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ESSAY 5: On the Crime of Sorcery - Christian Thomasius, Essays on Church, State, and Politics 
Essays on Church, State, and Politics, edited, translated, and with an Introduction by Ian Hunter, Thomas Ahnert, and Frank Grunert (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007).
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On the Crime of Sorcery
Introduction1. I have recently been thinking whether it is possible to return to the question of the so-called crime of sorcery and subject it to renewed examination, even though the matter has already been discussed extensively by so many papalist and Protestant theologians and jurists.1 I therefore consulted many works on magic and was quite surprised to find nothing in them but meaningless claptrap and fairy tales. I never found anything substantial, only on occasion a shadow of the truth! Given the significance of the matter, the threat to so many innocent people, and the benefit of liberating all of humanity from stupid, superstitious notions, it is past time to open not only the eyes of scholars, but also those of simple-minded people, and to eradicate these all-too-papalist errors, which have until now taken hold of people’s minds and, so to speak, bewitched them. When, however, I consider the reasons (which I will discuss below) why false notions of the crime of sorcery and of pacts between witches and sorcerers and the devil are daily inculcated in the people, and when I see that those who are able to tear off the mask of false wisdom and bring truth to light are regarded as impious or as atheists or even as sorcerers by almost everyone, even by pious and peaceable men, then I realize that I must now proceed with caution. I fear, though, that it will be difficult to put forward an argument that will win either broad public support or approval from the minority of sincere truth-seekers. The former is scarcely to be hoped for, owing to the prejudice of authority in which most people are immersed. But I cannot expect the latter—in part because of my shortcomings and the errors arising thereby, and in part because of the limited time that I could dedicate to the present treatise—and will have to apologize to truth-loving people if my doctrines on this difficult subject do not completely meet their expectations. To anyone who can prove the contrary [to my argument], either from Holy Scripture (as long as the interpretation is not contrived) or from true and sound reason, I sincerely promise that I will happily applaud them.
The writings of the most famous Catholic and Protestant writers are filled with many tales of sorcerers and witches.2. As for the papalist writers, especially Torreblanca, Bodin, Remigius, Delrio,2 and others, one should not be surprised that they lied, or, to be more polite, misled the learned and judicious world by telling the most tasteless and ridiculous fables, although this often seems to have been unintentional. Nowadays, though, nobody will doubt that the entire papacy is anything more than a fable concocted from paganism and Judaism. This will be especially clear when we explain below that everything that was firmly believed concerning the crime of sorcery must be ascribed to pagan deceptions and to the naive superstitions of the Jews. Naudé confirmed this in his Apology for Great Men Falsely Accused of Sorcery.3 In the last chapter he stated that it was indeed rather strange that Delrio, Loyer, Bodin, de Lancre, and Goedelmann—who used to enjoy a considerable reputation and remain meritorious individuals—could write so passionately about evil spirits, sorcerers, and wizards.4They never dismissed a single tale among so many foolish stories, however fictitious and ridiculous it was. Everything was jotted down haphazardly and indifferently and without setting apart the real and true occurrences. One wishes that one could speak differently about Protestant writers. Since the above-mentioned Naudé attributes the same errors to Goedelmann (who denies that witches make pacts with Satan while accepting that sorcerers do), then one can easily anticipate what to expect from other writers who condemn both Goedelmann and Wier5 by saying that they dared to defend magic or witchcraft or to deny its existence. The most important among them is Carpzov, who is (so to speak) regarded as the king of today’s Protestant criminal jurists, mainly since in question 48 of the first part of his Praxis Criminalis he earnestly attempts to refute Wier’s proofs against the existence of sorcery, and to defend the common errors.6 Even though he presents these issues in the thirty-six judgments that he attached to the fiftieth question and which were taken from various court documents, they are such obvious and bizarre fictions that one should feel ashamed even to have read them.
Those authors are listed who denied the vice of sorcery, especially Johannes Wier, Anthony van Dale, and Balthasar Becker.3. As early as the beginning of the sixteenth century the jurist Johannes Franciscus de Ponzinibus doubted the existence of pacts with the devil (see the second part of the Malleus Maleficarum, near the end).7 At the end of that century, the physician Johannes Wier published the rather lengthy treatise De Praestigiis Daemonum, or Of the Devil’s Arts where he tries to prove that the crime of sorcery indeed does not exist as was usually believed.8 And he attempts to defend this opinion against many critics and opponents in an appendix with several apologias. Carpzov (op. cit.) associates him with Petrus de Apono, but I do not know when the latter wrote because so far I have not seen anything by him.9 Perhaps Carpzov meant Petrus de Abano, whose Elementa magica is quite well known. However, all who discover a truth usually only break the ice for others. Thus, while the above-mentioned authors saw much they also overlooked much, so that they were not able to prove these obvious errors to the world, bewitched for centuries by crass lies. I have not seen the book that Petrus Pomponatius wrote on witchcraft, nor the one by the Englishman Reginald Scotus that deals with the same topic and was burned by public order.10 The former ascribes everything that was told and believed about witchcraft in former times to secret forces of nature. The latter ascribes it to melancholy, certain illnesses, and the tricks of charlatans, as can be seen in Voetius’s Disputationes Selectae, in the third part on p. 564.11 In our own time the abovementioned Gabriel Naudé wrote an Apology for Great Men Falsely Accused of Sorcery, in which he provides many learned arguments against the common dogmas.12 Among contemporary papist authors Malebranche, in the last chapter of his second book on The Search after Truth, inclines to the view that all tales of sorcery and witchcraft are a product of the imagination.13 Most of all, the Dutch physician Anthony van Dale deserves to be praised. His learned works on pagan oracles, the origin and development of idolatry and superstition, true and false prophesies, as well as on idolatrous prophesies by the Jews, are very much esteemed by the learned world.14 In those books he uncovers in detail many common errors about the devil and his deeds. Unfortunately he has found few adherents, especially among the theologians, apart from the Dutch theologian Balthasar Becker who took most of what is contained in his The World Bewitched from Dale.15 But it is widely known how unfortunate Becker was when it came to the public reception of his work, since he questioned all external effects of the devil on man and almost brought the existence of the devil himself into doubt. (Dale too had done this in his writings, but very surreptitiously.) In Becker’s case this meant that he could not help but strengthen the hand of his enemies, enabling them to reject the truths he had discovered and to defend all the common errors.
