Despite all the devices that could be contrived to combat him, the devil continued to wreak havoc. The fluttering of wings was heard repeatedly in the darkness and luminous eyes peered balefully from under the eaves; women were seen to carry brooms after dusk, or discovered to be missing from their firesides at night, from which absences they reappeared with the mud of distant farms upon their aprons. It was clear that Satan was as yet uncurbed, and men turned to the magicians, sorcerers and witches whose secret movements and malignant curses were evidence enough that they were the Satanic agents who were bringing the world to wrack and ruin.
Thus the inquisition against heresy was of necessity expanded to include witchcraft. Or rather the tyrannical impulse of the church, having long exercised itself in the attempt to eradicate errors of belief, found a fresh and stimulating objective in black magic. As early as the fourth century heresy had come to mean any religious error held in willful and persistent opposition to authoritative declaration. But one difficulty which the church had faced from the beginning was the determination of the imperfectly defined line between heresy and that other manifestation of Satanic action, magic. Charlemagne, about 800, had expressed the belief that the arts of magic were a delusion, and had ordered that any who from a belief in the black art caused the death of an alleged witch should themselves be burned. In 840 Agobard, Bishop of Lyons, denounced the popular fear of witches as a superstition; in the twelfth century John of Salisbury called witches' flights illusions of the devil, while in the next century Etienne de Bourbon proclaimed them to be the fancies of dreaming women. Gregory VII (?1020-1085) condemned and forbade any criminal process whatsoever against those guilty only of a vain and silly superstition, while King Coloman of Hungary about 1100 said, 'There are no witches, and against those who are reputed to be such no legal action shall be taken.'
It appears to have been concomitant with the spiritual renovation which Conrad initiated under Gregory IX that authoritative interpretation moved in the other direction, for some twenty years later (1258) Alexander IV issued the first papal bull against black magic; this was addressed to the Franciscan inquisitors and cautioned them against judging any case of witchcraft unless it affected the unity or faith of the church. And for some time, apart from a notable epidemic of sorcery in 1320 when John XXII handed over to his inquisitors all cases of magic, witchcraft was officially left to the ordinary courts. Not that those who were thus charged under the secular law escaped the consequences of their affiliation with Satan, for they were almost invariably imprisoned and frequently put to death; moreover, the distinction between witchcraft and heresy was so subtle that it was usually drawn to the taste of the presiding judges. But in the century and a half after Gregory IX, this indeterminacy was gradually eliminated. On the precedents established by Gregory and John XXII, numerous bulls were published by Benedict XII, Gregory XI, Martin V and other popes, dealing in no uncertain terms with witchcraft in all its detail, and anathematizing all its aspects in the most emphatic language. The evil suffering no abatement, in 1451 Nicholas V gave his inquisitor the cognizance of cases of divination, even when the crime did not savor of heresy, a permission that amounted only to the recognition of increasing custom. Satan's activity continuing to increase, Eugene IV was forced to issue four bulls in the space of a few years exhorting the inquisitors to proceed 'summarily, without ado, and without any judiciary form' against the human agents of the Prince of the Power of the Air, and especially against those who had the power to produce bad weather. In 1473, 1478 and again in 1483 Sixtus IV attacked the spreading evil with increased vigor. The single difficulty which previously may have stayed the hands of the inquisitors, the fine line over which many an agent of the devil may have hitherto escaped, was resolved by Sixtus in no uncertain terms: he clearly designated all forms of sorcery and divination as heresy of the most hated kind, an opinion of the utmost importance when pronounced by one who was not only an eminent theologian, but the author of a large and authoritative treatise on the Immaculate Conception.
In judging this action, full cognizance must be taken of the fact that when Sixtus came to the papal throne the Prince of the Power of the Air was riding high, and all Christendom was stricken with a panic. It was an age of faith and fear. Men feared death because beyond it yawned the uncertainties of an eternal future; they feared life because it was the gate to death, the incentive, the opportunity and means to sin and the cause for punishment; they feared the physical world because it was opposed to the world of the spirit, and they feared nature because it was everywhere charged with portents of God's wrath or Satan's mischief. It was an age when according to indisputable sacred writ every trivial phenomenon that touched man's life had its supernatural origin. The time had come when, if the people were not to be destroyed, if Christ's Vicar were not to be deposed and his work on earth completely undone, the church had to exert its full strength.
