In Which Various Doubts are Set Forth with Regard to the Foregoing Questions and Negative Answers. Whether the Accused is to be Imprisoned, and when she is to be considered Manifestly Taken in the Foul Heresy of Witchcraft. This is the Second Action.
It is asked first what is to be done when, as often happens, the accused denies everything. We answer that the Judge has three points to consider, namely, her bad reputation, the evidence of the fact, and the words of the witnesses; and he must see whether all these agree together. And if, as very often is the case, they do not altogether agree together, since witches are variously accused of different deeds committed in some village or town; but the evidences of the fact are visible to the eye, as that a child has been harmed by sorcery, or, more often, a beast has been bewitched or deprived of its milk; and it a number of witnesses have come forward whose evidence, even if it show certain discrepancies (as that one should say she had bewitched his child, another his beast, and a third should merely witness to her reputation, and so with the others), but nevertheless agree in the substance of the fact, that is, as to the witchcraft, and that she is suspected of being a witch; although those witnesses are not enough to warrant a conviction without the fact of the general report, or even with that fact, as was shown above at the end of Question III, yet, taken in conjunction with the visible and tangible evidence of the fact, the Judge may, in consideration of these three points together, decide that the accused is to be reputed, not as strongly or gravely under suspicion (which suspicions will be explained later), but as manifestly taken in the heresy of witchcraft; provided, that is, that the witnesses are of a suitable condition and have not given evidence out of enmity, and that a sufficient number of them, say six or eight or ten, have agreed together under oath. And then, according to the Canon Law, he must subject her to punishment, whether she has confessed her crime or not. And this is proved as follows.
For since it is said, that when all three of the above considerations are in agreement, then she should be thought to be manifestly taken in heresy, it must not be understood that it is necessary for all three to be in agreement, but only that if this is the case the proof is all the stronger. For either one instance by itself of the following two circumstances, namely, the evidence of the fact and the production of legitimate witnesses, is sufficient to cause a person to be reputed as manifestly taken in heresy; and all the more when both these considerations are in agreement.
For when the Jurists ask in how many ways a person may be considered as manifestly taken in heresy, we answer that there are three ways, as S. Bernard has explained. This matter was treated of above in the First Question at the beginning of this work, namely, the evidence of the fact, when a person has publicly preacher heresy. But here we consider the evidence of the fact provided by public threats uttered by the accused, as when she said, “You shall have no healthy days,” or some such thing, and the threatened effect has followed. The other two ways are the legitimate proof of the case by witnesses, and thirdly by her own confession. Therefore, if each of these singly is sufficient to cause a person to be manifestly suspected, how much more is this the case when the reputation of the accused, the evidence of the fact, and the depositions of witnesses all together point to the same conclusion. It is true that S. Bernard speaks of an evident fact, and we here speak of the evidence of the fact; but this is because the devil does not work openly, but secretly. Therefore the injuries and the instruments of witchcraft which are found constitute the evidence of the fact. And whereas in other heresies an evident fact is alone sufficient, here we join three proofs together.
Secondly, it is thus proved that a person so taken is to be punished according to the law, even though she denies the accusation. For a person taken on the evidence of the fact, or on the depositions of witnesses, either confesses the crime or does not. If he confesses and is impenitent, he is to be handed over to the secular courts to suffer the extreme penalty, according to the chapter ad abolendam, or he is to be imprisoned for life, according to the chapter excommunicamus. But if he does not confess, and stoutly maintains his denial, he is to be delivered as an impenitent to the power of the Civil Court to be punished in a fitting manner, as Henry of Segusio shows in his Summa, where he treats of the manner of proceeding against heretics.
It is therefore concluded that it is most just if the Judge proceeds in that manner with his questions and the depositions of witnesses, since, as has been said, he can in a case concerning the Faith conduct matters quite plainly and in a short and summary manner; and it is meet that he should consign the accused to prison for a time, or for several years, in case perhaps, being depressed after a year of the squalor of prison, she may confess her crimes.
But, lest it should seem that he arrives at his sentence precipitately, and to show that he proceeds with all equity, let us inquire into what should next be done.