The author of Cautio criminalis seu de processibus contra sagas is recommended.4. More caution was exercised by an anonymous jurist who, seven years ago, published the Cautio criminalis seu de Processibus contra sagas (Caution on Criminal Cases, or a Book on Witch Trials), dedicating it to all the magistrates of Germany.16 This author does not deny the existence of the devil or of witches, and responds affirmatively to the initial question of whether sorcerers and witches exist. Even if I know that many doubt it, as he writes in Latin, even Catholics and scholars, whose names are not relevant here; even if some men seem to suspect, not without reason, that there were times in the Church when people did not believe that there were physical witches’ sabbaths; even if, when I myself frequently and attentively, not to mention curiously, ministered to various women accused of this crime in prison, my own mind was often so overwhelmed that I hardly knew what to believe in this matter. Nevertheless, when I finally gathered together the essence of my perplexed thoughts, I concluded that one must believe completely that there really are some sorcerers in the world. This cannot be denied without rashness and all the marks of a preposterous opinion. You may read the authors who argue that they do exist: Rémy, Delrio, Bodin, and others. It is not our intention to dally here. However, neither I nor many pious men along with me believe that there are so many witches, nor that all those who have flown away in ashes until now were witches. Indeed, anyone who wishes to examine the matter with judgment and reason, and not pressure me with his passion and shouting or with his authority, will not easily convince me to believe it either.17 No matter who the author of this little treatise is, he was certainly prudent enough to prevent his opponents from seizing the opportunity to regard him as an atheist, in accordance with the common prejudices. At the same time, he provided clear and strong arguments for all friends of the truth, and especially for political officials. And this little treatise seems to be of such importance that nobody has tried to contradict it, allowing us to conclude that no reasonable jurist or prudent politician could be found who would have any doubts about the injustice of witch trials after reading this booklet, let alone attempt to refute it. If someone dared to refute it, I am certain that this would contribute to his disgrace rather than his honor, because this unnamed author executed everything so brilliantly.
But the author, who pretended to be a Catholic, still left much work for others.5. Here it is fair to ask whether our disputation is still necessary? I freely admit that I could have refrained from writing it and been content with the above author, yet I do not consider it completely superfluous. The author, whoever he may be, pretends to be a Catholic. Perhaps he does so in order to astonish Protestant jurists all the more if they see that, in the midst of papalism, jurists recognized the darkness through which the works of the papalist clergy have until now obscured the light of our Protestant jurisprudence. But if one takes a closer look at the matter one will easily see that the author’s approach is simply a healthy deception, and that hidden behind this mask is none other than one of the Protestant jurists. Without doubt it was for the reasons mentioned above that he avoided the public defense of his views in front of those among us [Protestants] who are still sunk in papalist errors. I also believe, for many reasons that it is all just a masquerade and legend when he pretends in the passage quoted in the previous paragraph that there are indeed witches (that is, those who make certain pacts with Satan, according to Remigius, Delrio, Bodin). I am persuaded of this when I contrast the learning and diligence of his answers to the remaining questions with poor and trivial reasons evident in the entire answer to the first question. In fact, he posed as a Catholic in order to suit himself to the times. If he had denied the fact that witches really exist, then he would have had to contradict those who defended this illusion and show why it had been maintained and defended in every possible way. But in this case no one would have believed that his writings were produced by a Catholic jurist. Just as the questions that the author of the Cautio criminalis left aside will supply plenty of theses for our present disputation, so there may well be reason to have a second look at some things concerning trials that this author has omitted or passed over, although I do not intend to simply complete his work.
We concede that there is a devil who works in the wicked, but we deny that there is a crime of sorcery.6. Even though Goedelmann accepted there were pacts between sorcerers and the devil, he denied they existed between witches and Satan. Becker, on the other hand, doubted, if not the devil himself, then certainly his power and influence. The author of the Cautio criminalis only pretends to believe in the existence of witches and their pacts with Satan. The common people and the half-educated are under the illusion not only that the devil exists but also that there are many witches, and that the witch trials against them are most laudable and just, striving not only to fool themselves into believing this, but others also. I disagree with all these opinions and say that there is a devil outside man and that, from without, he nonetheless works inwardly and invisibly in the wicked. I deny, however, that witches and sorcerers form particular pacts with Satan. I am sure, rather, that everything believed about this is nothing more than a fairy tale, compiled from Judaism, paganism, and the papacy, and confirmed by most unjust witch trials which were for a time also common among the Protestants.
The difference between our view, Becker’s, and the common dogma. A description of the devil.7. If I wanted to adopt Becker’s opinion [that the devil is nonexistent or ineffective], which also seems to be van Dale’s, then I would not need to collect arguments to prove that pacts with Satan cannot exist, because one cannot attribute properties and activities to something that is nothing in itself. Since I am departing from Becker in this respect, I have to proceed in a different fashion. No one should think I am only pretending to disagree with Becker. I am doing this in all seriousness, and I hope to be spared all hostile accusations. But I will thoroughly refute all suspicions below by putting forward a description of the devil. I cannot see how those who adhere to Aristotelian philosophy—which still rules in the higher disciplines and has nourished and sustained the common errors regarding sorcery—might refute Becker’s teachings.18 Similarly—if they understood their own pronouncements and could make others understand them without using self-contradictory concepts—then I cannot imagine how it would be possible for those who profess the corpuscular and mechanistic philosophies to seriously contradict Becker’s principles and his conclusions.19 In adhering to the ancient philosophy of spirits (Philosophia spiritualis),20 however, I not only believe but to some extent even grasp with my understanding that the devil is the lord of darkness and the prince of the air, that is, a spiritual or invisible being which affects godless people in spiritual and invisible ways with the help of the air, or particles of water and earth.
Our view and Becker’s are defended against the suspicion of atheism.8. Here I cannot understand why pious men regarded those who, like Becker, denied the devil, to be atheists. On the contrary, one should consider them ademonists, that is, people who do not believe in a devil. For when I believe in God it does not follow that I must believe in the devil; and neither does it follow that if I do not believe in the devil then I do not believe in God. Moreover, it amazes me that most of those who have persuaded themselves of the most absurd tales about the devil and his power will tolerate no tales of the good angels and their influence, but describe those who invent or believe in these tales as enthusiasts among other things.21 In other words, why are they so eager to build up and strengthen the empire of darkness, rather than the empire of light? I easily foresee that my sincere declaration about the existence and influence of evil spirits will not free me from slander, perhaps only because I do not want to recognize the so-called crime of sorcery, or the pact between witches and the devil. The falsehoods told by Bodin in his book on devils and ghosts also include the following: in the year 1453 someone named Wilhelmus Luranus who was punished with death in France for witchcraft, had confessed explicitly that he had not only forsworn all religions in his pact with the devil, but had also had to promise Satan to teach and preach publicly that everything that had been said about sorcery and black magic was mere lies and fairy tales, and that it would indeed be the greatest cruelty to punish someone for this crime. Any person endowed with powers of understanding will easily be able to guess why the papalist clerics coerced Luranus through torture and torment to confess such things. I only regret that this and other tales misled and deceived many pious men among our theologians such that they consider all those who deny the crime of witchcraft to be atheists. In lieu of many others I will here point only to Theophilus Spizelius.22 Spizelius seems to have written his German treatise, entitled The Power of Darkness Broken, only to urge the authorities in Germany to forcefully maintain the existing criminal prosecutions of witches, and to cast suspicion of atheism and impiety on those who repudiate such trials and who doubt the diabolical pact. Generally I do not repay slander with slander, but I want to oppose the good Spizelius with the gentleness of Virgil’s words, when he says: Fallit te incautum pietas tua. In other words, your piety leads you astray. Thus I claim nothing else but the right to ask every reasonable person’s conscience, why anyone denying the crime of sorcery or witchcraft should be suspected of godlessness. Those who have alleged this or will do so, perhaps on the basis of their status and authority, I wish to implore that they examine their own piety, no matter how evident it appears, to see whether there might not be hypocrisy hidden beneath it. After they have closely examined their own conscience, and if they still believe that the rules of true Christianity demand it, then they may nevertheless slander and harshly judge others.