The mere discovery of the enemy's camps is not, however, the same as his defeat, and it is not surprising that this pope's successor, Innocent VIII, should find it necessary to add to Sixtus's reconnaissance a powerful and aggressive instrument which took the form of a bull addressed to two of his inquisitors, Henry Kramer (also known as Heinrich Institoris) and James Sprenger, both professors of theology in the University of Cologne, and entitled: Summis desiderantes affectibus ('Our most loving wish'), instructing and empowering them to prepare a manual for the detection and punishment of witchcraft in all its forms. Although this bull was merely one in a long record of papal utterances in the crusade against witches, it served to give this crusade power and authority which it had not previously possessed. Because Innocent's pronouncement came from the highest authority of the church and was characterized by infallibility under divine guarantee, because the Malleus maleficarum (Witches' Hammer) which Kramer and Sprenger prepared under its instruction came from two ecclesiastics who were distinguished as much by their piety and logic as by their expert knowledge of witchcraft, and because these two documents may fairly be said to mark the zenith of Christian faith, they are worthy of close examination.
A brief digression may first be permitted on the history of the term 'bull' and on the infallibility of such a document. In classical Latin, bulla meant bubble, and the word was early used to indicate a boss of metal, such as those on doors, sword belts and boxes. By transference it also designated the round or heart-shaped box containing a magic amulet which was suspended from the neck of children of noble birth until they assumed the toga virilis, after which time it was hung in the home and dedicated to the household gods. Possibly because the bulla was regarded as a personal charm or even numina, the term was applied to the leaden seals by which papal and royal documents were authenticated and, by the end of the twelfth century, it had come to mean the document itself. Such a document is an instrument of special weight and importance, written, of course, in Latin and, until 1878, in an archaic Gothic script without punctuation, demanding, since only experts could read the original, a transumption in the ordinary hand. No bull was issued without the most careful deliberation, and since it was an ex cathedra utterance of Christ's Vicar on earth, it possessed in all respects the attribute of infallibility.
This quality of infallibility was not formally declared until the Vatican Council of 1870, but it had been implicit in papal utterances for many centuries. The definition of 1870, which shocked both the Catholic and Protestant world, carefully restricts infallibility to matters of dogma and morality, to the exclusion of truths of a natural order, ecclesiastic law, government and the like, since by this late date the necessity for such restriction had been most amply demonstrated by a series of embarrassing fallacies which had been 'infallibly' proclaimed by various pontiffs over a period of some ten centuries. In the definition of 1870, the basis of infallibility is found in the Petrine texts which in earlier centuries had been used to advance the priority of the Roman over other bishops of the church: '... knowing most fully that this See of holy Peter remains ever free from all blemish of error, according to the Divine promise of the Lord our Saviour made to the Prince of His apostles: I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.' The infallibility is guaranteed by the direct action of God. It is not inherent in the person of the pope but in his position as elected head of the church and as the inheritor of the power and authority of Peter himself.
By the fifteenth century, the pope of Rome had come to be not only the recognized head of the western church but the voice of current revelation and the supreme authority of Europe whom no one dared contradict. As Christ's Vicar on earth his word was law and shared the inviolable sanctity of scripture. Though not as yet attested by any ecumenical council, infallibility de facto was recognized, not as restricted by the definition of 1870, but in all matters of Christian faith which (in the time of Innocent VIII) encompassed not only dogma and morality but most of cosmology as well.
As has been related, by 1484 the world had come into a dreadful state. It was on December 9 of this year, within four months of his election to the pontificate, that Innocent VIII issued his bull, Summis desiderantes affectibus. He recounted that it had come to his ears that many persons of both sexes, unmindful of their salvation, had abandoned themselves to devils, incubi and succubi, and by their incantations, spells and other accursed charms, had slain infants in their mothers' wombs, and the offspring of cattle, had blasted the produce of the earth, the grapes of the vine, the fruits of trees, men and women, beasts of burden, herd beasts, as well as animals of other kinds, afflicting terrible and piteous pains and sore diseases, hindering men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving, and at the instigation of the Enemy of Mankind committing and perpetrating the foulest abominations and filthiest excesses to the deadly peril of their own souls and the injury of others.
'Wherefore we decree and enjoin that the aforesaid Inquisitors (Henry Kramer and James Sprenger, Professors of Theology, of the Order of Friars Preachers) be empowered to proceed to the just correction, imprisonment and punishment of any persons, without let or hindrance ... correcting, mulcting, imprisoning, punishing, as their crimes merit, those who they have found guilty, the penalty being adapted to the offence ... without any right of appeal .... Let no man therefore ... but if any dare to do so, which God forbid, let him know that upon him will fall the wrath of Almighty God, and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.' Kramer and Sprenger thereupon proceeded to draw up their Witches' Hammer, a manual treating the subject of witchcraft under thirty-five topics, instructing the faithful as to the position they should take in regard to this evil and detailing how accused persons should be examined, prosecuted and condemned.
