Whether Witches can hebetate the Powers of Generation
or obstruct the Venereal Act.
Now the fact that adulterous drabs and whores are chiefly given to
witchcraft is substantiated by the spells which are cast by witches upon the
act of generation. And to make the truth more clear, we will consider the
arguments of those who are in disagreement with us on this matter. And first
it is argued that such a bewitching is not possible, because if it were it
would apply equally to those who are married; and if this were conceded,
then, since matrimony is God's work and witchcraft is the devil's, the
devil's work would be stronger than God's. But if it is allowed that it can
only affect fornicators and the unmarried, this involves a return to the
opinion that witchcraft does not really exist, but only in men's imagination;
and this was refuted in the First Question. Or else some reason will be
found why it should affect the unmarried and not the married; and the only
possible reason is that matrimony is God's work. And since, according to the
Theologians, this reason is not valid, there still remains the argument
that it would make the devil's work stronger than God's; and since it would
be unseemly to make such an assertion, it is also unseemly to maintain that
the venereal act can be obstructed by witchcraft.
Again, the devil cannot obstruct the other natural actions, such as eating,
walking and standing, as is apparent from the fact that, if he could, he
could destroy the whole world.
Besides, since the venereal act is common to all women, if it were obstructed
it would be so with reference to all women; but this is not so, and therefore
the first argument is good. For the facts prove that it is not so; for when
a man says that he has been bewitched, he is still quite capable as regards
other women, though not with her with whom he is unable to copulate; and
the reason for this is that he does not wish to, and therefore cannot effect
anything in the matter.
On the contrary and true side is the chapter in the Decretals (If by
sortilege, etc.): as is also the opinion of all the Theologians and Canonists,
where they treat of the obstruction to marriage caused by witchcraft.
There is also another reason: that since the devil is more powerful than
man, and a man can obstruct the generative powers by means of frigid herbs
or anything else that can be thought of, therefore much more can the devil
do this, since he has greater knowledge and cunning. Answer. The truth is sufficiently evident from two matters which have
already been argued, although the method of obstruction has not been
specifically declared. For it has been shown that witchcraft does not exist
only in men's imaginations, and not in fact; but that truly and actually
in numerable bewitchments can happen, with the permission of God. It has
been shown, too, that God permits it more in the case of the generative
powers, because of their greater corruption, than in the case of other
human actions. But concerning the method by which such obstruction is
procured, it is to be noted that it does not affect only the generative
powers, but also the powers of the imagination or fancy.
And as to this, Peter of Palude (III, 34) notes five methods. For he says
that the devil, being a spirit, has power over a corporeal creature to cause
or prevent a local motion. Therefore he can prevent bodies from approaching
each other, either directly or indirectly, by interposing himself in some
bodily shape. In this way it happened to the young man who was betrothed to
an idol and nevertheless married a young maiden, and was consequently unable
to copulate with her. Secondly, he can excite a man to that act, or freeze
his desire for it, by the virtue of secret things of which he best knows the
power. Thirdly, he can also disturb a man's perception and imagination as to
make the woman appear loathsome to him: since he can, as had been said,
influence the imagination. Fourthly, he can directly prevent the erection of
that member which is adapted to fructification, just as he can prevent local
motion. Fifthly, he can prevent the flow of the vital essence to the members
in which lie the motive power; by closing as it were the seminary ducts, so
that it does not descend to the generative channels, or falls back from
them, or does not project from them, or in any of many ways fails in its
And he continues in agreement with what has been treated of above by other
Doctors. For God allows the devil more latitude in respect of this act,
through which sin was first spread abroad, than of other human acts.
Similarly, serpents are more subject to magic spells than are other animals.
And a little later he says: It is the same in the case of a woman, for the
devil can so darken her understanding that she considers her husband so
loathsome that not for all the world would she allow him to lie with her.
Later he wishes to find the reason why more men than women are bewitched in
respect of that action; and he says that such obstruction generally occurs
in the matter of erection, which can more easily happen to men; and therefore
more men than women are bewitched. It might also be said that, the greater
part of witches being women, they lust more for men than for women. Also
they act in the despite of married women, finding every opportunity for
adultery when the husband is able to copulate with other women but not with
his own wife; and similarly the wife also has to seek other lovers.