Magic previously signified any occult science.9. Even though I deny that sorcery is a crime, I do not want to repeat those who have shown in detail that the Latin word magia was formerly used in a positive sense, and was ascribed in particular to priests. One can look it up in Bodin’s Daemonomanie, in the first chapter of the second book, in Osiander’s book on Magic, Thes. I, §4, in Caelius Rhodiginus’s fifth book, chap. 42, in the Peucerus of the divinat., p. 287, and in Goedelmann’s work on sorcery, in the first book in the second chapter, §2.23 I note from these authors that it appears that the word magia has long been used to refer to any occult science and wisdom; that is, to the understanding of things whose causes were not only unknown to the common people, but were kept concealed from them, so that they could be ascribed to a higher power than that of humans. This observation confirms the common division of magic into natural, artificial, and diabolical magic.24 For each of these kinds of magic represents a science of things, not of things in general, but of hidden things, or at least of things that have been hidden.
Here our concern is not with natural or artificial magic, but with demonic.10. Since one generally divides magic into the permitted and prohibited, everyone will concur (and I do not exclude myself) that natural and artificial magic should be considered permissible, but that demonic magic is a punishable crime. Thus it is unnecessary that I discuss the first two kinds in detail, because we are concerned only with the question of the existence of the latter. In German the latter is also called sorcery. As far as I know, except for Spizelius, in the first part of his book, chapter 1, §9, nobody has identified natural and artificial magic—that is, permitted magic—with witchcraft. But this negligence should be forgiven because of this dear man’s simplicity and piety, which shines forth from the entire treatise and from every page.
Whose definition is conveniently left out by most writers.11. The question remains: does satanic magic or sorcery exist? First, there should be a definition of it, which most authors have conveniently omitted. As it is futile to talk about things that the senses cannot perceive, it is also futile to examine anything before one is certain that it really exists. Thus it would be absurd in moral and legal matters, and indeed in all other things arising as complex aggregates, if one wished to deal with the question about their existence before clearly defining them.
Added by us.12. Drawing on the writings and consensus of those who believe in it, we can define the crime of sorcery as a delict in which people enter into a pact with Satan—who appears to them in bestial, human, or monstrous form—that obliges them, when the devil wishes to satisfy his lust, greed, and pride, to have intercourse with him; and obliges them further to gather in a certain place, to which the devil may conduct them through the air, where they will worship, dance, and carouse with the devil and his consorts and, indeed, with the devil’s assistance, do harm to men, animals, and crops by raising tempests or by other supernatural means; and finally, after a certain time has passed, to belong to the devil in body and soul, remaining thus for eternity.
The burden of proof lies not with us but with those who claim that the crime of sorcery exists.13. Since the question is whether there is such a crime as sorcery, we have to proceed as follows. Any crime is an act, and one that is not just presumed or surmised. The person who affirms there is a crime of sorcery must therefore prove this, and may not demand a proof from someone who denies it. For even if I offer no reasons for my denial, even the most ignorant judge would have to rule in my favor. Carpzov should thus have to appear first and argue against the famous Wier and others that there is indeed a crime of sorcery.
Carpzov’s arguments for the existence of sorcery together with our responses. First, his claim that sorcerers should be executed according to divine law. We reply that sorcerers are not punished for their pact with the devil but for idolatry.14.First, Carpzov argues that this judgment concurs with divine law, which demands that all witches and sorcerers be burned, since God sentenced diviners, soothsayers, sorcerers, and witches to death, Exodus XII, 18; Numbers XX, 27. (See Carpzov, op. cit., qu. 48, no. 40.)25 But how can this be possible? The malefactors dealt with in divine law are not sorcerers in the sense I have defined them. They did not make a pact with the devil, and what they did was without such pacts, whether through clever deceit or through occult powers of nature, that is, either through artificial or natural magic—it makes no difference—but not through diabolical magic. It does not matter that I have already declared natural and artificial magic to be permissible while, according to the above-mentioned passages and other texts from Scripture, God still wanted them punished. For that which is lawful by virtue of its method can become unlawful by virtue of its intention and aim. God wanted them to be punished not because of certain pacts made with the devil or harm done to people, but because they were the source and propagators of idolatry.
Carpzov responds that the divine law does not only refer to poisoners,26 yet he is refuted.15. He also says that this divine law should be understood not only with reference to those who mix potions to poison others, as Wier believes, but encompasses all who do harm to others with all kinds of deception, as did the sorcerers of Pharaoh, Exodus VII.27 Now Wier himself may decide how he will respond to Carpzov’s argument. I am not concerned with this, since I pursued a different path in the preceding paragraph. No matter what arts were used by Pharaoh’s sorcerers, they nonetheless performed nothing with the help of the devil or diabolical pacts. God thus ordered their execution not on account of their arts but because of their idolatrous superstition.
