It has been recognized even from the very earliest times, during the first gropings towards the essential conveniences of social decency and social order, that witchcraft is an evil thing, an enemy to light, an ally of the powers of darkness, disruption, and decay. Sometimes, no doubt, primitive communities were obliged to tolerate the witch and her works owing to fear; in other words, witchcraft was a kind of blackmail; but directly Cities were able to to co-ordinate, and it became possible for Society to protect itself, precautions were taken and safeguards were instituted against this curse, this bane whose object seemed to blight all that was fair, all that was just and good, and that was well-appointed and honourable, in a word, whose aim proved to be set up on high the red standard of revolution; to overwhelm religion, existing order, and the comeliness of life in an abyss of anarchy, nihilism, and despair. In his great treatise De Ciutate Dei S. Augustine set forth the theory, or rather the living fact, of the two Cities, the City of God, and the opposing stronghold of all that is not for God, that is to say, of all that is against Him.
This seems to be a natural truth which the inspired Doctor has so eloquently demonstrated in his mighty pages, and even before the era of Christianity men recognized the verity, and nations who had never heard the Divine command put into practice the obligation of the Mosaic maxim: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. (Vulgate: Maleficos non patieris uiuere. Douay: Wizards thou shalt not suffer to live. Exodus, xxii, 18.)
It is true that both in the Greek and in the earlier Roman cults, worships often directly derived from secret and sombre sources, ancient gods, or rather demons, had their awful superstitions and their horrid rites, powers whom men dreaded but out of very terror placated; fanes men loathed but within whose shadowed portals they bent and bowed the knee perforce in trembling fear. Such deities were the Thracian Bendis, whose manifestation was heralded by the howling of her fierce black hounds, and Hecate the terrible “QUeen of the realm of ghosts,” as Euripides calls her, and the vampire Mormo and the dark Summanus who at midnight hurled loud thunderbolts and launched the deadly levin through the starless sky. Pliny tells us that the worship of this mysterious deity lasted long, and dogs with their puppies were sacrificed to him with atrocious cruelty, but S. Augustine says that in his day “one could scarce find one within a while, that had heard, nay more, that had read so much as the name of Summanus” (De Ciuitate Dei, iv, 23). Nevertheless there is only too much reason to believe that this devil-god had his votaries, although his liturgy was driven underground and his supplicants were obliged to assemble in remote and secret places. Towards the end of the fifth century, the Carthaginian Martianus Capella boldly declares that Summanus is none other than the lord of Hell, and he was writing, it may be remembered, only a few years before the birth of S. Benedict; some think that he was still alive when the Father of All Monks was born.
Although in Greek States the prosecution of witches was rare, in large measure owing to the dread they inspired, yet cases were not unknown, for Theoris, a woman of Lemnos, who is denounced by Demosthenes, was publicly tried at Athens and burned for her necromancy. It is perhaps not impertinent to observe that many strange legends attached to the island of Lemnos, which is situated in the Aegaean Sea, nearly midway between Mt. Athos and the Hellespoint. It is one of the largest of the group, having an area of some 147 square miles. Lemnos was sacred to Hephaestus, who is said to have fallen here when hurled by Zeus from Olympus. The workshops of the Smith-God in ancient legend were supposed to be on the island, although recent geologists deny that this area was ever volcanic, and the fires which are spoken of as issuing from it must be considered gaseous. Later the officinae of Hephaestus were placed in Sicily and the Lipari Islands, particularly Hiera.
The worship of Hephaestus in later days seems to have degenerated and to have been identified with some of the secret cults of the evil powers. This was probably due to his connexion with fire and also to his extreme ugliness, for he was frequently represented as a swarthy man of grim and forbidding aspect. It should further be noted that the old Italian deity Volcanus, with whom he was to be identified, is the god of destructive fire – fire considered in its rage and terror, as contrasted with fire which is a comfort to the human race, the kindly blaze on the hearth, domestic fire, presided over by the gracious lady Vesta. It is impossible not to think of the fall of Lucifer when one considers the legend of Hephaestus. Our Lord replied, when the disciples reported: Domine, etiam daemonia subiiciuntur nobis in nomine tuo (Lord, the devils also are subject to us in Thy Name), Uidebam Satanam sicut fulgur de coelo cadentem (I saw Satan like lightning falling from Heaven); and Isaias says: “Quomodo cecidisti de coelo, Lucifer, qui mane oriebaris? Corruisti in terram qui uulnerabas gentes?” (How art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer, who didst rise in the morning? How art thou fallen to the earth, that didst wound the nations?) Milton also has the following poetic allusion:
- Nor was his name unheard or unador’d
In Ancient Greece; and in Ausonian land
Men called him Mulciber; and how he fell
From Heav’n, they fabl’d, thrown by angry Jove
Sheer o’er the Chrystal Battlements: from Morn
To Noon he fell, from Noon to dewy Eve,
A Summers day; and with the setting Sun
Dropt from the Zenith like a falling Star,
On Lemnos th’ Ægæan Ile: thus they relate,
Erring; for he with his rebellious rout
Fell long before; nor aught avail’d him now
To have built in Heav’n high Towrs; nor did he scape
By all his Engins, but was headlong sent
With his industrious crew to build in hell.
Hephaestus, especially in later days, is represented with one leg shortened to denote his lameness; and throughout the Middle Ages it was popularly believed that his cloven hoof was the one feature which the devil was unable to disguise. In this connexion with Loki, the Vulcan of Northern Europe, will be readily remembered. Frederick Hall writes: “Hephaestos, Vulcan and Loki, each lame from some deformity of foot, in time joined natures with the Pans and satyrs of the upper world; the lame sooty blacksmith donned their goatlike extremities of cloven hoofs, tail and horns; and the black dwarfs became uncouth ministers of this sooty, black, found fiend. If ever mortal man accepted the services of these cunning metalworkers, it was for some sinister purpose, and at a fearful price – no less than that of the soul itself, bartered away in a contract of blood, the emblem of life and the colour of fire.”
There were also dark histories of murder and blood connected with Lemnos. When the Argonauts landed here they found it inhabited only by Amazons, who, having murdered all their husbands, had chosen as their queen Hypsipyle, daughter of Thoas, whom she secretly preserved alive. When this was discovered the unfortunate woman was compelled to leave the island, and being subsequently captured by pirates she was sold to Lycurgus, king of the sacred groves that surrounded the temple of Zeus Nemeus in a remote Argive valley. Hypsipyle here became the nurse of the mysterious child Archemorus, the Forerunner of Death, who was bitten by a magic serpent and vanished, portending the doom of the Seven who went against Thebes.
At a later time the Pelasgians are said to have massacred the inhabitants of Lemnos, and to have settled there with some Athenian maidens they had carried off from Attica. Afterwards these savages murdered both their wives and their children. In consequence of such atrocities Lemnian deeds became proverbial in Greek for horrors and sorceries. It is curious to remark that a certain red clay (terra Lemnia) found on the island was, as Pliny tells us, employed as a remedy for wounds, and especially the bite of a snake. This latter may have some obscure connexion with the story of Archemorus. In any case enough has been said to show that this island was considered a land of mystery and ancient terrors, a fitting origin for the witch Theoris.
In Rome black magic was punished as a capital offence by the Law of the Twelve Tables, which are to be assigned to the fifth century B.C., and, as Livy records, from time to time Draconian statutes were directed against those who attempted to blight crops and vineyards or to spread rinderpest amongst flocks and cattle. None the less it is evident from many Latin authors and from the historians that Rome swarmed with occultists and diviners, many of whom in spite of the Lex Cornelia almost openly traded in poisons, and not infrequently in assassination to boot. Sometimes, as in the Middle Ages, a circumstance of which the Malleus Maleficarum most particularly complains, the sorcerers were protected by men of wealth and high estate. This was especially the case in the terrible days of Marius and of Catiline, and during the extreme decadence of the latest Caesars. Yet, paradoxical as it may appear, such emperors as Augustus, Tiberius, and Septimius Severus, whilst banishing from their realms all seers and necromancers, and putting them to death, in private entertained astrologers and wizards among their retinue, consulting their art upon each important occasion, and often even in the everyday and ordinary affairs of life.
Nevertheless it must be noted that all the while normal legislation utterly condemned witchcraft and its works, whilst the laws were not merely carried out to their very letter, but reinforced by such emperors as Claudius, Vitelius, and Vespasian.
These prosecutions are very significant, and I have insisted upon them in some detail, as I wish to emphasize that stern and constant official opposition to witchcraft, and the prohibition under severest penalties, the sentence of death itself, of any practice or pursuit of these dangerous and irreligious arts, was demonstrably not a product of Christianity, but had long and necessarily been employed in the heathen world and among pagan peoples and among polytheistic societies. Moreover, there are even yet savage communities who visit witchcraft with death.
Accordingly, if we cite the Vincentian cannon, quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, we might surely say that from the earliest dawn of civilization witchcraft has been prohibited, hated, and feared.
At the time of the triumph of Christianity a decadent Empire in the last throes of paganism was corroded by every kind of superstition and occult art, from the use of petty and harmless sympathetic charms of healing to the darkest crimes of goetic ceremonial. Spells, scrying, conjurations, evokings of the dead were never more fashionable and never more keenly explored by every class and ever order, from the divine Caesar in his palace to the losel peasant in his humble shed. If the disease is universal, the medicine must be sharp. It was very difficult, when the infection of crime was so general, to discriminate and draw the line, to take into consideration relative differences and nice gradations. So much that was heathen, so much that was bad, was mixed up with what might seem to be simple credulity, and the harmless folk-customs of some grandam tradition and immemorial usage, a song or a country dance mayhap, innocent enough on the surface, and even pleasing, so often were but the cloak and the mask for something devilish and obscene, that the Church deemed it necessary to forbid and proscribe the whole superstition even when it manifested itself in modest fashion and seemed guileless, innoxious, and of no account. Thus, for example, to make a wind blow or to drop in a world-wide fantasy which appears harmless enough. The Esthonians when they wish to raise a wind strike a knife into a house-beam in the direction from which they desire the wind to blow, while at the same time they croon an old-time canzonet. The underlying idea is that the gentle wind will not let any innocent thing, not even a beam, suffer without coming swiftly and breathing softly thereon to assuage the pain. But at Constantinople, in the reign of Constantine, a warlock named Sopater was put to death on a charge of binding the winds by magic, which he had at any rate esssayed to do, whether or no the fact that the cornships of Egypt and Syria were detained on their voyage by calms and headwinds was actually due to his interference. The city was nearly starved, and the Byzantine mob, clamouring for bread, was ready to break out into the wildest excesses. In Scotland witches used to raise the wind by dipping the corner of a plaid in water and beating it thrice upon a stone, crooning the following words:
- I knok this rage upone this stane
To raise the wind in the divellis name,
It sall not lye till I please againe.
It will readily be remembered that one of the chief charges brought against the coven of North Berwick witches during the famous trial of 1590 was that they performed incantations to raise a tempest which might wreck the fleet that was escorting James VI when he brought his queen, Anne of Denmark, from her native country to Scotland. So we see that a superstition which in a little fishing village, when some mother was calling a fair wind for her son, or some lass whistled for a gentle breeze to fill the sails of her sweetheart’s trawler, was simple and kindly enough, might yet become dangerous and deadly at least in intent when launched be malevolent witches who had the will if not the power to destroy, and who if this means failed would hasten to employ other methods that should prove far more resourceful in their means and efficacious in their results.