The moral argument of the Malleus runs as follows: Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden; in consequence of their fall from grace, evil entered the world, the purpose of this evil being to punish them and their children, who are born in sin. The agents of evil are the angels who, having sinned against God, were driven forth from heaven and forevermore work under leadership of Satan against the goodness of the Creator. Satan enters men, or makes contracts with them, to gain his ends; and, since it is the church's duty to fight on the side of God against him, it must exorcise the Satanic spirits, punish men who bargain with them and make of all sinners an example to the faithful. But in addition to this earthly conflict between God and Satan is the fate of man's immortal soul; this is in the keeping of the church, which, in the sacrament, has the final yea or nay, and the immortal soul can only be consigned to God if in the view of the church it has expiated its mortal sins. It is better that a man lose this short and inconsequential life than God's eternal blessedness. To reinforce the argument they quote Augustine: 'So merciful is Almighty God that He would not allow any evil to be in His works unless He were so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil.'
According to the professors of theology from the University of Cologne, there is no sin worse than the sin of witches, in the detection of which the inquisitor must use every care, for the devil is both clever and determined and will resort to any means to deceive the judge. Sometimes a public accusation is leveled by a person who offers to prove his charge, but this circumstance is full of danger to the accuser because of the penalty of talion if he fails to prove his charge, and also because the devil may seek retaliation; it is equally dangerous to the inquisitor because it is apt to lead to endless litigation, and it is therefore to be officially discouraged. A better method is to proceed on the assertions of those who are moved by zeal for the faith or by fear of punishment for failure to offer information, and it is best to take denunciation secretly when no accuser or informer has to appear and submit himself to the risk of retaliation by the devil or the suspected party.
In recommending a secret procedure the Malleus was not deviating from long established precedent, for it was the custom to surprise the accused by a sudden summons and imprison her on suspicion; everyone accused was assumed to be guilty until released, since lasting proof of innocence was in the nature of the case impossible. The accused was allowed no defense beyond the privilege of naming such enemies as might have reason to denounce her, but she was not allowed to know who had denounced her, the judge always appearing as the accuser. In the precedent established by Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) for the treatment of heretics, the trial was conducted 'simply and squarely, without the noise and form of lawyers and judges.' Women, children, slaves and heretics were admitted as witnesses for the prosecution but not for the accused, and no witness called by the court might refuse to give evidence under pain of being charged with heresy himself. A false witness could be punished, but his testimony might be retained and could have its full effect. The charge was not as a rule worded in terms of particular offenses, but in terms of 'tendencies' and 'dispositions,' and external acts of piety and verbal professions of faith had no value for the accused, whose sole protection rested in the popular opinion of the leading men of the community, who were presumed to be consulted, and in the presence during the interrogation of two disinterested parties.
The Malleus specially cautioned the judge not to conclude his examination too quickly, for the reason that unless God, through a holy angel, compels the devil to withhold his help from the witch, she will by the devil's help maintain a stubborn silence, the 'diabolic taciturnity,' not only against questioning but against all torture; and even if her silence is at last broken it will be only to assert her innocence falsely, for some witches with the devil's help would sooner be torn limb from limb than confess any of the truth. As a first effort to procure a confession, friends of the accused should be summoned and told that if she confesses she will escape the death penalty, since often the mere misery of imprisonment, long meditation and the advice of honest men will dispose a witch to discover the truth. If, after a prolonged state of suspense and continual postponement of the day of examination, the judge still believes that the accused is denying the truth, he is to question her lightly without shedding blood. She should first be stripped and searched, for witches often prepare instruments of witchcraft out of the limbs of unbaptized children, which they sew into their garments, hide in their hair or even in unmentionable places in order to gain the devil's help in withstanding the pleas of honest men and acquiring strength to resist the torture. If, after she has been disarmed in this manner, the persuasions of the judge and those who are zealous for the faith still fail to move her to a convincing and complete confession, let her be bound to some engine of torture, which the officers should do joyfully, not appearing to be disturbed by their duty. Then let her be released at someone's earnest request, again persuaded, and promised that she can escape the death penalty.
Here it is asked whether, in the case of a prisoner convicted by her general bad reputation, by witnesses, and by the evidence of the fact, the only thing lacking being a confession of the crime from her own mouth, the judge can lawfully promise her her life if she confesses, since if she does confess she must suffer the extreme penalty. It is answered that she may be promised her life if she is to be sentenced to imprisonment for life on bread and water, provided she supplies evidence which will lead to the conviction of other witches. But she is not to be told that she is to be imprisoned in this way; she should be led to suppose that some other penance, such as exile, will be imposed instead. Or, the accused may be promised her life and then, when the promise has been kept for a time after her confession, she may be burned if the judge has made the promise in such a way that he can afterwards disclaim the duty of passing sentence on her and depute it to another judge.
It is as difficult to compel a witch to tell the truth as it is to exorcise a person possessed of the devil, and if neither threats nor promises move her, she should be sentenced to the torture. She must be examined, not in any new or exquisite manner, but in the usual way, lightly or heavily as the nature of her crime demands; while she is being questioned let her be frequently exposed to torture, beginning with the more gentle of them. If she confesses under torture, she should then be taken to another place and questioned anew so that she does not confess only under the stress of torture. If, after being fittingly tortured, she still refuses to confess, the judge should have other engines of torture brought before her and shown her, and then if she is not induced by terror to confess, the torture must be 'continued' on the second or third day.