He adds also that God allows the devil to afflict sinners more bitterly than
the just. Wherefore the Angel said to Tobias: He gives the devil power over
those who are given up to lust. But he has power also against the just
sometimes, as in the case of Job, but not in respect of the genital
functions. Wherefore they ought to devote themselves to confession and other
good works, lest the iron remain in the wound, and it be in vain to apply
remedies. So much for Peter. But the method of removing such effects will be
shown in the Second Part of this work.
Some Incidental Doubts on the subject of Copulation prevented
by Evil Spells are made Clear.
But incidentally, if it is asked why this function is sometimes obstructed
in respect of one woman but not of another, the answer, according to S.
Bonaventura, is this. Either the enchantress of witch afflicts in this way
those persons upon whom the devil has determined; or it is because God will
not permit it to be inflicted on certain persons. For the hidden purpose of
God in this is obscure, as is shown in the case of the wife of Tobias. And
If it is asked how the devil does this, it is to be said that he obstructs
the genital power, not intrinsically by harming the organ, but extrinsically
by rendering it useless. Therefore, since it is an artificial and not a
natural obstruction, he can make a man impotent towards one woman but not
towards others: by taking away the inflammation of his lust for her, but
not for other women, either through his own power, or through some herb or
stone, or some occult natural means. And this agrees with the words of
Peter of Palude.
Besides, since impotency in this act is sometimes due to coldness of nature,
or some natural defect, it is asked how it is possible to distinguish
whether it is due to witchcraft of not. Hostiensis gives the answer in his
Summa (but this must not be publicly preached): When the member is in
no way stirred, and can never perform the act of coition, this is a sign
of frigidity of nature; but when it is stirred and becomes erect, but yet
cannot perform, it is a sign of witchcraft.
It is to be noted also that impotence of the member to perform the act is
not the only bewitchment; but sometimes the woman is caused to be unable to
conceive, or else she miscarries.
Note, moreover, that according to what is aid down by the Canons, whoever
through desire of vengeance or for hatred does anything to a man or a woman
to prevent them from begetting or conceiving must be considered a homicide.
And note, further, that the Canon speaks of loose lovers who, to save their
mistresses from shame, use contraceptives, such as potions, or herbs that
contravene nature, without any help from devils. And such penitents are to
be punished as homicides. But witches who do such things by witchcraft are
by law punishable by the extreme penalty, as had been touched on above in
the First Question.
And for a solution of the arguments; when it is objected that these things
cannot happen to those joined together in matrimony, it is further to be
noted that, even if the truth in this matter had not already been made
sufficiently plain, yet these things can truly and actually happen just as
much to those who are married as to those who are not. And the prudent reader
who has plenty of books, will refer to the Theologians and the Canonists,
especially where they speak of the impotent and bewitched. He will find them
in agreement in condemning two errors: especially with regard to married
people who seem to think that such bewitchment cannot happen to those who
are joined in matrimony, advancing the reason that the devil cannot destroy
the works of God.
And the first error which they condemn is that of those who say that there
is no witchcraft in the world, but only in the imagination of men who,
through their ignorance of hidden causes which no man yet understands,
ascribe certain natural effects to witchcraft, as though they were effected
not by hidden causes, but by devils working either by themselves or in
conjunction with witches. And although all other Doctors condemn this error
as a pure falsehood, yet S. Thomas impugns it more vigorously and stigmatizes
it as actual heresy, saying that this error proceeds from the root of
infidelity. And since infidelity in a Christian is accounted heresy,
therefore such deserve to be suspected as heretics. And this matter was
touched on in the First Question, though it was not there declared so
plainly. For if anyone considers the other sayings of S. Thomas in other
places, he will find the reasons why he affirms that such an error proceeds
from the root of infidelity.