Accordingly, during the years 319-21 a number of laws were passed which penalized and punished the craft of magic with the utmost severity. A pagan diviner or haruspex could only follow his vocation under very definite restrictions. He was not allowed to be an intimate visitor at the house of any citizen, for friendship with men of this kind must be avoided. “The haruspex who frequents the houses of others shall die at the stake,” such is the tenor of the code. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that almost every year saw a more rigid application of the laws; although even as to-day, when fortune-telling and peering into the future are forbidden by the Statute-Book, diviners and mediums abound, so then in spite of every prohibition astrologers, clairvoyants, and palmists had an enormous clientèle of rich and poor alike. However, under Valens, owing to his discovery of the damning fact that certain prominent courtiers had endeavoured by means ot table-rapping to ascertain who should be his successor upon the throne, in the year 367 a regular crusade, which in its details recalls the heyday of Master Matthew Hopkins, was instituted against the whole race of magicians, soothsayers, mathematici, and theurgists, which perhaps was the first general prosecution during the Christian era. Large numbers of persons, including no doubt many innocent as well as guilty, were put to death, and a veritable panic swept through the Eastern world.
The early legal codes of most European nations contain laws directed against witchcraft. Thus, for example, the oldest document of Frankish legislation, the Salic Law (Lex salica), which was reduced to a written form and promulgated under Clovis, who died 27 November, 511, mulcts (sic) those who practise magic with various fines, especially when it could be proven that the accused launched a deadly curse, or had tied the Witch’s Knot. This latter charm was usually a long cord tightly tied up in elaborate loops, among whose reticulations it was customary to insert the feathers of a black hen, a raven, or some other bird which had, or was presumed to have, no speck of white. This is one of the oldest instruments of witchcraft and is known in all countries and among all nations. It was put to various uses. The wizards of Finland, when they sold wind in the three knots of a rope. If the first knot were undone a gentle breeze sprang up; if the second, it blew a mackerel gale; if the third, a hurricane. But the Witch’s Ladder, as it was often known, could be used with far more baleful effects. The knots were tied with certain horrid maledictions, and then the cord was hidden away in some secret place, and unless it were found and the strands released the person at whom the curse was directed would pine and die. This charm continually occurs during the trials. Thus in the celebrated Island-Magee case, March 1711, when a coven of witches was discovered, it was remarked that an apron belonging to Mary Dunbar, a visitor at the house of the afflicted persons, had been abstracted. Miss Dunbar was suddenly seized with fits and convulsions, and sickened almost to death. After most diligent search the missing garment was found carefully hidden away and covered over, and a curious string which had nine knots in it had been so tied up with the folds of the linen that it was beyond anything difficult to separate them and loosen the ligatures. In 1886 in the old belfry of a village church in England there were accidentally discovered, pushed away in a dark corner, several yards of incle braided with elaborate care and having a number of black feathers thrust through the strands. It is said that for a long while considerable wonder was caused as to what it might be, but when it was exhibited and became known, one of the local grandmothers recognized it was a Witch’s Ladder, and, what is extremely significant, when it was engraved in the Folk Lore Journal an old Italian woman to whom the picture was shown immediately identified it as la ghirlanda delle streghe.
The laws of the Visigoths, which were to some extent founded upon the Roman law, punished witches who had killed any person by their spells with death; whilst long-continued and obstinate witchcraft, if fully proven, was visited with such severe sentences as slavery for life. In 578, when a son of Queen Fredegonde died, a number of witches who were accused of having contrived the destruction of the Prince were executed. It has been said in these matters that the ecclesiastical law was tolerant, since for the most part it contented itself with a sentence of excommunication. But those who consider this spiritual outlawry lenient certainly do not appreciate what such a doom entailed. Moreover, after a man had been condemned to death by the civil courts it would have been somewhat superfluous to have repeated the same sentence, and beyond the exercise of her spiritual weapons, what else was there left for the Church to do?
In 814, Louis le Pieux upon his accession to the throne began to take very active measures against all sorcerers and necromancers, and it was owing to his influence and authority that the Council of Paris in 829 appealed to the secular courts to carry out any such sentences as the Bishops might pronounce. The consequence was that from this time forward the penalty of witchcraft was death, and there is evidence that if the constituted authority, either ecclesiastical or civil, seemed to slacken in their efforts the populace took the law into their own hands with far more fearful results.
In England the early Penitentials are greatly concerned with the repression of pagan ceremonies, which under the cover of Christian festivities were very largely practised at Christmas and on New Year’s Day. These rites were closely connected with witchcraft, and especially do S. Theodore, S. Aldhelm, Ecgberht of York, and other prelates prohibit the masquerade as a horned animal, a stag, or a bull, which S. Caesarius of Arles had denounced as a “foul tradition,” an “evil custom,” a “most heinous abomination.” These and even stronger expressions would not be used unless some very dark and guilty secrets had been concealed beneath this mumming, which, however foolish, might perhaps have been thought to be nothing worse, so that to be so roundly denounced as devilish and demoniacal they must certainly have had some very grim signification which did not appear upon the surface. The laws of King Athelstan (924-40), corresponsive with the early French laws, punished any person casting a spell which resulted in death by extracting the extreme penalty. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries there are few cases of witchcraft in England, and such accusations as were made appeared to have been brought before the ecclesiastical court. It may be remarked, however, that among the laws attributed to King Kenneth I of Scotland, who ruled from 844 to 860, and under whom the Scots of Dalriada and the Pictish peoples may be said to have been united in one kingdom, is an important statute which enacts that all sorcerers and witches, and such as invoke spirits, “and use to seek upon them for helpe, let them be burned to death.” Even then this was obviously no new penalty, but the statutory confirmation of a long-established punishment. So the witches of Forres who attempted the life of King Duffus in the year 968 by the old bane of slowly melting a wax image, when discovered, were according to the law burned at the stake.
The conversion of Germany to Christianity was late and very slow, for as late as the eighth century, in spite of the heroic efforts of S. Columbanus, S. Fridolin, S. Gall, S. Rupert, S. Willibrod, the great S. Boniface, and many others, in spite of the headway that had been made, various districts were always relapsing into a primitive and savage heathenism. For example, it is probably true to say that the Prussian tribles were not stable in their conversion until the beginning of the thirteenth century, when Bishop Albrecht reclaimed the people by a crusade. However, throughout the eleventh and the twelfth centuries there are continual instances of persons who had practised witchcraft being put to death, and the Emperor Frederick II, in spite of the fact that he was continually quarrelling with the Papacy and utterly indifferent to any religious obligation – indeed it has been said that he was “a Christian ruler only in name,” and “throughout his reign he remained virtually a Moslem free-thinker” – declared that a law which he had enacted for Lombardy should have force throughout the whole of his dominions. “Henceforth,” Vacandard remarks, “all uncertainty was at an end. The legal punishment for heresy throughout the empire was death at the stake.” It must be borne in mind that witchcraft and heresy were almost inextricably commingled. It is quite plain that such a man as Frederick, whose whole philosophy was entirely Oriental; who was always accompanied by a retinue of Arabian ministers, courtiers, and officers; who was perhaps not without reason suspected of being a complete agnostic, recked little whether heresy and witchcraft might be offences against the Church or not, but he was sufficiently shrewd to see that they gravely threatened the well-being of the State, imperilling the maintenance of civilization and the foundations of society.
This brief summary of early laws and ancient ordinances has been given in order to show that the punishment of witchcraft certainly did not originate in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and most assuredly was not primarily the concern of the Inquisition. In fact, curiously enough, Bernard Gui, the famous Inquisitor of Toulouse, laid down in his Practica Inquisitionis that sorcery itself did not fall within the cognizance of the Holy Office, and in every case, unless there were other circumstances of which his tribunal was bound to take notice when witches came before him, he simply passed them on to the episcopal courts.
It may be well here very briefly to consider the somewhat complicated history of the establishment of the Inquisition, which was, it must be remembered, the result of the tendencies and growth of many years, by no mens a judicial curia with cut-and-dried laws and a compete procedure suddenly called into being by one stroke of a Papal pen. In the first place, S. Dominic was in no sense the founder of the Inquisition. Certainly during the crusade in Languedoc he was present, reviving religion and reconciling the lapsed, but he was doing no more than S. Paul or any of the Apostles would have done. The work of S. Dominic was preaching and the organization of his new Order, which received Papal confirmation from Honorius III, and was approved in the Bull Religiosam uitam, 22 December, 1216. S. Dominic died 6 August, 1221, and even if we take the word in a very broad sense, the first Dominican Inquisitor seems to have been Alberic, who in November, 1232, was travelling through Lombardy with the official title of “Inquisitor hereticae prauitatis.” The whole question of the episcopal Inquisitors, who were really the local bishop, his archdeacons, and his diocesan court, and their exact relationship with the travelling Inquisitors, who were mainly drawn from the two Orders of friars, the Franciscan and the Dominican, is extremely nice and complicated; whilst the gradual effacement of the episcopal courts with regard to certain matters and the consequent prominence of the Holy Office were circumstances and conditions which realized themselves slowly enough in all countries, and almost imperceptibly in some districts, as necessity required, without any sudden break or sweeping changes. In fact we find that the Franciscan or Dominican Inquisitor simply sat as an assessor in the episcopal court so that he could be consulted upon certain technicalities and deliver sentence conjointly with the Bishop if these matters were involved. Thus at the trial of Gilles de Rais in October, 1440, at Nantes, the Bishop of Nantes presided over the court with the bishops of Le Mans, Saint-Brieuc, and Saint-Lo as his coadjutors, whilst Pierre de l’Hospital, Chencellor of Brittany, watched the case on behalf of the civil authorities, and Frère Jean Blouin was present as the delegate of the Holy Inquisition for the city and district of Nantes. Owing to the multiplicity of the crimes, which were proven and clearly confessed in accordance with legal requirements, it was necessary to pronounce two sentences. The first sentence was passed by the Bishop of Nantes conjointly with the Inquisitor. By them Gilles de Rais was declared guilty of Satanism, sorcery, and apostasy, and there and then handed over to the civil arm to receive the punishment due to such offences. The second sentence, pronounced by the Bishop alone, declared the prisoner convicted of sodomy, sacrilege, and violation of ecclesiastical rights. The ban of excommunication was lifted since the accused had made a clean breast of his crimes and desired to be reconciled, but he was handed over to the secular court, who sentenced him to death, on multiplied charges of murder as well as on account of the aforesaid offences.
It must be continually borne in mind also, and this is a fact which is very often slurred over and forgotten, that the heresies of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, to cope with which the tribunal of the Inquisition was primarily organized and regularized, were by no means mere theoretical speculations, which, however erroneous and dangerous in the fields of thought, practically and in action would have been arid and utterly unfruitful. To-day the word “heresy” seems to be as obsolete and as redolent of a Wardour-street vocabulary as if one were to talk of a game of cards at Crimp or Incertain, and to any save a dusty mediaevalist it would appear to be an antiquarian term. It was far other in the twelfth century; the wild fanatics who fostered the most subversive and abominable ideas aimed to put these into actual practice, to establish communities and to remodel whole territories according to the programme which they had so carefully considered in every detail with a view to obtaining and enforcing their own ends and their own interests. The heretics were just as resolute and just as practical, that is to say, just as determined to bring about the domination of their absolutism as is any revolutionary of to-day. The aim and objects of their leaders, Tanchelin, Everwacher, the Jew Manasses, Peter Waldo, Pierre Autier, Peter of Bruys, Arnold of Brescia, and the rest, were exactly those of Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, and their fellows. There were, of course, minor differences and divergences in their tenets, that is to say, some had sufficient cunning to conceal and even to deny the extremer views which other were bold enough or mad enough more openly to proclaim. But just below the trappings, a little way beneath the surface, their motives, their methods, their intentions, the goal to which they pressed, were all the same. Their objects may be summed up as the abolition of monarchy, the abolition of private property and of inheritance, the abolition of marriage, the abolition of order, the total abolition of all religion. It was against this that the Inquisition had to fight, and who can be surprised if, when faced with so vast a conspiracy, the methods employed by the Holy Office may not seem – if the terrible conditions are conveniently forgotten – a little drastic, a little severe? There can be no doubt that had this most excellent tribunal continued to enjoy its full prerogative and the full exercise of its salutary powers, the world at large would be in a far happier and far more orderly position to-day. Historians may point out diversities and dissimilarities between the teaching of the Waldenses, the Albigenses, the Henricans, the Poor Men of Lyons, the Cathari, the Vaudois, the Bogomiles, and the Manichees, but they were in reality branches and variants of the same dark fraternity, just as the Third International, the Anarchists, the Nihilists, and the Bolsheviks are in every sense, save the mere label, entirely identical.