Methods of torture are not described in the Malleus, and it would be pleasanter if their details could be left to the imagination, but complete omission of this exquisite ecclesiastic method of discovering truth would be a deplorable injustice to the millions of people for whom, over a period of many centuries, they were all too real. The use of torture against heretics was formally approved in 1252 by Innocent IV in his bull Ad Exstirpanda, and by 1312 cruelty had grown so excessive that it was disapproved by a church council. It nevertheless continued as the principal method of examination and, after the publication of the Malleus, was given extraordinary variety and elaborated with artistic skill by men who pondered long on the best methods of evoking the most intense and prolonged human suffering. According to canon law, torture could be applied once only, but it could be adjourned and 'continued' many times, and if necessary, it could be used on witnesses as well.
The accused was usually first tested in the ordeal by water, which consisted of throwing her into a river or moat; innocence was proved by sinking, guilt by swimming, the principle being that the water refused to receive those who had shaken off the baptismal water through a renunciation of their faith. Even when the ordeal by water immediately revealed that the accused was guilty, it was imperative to obtain a full confession, to which end a variety of very ingenious devices were afterward applied. There were heavy pincers to tear out the fingernails, or to be used red-hot for pinching; there was the rack, a long table on which the accused was tied by her hands and feet, back down, and stretched by rope and windlass until the joints were dislocated; to this were added rollers covered with knobs or sharp spikes, which were placed under the hips and shoulders, and over which the victim was rolled back and forth; there were the thumbscrew, an instrument designed for disarticulating the fingers, Spanish boots to crush the legs and feet, metal shirts lined with knives, the Iron Virgin, a hollow instrument the size and figure of a woman, with knives so arranged inside that when the two halves of the figure were closed under pressure the accused would be lacerated in its deadly embrace. This and other devices were inscribed with the motto Soli Deo Gloria, 'Glory be only to God.' In addition there were a variety of branding irons, horsewhips, pins to be thrust beneath the nails, and various devices for suspending the accused in space, head up or head down, with weights attached. These instruments were sprayed with holy water to fortify them against the devil, and to weaken her power of silence the suspected witch was forced to drink an infusion prepared from objects that had been blessed. Official records reveal that suspects were put to eighteen successive tortures in one day, and a witch named Holf was 'continued' fifty-six times. When the torturer and his assistant grew tired, the hands and feet of the accused were tied, the hair was cut off and brandy was poured over the head and ignited, or sulphur was burned in the arm pits or on the breast. At night the victim was chained closely to the floor or wall where she was a helpless prey to the rats and vermin which populated the bloody torture chambers.
To return to the instructions of the Malleus, in the intervals between the application of torture the judge and other honest men were to do all in their power to persuade the accused to confess the truth, giving her, if it seemed expedient, a promise that her life would be spared. The judge should take care that she was never left alone, lest the devil cause her to kill herself. In 'continuing' the torture, the judge should bear in mind that, just as the same medicine is not applicable to all members, there being various salves for each member, so not all heretics or those accused of heresy were to be subjected to the same method of examination and torture. If the Sons of Darkness were to become accustomed to one general rule of examination or one method of torture, they would provide means of evading the first as a well-known snare set for their destruction and against the second would devise extraordinary means of resistance.
They were told that a witch will reveal her diabolic power of preserving silence by failing to weep under the most solemn conjurations, and even under torture. The reason a witch cannot weep is, as St. Bernard says, that tears are displeasing to the devil because the tears of the humble can penetrate to heaven and conquer the unconquerable, so to prevent a witch from finally attaining penitence the devil uses all his power to restrain her tears. The judge may conjure her to true tears if she be innocent or restrain false tears by placing his hand upon her head and saying: "I conjure you by the bitter tears shed on the Cross by our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world, and by the burning tears poured in the evening hour over His wounds by the most glorious Virgin Mary, His Mother, and by the Saints and the Elect of God, from whose eyes have now been wiped away all tears, that if you be guilty that you shall by no means do so [weep]. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen." It is found by experience that the more they are conjured, the less they are able to weep, however hard they may try to do so. On the other hand, tears in a guilty person may be only a sign that the devil of his own free will has deserted the accused and left her unprotected.
During the examination and torture the judge and the assessors must be careful not to allow themselves to be touched physically by the witch, nor to be stared at nor seen first by her, for experience has shown that by such methods witchcraft is worked upon honest men themselves and even the mind of the judge might be so altered that he would consider the witch to be innocent and would let her go free. He and the assessors should always carry with them some salt consecrated on Palm Sunday and some Blessed Herbs. These can be enclosed together in Blessed Wax and worn around the neck, for they have a wonderful protective virtue, as is shown not only from the testimony of witches but from the use and practice of the church, which blesses such objects for this very purpose.