Reply to the new objection concerning Pharaoh’s sorcerers, that they made a pact with the devil.16. Here someone could object in favor of Carpzov that the illusions performed by the Egyptian wizards could not have been achieved through either natural or artificial magic. Not through the former, because then Moses’s deeds would not have been miracles but natural phenomena. And also not through the latter, because it is unimaginable and incomprehensible how it would be possible thereby to change sticks into serpents by throwing them on the ground. Thus it must have happened through diabolical magic. But I reply to this, first, that the difference between miracles and natural operations itself remains indeterminate. Everything commonly taught in scholastic metaphysics and in the higher faculties about the difference between natural, artificial, and supernatural works—as well as about the difference between the power of God and that of the devil—is all vain chatter and still requires proof. Secondly, it cannot be argued that Moses’s deeds were also acts of natural magic simply because the Egyptian sorcerers produced such effects from occult natural powers—that is, from powers unknown to and hidden from Aristotelian and Cartesian philosophy (since neither of them and least of all the latter can demonstrate anything substantial concerning natural causes). The deeds that Moses and Aaron performed and that Pharaoh’s sorcerers could not imitate were sufficient evidence of a power far superior to theirs. Thus one cannot draw conclusions about Pharaoh’s sorcerers from Moses’s deeds. Thirdly, who does not know that if two people perform the same action, it does not mean that they are identical. Fourthly, it is often the case that something that we could not imagine to be possible through mere skill turns out to be very simple and trivial, once it has been explained to us. There are certainly many tricks that people commonly ascribe to supernatural powers and that yet are nothing but mere deception. The card tricks of Abraham Columni are undoubtedly an example. Spizelius discusses them in the above-mentioned book, p. 62, but they are also ascribed to the devil without a shred of reasonable evidence. The fifth and last point is that if Pharaoh’s wizards performed these actions with the help of the devil, then the devil would have done so either through natural powers or by using skill and deceit. However, neither is possible: not the former, because then even Moses’s miracles would have been only effects of nature; but not the latter, because I cannot imagine how the devil at that time could have been able to deceive the senses of the people. I put forward this argument only to show how easily I can turn the objection directed at me against my opponents, since I do not intend to shift from the persona of respondent to that of opponent.
Concerning the witch of Endor, who conjured [an apparition of] Samuel, and Manasseh.17. Now, to return to Carpzov, he continues by saying that it is also commanded in Leviticus XX, v. 26 that all sorcerers must be punished with death.28 He argues that this law was always applied by the Israelites, as is clearly proven by the example of the soothsayer of Endor who was afraid of Saul because he had forbidden all sorcery on pain of death.29 In addition, both the Jewish king Manasseh and the entire people of Israel were very severely punished by God because of sorcery.30 But we might respond to this as follows: First, Carpzov confuses idolatrous magic with diabolical magic, which consists of a pact with the devil. Secondly, he is not concerned to prove that sorcery exists—as he should have done in arguing against Wier—but to show that it must be punished with death. Thirdly, moreover, this is not sufficiently proven by the divine laws, since they bound the Jewish commonwealth but do not concern Christians today. One can satisfy oneself about this by observing that the divine law orders that the high priest’s daughter should be burned if she whores. If this is a general law, why does one not likewise burn the daughters of our church superintendents when they commit the same sin? For there is certainly a closer relation and similarity between the former Jewish high priests and our current superintendents than between the sorcerers mentioned in the Mosaic Laws and those we are arguing about now. Fourthly, there is no mention of the diabolical magic we are concerned with in Deuteronomy XVIII, 10, which lists the many kinds of magic forbidden by God to the people of Israel. But all those who are mentioned in Deuteronomy were idolaters, tricksters, and mountebanks, whom van Dale has already examined extensively in the above books on pagan oracles and the idolatrous soothsaying of the Jews.
The witch of Endor deceived Saul, since she saw neither Samuel nor his shadow, but nothing at all.18. I myself want to help Carpzov a little: one might say that the witch of Endor had conjured up either the devil in the shape of Samuel or the soul of Samuel himself, which could not have happened without the support of the devil. I will reply to this that, first of all, no devil, or even a pact with the devil, is mentioned in the passage in Scripture where this story is told. Secondly, the devil did not appear and neither did the soul of Samuel or his image, as this was sheer deception. This woman was a ventriloquist and thus deceived the fearful Saul, an interpretation that is fully supported by the text, 1 Samuel XXVIII. Saul did not see anything, hearing merely a voice, and only the woman said that she saw something, which was just an untruth.
Regarding Carpzov’s second argument in which he invokes natural law, I respond that he did not prove this assertion.19. So Carpzov’s first argument proves nothing. Now I want to look at the second one, which I will describe very briefly. Not only, he says, does natural law agree with divine law—as can be seen both in pagan decrees stating that all sorcerers should be punished by death and also in book II of Plato’s Laws, which prescribes the death penalty for sorcerers31 —but legal judgments always followed divine law, never imposing anything other than the death penalty on sorcerers and witches, as we can see even in the laudable practice of the Romans and Persians.32 Yet here I must note again, as I have done several times before, that Carpzov begins by confusing the question of whether there are sorcerers who pact with the devil, with the question of the punishment imposed for natural and artificial magic. He then confuses natural law with the mores and customs of a few nations. And finally he mixes the fantasy of the Platonic republic with the mores and customs of the nations in an absurd fashion.
Regarding his third argument, taken from the civil law,33 one can reply that it is invalid to draw inferences from poisoners to sorcerers.20.Thirdly, Carpzov continues, it is indubitable that the civil law punishes both sorcerers and poisoners (Magos seu Veneficos) with the death sentence.34 Here I begin by praising Carpzov, in that he does not distinguish between sorcerers and poisoners and thus deviates radically from the question that concerns us, because the Latin word venefica does not refer to a witch—as is often assumed due to this common error—but to a mixer of poisons. This art, however, does not require the assistance of the devil or a pact with him. Here we should note that the civil law never mentions pacts with the devil, referring only to soothsayers, diviners, mathematicians, or astrologers, etc. We are going to set aside other replies that could be repeated here, but which have already been made. In addition, we can state that the civil law can just as little be used to prove the existence of the crime of sorcery as it can to confirm the existence of other things.
The fourth argument, from the testimony of papalist writers, is completely absurd.21. Now I will address the main argument that Carpzov provides to support his view. Fourthly, he writes, it cannot be denied that sorcerers make a pact with the devil in which they completely renounce the covenant they formed with God during baptism. Bodin, Remigius, Chirlandus,35and others explicitly attest to this.36 In a matter so central to the whole question, however, Carpzov should have been ashamed to offer nothing more than the testimony of papalist writers. Their books are filled in part with old wives’ and monks’ tales, in part with the depositions of melancholics, and in part with statements obtained through torture and torment, where people were forced to confess to everything they were questioned about. Certainly, if our jurists had not slavishly imitated others, particularly the papalists, but had instead followed their own reason in properly investigating both the natural and moral issues with which the laws are concerned, then our jurisprudence could have been regarded by scholars as a discipline leading to true erudition. Until now, however, one author has copied from another without reflection, and has amazed himself by discovering that this case or that question is in terminis terminantibus.37 Thus one should not hold it against those scholars if on hearing the name jurisconsult they can form no other concept of this in terminis terminantibus than that of a sophist and pettifogging lawyer. But we should now go back to our friend Carpzov.
