The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Reuchlin, Johann

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Reuchlin, Johann
Edition of 1920. See also Johann Reuchlin on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

REUCHLIN, roikH'lin, Johann (Hellenized Kapnio), German Hebrew scholar and humanist: b. Pforzheim, Baden, 22 Feb. 1455; d. Liebenzell, 30 June 1522. The excellence of his singing procured him a place in the chapel of the Margrave of Baden, who appointed him traveling companion to his son Frederick, afterward bishop of Utrecht. In 1473 Reuchlin accompanied that prince to Paris, and there studied Greek under Hieronymus of Sparta, besides applying himself assiduously to Latin composition and Hebrew. In 1475 he went to Basel, and after some time spent in the study of Greek began to teach that language, with Latin and philosophy. At this time also he wrote his Latin dictionary ‘Breviloquus, id est Dictionarium singulas Voces Latinas breviter explicans’ (1478), the first published in Germany. In 1478 he went hack to France, and studied law at Orleans, while he taught, at the same time, the ancient languages. In 1481 he returned to Germany, and taught law and the belles-lettres at Tübingen. Eberhard, count of Würtemberg, soon after took him, as the best Latinist in Germany, in his train on an embassy to Rome. The Emperor Frederick II created him a noble of the empire in 1492. After Eberhard's death Reuchlin lived several years at the court of Philip, elector of the Palatinate. Here he enriched the Heidelberg library with manuscripts and productions of the new art of printing. He was subsequently appointed president of the court of the confederacy which had been established by the Swabian princes against the encroachments of the house of Bavaria. He was also engaged in translating the penitential psalms, preparing a Hebrew grammar and dictionary, and correcting the translation of the Bible. A converted Jew, John Pfeffercorn, and Hoogstraten, an inquisitor, obtained from the Emperor Maximilian, in 1509, an order that all Hebrew works, the Old Testament only excepted, should be burned, on the ground that they were full of blasphemies against Christ. The emperor, however, consulted Reuchlin, who assured him that these works, instead of injuring Christianity, contributed, on the contrary, to its honor and glory, since the study of them produced learned and bold champions to fight for the honor of the Christian religion, and that to destroy these books would be to put arms into the hands of its enemies. The order was thereupon recalled, but the war of pens raged for 10 years. Passages were extracted from Reuchlin's works and their meaning perverted; on the ground of which a charge of heresy was brought against him. He was summoned in 1513 before the Inquisition at Mainz, presided over by Hoogstraten, and by a decree of that tribunal his writings were consigned to the flames. This roused the indignation of the friends of classical literature, and an appeal was made to Pope Leo X, who referred the whole matter to the Bishop of Spires. That prelate declaring Reuchlin innocent, ordered the monks to pay the expenses of the investigation. A counter appeal was made by Hoogstraten; but Reuchlin was then acquitted by a commission of prelates held at Augsburg in 1516; and the pope issued a mandate that all proceedings against Reuchlin should be stopped. In the course of this contest appeared the ‘Epistolæ Obscurorum Virorum,’ in which the enemies of Reuchlin were ridiculed. When, in 1517, he received the theses propounded by Luther, he exclaimed, “Thanks be to God, at last they have found a man who will give them so much to do that they will be compelled to let my old age end in peace.” In 1518 he was appointed professor of Hebrew and Greek at Wittenberg, but sent his nephew Melanchthon instead, and William of Bavaria appointed him professor in the University of Ingolstadt. Although suspected of a leaning toward Protestantism, he never left the Roman Catholic Church. Consult Geiger, ‘Johann Reuchlin: sein Leben und seine Werke’ (1871); Geiger, L., ‘Johann Reuchlins Briefwechsel’ (1875); Horawitz, A., ‘Zur Biographie und Korrespondenz J. Reuchlin’ (1877); Holstein, H., ‘J. Reuchlins Komödien’ (1888); Hirsch, L. A., “Johann Reuchlin” in ‘A Book of Essays’ (New York 1904).