If the witch still refuses to confess, let the hair be shaved from every part of her body, lest she has hidden therein some superstitious object to enable her to obtain the power of silence. Even if such an object is not found, the devil may so harden her heart without the use of charms that she is unable to confess her crimes. This power of taciturnity can proceed from a natural hardness of heart; some witches are so softhearted, or even feebleminded, that at the slightest torture they admit everything, even some things which are not true; others are so hardhearted that, however much they are tortured, the truth is not to be had from them. The ability to remain silent may also proceed from the power of another witch who has gained possession of a thread or some object belonging to the prisoner and thereby transferred her power to the accused. The judge himself must decide the source of the power of taciturnity and proceed accordingly.
Finally, let her be well treated in the matter of food and drink and let a man enter into her confidence and pretend to be an accomplice and let spies listen and take careful notes. Or let her be imprisoned in a castle and have the castellan pretend to go on a long journey; then let some of his women visit her and promise to set her at liberty if she will teach them how to conduct certain practices. If the judge takes notes of these matters, witches may very often be led to confess. If she still does not admit her crimes, let the judge resentence her to torture of new and more exquisite kinds, remembering that the devil is clever and able to arm himself against anything with which he is familiar.
If, after thorough examination, the accused is found innocent, this fact should not be stated in the sentence. Rather, let it be stated that nothing was legally proved against her, for if after a little time she should again be brought to trial and her guilt should be legally proved, she can be condemned in spite of the previous absolution. Pure acquittal is a dangerous precedent.
The accused may be found guilty of degrees of witchcraft ranging from 'sheerest accusation' through 'light suspicion, strong suspicion, denial of heresy,' and so on to 'heresy.' Those who confess may be 'reconciled' with the church, thus saving them the grace of the hereafter, but they are none the less to be inflicted with punishments ranging from penances, fasting, pilgrimages to Palestine, Canterbury, etc., public scourging or humiliation, up to perpetual imprisonment. Perpetual imprisonment is of two kinds: murus largus, where the prisoner is to be fed, clothed and housed in fair comfort, this sentence being recommended for publicly important men and women; and murus strictus, in which the prisoner is confined in deepest dungeon, with single or double fetters and only bread and water.
Those who are convicted without confession, or convicted of more than they confess, are to be found guilty of heresy. A typical sentence for mild heresy reads in part: 'Since the Lord in his Infinite mercy permits men at times to fall into heresies and errors, not only that learned Catholics may be exercised in sacred arguments, but that they who have fallen from the faith may become more humble thereafter and perform works of penitence ...' and because 'it would be a very scandalous thing not to avenge the injuries done to temporal lords, and to tolerate the offenses committed against God the Creator of all the Heavens, since it is a far greater sin to offend against the Eternal than against a temporal Majesty, and that God who pities sinners may have mercy upon you, that you may be an example to others, and that your sins may not remain unpunished, and that you may become more careful in the future, and not more prone but less apt to commit the said and any other crimes: We the said Bishop and Judge, or Judges, on behalf of the faith, sitting in the tribunal as Judges judging, sentence and condemn you to perpetual imprisonment, there to be punished with the bread of affliction and the water of distress; reserving to ourselves the right to mitigate, aggravate, change or remit wholly or in part the said sentence, if, when and as often as it shall seem good to us to do so.'
The severer sentences applicable to the full charge of heresy are much longer, but have a similar import, and a typical one ends: 'We the said Bishop and Judges, sitting in tribunal as Judges judging, having before us the Holy Gospel that our judgment may proceed as from the countenance of God and our eyes see with equity, and having before our eyes only God and the irrefragable truth of the Holy Faith and the extirpation of the plague of heresy; against you, N., in this place on the day and at the hour before assigned to you for the hearing of your definite sentence, we pronounce that you have truly fallen into (or back into) the sin of heresy; and as one truly so relapsed we cast you forth from this our ecclesiastical Court, and leave you to be delivered to the secular arm. But we earnestly pray that the said secular court may temper its justice with mercy, that there be no bloodshed or danger of death.'
Since the phrase 'to be delivered to the secular arm' meant to be burned at the stake, the prayer that 'the secular court temper its justice with mercy' was permission, not often utilized, for prior strangulation. Unless the concern of the judges against 'bloodshed or danger of death' refers to themselves and the executioners, or perhaps the spectators who gathered around the fire, it remains wholly mysterious since this was a death sentence which the secular court, on pain of excommunication, was forced to execute. Because it is a death sentence, the Malleus instructs that it should not be pronounced on a Festival or Solemn Day, nor in a church, since these are dedicated to God. Moreover, the judge should not himself convey the sentence to the prisoner, nor after passing sentence, present himself before the prisoner, since the prisoner might be moved by terror or hate to wreak evil upon him. With the delivering of the sentence the responsibilities of the ecclesiastic judge and his assessors end, and the secular court is expected to perform its office. In some cases the prisoner was allowed to receive the Eucharist, when four hours were allowed for the Host to be dissolved, after which the culprit was burned and the ashes scattered to the wind.