For in his questions concerning Sin, where he treats of devils, and in his
first question, whether devils have bodies that naturally belong to them,
among many other matters he makes mention of those who referred every
physical effect to the virtue of the stars; to which they said that the
hidden causes of terrestrial effects were subject. And he says: It must be
considered that the Peripatetics,the followers of Aristotle, held that devils
did not really exist; but that those things which are attributed to devils
proceeded from the power of the stars and other natural phenomena. Wherefore
S. Augustine says (de Ciuitate Dei, X), that it was the opinion of
Porphyry that from herbs and animals, and certain sounds and voice, and from
figures and figments observed in the motion of the stars, powers
corresponding to the stars were fabricated on earth by men in order to
explain various natural effect. And the error of these is plain, since they
referred everything to hidden causes in the stars, holding that devils were
only fabricated by the imagination of men.
But this opinion is clearly proved to be false by S. Thomas in the same
work; for some works of devils are found which can in no way proceed from
any natural cause. For example, when one who is possessed by devil speaks in
an unknown language; and many other devil's works are found, both in the
Rhapsodic and the Necromantic arts, which can in no way proceed except from
some Intelligence, which may be naturally good but is evil in its intention.
And therefore, because of these incongruities, other Philosophers were
compelled to admit that there were devils. Yet they afterwards fell into
various errors, some thinking that the souls of men, when they left their
bodies, became devils. For this reason many Soothsayers have killed children,
that they might have their souls as their co-operators; and many other
errors are recounted.
From this it is clear that not without reason does the Holy Doctor say that
such an opinion proceeds from the root of infidelity. And anyone who wishes
may read S. Augustine (de Ciuitate Dei, VIII, IX) on the various
errors of infidels concerning the nature of devils. And indeed the common
opinion of all Doctors, quoted in the above-mentioned work, against those
who err in this way by denying that there are any witches, is very weighty
in its meaning, even if it is expressed in few words. For they say that they
who maintain that there is no witchcraft in the world go contrary to the
opinion of all the Doctors, and of the Holy Scripture; and declare that
there are devils, and that devils have power over the bodies and imaginations
of men, with the permission of God. Wherefore, those who are the instruments
of the devils, at whose instance the devil at times do mischief to a
creature, they call witches.
Now in the Doctor's condemnation of this first error nothing is said
concerning those joined together in matrimony; but this is made clear in
their condemnation of the second error of believing that, though witchcraft
exists and abounds in the world, even against carnal copulation, yet, since
no such bewitchment can be considered to be permanent, it never annuls a
marriage that has already been contracted. Here is where they speak of those
joined in matrimony. Now in refuting this error (for we do so, even though
it is little to the point, for the sake of those who have not many books),
it is to be noted that they refute it by maintaining that it is against all
precedent, and contrary to all laws both ancient and modern.
Wherefore the Catholic Doctors make the following distinction, that impotence
caused by witchcraft is either temporary or permanent. And if it is
temporary, then it does not annul the marriage. Moreover, it is presumed
to be temporary of they are able to healed of the impediment within three
years from their cohabitation, having taken all possible pain, either
through the sacraments of the Church, or through other remedies, to be
cured. But if they are not then cured by any remedy, from that time it is
presumed to be permanent. And in that case it either precedes both the
contracting of a marriage, and annuls one that is not yet contracted; or
else it follows the contract of marriage but precedes its consummation,
and then also, according to some, it annuls the previous contract. (For it
is said in Book XXXII, quest. 1. cap. 1 that the confirmation of a marriage
consists in its carnal office.) Or else it is subsequent to the
consummation of the marriage, and then the matrimonial bond is not annulled.
Much is noted there concerning impotence by Hostiensis, and Godfrey, and the
Doctors and Theologians. To the arguments. As to the first, it is made sufficiently clear from
what has been said. For as to the argument that God's works can be destroyed
by the devil's works, if witchcraft has power against those who are married,
it has no force; rather does the opposite appear, since the devil can do
nothing without God's permission. For he does not destroy by main force
like a tyrant, but through some extrinsic art, as is proved above. And the
second argument is also made quite clear, why God allows this obstruction
more in the case of the venereal act than of other acts. But the devil has
power also over other acts, when God permits. Wherefore it is not sound to
argue that he could destroy the whole world. And the third objection is
similarly answered by what has been said.