In fact heresy was one huge revolutionary body, exploiting its forces through a hundred different channels and having as its object chaos and corruption. The question may be asked – What was their ultimate aim in wishing to destroy civilization? What did they hope to gain by it? Precisely the same queries have been put and are put to-day with regard to these political parties. There is an apparent absence of motive in this seemingly aimless campaign of destruction to extermination carried on by the Bolsheviks in Russia, which has led many people to inquire what the objective can possibly be. So unbridled are the passions, so general the demolition, so terrible the havoc, that hard-headed individuals argue that so complete a chaos and such revolting outrages could only be affected by persons who were enthusiasts in their own cause and who had some very definite aims thus positively to pursue. The energizing forces of this fanaticism, this fervent zeal, do not seem to be any more apparent than the end, hence more than one person has hesitated to accept accounts so alarming of massacres and carnage, or wholesale imprisonments, tortures, and persecutions, and has begun to suspect that the situation may be grossly exaggerated in the overcharged reports of enemies and the highly-coloured gossip of scare-mongers. Nay, more, partisans have visited the country and returned with glowing tales of a new Utopia. It cannot be denied that all this is a very clever game. It is generally accepted that from very policy neither an individual nor a junto or confederacy will act even occasionally, much less continually and consistently, in a most bloody and tyrannical way, without some very well-arranged programme is being thus carried out and determinate aim ensued, conditions and object which in the present case it seems extremely difficult to guess at and divine unless we are to attribute the revolution to causes the modern mind is apt to dismiss with impatience and intolerance.
Nearly a century and a half ago Anacharsis Clootz, “the personal enemy of Jesus Christ” as he openly declared himself, was vociferating “God is Evil,” “To me then Lucifer, Satan! whoever you may be, the demon that the faith of my fathers opposed to God and the Church.” This is the credo of the witch.
Although it may not be generally recognized, upon a close investigation it seems plain that the witches were a vast political movement, an organized society which was anti-social and anarchichal, a world-wide plot against civilization. Naturally, although the Masters were often individuals of high rank and deep learning, that rank and file of the society, that is to say, those who for the most part fell into the hands of justice, were recruited from the least educated classes, the ignorant and the poor. As one might suppose, many of the branches or covens in remoter districts knew nothing and perhaps could have understood nothing of the enormous system. Nevertheless, as small cogs in a very small wheel, it might be, they were carrying on the work and actively helping to spread the infection. It is an extremely significant fact that the last regularly official trial and execution for witchcraft in Western Europe was that of Anna Goeldi, who was hanged at Glaris in Switzerland, 17 June, 1782. Seven years before, in 1775, the villian Adam Weishaupt, who has been truly described by Louis Blac as “the profoundest conspirator that has ever existed,” formed his “terrible and formidable sect,” the Illuminati. The code of this mysterious movement lays down: “it is also necessary to gain the common people (das gemeine Volk) to our Order. The great means to that end is influence in the schools.” This is exactly the method of the organizations of witches, and again and again do writers lament and bewail the endless activities of this sect amongst the young people and even the children of the district. So in the prosecutions at Würzburg we find that there were condemned boys of ten and eleven, two choir boys aged twelve, “a boy of twelve years old in one of the lower forms of the school,” “the two young sons of the Prince’s cook, the eldest fourteen, the younger twelve years old,” several pages and seminarists, as well as a number of young girls, amongst whom “a child of nine or ten years old and her little sister” were involved.
The political operations of the witches in many lands were at their trials exposed time after time, and these activities are often discernible even when they did not so publicly and prominently come to light. A very few cases, to which we must make but brief and inadequate reference, will stand for many. In England in the year 1324 no less than twenty-seven defendants were tried at the King’s Bench for plotting against and endeavouring to kill Edward II, together with many prominent courtiers and officials, by the practice of magical arts. A number of wealthy citizens of Coventry had hired a famous “nigromauncer,” John of Nottingham, to slay not only the King, but also the royal favourite, Hugh le Despenser, and his father; the Prior of Coventry; the monastic steward; the manciple; and a number of other important personages. A secluded old manor-house, some two or three miles out of Coventry, was put at the disposal of Master John, and there he and his servant, Robert Marshall, promptly commenced business. They went to work in the bad old-fashioned way of modelling wax dolls or mommets of those whom they wished to destroy. Long pins were thrust through the figures, and they were slowly melted before a fire. The first unfortunate upon whom this experiment was tried, Richard de Sowe, a prominent courtier and close friend of the King, was suddenly taken with agonizing pains, and when Marshall visited the house, as if casually, in order that he might report the results of this sympathetic sorcery to the wizard, he found their hapless victim in a high delirium. When this state of things was promptly conveyed to him, Master John struck a pin through the heart of the image, and in the morning the news reached them that de Sowe had breathed his last. Marshall, who was by now in an extremity of terror, betook himself to a justice and laid bare all that was happening and had happened, with the immediate result that Master John and the gang of conspirators were arrested. It must be remembered that in 1324 the final rebellion against King Edward II had openly broken forth on all sides. A truce of thirteen years had been arranged with Scotland, and though the English might refuse Bruce his royal title he was henceforward the warrior king of an independent country. It is true that in May, 1322, the York Parliament had not only reversed the exile of the Despensers, declaring the pardons which had been granted their opponents null and void, as well as voting for the repeal of the Ordinances of 1311, and the Despensers were working for, and fully alive to the necessity of, good and stable government, but none the less the situation was something more than perilous; the Exchequer was well-nigh drained; there was rioting and bloodshed in almost every large town; and worst of all, in 1323 the younger Roger Mortimer had escaped from the Tower and got away safely to the Continent. There were French troubles to boot; Charles IV, who in 1322 had succeeded to the throne, would accept no excuse from Edward for any postponement of homage, and in this very year, 1324, declaring the English possessions forfeited, he proceeded to occupy the territory with an army, when it soon became part of the French dominion. There can be not doubt that the citizens of Coventry were political intriguers, and since they were at the moment unable openly to rebel against their sovran lord, taking advantage of the fact that he was harassed and pressed at so critical a juncture, they proceeded against him by the dark and tortuous ways of black magic.
Very many similar conspiracies in which sorcery was mixed up with treasonable practices and attempts might be cited, but only a few of the most important must be mentioned. Rather more than a century later than the reign of Edward II, in 1441, one of the greatest and most influential ladies in all England, “the Duchesse of Gloucestre, was arrested and put to holt, for she was suspecte of treson.” This, of course, was purely a political case, and the wife of Duke Humphrey had unfortunately by her indiscretion and something worse given her husband’s enemies an opportunity to attack him by her ruin. An astrologer, attached to the Duke’s household, when taken and charged with “werchyrye of sorcery against the King,” confessed that he had often cast the horoscope of the Duchess to find out if her husband would ever wear the English crown, the way to which they had attempted to smooth by making a wax image of Henry VI and melting it before a magic fire to bring about the King’s decease. A whole crowd of witches, male and female, were involved in the case, and among these was Margery Jourdemain, a known a notorious invoker of demons and an old trafficker in evil charms. Eleanor Cobham was incontinently brought before a court presided over by three Bishops, London, Lincoln, and Norwich. She was found guilty both of high treason and sorcery, and after having been compelled to do public penance in the streets of London, she was imprisoned for life, according to the more authoritative account at Peel Castle in the Isle of Man. Her accomplices were executed at London.
In the days of Edward IV it was commonly gossiped that the Duchess of Bedford was a witch, who by her spells had fascinated the King with the beauty of her daughter Elizabeth, whom he made his bride, in spite of the fact that he had plighted his troth to Eleanor Butler, the heiress of the Earl of Shrewsbury. So open did the scandal become that the Duchess of Bedford lodged an official complaint with the Privy Council, and an inquiry was ordered, but, as might have been suscepted, this completely cleared the lady. Nevertheless, five years later the charges were renewed by the Lord Protector, the Duke of Gloucester. Nor was this the first time in English history that some fair dame was said to have fascinated a monarch, not only by her beauty but also by unlawful means. When the so-called “Good Parliament” was convened in April, 1376, their first business seemed to be to attack the royal favourite, Alice Perrers, and amongst the multiplicity of charges which they brought against her, not the least deadly was the accusation of witchcraft. Her ascendancy over the King was attributed to the enchantments and experiments of a Dominican friar, learned in many a cantrip and cabala, whom she entertained in her house, and who had fashioned two pictures of Edward and Alive which, when suffumigated with the incense of mysterious herbs and gums, mandrakes, sweet calamus, caryophylleae, storax, benzoin, and other plants plucked beneath the full moon what time Venus was in ascendant, caused the old King to dote upon this lovely concubine. With great difficulty by a subtle ruse the friar was arrested, and he thought himself lucky to escape with relegation to a remote house under the strictest observance of his Order, whence, however, he was soon to be recalled with honour and reward, since the Good Parliament shortly came to an end, and Alice Perrers, who now stood higher in favour than ever, was not slow to heap lavish gifts upon her supporters, and to visit her enemies with condign punishment.
It is often forgotten that in the troublous days of Henry VIII the whole country swarmed with astrologers and sorcerers, to whom high and low alike made constant resort. The King himself, a prey to the idlest superstitions, ever lent a credulous ear to the most foolish prophecies and old wives’ abracadabra. When, as so speedily happened, he wearied of Anne Boleyn, he openly gave it as his opinion that he had “made this marriage seduced by witchcraft; and that this was evident because God did not permit them to have any male issue.”
There was nobody more thoroughly scared of witchcraft than Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth, and as John Jewel was preaching his famous sermon before her in February, 1560, he described at length how “this kind of people (I mean witches and sorcerers) within these few last years are marvellously increased within this Your Grace’s realm;” he then related how owing to dark spells he had known many “pine away even to death.” “I pray God,” he unctuously cried, “they may never practise further than upon the subjects!” This was certainly enough to ensure that drastic laws should be passed particularly to protect the Queen, who was probably both thrilled and complimented to think that her life was in danger. It is exceedingly doubtful, whether there was any conspiracy at all which would have attempted Elizabeth’s personal safety. There were, of course, during the imprisonment of the Queen of Scots, designs to liberate this unfortunate Princess, and Walsingham with his fellows used to tickle the vanity of Gloriana be regaling her with melodramatic accounts of dark schemes and secret machinations which they had, with a very shrewd knowledge of stagecraft, for the most part themselves arranged and contrived, so we may regard the Act of 1581, 23 Eliz., Cap. II, as mere finesse and chicane. That there were witches in England is very certain, but there seems no evidence at all that there were attempts upon the life of Elizabeth. None the less the point is important, since it shows that in men’s minds sorcery was inexplicably mixed up with politics. The statute runs as follows: “That if any person … during the life of our said Sovereign Lady the Queen’s Majesty that now is, either within her Highness’ dominions or without, shall be setting or erecting any figure or by casting of nativities or by calculation or by any prophesying, witchcraft, conjurations, or other like unlawful means whatsoever, seek to know, and shall set forth by express words, deeds, or writings, how long her Majesty shall live, or who shall reign a king or queen of this realm of England after her Highness’ decease … that then every such offence shall be felony, and every offender therein, and also all his aiders (etc.), shall be judged as felons and shall suffer pain of death and forfeit as in case of felony is used, without any benefit of clergy or sanctuary.”
