With the Dominicans
He was admitted as a novice in the Dominican house of this town in 1452. He became a zealous reformer within the Order. Later he became a Master of Theology and then Dean of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Cologne. He founded an association of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary in Strasbourg in 1474.
In 1480 he was appointed dean of the Faculty of Theology at the University. His lecture room was thronged and the following year he was appointed Inquisitor for the Provinces of Mainz, Trier and Cologne. His activities in this post demanded constant travelling through the very extensive district.
Association with the Malleus Maleficarum
He was named in the 1484 papal bull Summis desiderantes of Pope Innocent VIII. Popular opinion makes Sprenger the co-author of the Malleus Maleficarum. All editions after 1519 named him as Heinrich Kramer's collaborator.
It has been claimed that Sprenger was not interested in witches and that he cannot be linked to any witch trial. His personal relationship to Kramer was acrimonious and Sprenger used his powerful position whenever he could to make Kramer’s life and work as difficult as possible. 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.
Sprenger died suddenly in 1495 in Strasbourg.
- 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."
- The Catholic Encyclopedia states Innocent's Bull enacted nothing new. Its direct purport was simply to ratify the powers already conferred upon Henry Institoris (i.e. Heinrich Kramer) and James 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. "Witchcraft". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- Reinhard Tenberg (1990). "Institoris, Heinrich". In Bautz, Friedrich Wilhelm. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German) 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.
- 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.
- See for example Hans Peter Broedel, The "Malleus Maleficarum" and the Construction of Witchcraft: Theology and Popular Belief (2003) p. 19.
- Introduction to the Malleus Maleficarum (1928 edition) by Montague Summers, including some biographical facts and sources about Sprenger