I believe it’s much more likely that the Letter of Approbation was genuine, but that the Malleus itself was never actually read by the gentlemen who endorsed it. I think it’s much more likely that Dr. Edward Peters was correct when, in his section of the work Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Volume Three – The Middle Ages [page 239], he stated; “The approval of the theological faculty of Cologne was arranged through a complicated series of academic negotiations – it, too, does not address the remarkable qualities of the work itself. It is doubtful whether Innocent VIII or the theological faculty of Cologne ever read the work.”
Also, according to Dr. Christopher Mackay, whose recent translation represents a reliable modern scholarly edition of the Malleus Maleficarum, “The argument was made in the nineteenth century by a scholar hostile to what the Malleus stood for that the approbation was a forgery by Institoris and that Sprenger had nothing to do with the composition. The evidence for this is in my view very tenuous (and the main argument is clearly invalid). Nonetheless, once the argument was put forward, it took on a life of its own, and people continue to advance arguments in favor of the idea that Sprenger’s involvement was a falsification perpetrated by Institoris, despite the fact that this argument was vitiated from the start.”
Whether or not the work was ever officially banned by the Catholic Church, the Malleus Maleficarum became the de-facto handbook for witch-hunters and Inquisitors throughout Late Medieval Europe. Between the years 1487 and 1520, it was published thirteen times, and between 1574 to 1669 it was again published sixteen times.
The Malleus Maleficarum perhaps owes most of its popularity to Johannes Gutenberg. It was the invention of the printing press in the middle of the fifteenth century that allowed the work to spread so rapidly throughout Europe.
References & Links
– Wikipedia – Malleus Maleficarum
– Cornell University – Malleus Maleficarum (Latin text)
– Original Site Introduction
I believe I may have discovered one possible background for the claim that the Malleus maleficarum is on the Vatican’s list of prohibited books. If this is the only background, then the claim is both true and false. The thing is that the 1578 edition of the Malleus Maleficarum was a compilation which included other treatises besides Kramer’s, among them two by an earlier demonogist, Felix Malleolus (Hemmerlin). Felix’ treatises were put on the list as partially prohibited texts.
Here is the documentation:
The latin text specifies which edition of the Malleus is meant and explains that Hemmerlin’s treatises are permitted reading on condition of the expurgation of certain parts.
On page cxiv of the same index, Malleus Maleficarum is mentioned on its own, but only with a single reference – to the prohibition of Felix Malleolus’ treatises, which seems to imply that Kramer’s treatise is not prohibited in this edition of the index (published in the year 1667):
However, the matter is not an easy one to finally decide. The thing is that the index which is usually referred to as containing the Malleus in its own right, is one compiled by Paul IV in 1559, which was not, however, ultimately published, possibly due to the death of that pope the same year. So in order to check out the content of that index, one would have to visit the Vatican physically…
As for the inquisitors of the Theological Faculty at Cologne, I think they must have read the book; how could they otherwise have pronounced the specific judgment (which is preserved in the sources) on it that its methods were “unethical and illegal”?
As for the endorsing pope, Innocent VII, it does seem most likely that he never read the appalling book, but just wrote his endorsement letter to the mad inquisitor without checking up on him properly. Which, if so, was an unpardonable bureaucratic negligence, costing thousands of lives…
This was the Covid Plandemic of thr fifteenth century. created by educated intellectuals, it was the intellectual justification for widespread panic in the face of an invisible threat.
Of interest also would be The Discoverie of Witchcraft by Reginald Scott in 1584 and A Discovery of the Impostures of Witches by John Brinley 1680 which includes astrologers.
A certain bloodline of people do admit to being required to study books of witchcraft and magic for practice. Those people are so dangerous that the future of humankind is now at stake. Witches are very real. Peoples of the past were not crazy. They were trying to solve very real problems.
The problem was that people were suffering from the huge changes that had happened in their societies due to the Reformation (also the Christians were pissed at how hard the Norse were to convert – the pre-Christian Norse had witches instead of chaplains) and wanted a convenient scapegoat.