The famous Scotch witch trial or 1590, when it was proved that upon 31 October in the preceding year, All Hallow E’en, a gang of more than two hundred persons had assembled for their rites at the old haunted church of North Berwick, where they consulted with their Master, “the Devil,” how they might most efficaciously kill King James, is too well known to require more than a passing mention, but it may be remembered that Agnes Sampson confessed that she had endeavoured to poison the King in various ways, and that she was also avowed that she had fashioned a wax mommet, saying with certain horrid maledictions as she wrought the work: “This is King James the sext, ordinit to be consumed at the instance of a noble man Francis Erle of Bodowell.” The contriver of this far-reaching conspiracy was indeed none other than Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell, who, as common knowledge bruited, almost overtly aspired to the throne and was perfectly reckless how he compassed his ends. It was he, no doubt, who figured as “the Devil” at the meeting in the deserted and ill-omened kirkyard. In fact this is almost conclusively shown by a statement of Barbara Napier when she was interrogated with regard to their objects in the attempted murder of the King. She gave as her reason “that another might have ruled in his Majesty’s place, and the Government might have gone to the Devil.” That is to say, to Francis Bothwell. The birth of Prince Henry at Stirling, 19 February, 1594, and further of Prince Charles at Dunfermline, 19 November, 1600, must have dashed all Bothwell’s hopes to the ground. Moreover, the vast organization of revolutionaries and witches had been completely broken up, and accordingly there was nothing left for him to do but to seek safety in some distant land. There is an extremely significant reference to him in Sandys, who, speaking of Calabria in the year 1610, writes: “Here a certaine Calabrian hearing that I was an English man, came to me, and would needs persuade me that I had insight in magicke: for the Earl Bothel was my countryman, who liues at Naples, and is in these parts famous for suspected negromancie.”
In French history even more notorious than the case of the Berwick witches were the shocking scandals involving both poisoning and witchcraft that came to light and were being investigated in 1679-82. At least two hundred and fifty persons, of whom many were the representatives and scions of the highest houses in the land, were deeply implicated in these abominations, and it is no matter for surprise that a vast number of the reports and several entire dossiers and registers have completely disappeared. The central figures were the Abbé Guibourg and Catherine Deshayes, more generally known as La Voisin, whose house in the Rue Beauregard was for years the rendezvous of a host of inquirers drawn from all classes of societym from palaces and prisons, from the lowest slums of the vilest underworld. That it was a huge and far-reaching political conspiracy is patent form the fact that the lives of Louis XIV, the Queen, the Dauphin, Louise de la Vallière, and the Duchesse de Fontanges had been attempted secretly again and again, whilst as for Colbert, scores of his enemies were constantly entreating for some swift sure poison, constantly participating in unhallowed rites which might lay low the all-powerful Minister. It soon came to light that Madame de Montespan and the Comtesse de Soisson (Olympe Mancini) were both deeply implicated, whilst the Comtesse de Rouse and Madame de Polignac in particular, coveting a lodging in the bed royal, had persistently sought to bring about the death of Louise de la Vallière. It is curious indeed to recognize the author of The Rehearsal in this train, but there flits in and out among the witches and anarchists a figure who can almost certainly be identified with George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. Yet this is the less surprising when we remember how very nearly he stirred up a mutiny, if not an insurrection, against the King who had so particularly favoured and honoured him, but who, in the words of a contemporary, “knew him to be capable of the blackest designs.” Of Buckingham it has been written without exaggeration: “As to his personal character it is impossible to say anything in its vindication; for though his severest enemies acknowledge him to have possessed great vivacity and a quickness of parts peculiarly adapted to the purposes of ridicule, yet his warmest advocates have never attributed to him a single virtue. His generosity was profuseness, his wit malevolence, the gratification of his passions his sole aim through life.” When we consider the alliance of Buckingham with the infamous Shaftesbury, we need hardly wonder that whilst in Paris he frequented the haunts of this terrible society, and was present at, nay, even participated in the Satanic mass and other of their horrible mysteries. At the house of La Voisin necromancy was continually practised, poisons were brewed, the liturgy of hell was celebrated, and it was undoubtedly the hub of every crime and ever infamy. Other instances, and not a few, might be quoted from French history to show how intimately politics were connected with witchcraft. Here Madame de Montespan, aiming at the French throne, an ambition which involved the death of the Queen, Maria Theresa of Austria, at once resorts to black magic, and attempts to effect her purpose by aid of those who were infamous as past adepts in this horrid craft.
Even in the Papal States themselves such abominations were not unknown, and in 1633 Rome was alarmed and confounded by an attempt upon the life of Urban VIII. It seems that some charlatan had announced to Giacinto Centini, nephew of the Cardinal d’Ascoli, that his uncle would succeed the reigning Pontiff in the Chair of S. Peter. The rash and foolish young man promptly attempted to hasten the event, and did not hesitate to resort to certain professors of occult arts to inquire when the next conclave would take place. He was so incredibly foolish that, far from attempting any subterfuge or disguise, he seems to have resorted to the houses of astrologers and other persons, who were already suspected of necromancy in the most open way, and further to have boasted among his intimates of the high honours which he expected his family would shortly enjoy. He first applied to one Fra Pietro, a Sicilian, who belonged to the Order of Augustinian Eremites. This occultist told him that the Cardinal d’Ascoli would be elected at the next conclave, but that the present Pope had many years to live. Upon seeing the young man’s bitter disappointment the cunning mage whispered that it was in his power to bring about the event much sooner than it would happen in the ordinary course of affairs. Needless to say, the proposition was taken up with alacrity, but it was necessary to employ the services of two other diviners, and they accordingly selected for the task Fra Cherubino of Ancona, a Franciscan, and Fra Domenico of the Eremite monastery of S. Agostino at Fermo. The friars then deligently set to work to carry out their murderous projects. A number of ceremonies and incantations were performed which entailed considerable expense, and for which it was needful to procure exotic herbs and drugs and rare instruments of goetry that could not readily be had without attracting considerable curiosity. It appeared, however, as if all their charms and spells, their demoniac eucharists and litanies, were quite ineffective, since Urban at sixty-five years of age remained perfectly hale and hearty and was indeed extraordinarily active in his pontificate. Young Centini became manifestly impatient and spurred the wizards on to greater efforts. It really seems as if, vexed beyond measure and goaded to exasperation by his importunities, they flung all caution to the winds, whilst he himself proclaimed so magnificently what he would do for his friends in a few weeks or months after he had assumed the authority of Papal nephew, that it was hardly a matter of surprise when the Holy Office suddenly descended upon the four accomplices and brought them to the bar. Amongst the many charges which were put forward was one of causing “a statue of wax to be made of Urban VIII, in order that its dissolution might ensure that of the Pope.” This in itself would have been sufficiently damning, but there were many other criminal accounts all tending to the same end, all proven up to the hilt. The result was that Centini, Fra Pietro, and Fra Cherubino were executed in the Campo di Fiore, on Sunday, 22 April, 1634, whilst Fra Domenico, who was less desperately involved, was relegated for life to the galleys.
These few instances I have dwelt upon in detail and at some length in order to show how constantly and continually in various countries and at various times witchcraft and magical practices were mixed up with political plots and anarchical agitation. There can be no doubt – and this is a fact which is so often not recognized (or it may be forgotten) that one cannot emphasize it too frequently – that witchcraft in its myriad aspects and myriad ramifications is a huge conspiracy against civilization. It was as such that the Inquisitors knew it, and it was this which gave rise to the extensive literature on the subject, those treatises of which the Malleus Maleficarum is perhaps the best known among the other writers. As early as 600 S. Gregory I had spoken in severest terms, enjoining the punishment of sorcerers and those who trafficked in black magic. It will be noted that he speaks of them as more often belonging to that class termed serui, that is to say, the very people from whom for the most part Nihilists and Bolsheviks have sprung in modern days. Writing to Januarius, Biship of Cagliari, the Pope says: “Contra idolorum cultores, uel aruspices atque sortilegos, fraternitatem uestram uehementius pastorali hortamur inuigilare custodia … et si quidem serui sunt, uerberibus cruciatibusque, quibus ad emendationem peruenire ualeant, castigare si uero sunt liberi, inclusione digna districtaque sunt in poenitentiam redigendi …” But the first Papal ordinance directly dealing with witchcraft may not unfairly be said to be the Bull addressed in 1233 by Pope Gregory IX (Ugolino, Count of Segni) to the famous Conrad of Marburg, bidding him proceed against the Luciferians, who were overtly given over to Satanism. If this ardent Dominican must not strictly be considered as having introduced the Inquisition to Germany, he at any rate enjoyed Inquisitorial methods. Generally, perhaps, he is best known as the stern and unbending spiritual director of that gentle soul S. Elizabeth of Hungary. Conrad of Marburg is certainly a type of the strictest and most austere judge, but it should be remembered that he spared himself no more than he spared others, that he was swayed by no fear of persons of danger of death, that even if he were inflexible and perhaps fanatical, the terrible situation with which he had to deal demanded such a man, and he was throughout supported by the supreme authority of Gregory IX. That he was harsh and unlovable is, perhaps, true enough, but it is more than doubtful whether a man of gentler disposition could have faced the difficulties that presented themselves on every side. Even his most prejudiced critics have never denied the singleness of his convictions and his courage. He was murdered on the highway, 30 July, 1233, in the pursuit of his duties, but it has been well said that “it is, perhaps, significant that the Church has never set the seal of canonization upon his martyrdom.”
On 13, December, 1258, Pope Alexander IV (Rinaldo Conti) issued a Bull to the Franciscan Inquisitors bidding them refrain from judging any cases of witchcraft unless there was some very strong reason to suppose that heretical practice could also be amply proved. On 10 January, 1260, the same Pontiff addressed a similar Bull to the Dominicans. But it is clear that by now the two things could not be disentangled.
The Bull Dudum ad audientiam nostram peruenit of Boniface VIII (Benedetto Gaetani) deals with the charges against Walter Langton, Bishop of Conventry and Lichfield, but it may be classed as individual rather than general.
Several Bulls were published by John XXII (Jacques d’Euse) and by Benedict XII (Jacques Fournier, O. Cist), both Avignon Popes, and these weighty documents deal with witchcraft in the fullest detail, anathematizing all such abominations. Gregory XI (Pierre Roger de Beaufort); Alexander V (Petros Filartis, a Cretan), who ruled but eleven months, from June 1409 to May 1410; and Martin V (Ottone Colonna); each put forth one Bull on the subject. To Eugenius IV (Gabriello Condulmaro) we owe four Bulls which fulminate against sorcery and black magic. The first of these, 24 February, 1434, is addressed from Florence to the Franciscan Inquisitor, Pontius Fougeyron. On 1 August, 1451, the Dominican Inquisitor Hugo Niger received a Bull from Nicholas V (Tomaso Parentucelli). Callistus III (Alfonso de Borja) and Pius II (Enea Silvio de’ Piccolomini) each issued one Bull denouncing the necromantic crew.
