Malleus maleficarum, 1669

Jacob Sprenger (also James,[1] 1436/1438 – 6 December 1495) was a Dominican inquisitor and theologian principally known for his association with a well-known guide for witch-hunters from 1486, Malleus Maleficarum. He was born in Rheinfelden, Further Austria, taught at the University of Cologne, and died in 1495 in Strasbourg.

The Dominican Order


Sprenger was admitted as a novice in the Dominican house of Rheinfelden in 1452 and became a zealous reformer. He founded an association of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary in Strasbourg in 1474.


He became a Master of Theology and then in 1480 Dean of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Cologne and was a popular lecturer.[2]


In 1481 he was appointed as an Inquisitor for the Provinces of Mainz, Trier and Cologne, a post that demanded constant traveling through an extensive district.[3]

Associated authorship of Malleus Maleficarum

Sprenger was named along with Heinrich Kramer in the 1484 papal bull Summis desiderantes of Pope Innocent VIII and reprinted in the infamous Malleus Maleficarum.[4] All editions after 1519 named Sprenger as Heinrich Kramer's co-author.[5]

It has been claimed that Sprenger cannot be linked to any witch trial, that his personal relationship to Kramer was acrimonious, and that Sprenger used his powerful position whenever he could to make Kramer's life and work as difficult as possible.[6] Some scholars now believe that he became associated with the Malleus Maleficarum largely as a result of Kramer's wish to lend his book as much official authority as possible.[7]

Friedrich Spee in Cologne

In a 1631 work most concerned with innocence, and opposed to the Malleus Maleficarum, Friedrich Spee attributes authorship of the book to "Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer."[8] Though Spee was Jesuit (not Dominican) and his work was written more than a century after Malleus Maleficarum, both Spee and Sprenger were professors of theology in Cologne and both travelled extensively in many of the same areas. Some of Spee's fellow professors in Cologne were appalled by Spee's book and thought it should be listed on the papal Index of Forbidden Books. This would suggest that, whether or not Sprenger initially endorsed or opposed the work of Heinrich Kramer, the book carrying Sprenger's name did eventually find a degree of influence among the Catholic theologians in Cologne.[9]

Salem Witch Trials

The Harvard President and Puritan Increase Mather cited "Sprenger" as a reference to the Malleus Maleficarum in an influential pro-witch-hunting work published in 1684,[10] as well as another work published in 1692, the same year as the Salem Witch Trials: "Witches have often (as Sprenger observes) desired that they might stand or fall by this trial by hot iron, and sometimes come off well."[11]


  1. ^ The Malleus Maleficarum of Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger
  2. ^ Rothman, David J., Marcus, Steven and Kiceluk, Stephanie A., Medicine and Western Civilization, Rutgers University Press, 1995 ISBN 9780813521909
  3. ^ A work from 1719 reports that Sprenger was known in the Dominican house for "his burning and fearless zeal for the old faith, his vigilance, his constancy, his singleness and patience in correcting novel abuses and errors."[citation needed]
  4. ^ The Catholic Encyclopedia states that Innocent's Bull conferred upon Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, inquisitors, to deal with persons of every class and with every form of crime (for example, with witchcraft as well as heresy), and it called upon the Bishop of Strasburg to lend the inquisitors all possible support. Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Witchcraft" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  5. ^ Reinhard Tenberg (1990). "Institoris, Heinrich". In Bautz, Friedrich Wilhelm (ed.). Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German). Vol. 2. Hamm: Bautz. cols. 1307–1310. ISBN 3-88309-032-8. states that Sprenger worked on the compilation with Kramer from around 1485 to 1487.
  6. ^ K. B. Springer, Dominican Inquisition in the archidiocese of Mainz 1348-1520, in: Praedicatores, Inquisitores, Vol. 1: The Dominicans and the Medieval Inquisition. Acts of the 1st International Seminar on the Dominicans and the Inquisition, 23–25 February 2002, ed. Arturo Bernal Palacios, Rome 2004, p. 345-351.
  7. ^ See for example Hans Peter Broedel, The "Malleus Maleficarum" and the Construction of Witchcraft: Theology and Popular Belief (2003) p. 19.
  8. ^ Cautio Criminalis (2nd Edition,1632)p. 171. Note, per Marcus Hellyer, p. xiv, this 2nd edition was probably printed samizdat in Cologne though the title page claims Frankfurt.
  9. ^ Marcus Hellyer translation Cautio Criminalis (2003) p.xiv
  10. ^ Increase Mather, Remarkable Providences (1684) p.140.
  11. ^ Cotton and Increase Mather, Farther Account of the Trials of New-England Witches (1862 London reprint) p.272.