Sprenger, Jakob (1436–1495)
Dominican inquisitor of Cologne, Germany, generally associated
with Heinrich Kramer author of Malleus Maleficarum,
a sourcebook directing the witchcraft persecutions in Europe.
Sprenger was born in Basel, Switzerland, and became a novice
in a Dominican house. He rapidly rose to a responsible position,
and in 1468 the Dominican General Chapter ordered him
to lecture at the University of Cologne on the sentences of Peter
Lombard. He soon became master of theology at the university
and was elected prior and regent of studies of the Cologne convent.
On June 30, 1480, he was elected dean of the faculty of
theology at Cologne University, and a year later he became an
inquisitor for the provinces of Mainz, Trèves, and Cologne and
traveled extensively throughout these provinces. In 1488, he
was elected provincial of the whole German province.
His earlier writings included The Paradoxes of John of Westphalia
Refuted (1479) and The Institution and Approbation of the
Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary, which was first erected at Cologne
on 8 September in the year 1475 (1475). This latter work recorded
his activities for the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary,
which brought him praise from leading Dominicans as an
apostle of the rosary.
In 1484, at the time the pope released the Inquisition to
deal with witchcraft, now redefined as Satanism, Sprenger became
involved with Heinrich Kramer in trying alleged witches
and sorcerers. In the following year, Kramer prepared a treatise
on witchcraft (later published as the Malleus Maleficarum)
that circulated in manuscript. Sprenger then added his name
to the finished work, first published in 1486. Malleus Maleficarum
embodied the new direction in the church’s consideration
of witches. It became the authoritative manual for inquisitors,
judges, and magistrates in dealing with accusations of
witchcraft, which multiplied over the next several centuries. Interestingly,
the Reformation of the sixteenth century did not
slow these accusations, as witchcraft was accepted by Protestants
as thoroughly as by Roman Catholics. The book went into some
thirty editions between 1486 and 1669, and it was published in
French, Italian, and English editions, as well as in German.
Sprenger died December 6, 1495, at Strassbourg, where he
was buried.