On 9 August, 1471, the Franciscan friar, Francesco della Rovere, ascended the throne of Peter as Sixtus IV. His Pontificate has been severely criticized by those who forget that the Pope was a temporal Prince and in justice bound to defend his territory against the continual aggression of the Italian despots. His private life was blameless, and the stories which were circulated by such writers as Stefano Infessura in his Diarium are entirely without foundation. Sixtus was an eminent theologian, he is the author of an admirable treatise on the Immaculate Conception, and it is significant that he took strong measures to curb the judicial severities of Tomàs de Torquemada, whom he had appointed Grand Inquisitor of Castile, 11 February, 1482. During his reign he published three Bulls directly attacking sorcery, which he clearly identified with heresy, an opinion of the deepest weight when pronounced by one who had so penetrating a knowledge of the political currents of the day. There can be no doubt that he saw the society of witches to be nothing else than a vast international of anti-social revolutionaries. The first Bull is dated 17 June, 1473; the second 1 April. 1478; and the last 21 October, 1483.
It has been necessarily thus briefly to review this important series of Papal documents to show that the famous Bull Summis desiderantes affectibus, 9 December, 1484, which Innocent VIII addressed to the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum, is no isolated and extraordinary document, but merely one in the long and important record of Papal utterances. although at the same time it is of the greatest importance and supremely authoritative. It has, however, been very frequently asserted, not only be prejudiced and unscrupulous chroniclers, but also by scholars of standing and repute, that this Bull of Innocent VIII, if not, as many appear to suppose, actually the prime cause and origin of the crusade against witches, at any rate gave the prosecution and energizing power and an authority which hitherto they had not, and which save for this Bull they could not ever have, commanded and possessed.
It will not be impertinent then here very briefly to inquire what authority Papal Bulls may be considered to enjoy in general, and what weight was, and is, carried by this particular document of 9 December, 1484.
To enter into a history of Bulls and Briefs would require a long and elaborate monograph, so we must be content to remind ourselves that the term bulla, which in classical Latin meant a water-bubble, a bubble then came to mean a boss of metal, such as the knob upon a door. (By transference it also implied a certain kind of amulet, generally made of gold, which was worn upon the neck, especially by noble youths). Hence in course of time the word bulla indicated the leaden seals by which Papal (and even royal) documents were authenticated, and by an easy transition we recognize that towards the end of the twelfth century a Bull is the document itself. Naturally very many kinds of edicts are issued from the Cancellaria, but a Bull is an instrument of especial weight and importance, and it differs both in form and detail from constitutions, encyclicals, briefs, decrees, privileges, and rescripts. It should be remarked, however, that the term Bull has conveniently been used to denote all these, especially if they are Papal letters of any early date. By the fifteenth century clearer distinctions were insisted upon and maintained.
A Bull was written in Latin and as late as the death of Pope Pius IX, 1878, the scrittura bollatica, an archaic and difficult type of Gothic characters much contracted and wholly unpunctuated was employed. This proved often well-nigh indecipherable to those who were not trained to the script, and accordingly there accompanied the Bull a transsumptum in an ordinary plain hand. The seal, appended by red and yellow (sometimes white) laces, generally bore on one side the figures of SS. Peter and Paul; on the other a medallion or the name of the reigning Pontiff.
A Bull begins thus: “N. Episcopus Seruus seruorum Dei ad perpetuam rei memoriam.” It is dated “Anno incarnationis Domini,” and also “Pontificatus Nostri anno primo (uel secundom, tertio, etc.).” Those Bulls which set forth and define some particular statement will be found to add certain minatory clauses directed against those who obstinately refuse to accept the Papal decision.
It should be remembered that, as has already been said, the famous Bull of Pope Innocent VIII is only one in a long line of Apostolic Letters dealing with the subject of witchcraft.
On 18 June, 1485, the Pontiff again recommended the two Inquisitors to Berthold, Archbishop of Mainz, in a Bull Pro causa fidei; upon the same date a similar Bull was sent to the Archduke Sigismund, and a Brief to Abbot John of Wingarten, who is highly praised for his devotion and zeal. On 30 September, 1486, a Bull addressed to the Bishop of Brescia and to Antonio di Brescia, O.P., Inquisitor for Lombardy, emphasizes the close connexion, nay, the identity of witchcraft with heresy.
Alexander VI published two Bulls upon the same theme, and in a Bull of Julius II there is a solemn description of that abomination the Black Mass, which is perhaps the central feature of the worship of Satanists, and which is unhappily yet celebrated to-day in Londin, in Paris, in Berlin, and in many another great city.
Leo X, the great Pope of Humanism, issued on Bull on the subject; but even more important is the Bull Dudum uti nobis exponi fecisti, 20 July, 1523, which speaks of the horrible abuse of the Sacrament in sorceries and the charms confuted by witches.
We have two briefs of Clement VII; and on 5 January, 1586, was published that long and weighty Constitution of Sixtus V, Coeli et Terrae Creator Deus, which denounces all those who are devoted to Judicial Astrology and kindred arts that are envenomed with black magic and goetry. There is a Constitution of Gregory XV, Omnipotentis Dei, 20 March, 1623; and a Constitution of Urban VIII, Inscrutabilis iudiciorum Dei altitudo, 1 April, 1631, which – if we except the recent condemnation of Spiritism in the nineteenth century – may be said to be the last Apostolic document directed against these foul and devilish practices.
We may now consider the exact force of the Apostolic Bull Summis desiderantes affectibus issed on 9 December, 1484, by Innocent VIII to Fr. Henry Kramer and Fr. James Sprenger.
In the first place, it is superflous to say that no Bull would have been published without the utmost deliberation, long considering of phrases, and above all earnest prayer. This document of Pope Innocent commences with the set grave formula of a Bull of the greatest weight and solemnity. “Innocentius Episcopus Seruus seruorum Dei ad perpetuam rei memoriam.” It draws to its conclusion with no brief and succinct prohibitory clauses but with a solemn measured period: “Non obstantibus praemissis ac constitutionibus et ordinationibus Apostolicis contrariis quibuscunque. . . .” The noble and momentous sentences are built up word by word, beat by beat, ever growing more and more authoritative, more and more judicial, until they culminate in the minatory and imprecatory clauses which are so impressive, so definite, that no loophole is left for escape, no turn for evasion. “Nulli ergo omnino hominum liceat hanc paganim nostrae declarationis extentionis concessionis et mandati infringere uel ei ausu temeraris contrarie Si qui autem attentate praesumpserit indignationem omnipotentis Dei ac beatorum Petri et Pauli Apostolorum eius se nouerit incursurum.” If any man shall presume to go against the tenor let him know that therein he will bring down upon himself the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.
Could words weightier be found?
Are we then to class this Bull with the Bulla dogmatica Ineffabilis Deus wherein Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception? Such a position is clearly tenable, but even if we do not insist that the Bull of Innocent VIII is an infallible utterance, since the Summis desiderantes affectibus does not in set terms define a dogma although it does set forth sure and certain truths, it must at the very least be held to be a document of supreme and absolute authority, of dogmatic force. It belongs to that class of ex cathedra utterances “for which infallibility is claimed on the ground, not indeed of the terms of the Vatican definition, but of the constant practice of the Holy See, the consentient teaching of the theologians, as well as the clearest deductions of the principles of faith.” Accordingly the opinion of a person who rashly impugns this Bull is manifestly to be gravely censures as erronea, sapiens haeresim, captiosa, subuersiua hierarchiae; erroneous, savouring of heresy, captious, subversive of the hierarchy.
Without exception non-Catholic historians have either in no measured language denounced or else with sorrow deplored the Bull of Innocent VIII as a most pernicious and unhappy document, a perpetual and irrevocable manifesto of the unchanged and unchangeable mind of the Papacy. From this point of view they are entirely justified, and their attitude is undeniably logical and right. The Summis desideranted affectibus is either a dogmatic exposition by Christ’s Vicar upon earth or it is altogether abominable.
Hansen, either in honest error or of intent, willfully misleads when he writes, “it is perfectly obvious that the Bull pronounces no dogmatic decision.” As has been pointed out, in one very narrow and technical sense this may be correct – yet even here the opposite is arguable and probably true – but such a statement thrown forth without qualification is calculated to create, and undoubtedly does create, an entirely false impression. It is all the more amazing to find that the writer of the article upon “Witchcraft” in the Catholic Encyclopaedia quotes Hansen with complete approval and gleefully adds with regard to the Bull of Innocent VIII, “neither does the form suggest that the Pope wishes to bind anyone to believe more about the reality of witchcraft than is involved in the utterances of Holy Scripture,” a statement which is essentially Protestant in its nature, and, as is acknowledged by every historian of whatsoever colour or creed, entirely untrue. By its appearance in a standard work of reference, which is on the shelves of every library, this article upon “Witchcraft” acquires a certain title to consideration which upon its merits it might otherwise lack. It is signed Herbert Thurston, and turning to the list of “Contributors to the Fifteenth Volume” we duly see “Thurston, Herbert, S.J., London.” Since a Jesuit Father emphasizes in a well-known (and presumably authoritative) Catholic work an opinion so derogatory to the Holy See and so definitely opposed to all historians, one is entitled to express curiosity concerning other writings which may not have come from his pen. I find that for a considerable number of years Fr. Thurston has been contributing to The Month a series of articles upon mystical phenomena and upon various aspects of mysticism, such as the Incorruption of the bodies of Saints and Beati, the Stigmata, the Prophecies of holy persons, the miracles of Crucifixes that bleed or pictures of the Madonna which move, famous Sanctuaries, the inner life of and wonderful events connected with persons still living who have acquired a reputation for sanctity. This busy writer directly or incidentally has dealt with that famous ecstatica Anne Catherine Emmerich; the Crucifix of Limpias; Our Lady of Campocavallo; S. Januarus; the Ven. Maria d’Agreda; Gemma Galgani; Padre Pio Pietralcina; that gentle soul Teresa Higginson, the beauty of whose life has attracted thousands, but whom Fr. Thurston considers hysterical and masochistic and whose devotions to him savour of the “snowball” prayer; Pope Alexander VI; the origin of the Rosary; the Carmelite scapular; and very many themes beside. Here was have a mass of material, and even a casual glance through these pages will suffice to show the ugly prejudice which informs the whole. The intimate discussions on miracles, spiritual graces and physical phenomena, which above all require faith, reverence, sympathy, tact and understanding, are conducted with a roughness and a rudeness infinitely regrettable. What is worse, in every case Catholic tradition and loyal Catholic feeling are thrust to one side; the note of scepticism, of modernism, and even of rationalism is arrogantly dominant. Tender miracles of healing wrought at some old sanctuary, the records of some hidden life of holiness secretly lived amongst us in the cloister or the home, these things seem to provoke Fr. Thurston to such a pitch of annoyance that he cannot refrain from venting his utmost spleen. The obsession is certainly morbid. It is reasonable to suppose that a lengthy series of papers all concentrating upon certain aspects of mysticism would have collected in one volume, and it is extremely significant that in the autumn of 1923 a leading house announced among Forthcoming Books: “The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism. By the Rev. Herbert Thurston, S.J.” Although in active preparation, this has never seen the light. I have heard upon good authority that the ecclesiastical superiors took exception to such a publication. I may, of course, be wrong, and there can be no question that there is room for a different point of view, but I cannot divest my mind of the idea that the exaggerated rationalization of mystical phenomena conspicuous in the series of articles I have just considered may be by no means unwelcome to the Father of Lies. It really plays into his hands: first, because it makes the Church ridiculous by creating the impression that her mystics, particularly friars and nuns, are for the most part sickly hysterical subjects, deceivers and deceived, who would be fit inmates of Bedlam; that many of her most reverend shrines, Limpias, Campocavallo, and the sanctuaries of Naples, are frauds and conscious imposture; and, secondly, because it condemns and brings into ridicule that note of holiness which theologians declare is one of the distinctive marks of the true Church.