Where we show the absurdity of the doctrine of a tacit pact between witches and the devil.22.Although, he continues, not all sorcerers always make an express pact with the devil and pledge perpetual obedience, they nonetheless abjure God, since they have commerce with the devil, which in truth is nothing other than a tacit or implicit pact.38 To this I reply: (1) If there is no express pact—and this has so far not been proven—then the implicit pact is null. For if someone cannot openly make a contract or a pact, then no contract is concluded by him or with him, tacit or otherwise. (2) There is still the question of whether sorcerers, who deceive people with all kinds of illusions, engage in corporeal intercourse [commercium corporale] with the devil, thus tacitly abjuring God. (3) But if all those who have only spiritual intercourse [commercium spirituale] with the devil were supposed to have a tacit pact with him and were thence burned as sorcerers, then there would be a complete confusion of malefactors. For adulterers, liars, and all those who perform works of the flesh engage in spiritual intercourse with the devil.
It is wrong to infer the punishment for witches from the punishments for murderers and adulterers.23. Carpzov further adds: The punishment for homicide and adultery is death, yet sorcery is a worse crime than homicide or adultery because in sacrificing their own children to the devil witches are murderers, and in lying down with the devil they are also adulteresses.39 This statement does not deserve a real response. I will simply point out again that Carpzov continues to confuse the question of the punishment of sorcery with the question of whether it exists, thereby assuming that which he has still to prove true.
The fifth argument, that it is in the witches’ own interest to be put to death, will be responded to, and many inconsistencies will be demonstrated.24. There remains one final argument, which I must not ignore. Fifthly, he says, it is in the witches’ and sorcerers’ own interest to be dispatched in a timely fashion and removed from the scene. For, so firmly are they held in the devil’s grip that nothing will release them more speedily than death. Remigius, who was councillor to the Duke of Lorraine and who had more than nine hundred sorcerers sentenced and executed, is a credible witness; and he assures us that among the many thousands that the devil had ensnared, he never heard of any way by which they could be freed from the devil’s bonds other than by confessing their crimes—voluntarily or through coercion—or by suffering the death penalty.40 But I respond: (1) Who could imagine that Lutheran jurists would fall for such absurdities and could believe that the executioner is a proper instrument of conversion? (2) Why does the imprudent Carpzov believe Remigius, a superstitious person who was, so to speak, a slave of the clergy as well? Carpzov’s reason for believing him—that is, that Remigius attended so many executions in Lorraine—sits badly with me. (3) In addition, he did not even understand Remigius correctly, who did not say at all what Carpzov infers from his words. Remigius says only that witches could not free themselves from their pacts with the devil until they had confessed their crime, after which death inevitably followed as a result of the priests’ laws. (4) But if Carpzov felt it necessary to base his jurisprudence on fables and the authority of others, why did he not have more faith in our [Lutheran] theologians? For they teach that many witches and sorcerers could have been returned to the right path without the death penalty; and moreover they turn the devil into such a powerless spirit that he can be driven away by a fart, lacking even the power to remove the signature of the person who made a pact with him from the Bible, something even the smallest puppy could do. See Luther’s Table-talk41 and Spizelius’s Power of Darkness Broken, first part, pp. 211ff., and the entire third part. (5) Carpzov’s argument would provide an excellent defense of murder. If one killed a useless person or someone suffering from the French disease42 or some other painful ailment, then one could use the pretext that it was in the person’s best interests to be given a timely death. (6) Others may judge whether a person who seeks to defend capital punishment on such baseless pretexts, which one would not even accept from students, understands the true purpose of capital punishment.
Carpzov’s conclusion is rebuffed.25. Carpzov concludes his arguments in the following way: Now, he writes, I will leave it to anyone who possesses even a little piety and a sound mind to judge whether the authorities’ actions are just and commendable when they punish witches and sorcerers.43 My conclusion, however, is the following: Anyone who possesses even a little common sense and prudence—we refuse to say anything about Carpzov’s imprudent piety which consists only of faith in old wives’ tales—should judge whether it is not highly disgraceful for such an eminent jurist to try to deceive and cheat others about such a serious and important matter in such a slovenly fashion.
Contrary to Spizelius it is shown that our opinion does not lead to atheism.26. Since Carpzov did not make any progress with his argument, Spizelius came to his aid—a theologian helping a jurist! I do not want to reveal the disgrace of this pious man here, nor point out all the mistakes in his book on the Power of Darkness Broken, which has been mentioned several times. But I do want to explore briefly his major arguments with which he seeks to prove in the second chapter of the second part that there are cases of an actual pact between humans and the devil. Firstly, he says on p. 112, that the opposite opinion is a malicious and gross error which Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura, and Johannes à Turrecremata opposed many years ago as mean and damnable heresy.44Indeed, it is a very dangerous and harmful error because it paves the way to atheism. I answer: (1) This is not a proof of the argument and amounts only to a slandering of opponents out of unreasonable zealotry. (2) Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura, and Johannes de Turrecremata would doubtless reject Lutheran doctrine as a damnable heresy, and yet Spizelius would not be moved by their authority to believe them. (3) Here I do not see how the opinion of those who do not believe in the vice of sorcery could pave the way to atheism. On the contrary, in my view, by preaching superstitious dogmas instead of the biblical doctrine of salvation, it is the theologians and clergy who are to blame when so many people, still in possession of their reason and common sense and seeking to free themselves from the extreme of superstition, fall into the other extreme of atheism. (4) The established opinion, which is defended by Spizelius, leads people to adopt the most crude and more than childish superstitious beliefs. In his Various Thoughts on the Comet, the learned Bayle has shown extensively that superstition is not only a more foolish, but also a more dangerous vice than atheism, and he has not been decisively refuted by anyone.45
Spizelius argues badly from those called sorcerers in Scripture to those that we are concerned with.27.However, Spizelius continues on p. 214, if there were no real and true pacts between sorcerers and the devil, then God would not have given us specific laws against such sorcerers and everything in the Bible concerning that matter would also be false. My answer is that this conclusion is completely wrong, because, as could be seen above, no plausible reasons have been provided to show that those sorcerers mentioned in the Scriptures ever formed a pact with the devil.
He appeals to the reputation of the Fathers of the Church in vain.28. Spizelius objects that if there were no pact between witches and Satan then one would be impudently contradicting all the ancient and meritorious doctors of the Christian church, such as Augustine, Tertullian, Epiphanius, and Chrysostomus,46who not only believed that such pacts between the devil and humans were true and real, but also fiercely resisted any contrary suggestion. I reply that first of all, it is insolent to abuse the honorable reputation of the ancient fathers to lend authority to old wives’ tales. It is also known that because of their piety and simplicity these men of great merit in the Christian church were often completely credulous, and even today we see that such people are often deceived by swindlers and hypocrites. As a result, nothing is so absurd that it cannot be defended with a quotation from one of the church fathers. And if one can safely contradict the ancient fathers’ opinion that there were no antipodes, then why should it be impossible to contradict them in this case? We will show below why the church’s teachers were so sure about the devil’s pact with humans.