If it should happen, the Malleus goes on, that when the prisoner is already at the place where he is to be burned he should willingly abjure all heresy, he may in mercy be received as a penitent heretic and imprisoned for life; however, the judges ought not to place much faith in a conversion of this sort, since it may be presumed that the prisoner confesses from fear of death rather than for love of truth, and in any case they can punish him on account of the temporal injuries which he has committed.
Once the inquisitor had by torture and false promises obtained a confession, he had but to pass the sentence upon the accused that he 'be turned over to the secular arm.' There was no way for the secular arm to err except to use an insufficient quantity of wood. As for the judge, he had to aid him the solemn advice of the learned men of the theological faculty as well as men skilled in the canon and civil law, in addition to the testimony of the witnesses, which, having been taken in secrecy, must be considered as unbiased by compulsion or constraint; and as he reached his decision he placed his hand upon the Bible and recalled the injunction of Moses: 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.' Supported by these safeguards, by prayerful communion with God and by Christ's Vicar on earth whose infallible wisdom and expressed orders he was putting into effect, how was it possible for him to err?
On July 25, 1492, Pope Innocent VIII, who had long been sickly so that almost his only nourishment for many weeks had been woman's milk, passed away in his sleep. To mourn him were only his two natural children. He was buried in St. Peter's and upon his tomb, a magnificent work in bronze by Pollaiuolo, were inscribed the punning words: Ego antem Innocentia mea ingressus sum (But I have gone on in my innocence). As for Kramer and Sprenger, it is enough to know that they lived, to know how they reasoned and what the consequences of their reasoning were. They had a theory of God and they adhered to it with indisputable logic. Every argument underlying the discovery of witchcraft by trial and torture was a rigorous and logically sound deduction from the Christian premises. These premises were the heritage of long ages of speculation: the Egyptians had bequeathed to man the notion of the talismanic power of righteousness, of doing that which the gods loved; the Jews bequeathed him Yahweh, the Persians, the absolutes of good and evil; Socrates had given him an immortal soul and Plato a doctrine of physical imperfection striving to achieve spiritual perfection; Babylonia had supplied the Satan necessary to free God of the charge of evil; and Augustine had woven all these threads together into a fabric of sin stretching from generation to generation without end. It was these men, and not a fifteenth century pope and his two zealous Dominican priests, frightened half out of their wits by boils, hailstorms and epidemics of sick pigs, who are to be blamed for man's descent into the lowest depths which the human intellect has ever reached.
Here and there were men who rebelled against the horror and doubted the validity of the witchcraft persecution: the first of recorded memory being the soldier-physician Agrippa of Nettesheim (1486-1535), who for his opposition to the church was hounded from one city to another in Europe and only saved from persecution by his friendship with the Hapsburgs, the king of the Netherlands, the duke of Savoy and other powerful persons. Others who spoke or wrote against it were Johann Weier (1563), Reginald Scott (1580), Montaigne (1581), Adam Tanner (1626), Friedrich van Spee (1631) and Balthasar Bekker (1691). These isolated voices had little effect. The Malleus had held that skepticism about witchcraft itself savored of heresy, and skepticism was therefore not only dangerous but impotent. Towards the close of the sixteenth century Dietrich Flade, eminent jurist and chief judge of the Electoral Court, revolted from the ranks of orthodoxy; after having sentenced many people to death he realized that it was all unreal, that the confessions forced out of the victims of his torture chamber were either the result of madness or the necessity to confess anything and everything in order to shorten the fearful ordeal. When Flade expressed this doubt, he was immediately arrested by the authority of the archbishop and charged with having sold himself to Satan; and he in turn was racked until he confessed everything which his torturers suggested, and finally he was strangled and burned.
