Ever the trouble-maker, I found myself responding to a question posed on Yahoo! this morning. The full question was – “Do Christians know about Malleus Maleficarum – Hammer of the Witches ? Know About Inquisition?” Well… no. Not really. Most Christians don’t know what the Malleus Maleficarum is, if they’ve heard about it at all. And most of those who have are fairly determined to regard it as an obscure work from a different time. The familiar restrain is “We’re not like that now. Really. We’re not.”
What followed the question were several of the expected responses from people who prefer to think of the Malleus Maleficarum as an anomoly which has little to do with modern religion.
- “‘Bad’ or perhaps evil Christians exist as do good ones.”
- “Catholicism was behind that evil stuff. Do not blame Christians. There is a huge difference.”
- “That was the church of Rome that did that, way different than a true Christian.”
Here’s what I think:
Christians have tried for centuries to distance themselves from the Malleus Maleficarum. Baptists and other denominations have said “Oh, that was those wacky Catholics”. I notice someone cast the Malleus in light of “bad Christians” vs “good Christians”. Most frequently what you hear is “that was a long time ago”. The fact remains that the Inquisitions lasted from the 1100’s all the way up to the mid 1800’s, and were most notoriously active during the 1400’s and 1500’s. During that time, if you were a Christian, you were a Catholic. The first Baptist church was formed in 1609. Methodists didn’t come along until about 1790. And Protestants only date back to 1520 or so. So, basically, the “bad Christians” vs “good Christians” argument doesn’t hold up, not does the “wacky” Catholics argument unless one concedes that all of the major alternatives (ie Baptist, Protestant, Methodist, Mormon, etc) are relatively recent creations (during the last 500 years or so). I guess all I’m saying is that it’s hard to distance yourself from the Malleus Maleficarum without rejecting 1,500 years of Christianity because Christians then were “those wacky Catholics”.
It’s understandable why people would want to distance their faith from the Malleus Maleficarum. Another technique that Christians use to distance themselves from the work is to suggest that it was added to the Catholic Church’s list of banned books. That much is true, but not entirely. The Malleus WAS banned by the Church, but the part those people leave out is that it wasn’t banned until over 70 YEARS past its first publication, during which time it was second in popularity only to The Bible and during which it served as a de facto handbook for witch hunters, Inquisitors and even the secular courts.
Catholics have a vested interest in distancing themselves from the Malleus Maleficarum for obvious reasons, just as they’re none-too-happy about discussing the Holy Wars. Members of more recent denominations such as Baptists, Methodists, Protestants and Mormons are afforded a convenient escape from any related blame by pointing out that the atrocities of the Inquisitions, for which the Malleus Maleficarum bears some blame, were committed by Catholics, not “true Christians” as the more recent denominations call themselves. Pretty much, no one is interested in taking blame for an infamous work, and dozens of convenient explanations and re-direction exist to absolve modern Christians from taking ownership of a work which was born of the Christian Inquisition. Who could blame them? Germans distance themselves from Mein Kampf for the same reason. In the end, if most Christians don’t know about the Malleus Maleficarum, it’s because most Christians don’t WANT to know about it, and most Christian organizations and churches don’t want to talk about it. Most Christians want the Malleus Maleficarum consigned to the dustbin of history where they think it belongs, where uncomfortable questions about culpability and blame can be avoided, and where modern Christians can absolve themselves of any remorse or guilt over a work which helped Christians commit some of the most horrific acts in the name of God that have ever been recorded in human history.
In short, most Christians don’t know about the “Malleus Maleficarum” because most Christians don’t WANT to know about the Malleus Maleficarum.
What do you think?