And, even more vainly, Spizelius appeals to the authority of others and to daily experience.29.Indeed, Spizelius continues, it would be the greatest presumption to contradict so many, almost innumerable, sound, and credible writers, and even daily experience. My answer is that it is a far greater presumption to spread ridiculous tales that captivate credulous people and to pass off superstitious writers as credible historians. His other proofs of the devil’s pact in the second and third chapters are unimportant and do not deserve to be repeated here.
Now we will prove the contrary, namely, that there is no crime of sorcery.30. Such are the reasons that lead people to believe that sorcerers make a pact with Satan, together with the rest mentioned in paragraph 12 above. It is for these worthless reasons that many thousands of people who were either innocent or at least not really tarnished with this crime were cruelly executed under the pretext of exceptional piety, laudable justice, and holy zeal. One might well be content with the arguments presented thus far, but to supplement these I present some further reasons for my viewpoint. However, first of all, I assume that no one will demand mathematical proofs from me. For even though jurists frequently consider sorcerers, witches, and mathematicians to be the same thing, philosophers regard the devil as something that cannot be a subject of mathematics and demonstrative proof. In the meantime I will strive to present such reasons whose probability will equal the certainty of mathematical proofs.
1. The first reason is that the devil cannot assume bodily form. Satan, who tempted Christ, was not a corporeal devil. Many prejudices are listed, which originated from little pictures in the catechism.31. The devil has never assumed bodily form, nor is he able to assume one. Thus he cannot physically enter into a pact,47 and he never did this, much less satisfy his lust with witches and sorcerers, or, in the shape of a goat, lead them to the famous Blocksberg,48 etc. The example of Satan trying to tempt Christ presents no difficulty. I reply that first of all the exegetes need to agree among themselves about the meaning of this story: whether it was something Christ imagined while he was awake, or something in his dreams, or whether the name Satan in fact refers to a human being, which it quite commonly does in the Bible and seems to me the most plausible explanation. None of these three interpretations contradicts my argument. Secondly, one should set aside all childish prejudices when explaining this story, even though they are still defended by so many people who should finally stop behaving like children. Among these prejudices is the belief that Christ was conducted through the air to the pinnacle of the Temple. This belief arises from ignorance of ancient Jewish history, as does our imagining that the devil comes to Christ in a visible form; because even assuming that the devil himself tempted Christ, it is still an untruth, or at least it cannot be claimed with any plausible reason that he did this in the shape of a man or a monster. In fact the entire error seems to have its origin in the little pictures in the Bible, or the Gospels, in which the papalists depict the Tempter in all kinds of monstrous forms, whereas we Lutherans depict him in the guise of a monk in his habit. Certainly, one could write an entire treatise about this and similar matters; that is, about the way in which papalist superstition is taught to children in Lutheran churches using pictures from the Catechism and the Gospels, and will remain with these children for the rest of their lives. If one wants to learn about such illustrations, I refer, for example, to images used for the third commandment, the sixth supplication, the chapter about the household and marriage, and in the Gospel for Sunday Oculi,49 and in other places.
2. Because Christ himself says that a spirit has neither flesh nor bone.32. If the devil could assume a physical shape, then Christ’s statement50 that a spirit has neither flesh nor bone would be wrong, and the argument by which Christ sought to convince his disciples would be inept. But one could not entertain either thought without blasphemy.
3. Because the devil cannot disturb the power of invisible nature.33. If the devil cannot disturb or suspend the power and order of invisible nature, then neither can he assume a body, cause tempests, transport a person through the air, etc.
4. Because the devil is such a powerless spirit, according to our opponents, that he can be chased away with a fart.34. There is no coherence between what these good people claim about the devil’s great power over invisible nature, and the common fables that he can be chased away with nothing more than a fart, for which no evidence can be found in the Bible. Neither is it necessary to refer to a man’s faith in this regard. For if Satan is driven away through faith what need is there of a fart unless, that is, you draw a distinction between these farts,51 which would be an even more absurd and blasphemous undertaking.
5. The devil’s pact with man has no effect and no benefit, not on the part of man.35. The pact with the devil benefits neither man nor the devil in the slightest. Man does not benefit, for if it is said that sorcerers entered into these pacts solely in order to satisfy their lust and to obtain wealth, and honor, then it must also be said that most of the sorcerers are being cheated. But if it is assumed that they are not being cheated, is it not possible to achieve all of this without the help of the devil, quite easily and through cunning, or even in a permitted manner? What need, then, for a pact with the devil?
Nor on the part of the devil.36. Since, however, there is no animal more foolish than man, let us assume that he is foolish enough to make a pact with the devil, as I have known many people stupid enough to try this. Yet why should we think the devil so foolish as to enter such pacts with humans without receiving the slightest benefit? The person who indulges in lust, avarice, and pride is already the devil’s slave. What would be the benefit of a pact for the devil? Maybe he could harm other men with the help of his allies? But whom? Not the faithful. As for the unbelievers, who are already his slaves, the devil either can or cannot harm them. If the former is true, what is the need for sorcerers? If the latter is the case then he would not be able to do so with the help of sorcerers either. Perhaps the devil makes a pact because a twofold obligation binds more firmly than a single one, so that the sorcerer cannot escape as easily as if he were only a slave of his sinful desires? But this agrees neither with the nature of mankind nor with that which our people themselves say about witches and sorcerers (see Spizelius, 3rd part), because [they say] sorcerers can retrieve their signature from the devil without too much effort. In addition, one should consider the nature of mankind, that is, how difficult it is for a person, even a Christian, to master his desires. I will pass over some other reasons, which I will save for another occasion.
The origin of the fable of the crime of sorcery is explained, and it is shown why one ought to begin with the doctrines of the Greeks.37. Now I must also investigate the source of the fable of witches and sorcerers. Becker has already commented extensively on this in the first book of his Enchanted World, as has van Dale in his writings which have been mentioned several times. Yet they did this in such a way that others might still augment and perhaps improve their opinions. I consider it advisable to examine this question briefly in the following way. If one divides them according to their religion, all nations in the entire world are either pagans, Jews, Christians, or Turks. There is no need for an extensive investigation of the Turks, in part because their religion is composed of the first three, in part because it was the last to emerge. Thus an examination of their ideas on sorcery will not contribute much to showing the origin of the error among Christians. But paganism and Judaism are more ancient than Christianity, and the first Christians, especially after the death of Christ, had been either pagans or Jews. Thus it is reasonable that I deal with these two first. If it were true that sorcery did indeed exist, then the Jewish doctrine in Scripture should be presented first. Since this is not the case and I am now investigating the origin of this error, and since the Jewish fables are taken from the books of the Rabbis52 who lived long after the pagan writers whose writings we still possess, it would be better to consider first the opinions of the pagans. As for pagan philosophy, we can divide it into two kinds, the Barbarian and the Greek. The former is older than the latter. Since we know very little about the former, and what we do know is uncertain, and since the books of the Greeks are widely available and the first Christians were mostly Greeks—and, moreover, since in the New Testament the Greeks frequently stand for all pagans and are contrasted with the Jews—I should begin with the Greeks.