Yet despite its heroic measures, the Malleus failed to beat the devil down. Innocent himself had been forced to issue three additional bulls urging the faithful to increased zeal in witch catching, and other pontiffs continued to issue bulls until the middle of the seventeenth century. The theologians produced volume after volume in which they discoursed informatively on all aspects of the subject, proving the reality of Satan, his demons and his monstrous deeds by the most erudite arguments. Notable among these treatises were De Praestigiis Daemonum (1563) by Johann Weier, De la Démonomanie des Sorciers (1587) by Jean Bodin, Discours des Sorciers (1590) by Henri Boguet, the Daemonolatreiae (1595) in three volumes by Nicholas Remy, and Les controverses et recherches magique (1611) by Del Rio. Literature of this genre became popular reading among the educated and the horrifying tales spread in a whispered flood to all parts of the world and onto every intellectual level. For three hundred years men, women and children continued to confess that they raised hailstorms or commandeered the thunder and lightning by incantations and magic rituals, that they turned themselves into werewolves and ate children, or that they flew through the night to the terrifying sacrilegious Sabbat. Nicholas Remy boasted in his book on demonology that within fifteen years he had sent eight hundred persons to death for witchcraft in Lorraine, and added that 'justice has been so ably administered at my hands that in one year sixteen witches have taken their own lives rather than come before me.' A bishop in Würtzburg claimed 1900 in a five year period; another in Como, 100 in one year; another in Nancy, 800 in 16 years; another in Bamberg, 600 in 10 years, while at Geneva, the home of Calvin, 500 were executed in three months and the Parliament of Toulouse distinguished itself by burning 400 in a single day. A total of 7000 were said to have been burned at Treves. Boquet boasted of having burned 600 lycanthropes, and it has been asserted that the Lutheran, Benedict Carpzov (1595-1666), who claimed that he had read the Bible 53 times, passed sentence on 20,000 Satanists. The slaughter was less in England, but the official count puts the figure at not less than 1000 people hanged or burned between 1542 and 1736. How many people were tried or otherwise persecuted for witchcraft in Europe during the whole Christian Era is unknown; estimates run as high as several million, and a much larger figure would be required to encompass all those who were indirectly brought into misery by the struggle to defend God and man against the devil. With no exaggeration it can be said that for five centuries, from the twelfth through the seventeenth century, all Christendom was ravaged by this war.
The Reformation, which shifted the emphasis from ecclesiastic law to the scriptures, only aggravated the horror; Protestantism accepted the belief as fully as Catholicism, and since the schismatics were anxious to prove themselves as zealous and righteous as the orthodox, the war against the devil became, if possible, more systematic. Feyerabend's Theatrum Diabolorum, a work put out by a number of Luther's followers, raised Johann Weier's estimate of the number of existing devils to 2,665,866,746,664, while others put the figure at not less than ten thousand billion.
Calvin had said, "Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will, knowingly and willingly, incur their very guilt." To Luther, the devil was a living personality who interfered with his work and rest, and once, so it is related, this preacher threw his inkstand at His Satanic Majesty. Luther subscribed to the belief in incubi and succubi and demonic changelings, and asserted that to deny the reality of witchcraft was to deny the authority of the Bible. Luther's contribution to the Reformation consisted largely of substituting egotism, doctrination and personal salvation for the altar, sacraments and ceremonies of Catholicism, and these shifts, coupled with his ignorance and superstition, could not save Protestantism from the insanity.
In Scotland particularly, where the all-powerful minister of the kirk served both as accuser and examiner, witch hunting became a popular pastime, with every man listening at every other man's keyhole. In every kirk there hung a box in which the names of suspected persons could be dropped secretly, and to be suspected was to be accused, while to be accused was almost certainly to suffer punishment. During the reign of Elizabeth religious exiles from the continent brought the epidemic of witchcraft into England. Under James I, stern Scot and Calvinist, torture was initiated, and within a decade the Puritans, adding enforced sleeplessness and ducking to other devices for discovering witches, were destroying them by the score. At Leith, in 1589, a man confessed, while his legs were crushed in the boots and wedges were driven under his fingernails, that several hundred witches had gone to sea in a sieve and raised the tempest that had delayed the Princess of Denmark, James's bride. And in 1664 nine women were burned there at one time and in one pyre for lesser evils. Persons skilled in detecting witches by searching out insensitive moles, or 'devil's marks,' and testing them with pins, needles or awls, came to be recognized as experts. The Scottish 'prickers' formed a regular guild. Famous in this art were John Kincaid, the 'common pricker' of Tranent, John Bain, John Balfour and Matthew Hopkins. The last named combed the county of Suffolk and tested multitudes of old women by pricking them, and as a result of his tests declared the county to be infested. Parliament thereupon sent two eminent Presbyterian divines and a legal commission to weed out the evil, and they set about their task by hanging sixty persons in one year. They weighed the witches in a balance against the Bible, or in the continental manner ducked them in the river with thumbs and toes tied crosswise, those who did not sink being adjudged guilty. Hopkins charged but twenty shillings a town, although he sometimes had to ride twenty miles there and back, and, as he said, if he found three or four witches, or only one, this was cheap enough. The story that this great witch hunter was hung for a witch himself is apparently a fiction, the only credible evidence indicating that he died in a Christian bed.
In 1647 the mania spread to New England and culminated in the Salem witch trials of 1692. Before it had spent itself hundreds of persons had been arrested and nineteen had been hung, eight in one day. The Salem epidemic is notable chiefly because the shamed reaction that followed it broke the power of Cotton Mather and ended theocracy in the Colonies. During the Salem trials a dog was put to death at Andover for bewitching several people, which balanced accounts between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres: in the year 1474 a diabolical rooster, for the heinous and unnatural crime of laying an egg, had been solemnly tried, condemned and publicly burned at the stake by the church authorities of Basle.
