PFEFFERKORN, JOHANN (JOSEPH):
German convert to Christianity; born 1469; died after 1521. According to Grätz, he was a butcher by trade and illiterate, although his writings seem to disprove this, and he was thrown into prison by the Count von Guttenstein for committing a burglary. On his release he embraced Christianity and was baptized, together with his family, in Cologne (1505). He placed himself under the protection of the Dominican friars, who found in him a pliable tool which they used to the utmost. The prior of the order at Cologne was Jacob van
With a letter from Kunigunde, sister of the German emperor Maximilian, Pfefferkorn went to her imperial brother and succeeded in influencing the emperor, who already had expelled the Jews from his own domains of Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola, to promulgate an edict to the effect that all Jewish writings against Christianity should be destroyed. This edict (dated Aug. 19, 1509) was followed by a second (dated Nov. 10, 1509), ordering the destruction of all Hebrew books except the Old Testament. Pfefferkorn went to Frankfort-on-the-Main in 1509, and on April 10, 1510, the Jews were forced to surrender all the books in their possession.
Through the help of Uriel von Gemmingen, Archbishop of Cologne, the Jews induced the emperor to appoint a commission to investigate the accusation of Pfefferkorn. The archbishop himself was made a member of the commission, the others being representatives of the universities of Cologne, Erfurt, Heidelberg, and Mayence: they had the assistance of such scholars as Victor of Carben, Hoogstraaten, and Reuchlin. Reuchlin reported in favor of the Jews, and on May 23, 1510, the emperor suspended his edict of Nov. 10, 1509, the books being returned to the Jews on June 6. The spirit and the underhand work of the Dominicans are shown by the fact that Reuchlin's "Opinio" was known to them before it reached the emperor. The Dominicans, excited by their failure, attacked Reuchlin; Pfefferkorn wrote his "Handspiegel" (Mayence, 1511), and Reuchlin answered with his "Augenspiegel." Pfefferkorn wrote further "Der Brandspiegel" (Cologne, 1513) and "Die Sturmglocke" (ib. 1514). The fight between Pfefferkorn and Reuchlin now became a fight between the Dominicans, representing the clerical, and Humanists, representing the liberal, party of the Church. The Dominicans having accused Reuchlin of heretical opinions, which he was said to have expressed in his "Augenspiegel," the pope, upon the advice of Archbishop Gemmingen,appointed the Bishop of Speyer as special commissioner. The bishop decided (in 1514) in favor of the accused, and the case came before the Lateran Council, which in 1516 supported the decision reached at Speyer. In 1520 Pope Leo X. declared Reuchlin guilty, and condemned the "Augenspiegel." In order to secure this verdict, the Dominicans had been very active in trying to influence the judges and the pope. Pfefferkorn preached in public against the Jews and Reuchlin, and wrote in the same spirit "Streitbüchlein Wider Reuchlin und Seine Jünger" (also translated into Latin under the title "Defensio Contra Famosas et Criminales Obscurorum Virorum Epistolas" (Cologne, 1516), a reply to the "Epistolæ Obscurorum Virorum" (Hagenau, 1516; Basel, 1517), which had attacked the Dominicans very sharply. In 1521 appeared in Cologne Pfefferkorn's last pamphlet, "Eine Mitleidige Clag Gegen den Ungläubigen Reuchlin," a triumphal panegyric written after the decision by the pope. The Dominicans had won their fight against Reuchlin; but the emperor's edict against the Jews was not revived.
After this nothing more is heard of Pfefferkorn. The Dominicans had seemingly no further need of him.
- Grätz, Gesch. ix., 3d ed., s.v.;
- L. Geiger, Johann Reuchlin, Leipsic, 1871;
- McClintock and Strong, Cyc.