Their views on devils in corporeal form and on their commerce with men.38. I will leave aside skeptical philosophy, because it contributes less than nothing to my endeavor.53 The skeptics questioned the existence of all visible things and, more than all other sects, were disposed toward atheism rather than superstition. I will also postpone consideration of the mythical or poetic philosophy of the Greeks,54 and now will deal only with dogmatic philosophy. But since even this is subdivided into several sects, I will leave it for another time to show from the works of Laertius and Plutarch the views of Thales and other Ionian philosophers on devils and sorcery and, from Scheffer’s Italian Philosophy, the views of the Pythagoreans.55 My present concern is with the four main sects that were flourishing in the old Roman Empire when Christianity first emerged: namely, the Epicurean, Stoic, Platonic, and Aristotelian.56 The Epicureans, as well as all past and present followers of corpuscularian philosophy,57 provide no opportunity for superstitious belief in witches and sorcerers, since most of those in the past denied the existence of any spirits, while those in the present do believe in a devil, but are indeed far removed from a superstitious belief in magic. Nor do I believe that any Epicurean philosopher has ever converted to Christianity. The Stoic and Platonic philosophers, however, flourished especially during the early period of Christianity, and the church fathers of the first centuries adhered to these two sects in particular, although Aristotelian philosophy cannot be wholly excluded. In a future work on this subject I will show what is characteristic of each of these three. In the meantime, we should note that it was a common superstition of the pagans, especially among the Platonists and Stoics, to believe in the existence of higher, lower, and intermediate gods; and further to believe that between divine and human nature there were many other intermediate substances, which they usually called spirits (Daemonia) and divided into good and evil ones. In order to establish their special authority among the people, these philosophers also ascribed to the spirits various effects in soothsaying and magic. However, they did not acknowledge the existence of a third and distinct satanic form of soothsaying and magic. Instead they subdivided both soothsaying and magic into two categories, that is, natural and artificial. In order to deceive the common people, they made use of all kinds of superstitious ceremonies for both types and pretended to be in communion with the gods and the intermediate substances, the spirits. The Stoics also attributed some form of corporeal being to these spirits.
This particular doctrine was also fashionable among the Pharisees.39. Among the various Jewish sects flourishing at the time of Christ (I will also discuss these more extensively in a future work) the Pharisees, who enjoyed a great popular reputation, were the most superstitious.58 As we can see from the writings of Philo59 and of the rabbis, the Pharisees deceived the Jewish people by telling them innumerable tales of evil spirits, or of the devils and their powers, of the arch-devil Sammael and his mother Lilis, of the efficacy of letters, names, and numbers against devils—ideas they presented in their Kabbalah60 or esoteric doctrine—and also of the divinity of Batkol61 and many other similar fables. Like many pagans, they attributed bodies to devils, or the power to assume such, and the capacity to harm humans physically, to have sexual intercourse with them, and hence to form certain pacts and unions with them.
The blending of the Pharisaic, Platonic, and Stoic teachings by the early church fathers.40. Although, for many reasons and over many doctrines, the Jews and Greeks among the new Christians came into conflict soon after the death of Christ, and all later heresies have their origin in these disagreements, nevertheless, neither the Greek nor the Latin fathers (even after they had suppressed the Jews in the fourth century) dismissed the Jewish doctrines, as long as these conformed to the superstitions of Greek philosophy, in particular to those of Platonic and Stoic philosophy. Most of the fathers were addicted to one of the two sects, and it is well known from Augustine’s City of God what esteem and respect Platonic philosophy enjoyed at that time.62 Among these fathers there were many, especially Lactantius in book 2, Divin. Inst.,63 who found little regarding devils and their powers in the Bible and yet still wished to teach much about these things (on the others, such as Athenagoras, Tertullianus, Hieronymus,64 etc., see Lipsius Physiol. Stoic.65 lib. I). As a result, they twisted various passages of Scripture toward the devil, even though he is not mentioned in them, teaching, for example, that the tempting serpent [in the Garden of Eden] was the devil, and that Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the fall of the king of Babylon66 and references to him as Lucifer should be understood as references to the devil and his apostasy from God. In part, they silently substituted Jewish, Platonic, and Stoic fables for the Holy Scriptures. This time also saw the emergence of the well-known interpretation of Moses’s words on the marriage of the children of God with the daughters of man, an interpretation that implied that the children of God were the angels.67 And from this intercourse of angels with women, some have attempted to derive if not the origin of devils then at least the increase in their numbers. As most reasonable exegetes of the Holy Scriptures among the Protestants have now discarded this false interpretation of Moses’s statement about the marriage of angels with humans, so they should have dismissed also the erroneous conclusions that were drawn later from this cardinal error. For it seems to me that all false beliefs about witchcraft and about pacts and relations between the devil and humans, about incubi and succubi,68 can be ascribed to this false doctrine about the intercourse of angels with humans. I purposely ignore the many fables about the apparition of the devil in a physical form that are included in the lives of Paul and Anthony.69 Many Lutherans regard these as true stories, although Erasmus70 has already noted that the entire book is nothing but fiction which emerged from Hieronymus’s brain.
Why, during the restoration of the universities by the papalist theologians, they canonized these Platonic and Stoic fables about commerce between demons and men, even though they adhered to Aristotelian philosophy. Various reasons are canvassed.41. As Protestants must admit, when schools and academies were rebuilt after the age of barbarism, superstition reached its highest point in papalism. Even though at that time the scholastic teachers followed Aristotle, who had not followed the Platonic and Stoic philosophers in retailing fables about demons and their bodily efficacy, yet, for many reasons the Scholastics, and especially the so-called Scotists,71 stupidly accepted everything concerning pacts between devils and sorcerers. Since they wanted to claim that their teachings were Catholic, it was necessary for them to obtain the consensus of the church fathers of the first centuries. These, however, mostly belonged to the Platonic and Stoic schools, and thus the Scholastics had to try to reconcile Platonic and Stoic philosophy with Aristotelianism (although this necessarily involved the greatest foolishness). They also used false miracles to strengthen belief in their papalist superstitions. The old tales about the pacts between sorcerers and the devil were best suited for this. Sometimes the papalist clerics themselves invented such sorcerers, whom they then converted. At other times they invented various diseases and fooled people into believing that these were caused by witches and sorcerers, and then by curing them, went on to produce even more miracles, through which they gained authority among the common people. Indeed, the tale of pacts with the devil served another purpose: when a pious and honest man who was a thorn in the side of the clerics for whatever reasons (for who can number all the reasons for which one could cause the displeasure of the clerics), but who behaved cautiously so that they could not touch him under the pretext of an error in doctrine, or of heresy, then there was no better means of bringing him to the stake than to cast the suspicion of the crime of sorcery on him. Then, through cruel torture and torment, he was compelled to make a forced confession and confirm innumerable lies invented by the papalist clerics, including the pacts between the devil and sorcerers.
