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Stifel [Styfel], Michael

1. Dates
Born: Esslingen, Germany, 1487
Died: Jena, 19 Apr 1567
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 80
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
His father was Conrad Stifel, about whom little is known except that he was respected but not particularly well-to-do.
No sufficiently solid information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Esslingen, Germany
Career: Holzdorf, Germany
Death: Jena, Germany
4. Education
Schooling: Wittenberg, M.A.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic, Lutheran
He was a monk at the Augustinian monastery at Esslingen, where he was ordained a priest in 1511.
Reacting to the declining morality of the clergy and abuses regarding indulgences, he became an early follower of Luther and a Lutheran pastor.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics
7. Means of Support
Primary: Church Life
Secondary: Academia, Patronage
He began his career as a monk at the monastery at Esslingen. After arousing the suspicion of his superiors by granting absolution without receiving indulgence money and composing a song honoring Luther, he felt his life was in danger and he fled.
1522, he sought refuge first in the castle of the knight Hartmut von Kronberg, a friend of the Lutherans, in the Taunus mountains, but was soon forced to flee further.
He then travelled to Wittenberg, where Luther lodged him in his own house. In 1523, Luther obtained for him a post as pastor at the court of the Count of Mansfield. For some unknown reason he returned to Wittenberg in 1524.
1525, he became councillor, pastor and tutor at Castle Tollet in Upper Austria in the service of Dorothea Jörger and her son Christoph Jörger, until anti-Lutheran political and military pressure forced him to return to Luther.
1528, Luther procured for him a parish at Lochau (now Annaberg), accompanied him there, and married him to the widow of the incumbent. His parish was not particularly well- endowed, so Stifel tried to get the city council of Essingen, which had gone over to Protestantism in 1531-2 and seized the assets of the monastery, to release the holdings he had relinquished upon joining the order. There is no indication whether this attempt was successful. After falsely forecasting the end of the world, he was arrested and dismissed.
Through the intervention of Luther and Melanchton, he received a parish at Holzdorf in 1535. After he spent many peaceful years there, the Schmalkaldic war (1547) forced the townspeople and clergy to flee.
Stifel eventually ended up in Prussia (arriving there in 1549), where he found a position as pastor at Haberstroh, near Königsberg, in 1551. He also lectured on mathematics and theology at the University of Königsberg. At odds with some of his colleagues and urged on by his former parishoners, he returned to Saxony in 1554.
1554, his first post upon returning was as pastor at Brück, near Wittenberg.
1559, he went to Jena, where he lectured on arithmetic and geometry at the university. By 1559 he had given up his pastorate.
8. Patronage
Type: Eccesiastic Official
Martin Luther was clearly his most influential patron.
I have not uncovered any more details about his other patrons other than what I have listed above under "support."
9. Technological Involvement
Types: None Known
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. M. Cantor, Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, 36, 208-16.
  2. Joseph E. Hofmann, Michael Stifel (1487?-1567): Leben, Wirken, und Bedeutung für die Mathematik seiner Zeit [Sudhoffs Archiv, Beiheft 9] (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1968). [QA29.S797 H7]
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

©1995 Al Van Helden
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