THE FIRST PART TREATING OF THE THREE NECESSARY
CONCOMITANTS OF WITCHCRAFT, WHICH ARE THE DEVIL, A WITCH, AND THE PERMISSION
OF ALMIGHTY GOD
Here beginneth auspiciously the first part
of this work. Question the First.
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Whether the belief that there are such beings as witches is so essential a
part of the Catholic faith that obstinately to maintain the opposite opinion
manifestly savours of heresy. And it is argued that a firm belief in witches
is not a Catholic doctrine: see chapter 26, question 5, of the work of
Episcopus. Whoever believes that any creature can be changed for the better
or the worse, or transformed into another kind or likeness, except by the
Creator of all things, is worse than a pagan and a heretic. And so when they
report such things are done by witches it is not Catholic, but plainly
heretical, to maintain this opinion.
Moreover, no operation of witchcraft has a permanent effect among us. And
this is the proof thereof: For if it were so, it would be effected by the
operation of demons. But to maintain that the devil has power to change
human bodies or to do them permanent harm does not seem in accordance with
the teaching of the Church. For in this way they could destroy the whole
world, and bring it to utter confusion.
Moreover, every alteration that takes place in a human body - for example,
a state of health or a state of sickness - can be brought down to a question
of natural causes, as Aristotle has shown in his 7th book of Physics.
And the greatest of these is the influence of the stars. But the devils
cannot interfere with the stars. This is the opinion of Dionysius in his
epistle to S. Polycarp. For this alone God can do. Therefore it is evident
the demons cannot actually effect any permanent transformation in human
bodies; that is to say, no real metamorphosis. And so we must refer the
appearance of any such change to some dark and occult cause.
And the power of God is stronger than the power of the devil, so divine works
are more true than demoniac operations. Whence inasmuch as evil is powerful
in the world, then it must be the work of the devil always conflicting with
the work of God. Therefore as it is unlawful to hold that the devil's evil
craft can apparently exceed the work of God, so it us unlawful to believe
that the noblest works of creation, that is to say, man and beast, can be
harmed and spoiled by the power of the devil.
Moreover, that which is under the influence of a material object cannot have
power over corporeal objects. But devils are subservient to certain
influences of the stars, because magicians observe the course of certain
stars in order to evoke the devils. Therefore they have not the power of
effecting any change in a corporeal object, and it follows that witches have
even less power than the demons possess.
For devils have no power at all save by a certain subtle art. But an art
cannot permanently produce a true form. (And a certain author says: Writers
on Alchemy know that there is no hope of any real transmutation.) Therefore
the devils for their part, making use of the utmost of their craft, cannot
bring about any permanent cure - or permanent disease. But if these states
exist it is in truth owing to some other cause, which may be unknown, and
has nothing to do with the operations of either devils or witches.
But according to the Decretals (33) the contrary is the case. If by
witchcraft or any magic art permitted by the secret but most just will of
God, and aided by the power of the devil, etc . . . . The reference here
is to any act of witchcraft which may hinder the end of marriage, and for
this impediment to take effect three things can concur, that is to say,
witchcraft, the devil, and the permission of God. Moreover, the stronger can
influence that which is less strong. But the power of the devil is stronger
than any human power (Job xl). There
is no power upon earth which can be compared to him, who was created so
that he fears none.
Answer. Here are three heretical errors which must be met, and when
they have been disproved the truth will be plain. For certain writers,
pretending to base their opinion upon the words of S. Thomas (iv, 24) when
he treats of impediments brought about by magic charms, have tried to
maintain that there is not such a thing as magic, that it only exists in the
imagination of those men who ascribe natural effects, the cause whereof are
not known, to witchcraft and spells. There are others who acknowledge indeed
that witches exist, but they declare that the influence of magic and the
effects of charms are purely imaginary and phantasmical. A third class of
writers maintain that the effects said to be wrought by magic spells are
altogether illusory and fanciful, although it may be that the devil does
really lend his aid to some witch.