Although as late as 1768 the schismatic John Wesley proclaimed that 'the giving up of witchcraft is in effect the giving up of the Bible,' the world was now satiated with torture and the smell of burned flesh, and little by little people were beginning to doubt, if for no better reason than that they were tired of believing, that men and women could be inspired agents of His Satanic Majesty. Holland abolished witch hunting in 1610, Geneva in 1632, Sweden in 1649, England in 1682. The last victims of the official inquisition, a Quaker and a Jew, were respectively hanged and burned in 1826. The last judicial execution for witchcraft in Europe took place in Poland in 1793, when two old women were burned. A wizard, however, died as a result of an unofficial ordeal by water in England in 1865, and in 1900 two Irish peasants tried to roast a witch over her own fire. The notion of the human embodiment of evil had run itself out. Stemming back into prehistory, it had awaited the favorable milieu of Christian doctrine to develop to grotesque and unbelievable proportions, only ultimately to be overthrown by its own absurdities. And, too, other ideas were offering competition. Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Huygens, Halley and Harvey had turned men's thoughts in another direction. In 1752, when Benjamin Franklin sent a kite up into the clouds and drew lightning off its string, the last remnants of meteorological demonology crumbled down: the Prince of the Power of the Air had lost his dominion over frightened men.
With the demonstration that the dreaded lightning was the same stuff that crackled off a dry cat's back, the world turned curiously, with the relief of a child who has been badly frightened, to this new interpretation. Most of the world, that is, for there were those who were prepared to uphold their theory of God and the devil at all costs. They promptly called Franklin an 'archinfidel' and the iron rod which he invented to protect tall buildings from the devil's wrath they anathematized as 'heretical.' They stormed from the pulpits that thunder and lightning were tokens of divine displeasure, and that it was impiety to prevent their doing their full work. To interfere with God's plan was sacrilege. The Reverend Thomas Prince, pastor of the Old South Church in Boston, asserted in 1755 that an earthquake which had shaken that city was due to Franklin's iron points. "In Boston," he said, "are more erected than anywhere else in New England, and Boston seems to be more dreadfully shaken. Oh! there is no getting out of the mighty hand of God!"
It was long before the churches consented to be protected by the heretical tool. The tower of St. Mark's in Venice had at the time of Franklin's invention been struck again and again by lightning, sometimes with such disastrous effects that it had been almost destroyed. The Almighty, or alternatively the Powers of Darkness, seemed to have singled it out for special punishment, in spite of the angel that adorned its summit, the consecrated bells which were repeatedly rung to drive away the thunder, the holy relics in the cathedral nearby and the processions of the Virgin and the patron saint. The tower was struck again in two successive summers after the lightning rod was introduced in Italy, whereupon the authorities succumbed and a rod erected. The edifice has never been struck since, but God alone has received the thanks of a grateful people. In Austria the church of Rosenberg was struck so frequently and with such loss of life that the peasants feared to attend services. Three times the spire had to be rebuilt, until the devil was exorcised by an iron rod. Such was also the history of St. Bride's and St. Paul's in London, the cathedrals of Sienna and Strasburg and of other churches throughout Europe and America; they were protected only after it was evident that not to do so was to lay them open to repeated injury.
In time, by a subtle compromise, the power of time-honored sacred devices came to be considered in practice subordinate to an iron band, but such is the working of the theological mind that the acceptance of the latter in no way discredited the virtues of the former. When the Island of St. Honorat, made sacred over centuries by many Christian legends, was restored in 1871, the great church of the monastery was rebuilt with almost unprecedented extravagance. Great stores of holy relics were sent in, including fragments of the true cross, of the white and purple robes, of the crown of thorns, the sponge, the lance and winding sheet, and also fragments of the hair, robe, veil, and girdle of the Virgin, together with relics of John the Baptist, Joseph, Mary Magdalene, Paul, Barnabas, the four evangelists and a multitude of other saints. Under the altars were laid the bones of Christian martyrs brought specially from the Roman catacombs. The mere enumeration of these treasures, among the most precious in all Christendom, requires twenty-four distinct headings in the official catalogue. Over the relics were erected many altars, and above both relics and altars were placed the magic bells, baptized and consecrated by four bishops with a powerful formula to drive away the Prince of the Power of the Air and the lightning and tempests he provokes. And higher still, at the summit of the central spire, was placed Franklin's lightning rod. For the Trappist monks who live among the shaded cloisters far below, for the multitudes who come to view the relics which by their mere presence can work miracles, for the peasants who pause at eventide to listen to the bells which, so it is asserted, by their ringing can save storm-tossed ships at sea, the invisible point is of no significance. But for the Babylonian legend of Kingu and the story of God's disobedient angel, Satan, it marks the end.