesiastical career. He studied philosophy at the Freiburg University between 1464 and 1470, obtaining in 1466 the Bachelor of Arts. Forced to leave the city by the plague outbreak, Wimpfeling moved to Erfurt first (Knepper 1902, 3–13), then in 1469 to Heidelberg, where he focused to canon and theology and resided until 1483. In 1471 Wimpfeling was appointed Magister artium and ordained priest. At the time when he obtained the Licentiate of Theology, Wimpfeling was teaching at the Faculty of arts, of which he was appointed deacon at first, then vice-chancellor, and lastly dean (1481–1482; Geiger 1898, 525). Between 1483 and 1497, he became preacher in Spreyer Cathedral (Mertens 1993, 48) and subsequently taught rhetoric and poetry in Heidelberg until 1501, as requested by elector Palatine Philippe.
During these years, Wimpfeling entered the Sodalitas Literaria Rhenana, guided by Conrad Celtis since 1495 (Mertens 1993, 48–49), and, after some exercise in Latin poetry, was deeply committed to linguistic studies working on the Elegantiarum medulla (1493), an introduction to Latin composition, inspired by Lorenzo Valla (Könneker 1987, 448). The satirical comedy Stylpho (1495), written with Terentian features, increased his literary fame and introduced this genre in the coeval German literature (Mertens 1993, 46–47; Könneker 1987, 447). Furthermore he arranged his thoughts about the principles of youth education in the Isidoneus Germanicus (1496) – where he criticized the unproductiveness of the medieval scholastic system and claimed that pupils should draw directly from classics after a preparatory introduction to grammar – and in the Adolescentia (1500), which became a manifesto in the field of humanistic pedagogy thanks to its Anti-Scholasticism (Geiger 1898, 533–534) .
Pedagogical concern and theological commitment proceed hand in hand through Wimpfeling’s life. While dealing with the reorganization of liturgical materials and promoting the improvement of clerical discipline, he demanded, in the Oratio ad clerum Wormatiensem (1477), that the Church played a crucial role in children’s education in order to reform the Church itself. As Heidelberg Dean, he denounced, in the Oratio de Sancto Spiritu (1507), the abuses perpetrated within the Church because of clergy’s avidity and stigmatized the moral corruption among young people.
In 1501 he forsook the tenure and left Sulz parish – where he succeeded after his uncle’s death – for a moderate retirement and was welcomed to stay at Williamite Monastery in Strasbourg until 1515. During the first decade of the century, he published some historical treatises like Germania (1501), where he supported the German identity of Alsace (Mertens 1993, 50), and the Epithoma rerum germanicarum (1505), a handbook of German history (Geiger 1898, 532; Gotzen 2010, 1516–1517). Following the example of Celtis, in 1510 Wimpfeling created in Strasbourg, along with Sebastian Brant and Johann Geiler, a new Sodalitas Literaria that had the honor to host in 1514 Erasmus of Rotterdam among its guests. Hereafter Wimpfeling kept an enduring epistolary correspondence with the Dutch humanist.
In the same year, Emperor Maximillian I proposed him a project concerning the adoption in the Empire of a pragmatica sanctio (similar to the one issued in Bourges in 1438), the appointment of a perpetual papal legate for ecclesiastical affairs, and the suppression of German tributes to the Church of Rome. Wimpfeling advised against the first two points and pressed on the economic reform, treasuring the ideas developed in the Gravamina of the German nation (1457; Geiger 1898, 531; Könneker 1987, 448). From 1515 he lived permanently in Schlettstadt until his death. Although Wimpfeling initially sympathized with some of the reform ideas supported by the Lutheran movement, he strongly opposed the Protestant Reformation after the public rupture between Luther and Pope Leo X (Könneker 1987, 449–450).
- Geiger, L. 1898. Wimpheling, Jakob. In Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, vol. 44, 524–537. Leipzig.Google Scholar
- Knepper, J. 1902. Jakob Wimpfeling (1450–1528). Sein Leben und seine Werke. Freiburg im Breisgau.Google Scholar
- Spitz, L.W. 1963. The religious renaissance of the German humanists, 41–60. Cambridge.Google Scholar
- Könneker, B. 1987. Jakob Wimpfeling. In Contemporaries of Erasmus, ed. P.G. Bietenholz and T.B. Deutscher, vol. 3, 447–450. Toronto/Buffalo/London.Google Scholar
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