The errors held by each one of these persons may thus be set forth and thus
confuted. For in the very first place they are shown to be plainly heretical
by many orthodox writers, and especially by S. Thomas, who lays down that
such an opinion is altogether contrary to the authority of the saints and is
founded upon absolute infidelity. Because the authority of the Holy
Scriptures says that devils have power over the bodies and over the minds of
men, when God allows them to exercise this power, as is plain from very many
passages in the Holy Scriptures. Therefore those err who say that there is
no such thing as witchcraft, but that it is purely imaginary, even although
they do not believe that devils exist except in the imagination of the
ignorant and vulgar, and the natural accidents which happen to a man he
wrongly attributes to some supposed devil. For the imagination of some men
is so vivid that they think they see actual figures and appearances which
are but the reflection of their thoughts, and then these are believed to be
the apparitions of evil spirits or even the spectres of witches. But this is
contrary to the true faith, which teaches us that certain angels fell from
heaven and are now devils, and we are bound to acknowledge that by their
very nature they can do many wonderful things which we cannot do. And those
who try to induce others to perform such evil wonders are called witches.
And because infidelity in a person who has been baptized is technically
called heresy, therefore such persons are plainly heretics.
As regards those who hold the other two errors, those, that is to say, who
do not deny that there are demons and that demons possess a natural power,
but who differ among themselves concerning the possible effects of magic and
the possible operations of witches: the one school holding that a witch can
truly bring about certain effects, yet these effects are not real but
phantastical, the other school allowing that some real harm does befall the
person or persons injured, but that when a witch imagines this damage is the
effect of her arts she is grossly deceived. This error seems to be based
upon two passages from the Canons where certain women are condemned who
falsely imagine that during the night they ride abroad with
Diana or Herodias. This may read in the Canon. Yet because such things
often happen by illusion are merely in the imagination, those who suppose
that all the effects of witchcraft are mere illusion and imagination are very
greatly deceived. Secondly, with regard to a man who believes or maintains
that a creature can be made, or changed for better or for worse, or
transformed into some other kind or likeness by anyone save by God, the
Creator of all things, alone, is an infidel and worse than a heathen.
Wherefore on account of these words changed for the worse they
say that such an effect if wrought by witchcraft cannot be real but must be
But inasmuch as these errors savour of heresy and contradict the obvious
meaning of the Canon, we will first prove our points by the divine law,
as also by ecclesiastical and civil law, and first in general.
To commence, the expressions of the Canon must be treated of in detail
(although the sense of the Canon will be even more clearly elucidated in the
following question). For the divine in many places commands that witches
are not only to be avoided, but also they are to be put to death, and it
would not impose the extreme penalty of this kind if witches did not really
and truly make a compact with devils in order to bring about real and true
hurts and harms. For the penalty of death is not inflicted except for some
grave and notorious crime, but it is otherwise with death of the soul, which
can be brought about by the power of a phantastical illusion or even by the
stress of temptation. This is the opinion of S. Thomas when he discusses
whether it be evil to make use of the help of devils (ii. 7). For in the
18th chapter of
Deuteronomy it is commanded that all wizards and charmers are to
be destroyed. Also the 19th chapter of Leviticus says: The soul which goeth to wizards
and soothsayers to commit fornication with them, I will set my face against
that soul, and destroy it out of the midst of my people. And again, 20: A man, or
woman, in whom there is a pythonical or divining spirit dying, let them die:
they shall stone them. Those persons are said to be pythons in whom the
devil works extraordinary things.
Moreover, this must be borne in mind, that on account of this sin Ochozias
fell sick and died, IV. Kings I. Also Saul, I Paralipomenon,
10. We have, moreover, the weighty opinions of the Fathers who have written
upon the scriptures and who have treated at length of the power of demons
and of magic arts. The writings of many doctors upon Book 2 of the Sentences
may be consulted, and it will be found that they all agree, that there are
wizards and sorcerers who by the power of the devil can produce real and
extraordinary effects, and these effects are not imaginary, and God permits
this to be. I will not mention those very many other places where S. Thomas
in great detail discusses operations of this kind. As, for example, in his
contra Gentiles, Book 3, c. 1 and 2, in part one, question 114,
argument 4. And in the Second of the Second, questions
92 and 94. We
may further consult the Commentators and the Exegetes who have written upon
the wise men and the magicians of Pharao, Exodus vii. We may also
consult what S. Augustine says in
The City of God, Book 18, c. 17.
See further his second book
On Christian Doctrine. Very many other
doctors advance the same opinion, and it would be the height of folly for
any man to contradict all these, and he could not be held to be clear of the
guilt of heresy. For any man who gravely errs in an exposition of Holy
Scripture is rightly considered to be a heretic. And whosoever thinks
otherwise concerning these matters which touch the faith that the Holy
Roman Church holds is a heretic. There is the Faith.
Page 1 of 3
Question I continued . . .
This chapter was transcribed by Wicasta Lovelace.
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