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Abraham a Sancta Clara

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Abraham a Sancta Clara, a Discalced Augustinian friar, preacher, and author of popular books of devotion, b. at Messkirch, Baden, 1644; d. December 1, 1709. The eighth of nine children born to Matthew Megerlin, or Megerle, a well-to-do serf who kept a tavern in Kreenheinstetten, he received in Baptism the name John Ulrich. At the age of six he attended the village school in his native place, and about three years later he began his Latin studies in Messkirch. During the years 1656-59, he passed successively through the three classes of the Jesuit untergymnasium in Ingolstadt. At his father’s death, which occurred about this time, the boy was adopted by his uncle, Abraham von Megerlin, canon of Altotting, who removed him to the Benedictine school in Salzburg. In the fall of 1662, at the age of 18, John joined the Discalced Augustinians at Vienna, choosing the name Abraham—doubtless out of respect to his uncle—with the addition a Sancta Clara. He made his novitiate and completed his theological studies at Mariabrunn, not far from Vienna. On his ordination in Vienna (1666) he was sent, after a brief preparation, as preacher to the shrine of Taxa, near Augsburg, but after about three years he was recalled to Vienna, a center of greater activity. On April 28, 1677, he was appointed imperial court preacher by Leopold I, and while holding this office experienced the terrors of the year of the plague, 1679. After a rest of five months as chaplain to the Landmarshal of Lower Austria, he once more ascended the pulpit. For the year 1680 he is recorded as being prior of the convent at Vienna, while two years later we find him chaplain to the monastic church of his order in Gratz, where he remained three years as Sunday preacher, and later as prior. It was in this capacity that he went to Rome in 1687. In 1690 he is mentioned once more by the house chronicle of the Vienna monastery as court preacher, and the following year as having the rank bf provincial. In this capacity he undertook his second journey to Rome (1692), where he took part in the general chapter of his order. Upon his return he took up his customary duties, besides filling the office of definitor. He eventually became the definitor provinciae. These manifold sustained exertions, however, had gradually undermined his strength, still further impaired by years of suffering from gout, and finally resulted in his death. Abraham had at his command an amazingly large amount of information which, with an abundant wit in keeping with the taste of his time, made him an effective preacher. His peculiar talent lay in his faculty for presenting religious truths, even the most bitter, with such graphic charm that every listener, both high and low, found pleasure in his discourse, even though certain of his contemporaries expressed themselves with great virulence against” the buffoon, the newsmonger, and the harlequin of the pulpit”. Even in his character of author, he stands as it were in the pulpit, and speaks to his readers by means of his pen. His works are numerous. His first occasion for literary work was furnished by the plague, on which he wrote three treatises. “Merk’s, Wien! or a detailed description of destructive death” (Vienna, 1680), shows how death spares neither priests, nor women, nor learned men, nor married people, nor soldiers. The second tract, “Losch Wien” (Vienna, 1650), which is less powerful, exhorts the survivors of the plague to extinguish with their good works the torments of Purgatory for those who had fallen victims. “Die grosse Totenbruderschaft” (1681) enumerates the people of prominence who died in 1679-80, in order to illustrate forcibly, and almost rudely, the reflection “that after death the prince royal is as frightfully noisome as the newborn child of the peasant”. Similarly based on a critical event of history was the little book entitled “Auf, auf, ihr Christen” (Vienna, 1683), a stirring exhortation to Christians in arms against the Turk. This has become chiefly celebrated as the original of the sermon in the “Wallenstein’s Lager” of Schiller. A collection of sermons which had been actually preached appeared in Salzburg in 1684 under the title of “Reim dich, oder ich lis’ dich”. In the following year a little pilgrimage book was printed for the monastery of Taxa entitled “Gaik, Gaik, Gaik, a Ga einer wunderseltsamen Hennen”. This grotesque title arose from the story of the origin of the monastery, according to which a picture of the Blessed Virgin was seen imprinted on a hen’s egg. Abraham‘s masterpiece, the fruit of ten years’ labor, is “Judas der Erzschelm” (“Judas, the archknave”, Salzburg, 1686-95). This treats of the apocryphal life of the traitor Judas, and is varied with many moral reflections. While still at work upon this extensive book, he published a compendium of Catholic moral teaching, “Grammatica religiosa” (Salzburg, 1691), consisting of fifty-five lessons, and embracing the themes of thirty-three sermons. This appeared in a German translation (Cologne, 1699). The remaining works of the celebrated barefoot preacher are for the most part a confused mixture of verses, reflections, and sermons. Thus: Etwas fur alle (Something for All Persons; Wurzburg, 1699); Sterben und Erben (Death and Inheritance; Amsterdam, 1702); Neu eroffnete Welt-Galleria (Newly-Opened World-Gallery; Nurnberg, 1703); Heilsames Gemisch-Gemasch (A Salutary Mix-Mash; Wurzburg, 1704); Huy! und Pfuy del’ Welt (Ho! And Fie on the World; Wurzburg, 1707). All these treatises showed the influence of Sebastian Brant‘s Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools), which was even more apparent in the two following works: Centifolium stultorum in Quarto (A Hundred excellent fools in Quarto; Vienna, 1709), and Wunderwurdiger Traum von einem gross en Narrennest (Wonderful Dream of a Great Nest of Fools, Salzburg, 1710; also printed during the lifetime of Abraham). A year after his death there appeared Geistliche Kramerladen (Spiritual Haberdasher’s Shop); Wohl angefullter Weinkeller (A Well-filled Winecellar; Wilrzburg); and Besonders meublirt und gezierte Toten-Kapelle (A Strangely Furnished and Adorned Mortuary Chapel; Nurnberg). Five quarto volumes of his literary remains were published posthumously: Abrahamisches Bescheidessen (Abraham‘s Honor Feasts; Vienna, Brunn, 1717); Abrahamische Lauberhutt (Abraham‘s Leaf-clad Arbor; Vienna and Nurnberg, 1721-23); Abrahamisches Gehab dich wohl! (Abraham‘s Farewell; Nurnberg, 1729). A collective edition of his works appeared (Passau, 183,5-46) in nineteen octavo volumes. Schiller, a Swabian compatriot of Abraham, has passed this interesting judgment on the literary monk in a letter to Gothe: “This Father Abraham is a man of wonderful originality, whom we must respect, and it would be an interesting, though not at all an easy, task to approach or surpass him in mad wit and cleverness.” Moreover, Schiller was greatly influenced by Abraham; even more were Jean Paul Richter and other lesser minds. Even to the most recent times Abraham‘s influence is chiefly noticeable in the literature of the pulpit, though but little to its advantage. To honor the memory of Abraham the city of Vienna has begun a new edition of his works.


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