There is also evil speaking of dignities. In 1924 the Right Rev. Mgr. Oeter de Roo published an historical work in five volumes, Materials for a History of Pope Alexander VI, his Relatives and his Time, wherein he demonstrates his thesis that Pope Alexander VI was “a man of good moral character and an excellent Pope.” This is quite enough for Fr. Thurston to assail him in the most vulgar and ill-bred way. The historian is a “crank,” “constitutionally incapable,” “extravagant,” and one who writes in “queer English,” and by rehabilitating Alexander VI has “wasted a good deal of his own time.” “One would be loath to charge him with deliberate suggestio falis,” smugly remarks Fr. Thurston, and of course directly conveys that impression. As to Pope Alexander, the most odious charges are one more hurled against the maligned Pontiff, and Fr. Thurston for fifteen nauseating pages insists upon “the evil example of his private life.” This is unnecessary; it is untrue; it shows contempt of Christ’s Vicar on earth.
The most disquieting of all Fr. Thurston’s writings that I know is without doubt his article upon the Holy House of Loreto, which is to be found in the Catholic Encyclopaedia, Vol. XIII, pp. 454-56, “Santa Casa di Loreto.” Here he jubilantly proclaims that “the Lauretan tradition is beset with difficulties of the gravest kind. These have been skilfully presented in the much-discussed work of Canon Chevalier, ‘Notre Dame de Lorette’ (Paris, 1906). . . . His argument remains intact and has as yet found no adequate reply.” This last assertion is simply incorrect, as Canon U. Chevalier’s theories have been answered and demolished both by Father A. Eschbach, Procurator-General of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost, in his exhaustive work La Vérité sur le Fair de Lorette, and by the Rev. G. E. Phillips in his excellent study Loreto and the Holy House. From a careful reading of the article “Santa Casa di Loreto” it is obvious that the writer does not accept the fact of the Translation of the Holy House; at least that is the only impression I can gather from his words as, ignoring an unbroken tradition, the pronouncements of more than fifty Popes, the devotion of innumerable saints, the piety of countless writers, he gratuitously piles argument upon argument and emphasizes objection after objection to reduce the Translation of the House of Nazareth from Palestine to Italy to the vague story of a picture of the Madonna brought from Tersato in Illyria to Loreto. With reference to Canon Chevalier’s work, so highly applauded by Fr. Thurston, it is well known that the late saintly Pontiff Pius X openly showed his great displeasure at the book, and took care to let it be widely understood that such an attack upon the Holy House sorely vexed and grieved him. In a Decree, 12 April, 1916, Benedict XV, ordering the Feast of the Translation of the Holy House to be henceforward observed every year on the 10th December, in all the Dioceses and Religious Congregations of Italy and the adjacent Isles, solemnly and decisively declares that the Sanctuary of Loreto is “the House itself – translated from Palestine by the ministry of Angels – in which was born the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in which the Word was made Flesh.” In the face of this pronouncement it is hard to see how any Catholic can regard the Translation of the Holy House as a mere fairy tale to be classed with Jack and the Beanstalk or Hop o’ my Thumb. It is certain that Fr. Thurston’s disedifying attack has given pain to thousands of pious souls, and in Italy I have heard an eminent theologian, an Archbishop, speak of these articles in terms of unsparing condemnation.
Father Thurston is the author of a paper upon the subject of Pope Joan, but I am informed that it is no longer in print, and as I have not thought it worth while to make acquaintance with this lucubration I am unable to say whether he accepts the legend of this mythical dame as true or no.
His bias evidently makes him incapable of dealing impartially with any historical fact, and even a sound and generally accepted theory would gain nothing by the adherence of so prejudiced an advocate. It has seemed worth while to utter a word of caution regarding his extraordinary output, and especially in our present connexion with reference to the article upon “Witchcraft,” which appears to me so little qualified to furnish the guidance readers may require in this difficult subject, and which by its inclusion in a standard work of reference might be deemed trustworthy and reliable.
It is very certain then that the Bull of Innocent VIII, Summis desiderantes affectibus, was at least a document of the highest authority, and that the Pontiff herein clearly intended to set forth dogmatic facts, although this can be distinguished from the defining of a dogma. A dogmatic fact is not indeed a doctrine of revelation, but it is so intimately connected with a revealed doctrine that it would be impossible to deny the dogmatic fact without contradicting or seriously impugning the dogma. It would not be very difficult to show that any denial of the teaching of Pope Innocent VIII must traverse the Gospel accounts of demoniacs, the casting out of devils by Our Saviour, and His Divine words upon the activities of evil spirits.
Giovanni Battista Cibò, the son of Arano Cibò and Teodorina de’ Mare, was born at Genoa in 1432. His father, a high favourite with Callistus III (Alfonso de Borja), who reigned from 8 April, 1455, to 6 August, 1458, had filled with distinction the senatorial office at Rome in 1455, and under King René won great honour as Viceroy of Naples. Having entered the household of Cardinal Calandrini, Giovanni Battista Cibò was in 1467 created Bisop of Savona by Paul II, in 1473 Bishop of Molfetta by Sixtus IV, who raised him to the cardinalate in the following year. In the conclave which followed the death of this Pontiff, his great supporter proved to be Guiliano della Rovere, and on 29 August, 1484, he ascended the Chair of S. Peter, taking the name of Innocent VIII in memory, it is said, of his countryman, the Genoese Innocent IV (Sinibaldo de’ Fieschi), who reigned from 25 June, 1243, to 7 December, 1254. The new Pope had to deal with a most difficult political situation, and before long found himself involved in a conflict with Naples. Innocent VIII made the most earnest endeavours to unite Christendom against the common enemy, the Turk, but the unhappy indecision among various princes unfortunately precluded any definite result, although the Rhodians surrendered to the Holy Father. As for Djem, the younger son of Mohammad II, this prince had fled for protection to the Knights of S. John, and Sultan Bajazet pledged himself to pay an annual allowance of 35,000 ducats for the safe-keeping of his brother. The Grand Master handed over Djem to the Pope and on 13 March, 1489, the Ottoman entered Rome, where he was treated with signal respect and assigned apartments in the Vatican itself.
Innocent VIII only canonized one Saint, the Margrave Leopold of Austria, who was raised to the Altar 6 January, 1485. However, on 31 May, 1492, he received from Sultan Bajazet the precious Relic of the Most Holy Lance with which Our Redeemer had been wounded by S. Longinus upon the Cross. A Turkish emir brought the Relic to Ancona, whence it was conveyed by the Bishop to Narni, when two Cardinals took charge of it and carried it to Rome. On 31 May Cardinal Hiulino della Rovere solemnly handed it in a crystal vessel to the Pope during a function at S. Maria del Popolo. It was then borne in procession to S. Peter’s, and from the loggia of the protico the Holy Father bestowed his blessing upon the crowds, whilst the Cardinal della Rovere standing at his side exposed the Sacred Relic to the veneration of the thronging piazza. The Holy Lance, which is accounted one of the three great Relics of the Passion, is shown together with the Piece of the True Cross and S. Veronica’s Veil at S. Peter’s after Matins on Spy Wednesday and on Good Friday evening; after High Mass on Easter Day, and also several times during the course of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The Relics are exposed from the balcony over the statue of S. Veronica to the left of the Papal Altar. The strepitaculum is sounded from the balcony and then all present venerate the Lance, the Wood of the Cross, and the Volto Santo.
One of the most important exterior events which marked the reign of Innocent was undoubtedly the fall of Granada, the last stronghold of the Moors in Spain, which city surrendered to Ferdinand of Aragon, who thereby with his Queen Isabella won the name of “Catholic,” on 2 January, 1492. The conquest of Granada was celebrated with public rejoicings and the most splendid fêtes at Rome. Every house was brilliant with candles; the expulsion of the Mohammedans was represented upon open stages in a kind of pantomime; and long processions visited the national church of Spain in the Piazza Navona, San Giacomo degli Spagnuoli, which had been erected in 1450.
On 25 July, 1492, Pope Innocent, who had long been sickly and ailing so that his only nourishment for many weeks was woman’s milk, passed away in his sleep at the Vatican. They buried him in S. Peter’s, this great and noble Pontiff, and upon his tomb, a work in bronze by Pollaiuolo, were inscribed the felicitous words: Ego autem in Innocentia mea ingressus sum.
The chroniclers or rather scandalmongers of the day, Burchard and Infessura, have done their best to draw the character of Innocent VIII in very black and shameful colours, and it is to be regretted that more than one historian has not only taken his cure from their odious insinuations and evil gossip, but yet further elaborated the story by his own lurid imagination. When we add thereto and retail as sober evidence the venom of contemporary satirists such as Marullo and the fertile exaggerations of melodramatic publicists such as Egidio of Viterbo, a very sensational grotesque is the result. During his youth Giovanni Battista Cibò had, it seems, become enamoured of a Neapolitan lady, by whom he was the father of two children, Franceschetto and Teodorina. As was proper, both son and daughter were provided for in an ample and munificent manner; in 1488 his father married Franceschetto to Maddalena, a daughter of Lorenzo de’ Medici. The lady Teodorina became the bride of Messer Gherardo Uso de’ Mare, a Genoese merchant of great wealth, who was also Papal Treasurer. The capital that has been made out of these circumstances is hardly to be believed. It is admitted that this is contrary to strict morality and to be reasonably blamed. But this intrigue has been taken as the grounds for accusations of the most unbridled licentiousness, the tale of a lewd and lustful life. So far as I am aware the only other evidence for anything of the kind is the mud thrown by obscure writers at a great and truly Christian, if not wholly blameless, successor of S. Peter.
In spite of these few faults Innocent VIII was a Pontiff who at a most difficult time worthily filled his Apostolic dignity. In his public office his constant endeavours for peace; his tireless efforts to unite Christendom against their common foe, the Turk; his opposition to the revolutionary Hussites in Bohemia and the anarchical Waldenses, two sources of the gravest danger, must be esteemed as worthy of the highest praise. Could he have brought his labours to fruition Europe would in later ages have been spared many a conflict and many a disaster.
Roscoe in reference to Innocent remarks: “The urbanity and mildness of his manners formed a striking contrast to the inflexible character of his predecessor.” And again: “If the character of Innocent were to be impartially weighed, the balance would incline, but with no very rapid motion, to the favourable side. His native disposition seems to have been mild and placable; but the disputed claims of the Roman See, which he conceived it to be his duty to enforce, led him into embarassments, from which he was with difficulty extricated, and which, without increasing his reputation, destroyed his repose.” We have here the judgement of a historian who is inclined to censure rather than to defend, and who certainly did not recognize, because he was incapable of appreciating, the almost overwhelming difficulties with which Innocent must needs contend if he were, as in conscience bound, to act as the chief Pastor of Christendom, a critical position which he needs must face and endeavour to control, although he were well aware that humanly speaking his efforts had no chance of success, whilst they cost him health and repose and gained him oppugnancy and misunderstanding.
Immediately upon the receipt of the Bull, Summis desiderantes affectibus, in 1485, Fr. Henry Kramer commenced his crusade against witches at Innsbruck, but he was opposed on certain technical grounds by the Bishop of Brixen, nor was Duke Sigismund so ready to help the Inquisitors with the civil arm. In fact the prosecutions were, if not actually directed, at least largely controlled, by the episcopal authority; nor did the ordinary courts, as is so often supposed, invariably carry out the full sentence of the Holy Office. Not so very many years later, indeed, the civil power took full cognizance of any charges of witchcraft, and it was then that far more blood was spilled and far more fires blazed than ever in the days when Kramer and Sprenger were directing the trials. It should be borne in mind too that frequent disturbances, conspiracies of anarchists, and nascent Bolshevism showed that the district was rotted to the core, and the severities of Kramer and Sprenger were by no means so unwarranted as is generally supposed.
On 6 June, 1474, Sprenger (Mag. Jacobus Sprenger) is mentioned as Prior of the Dominican house at Cologne, and on 8 February, 1479, he was present, as the socius of Gerhard von Elten, at the trial of John von Ruchratt of Wesel, who was found guilty of propagating the most subversive doctrines, and was sentenced to seclusion in the Augustinian monastery at Mainz, where he died in 1481.
Unfortunately full biographies of these two remarkable men, James Sprenger and Henry Kramer, have not been transmitted to us, but as many details have been succinctly collected in the Scriptores Ordinis Praedicatorum of Quétif and Echard, Paris, 1719, I have thought it convenient to transcribe the following accounts from that monumental work.
F. Jacobus Sprenger (sub anno 1494). Fr. James Sprenger, a German by birth and a member of the community of the Dominican house at Cologne, greatly distinguished himself in his academic career at the University of that city. His name was widely known in the year 1468, when at the Chapter General of the Order which was held at Rome he was appointed Regent of Studies at the Formal House of Studies at Cologne, and the following is recorded in the statutes: Fr. James Sprenger is officially appointed to study and lecture upon the Sentences so that he may proceed to the degree of Master. A few years later, although he was yet quite a young man, since he had already proceeded Master, he was elected Prior and Regent of this same house, which important offices he held in the year 1475, and a little after, we are told, he was elected Provincial of the whole German Province. It was about this date that he was named by Sixtus IV General Inquisitor for Germany, and especially for the dioceses of Cologne and Mainz. He coadjutor was a Master of Sacred Theology, of the Cologne Convent, by name Fr. Gerard von Elten, who unfortunately died within a year or two. Pope Innocent VIII confirmed Fr. Sprenger in this office, and appointed Fr. Henry Kramer as his socius. Fr. Sprenger was especially distinguished on account of his burning and fearless zeal for the old faith, his vigilance, his constancy, his singleness and patience in correcting novel abuses and errors. We know that he was living in our house at Cologne at least as late as the year 1494, since the famous Benedictine Abbot John Trithemus refers to him in this year. It is most probable that he died and was buried among his brethren at Cologne. The following works are the fruit of his pen:
1. The Paradoxes of John of Westphalia, which he preached from the pulpit at Worms, disproved and utterly refuted by two Masters of Sacred Theology, Fr. Gerard von Elten of Cologne and Fr. James Sprenger. Printed at Mainz, 1479.
2. Malleus Maleficarum Maleficat & earum haeresim, ut framea potentissima conterens per F. Henricum Institoris & Jacobum Sprengerum Ord. Praedic. Inquisitores, which has run into many editions (see the notice of Fr. Henry Kramer). This book was translated into French as Le Maillet des Sorcières, Lyons, Stephanus Gueynard, 4to. See the Bibliothèque Françoise du Verdier.
3. The institution and approbation of the Society of Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary which was first erected at Cologne on 8 September in the year 1475, with an account of many graces and Miracles, as also of the indulgences which have been granted to this said Confraternity. I am uncertain whether he wrote and issued this book in Latin or in German, since I have never seen it, and it was certainly composed for the instruction and edification of the people. Moreover, it is reported that the following circumstances were the occasion of the found of this Society. In the year 1475, when Nuess was being besieged by Charles, Duke of Burgunday, with a vast army, and the town was on the very point of surrender, the magistrates and chief burghers of Cologne, fearing the danger which threatened their city, resorted in a body to Fr. James, who was then Prior of the Convent, and besought him that if he knew of any plan or device which might haply ward off this disaster, he would inform them of it and instruct them what was best to be done. Fr. James, having seriously debated the matter with the senior members of the house, replied that all were agreed there could be no more unfailing and present remedy than to fly to the help of the Blessed Virgin, and that the very best way of effecting this would be if they were not only to honour the Immaculate Mother of God by means of the Holy Rosary which had been propagated several years ago by Blessed Alan de la Roche, but that they should also institute and erect a Society and Confraternity, in which every man should enrol himself with the firm resolve of thenceforth zealously and exactly fulfilling with a devout mind the obligations that might be required by the rules of membership. This excellent plan recommended itself to all. On the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady (8 September) the Society was inaugurated and High Mass was sung; there was a solemn procession throughout the city; all enrolled themselves and were inscribed on the Register; they fulfilled their duties continually with the utmost fervor, and before long the reward of their devotion was granted to them, since peace was made between the Emperor Frederick IV and Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgandy. In the following year, 1476, Alexander Nanni de Maltesta, Bishop of Forli and legatus a latere from Sixtus IV, who was then residing at Cologne, solemnly approved the Confraternity and on 10 March enriched it with many indulgences. And this is the first of those societies which are known as the Rosary Confraternirty to be erected and approved by the Apostolic authority. For in a short time, being enriched with so many indulgences, and new privileges and benefice being bestowed upon them almost daily, they have spread everywhere and they are to be found in almost every town and city throughout the whole of Christendom. It is worthy of remark that on the very same day that this Confraternity was erected at Cologne, Blessed Alan de la Roche of blessed memory, the most eminent promoter of the devotion of the Holy Rosary, died at Rostock; and his beloved disciple, Fr. Michel François de l’Isle, who was sometime Master of Sacred Theology at Cologne, gave Fr. Sprenger the most valuable assistance when the Rosary was being established, as we have related above. The works of Fr. James Sprenger are well approved by many authors as well as Trithemius; since amongst others who have praised him highly we may mention Albert Leander, O.P.; Antony of Siena, O.P.; Fernandez in his Concert. & Isto. del Rosar, Lib. 4, cap. 1, fol. 127; Fontana in his Theatro & Monum. published at Altamura, 1481; and, of authors not belonging to our Order, Antonius Possevinus, S.J., Miraeus, Aegidius Gelenius in his De admirance Coloniae Agrippinae urbi Ubiorum Augustae magnitudine sacra & ciuli, Coloniae, 1645, 4to, p. 430; Dupin, and very many more.
Of Henry Kramer, Jacques Quétif and Echard, Scriptores Ordini Praedicatorum, Paris, 1719, Vol. 1, pp. 896-97, sub anno 1500, give the following account: Fr. Henry Kramer (F. Henricus Institorus) was of German nationality and a member of the German Province. It is definitely certain the he was a Master of Sacred Theology, which holy science he publicly professed, although we have not been able to discover either in what town of Germany he was born, in what Universities he lectured, or in what house of the Order he was professed. He was, however, very greatly distinguished by he zeal for the Faith, which he most bravely and most strenuously defended both by his eloquence in the pulpit and on the printed page, and so when in those dark days various errors had begun to penetrate Germany, and witches with their horrid craft, foul sorceries, and devilish commerce were increasing on every side, Pope Innocent VIII, by Letters Apostolic which were given at Rome at S. Peter’s in the first year of his reign, 1484, appointed Henry Kramer and James Sprenger, Professors of Sacred Theology, general Inquisitors for all the dioceses of the five metropolitan churches of Germany, that is to say, Mainz, Cologne, Trèves, Salzburg, and Bremen. They showed themselves most zealous in the work which they had to do, and especially did they make inquisition for witches and for those who were gravely suspect of sorcery, all of whom they prosecuted with the extremest rigour of the law. Maximilian I, Emperor of Germany and King of the Romans, by royal letters patent which he signed at Brussels on 6 November, 1486, bestowed upon Fr. Kramer and Fr. Sprenger the enjoyment of full civil powers in the performance of their duties as Inquisitors, and he commanded that throughout his dominions all should obey the two delegates of the Holy Office in their business, and should be ready and willing to help them upon every occasion. For several years Fr. Henry Kramer was Spiritual Director attached to our Church at Salzburg, which important office he fulfilled with singular great commendation. Thence he was summoned in the year 1495 to Venice by the Master-General of the Order, Fr. Joaquin de Torres, in order that he might give public lectures, and hold disputations concerning public worship and the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament. For there were some theologians about this date who taught that the Blessed Sacrament must only be worshipped conditionally, with an implicit and intellectual reservation of adoring the Host in the tabernacle only in so far as It had been duly and exactly consecrated. Fr. Kramer, whose disputations were honoured by the presence of the Patriarch of Venice, with the utmost fervour publicly confronted those who maintained this view, and not infrequently did he preach against them from the pulpit. The whole question had recently arisen from a certain circumstance which happened in the vicinity of Padua. When a country fellow was collecting wood and dry leaves in a little copse hard by the city he found, wrapped up in a linen cloth beneath some dry brambles and bracken and dead branches of trees, two pyxes or ciboria containing particles which some three years before had been stolen from a neighbouring church, the one of which was used to carry the Lord’s Body to the sick, the other being provided for the exposition of the Sanctissimum on the feast of Corpus Christi. The rustic immediately reported what he had discovered to the parish priest of the chapel hard by the spinnery. The good Father immediately hastened to the spot and saw that it was exactly as had been told him. When he more closely examined the vessels he found in one pyx a number of Hosts, and so fetching thither from the church a consecrated altar-stone which it was the custom to carry when the Viaticum was taken to the dying in order that the ciborium might be decently set thereon, he covered the stone with a corporal or a friar linen cloth and reverently placed it beneath the pyx. He built all around a little wooden baldaquin or shrine, and presently put devout persons to watch the place so that no indignity might be done. Meanwhile the incident had been noised abroad and vast throngs of people made their way to the place where the thicket was; candles were lighted all around; “Christ’s Body,” they cry, “is here”; and every knee bent in humblest adoration. Before long news of the event was reported to the Bishop of Padua, who, having sent thither tow or three priests, inquired most carefully into every detail. Since in the other ciborium they only found some corrupted particles of the Sacramental Species, in the sight of the whole multitude the clerics who had come from the Bishop broke down the tiny tabernacle that had been improvised, scattered all the boughs and leafery which were arranged about it, extinguished the tapers, and carried the sacred vessels away with them. Immediately after it was forbidden under severest penalties of ecclesiastical censures and excommunication itself for anyone to visit that spot or to offer devotions there. Moreover, upon this occasion certain priests preached openly that the people who resorted thither had committed idolatry, that they had worshipped nothing else save brambles and decay, trees, nay, some went so far as to declare that they had adored the devil himself. As might be supposed, very grave contentions were set astir between the parish priests and their flocks, and it was sharply argued whether the people had sinned by their devotion to Christ’s Body, Which they sincerely believed to be there, but Which (it seems) perhaps was not there: and the question was then mooted whether a man ought not to worship the Blessed Sacrament, ay, even when Christ’s Body is consecrated in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and elevated and carried as Viaticum in procession to the sick, only conditionally, that is to say, since he does not perhaps know if It is actually Christ’s Body (or whether some accident may not have occurred), since no mane can claim to be individually enlightened to by God on this point and desire to have the Mystery demonstrated and proved to him. It was much about the same thing that Fr. Kramer undertook to refute and utterly disprove the bold and wicked theories put forward by another preacher who at Augsburg dared to proclaim from the pulpit that the Catholic Church had not definitely laid down that the appearances of Christ in His human body, and sometimes bleeding from His Sacred Wounds, in the Blessed Sacrament are real and true manifestations of Our Saviour, but that it may be disputed whether Our Lord is truly there and truly to be worshipped by the people. This wretch even went so far as to say that miracles of this kind should be left as it were to the good judgement of God, inasmuch as with regard to these miraculous appearances nothing had been strictly defined by the Church, nor yet do the Holy Fathers or Doctors lay down and sure and certain rule. These doctrines Fr. Kramer opposed with the utmost zeal and learning, delivering many an eloquent sermon against the innovator and utterly condemning the theories which had been thus put forth and proclaimed. Nay, more, by virtue of his position and his powers as delegate of the Holy Office he forbade under the pain of excommunication that anyone should ever again dare to preach such errors. Fr. Kramer wrote several works, of which some have been more than once reprinted:
1. Malleus Maleficarum Maleficas & earum haeresim, ut framea potentissima conterens per F. Henricum Institorem & Jacobum Sprengerem ord. Praed. Inquisitores, Lyons, Junta, 1484. This edition is highly praised by Fontana in his work De Monumentis. Another edition was published at Paris, apud Joannem Paruum, 8vo; also at Cologne, apud Joanem Gymnicium, 8vo, 1520; and another edition apud Nicolaum Bassaeum at Frankfort, 8vo, 1580 and 1582 (also two vols., 12mo, 1588). The editions of 1520, 1580, and 1582 are to be found in the Royal Library, Nos. 2882, 2883, and 2884. The editions printed at Venice in 1576 and at Lyons in 1620 are highly praised by Dupin. The latest edition is published at Lyons, Sumptibus Claudi Bourgeat, 4 vols., 1669. The Malleus Maleficarum, when submitted by the authors to the University of Cologne was officially approved by all the Doctors of the Theological Faculty on 9 May, 1487.
2. Several Discourses and various sermons against the four errors which have newly arisen with regard to the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, now collected and brought together by the Professor of Scripture of the Church of Salzburg, Brother Henry Kramer, of the Order of Preachers, General Inquisitor of heretical pravity. Published at Nuremburg by Antony Joberger, 4to, 1496. This work is divided into three parts:
The First Part. A Tractate against the errors of the preacher who taught that Christ was only to be conditionally worshipped in the Blessed Sacrament: A Reply to the objection raised by this preacher, and XI sermons on the Blessed Sacrament.
The Second Part. XIX Sermons on the Blessed Sacrament.
The Third Part.
- Further Six Sermons on the Sacrament.
- Advice and cautels for priests.
- A little Treatise concerning the miraculous Host and the species of Blood which have been reserved for the space of 300 years at Augsburg, or a sharp confutation of the error which asserts that the miraculous Sacrament if the Eucharist, whilst there is the appearance in the Host of Blood or Human Flesh or the form of a Figure, is not truly the Blessed Sacrament, with the promulgation of the Ban of Excommunication against all and sundry who dare to entertain this opinion. A copy of this book may be found at Paris in the library of our monastery of S. Honorat.
In was about the same time, 1497-98, that certain refractory and unruly spirits took great exception against the censure which the Bishop of Trèves, who was a legatus de latere from the Apostolic See, and the Patriarch of Venice has pronounced on Antonio degli Roselli of Arezzo and his book De Monarchia siue de potestate imperatoris, and since these rash men openly averred that the censure and condemnation of this work had not been brought about in any just or legal way, Fr. Henry was requested by Don Antoni de’ Pizamanni, a patrician of Venice, who was also a Doctor of Sacred Theology, to write a tractate impugning this said book of Antonio degli Roselli. Accordingly Fr. Kramer composed his opuscule with the following title:
3. Here beginneth a Tractate confuting the errors of Master Antonio degli Roselli of Padua, jurisconsult, concerning the plenary power of the Supreme Pontiff and the power of a temporal monarch. The conclusion is as follows: Here endeth the Reply of the Inquisitor-General of Germany, Fr. Henry Kramer, in answer to the erroneous and mistaken opinions of Antonio degli Roselli. Printed at Venice, at the Press of Giacomo de Lencho, at the charge of Peter Liechtenstein, 27 July, 1499.
4. The Shield of Defence of the Holy Roman Church against the Picards and Waldenses. This was published when Fr. Kramer was acting as Censor of the Faith under Alexander VI in Bohemia and Moldavia. This work is praised by the famous Dominican writer Noel Alexandre in his Selecta historiae ecclesiasticae capita et in loca eiusdem insignia dissertationes historicae, criticae, dogmaticae. In dealing with the fifteenth century he quotes passages from this work. The bibliographer Beugheim catalogues an edition of this work among those Incunabula the exact date of which cannot be traced. Georg Simpler, who was Rector of the University of Pforzheim, and afterwards Professor of Jurisprudence of Tubingen in the early decades of the sixteenth century, also mentions this work with commendation. Odorico Rinaldi quotes from this work in his Annales under the year 1500. The Sermons of 1496 are highly praised by Antony of Siena, O.P. Antonius Possevinus, S.J., speaks of a treatise Against the Errors of Witches. This I have never seen, but I feel very well assured that it is no other work than the Malleus Maleficarum, which was written in collaboration with Fr. James Sprenger, and which we have spoken above in some detail.
In what year Fr. Henry Kramer died and to what house of the Order he was then attached is not recorded, but it seems certain that he was living at least as late as 1500.
Thus Quétif-Echard, but we may not impertinently add a few, from several, formal references which occur in Dominican registers and archives. James Sprenger was born at Basel (he is called de Basilea in a MS. belonging to the Library of Basel), probably about 1436038, and he was admitted as a Dominican novice in 1452 at the convent of his native town. An extract “ex monumentis contuent. Coloniens.” says that Sprenger “beatus anno 1495 obiit Argentinae ad S. Nicolaum in Undis in conuentu sororum ordinis nostri.” Another account relates that he did not die at Strasburg on 6 December, 1495, but at Verona, 3 February, 1503, and certainly Jacobus Magdalius in his Stichologia has “In mortem magistri Iacobi Sprenger, sacri ordinis praedicatorii per Theutoniam prouincialis, Elegia,” which commences:
O utinam patrio recubassent ossa sepulchro
Quae modo Zenonis urbe sepulta iacent.
Henry Kramer, who appears in the Dominican registers as “Fr. Henricus Institoris de Sletstat,” was born about 1430. His later years were distinguished by the fervour of his apostolic missions in Bohemia, where he died in 1505.
Although, as we have seeb, Fr. Henry Kramer and Fr. James Sprenger were men of many activities, it is by the Malleus Maleficarum that they will chiefly be remembered. There can be no doubt that this work had in its day and for a full couple of centuries an enormous influence. There are few demonologists and writers upon witchcraft who do not refer to its pages as an ultimate authority. It was continually quoted and appealed to in the witch-trials of Germany, France, Italy, and England; whilst the methods and examples of the two Inquisitors gained an even more extensive credit and sanction owing to their reproduction (sometimes without direct acknowledgement) in the works of Bedin, De Lancre, Boguet, Remy, Tartarotti, Elich, Grilland, Pons, Godelmann, de Moura, Oberlal, Cigogna, Peperni, Martinus Aries, Anania, Binsfeld, Bernard Basin, Menghi, Stampa, Clodius, Schelhammer, Wolf, Stegmann, Neissner, Voigt, Cattani, Ricardus, and a hundred more. King James has drawn (probably indirectly) much of his Daemonologie, in Forme of a Dialogue, Divided into three Bookes from the pages of the Malleus; and Thomas Shadwell, the Orance laureate, in his “Notes upon the Magick” of his famous play, The Lancashire Witches, continually quotes from the same source.
To some there may seem much in the Malleus Maleficarum that is crude, much that is difficult. For example, the etymology will provoke a smile. The derivation of Femina from fe minus is notorious, and hardly less awkward is the statement that Diabolus comes “a Dia, quod est duo, et bolus, quod est morsellus; quia duo occidit, scilicet corpus et animam.” Yet I venture to say that these blemishes – such gross blunders, of you will – do not affect the real contexture and weight of this mighty treatise.
Possibly what will seem even more amazing to modern readers is the misogynic trend of various passages, and these not of the briefest nor least pointed. However, exaggerated as these may be, I am not altogether certain that they will not prove a wholesome and needful antidote in this feministic age, when the sexes seem confounded, and it appear to be the chief object of many females to ape the man, an indecorum by which they not only divest themselves of such charm as they might boast, but lay themselves open to the sternest reprobation in the name of sanity and common-sense. For the Apostle S. Peter says: “Let wives be subject to their husbands: that if any believe not the word, they may be won without the word, by the conversation of the wives, considering your chaste conversation with fear. Whose adorning let it not be the outward plaiting of the hair, or the wearing of god, or the putting on of apparel; but the hidden man of the heart is the incorruptibility of a quiet and meek spirit, which is rich in the sight of God. For after the manner heretofore the holy women also, who trusted God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands: as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters you are, doing well, and not fearing any disturbance.”
With regard to the sentences pronounced upon witches and the course of their trials, we may say that these things must be considered in reference and in proportion to the legal code of the age. Modern justice knows sentences of the most ferocious savagery, punishments which can only be dealt out by brutal vindictiveness, and these are often meted out to offences concerning which we may sometimes ask ourselves whether they are offences at all; they certainly do no harm to society, and no harm to the person. Witches were the bane of all social order; they injured not only persons but property. They were, in fact, as has previously been emphasized, the active members of a vast revolutionary body, a conspiracy against civilization. Any other save the most thorough measures must have been unavailing; worse, they must have but fanned the flame.
And so in the years to come, when the Malleus Maleficarum was used as a standard text-book, supremely authoritative practice winnowed the little chaff, the etymologies, from the wheat of wisdom. Yet it is safe to say that the book is to-day scarcely known save by name. It has become a legend. Writer after writer, who had never turned the pages, felt himself at liberty to heap ridicule and abuse upon this venerable volume. He could quote – though he had never seen the text – an etymological absurdity or two, or if in more serious vein he could prate glibly enough of the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum as a “most disastrous episode.” He did not know very clearly what he meant, and the humbug trusted that nobody would stop to inquire. For the most part his confidence was respected; his word was taken.
We must approach this great work – admirable in spite of its triffling blemishes – with open minds and grave intent; if we duly consider the world of confusion, of Bolshevism, of anarchy and licentiousness all around to-day, it should be an easy task for us to picture the difficulties, the hideous dangers with which Henry Kramer and James Sprenger were called to combat and to cope; we must be prepared to discount certain plain faults, certain awkwardnesses, certain roughness and even severities; and then shall we be in a position dispassionately and calmy to pronounce opinion upon the value and the merit of this famouse treatise.
As for myself, I do not hesitate to record my judgement. Literary merits and graces, strictly speaking, were not the aim of the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum, although there are felicities not a few to be found in their admirable pages. Yet I dare not even hope that the flavour of Latinity is preserved in a translation which can hardly avoid being jejune and bare. The interest, then, lies in the subject-matter. And from this point of view the Malleus Maleficarum is one of the most pregnant and most interesting books I know in the library of its kind – a kind which, as it deals with eternal things, the eternal conflict of good and evil, must eternally capture the attention of all men who think, all who see, or are endeavouring to see, reality beyond the accidents of matter, time, and space.
In Festo Expectationis B.M.V.
NOTA – To Dr. H.J. Norma I wish to express my grateful thanks for his kindness in having read through the proofs of the Malleus Maleficarum. Those who realize the labour and sacrifice of time such a task demands will best appreciate the value of such generous assistance. – M.S.