The civil laws do not mention pacts between the devil and man. The L. 4. C. de Malef. & Mathem. is freed of iniquity.42. When Justinian’s civil law72 began to flourish at its universities, Italy was full of superstitions. In it are a number of laws about the punishment of poisoners and astrologers, particularly in the title of the Code de Malef. & Mathem.73 Astrology was hated so much because many superstitious people consulted astrologers about the death of emperors. This was probably the main reason why philosophers, and among them particularly the Platonists and Stoics, were expelled from the entire Roman Empire during the time of Emperor Augustus.74 It is also why Constantine the Great,75 despite consulting astrologers, was afraid of them and enacted special laws for their punishment. As far as the rest of superstitious magic was concerned, Constantine in L. 4 Cod. wanted sorcerers to be punished if they harmed someone or incited forbidden lust. But he never regarded as punishable the superstition that cured various diseases and performed other feats. Even though (just to mention it in passing) he is generally not much praised for this law—and I myself do not approve of either the superstition or the rationale of the law—I do see that Constantine did nothing wrong in refusing to sanction the civil punishment of those who had not harmed others, because it is preferable that such vices be remedied through teaching and instruction rather than judicial punishments. Meanwhile, it is clear that the Christian bishops of that time did not believe that sorcerers formed pacts with the devil, for otherwise they would not have allowed the emperor—who did almost nothing without the approval of the clerics—to draw this distinction between good and bad sorcery in the above-mentioned law.
The reasons why the Italian commentators on the civil law76 included so many erroneous doctrines regarding the crime of witchcraft in their glosses.43. From tender youth, the civil law glossators had been contaminated by priestly teachings that were advanced with greatest urgency by the canon lawyers,77 and among which the doctrine of pacts between the devil and witches was not the least important. Thus, despite disagreeing with the canonists over certain doctrines, the civil glossators propagated the usual errors through forced interpretations of civil law. The standard doctrine on the crime of sorcery thus did not derive from Justinian law but arose from the common prejudices of the glossators. They propagated the prejudice that because sorcery was a species of the crime of lèse-majesté it was an extraordinary offense, heinous and occult, the slightest signs of which were enough to justify torture; for example, if someone accused of this crime named another person. It was further argued that because this and similar crimes justified even worse torments, those who had been found guilty could be sentenced after their death, and that it was no injustice to confiscate the property of such a person, regardless of the fact that the most recent constitution of Justinian does not agree with it; see among others Anton, Matth. de Crimin. lib. 48, tit. 2, cap. 1 n. 2, & tit. 5, cap. 7. n. 13.78
Origin and progress, in Germany prior to the Reformation, of the view regarding the crime of sorcery that sorcerers should be punished by burning even if they are innocent.44. What the Germans from the times of Tacitus79 thought of the crime of sorcery will be discussed more extensively on a different occasion. For now it will be enough if we learn from the strength of today’s superstition—which is not confined to the German nations given to Catholicism but still remains among the Protestants—just how firmly the papalist clerics prior to the Reformation sought to persuade so many people of their fables regarding the crime of sorcery. There is thus no doubt that prior to the foundation of the universities, the Germans believed that sorcerers entered into pacts with the devil, so that even after their foundation the glossators’ view of this found easy acceptance. Anyone who wants to know more about this should open the book entitled Malleus Malleficarum or the Witches’ Hammer. In it, a papal bull on sorcerers precedes the first part and deals with the question of how this depraved heresy should be punished by the Inquisition in Germany.80 This viewpoint, however, is not expressly stated in the laws, and should rather be considered part of general opinion and of unwritten law. Thus it is written in the second book, Artic. 13, Land-Recht [territorial law]: Any Christian man or woman who is an unbeliever, or who engages in sorcery or in poisoning and who is captured, should be burned at the stake. Although these words refer only to harmful sorcerers they were interpreted more broadly by the Leipzig lay assessors to be applicable whether sorcerers have done harm or not, as Carpzov explains in his forty-ninth question on criminal law, n. 8.81 Indeed, the author of Charles V’s penal code, who must obviously have been either a German or Italian jurist,82 did not include anything explicit in the statutes regarding those sorcerers who were supposed to have made pacts with the devil. On the contrary, he apparently repeated the short pronouncement of the Justinian Code, with its distinction between harmful and nonharmful sorcery, but ascribed an arbitrary punishment to the latter. In the 109th article he says that if someone causes harm or some disadvantage to others through sorcery, then they should be punished with death and the punishment should be executed by fire. However, when someone engages in witchcraft but does not harm anybody, he should be punished as befits the occasion, and the judges should seek council, as is explained later in a passage concerning seeking advice. If we examine it according to the rules of good interpretation, then this author’s view is that those who have not caused any harm through their sorcery should be punished more leniently, not with burning at the stake or some other capital punishment. Although the author of the code did not say anything about pacts with the devil, and it is likely that he did not consider such pacts to be true, nevertheless, according to their custom of squeezing something from anything [quidlibet ex quodlibet], the exegetes have declared the other case in the penal code to be harmful sorcery too. According to them, one should consider not only the question of whether anybody was harmed but other circumstances as well; that is, whether the witches made a pact with the devil, or whether they had sexual intercourse with him. These are all circumstances that require punishment by fire. See also Carpzov, op. cit. n. 7.83
This was continued after the Reformation by jurists of both Protestant confessions.45. One might think that Luther’s Reformation, which had liberated people from so much papalist superstition, would also have freed them from this monks’ and priests’ babble about the pact of sorcerers with the devil. But nothing like this happened. On the contrary, this charming opinion, which had previously been considered an unwritten law, was incorporated into the Constitutiones Electorale P. IV. Constit. 2 under the government of the Elector August [of Saxony]84 in the following express words: If someone, forgetful of his Christian faith, forms pacts with the devil, or has anything to do with him, then this person should be punished and executed by being burned at the stake, even if they have not harmed anyone through sorcery. Since the Elector of Saxony was also one of the most prominent Lutheran princes, it is no wonder that this common fantasy was later spread to other Lutheran and even Calvinist territories. The reason for this may be either that Luther himself still believed many prejudices about the might and power of Satan, as has been illustrated both in his writings and, occasionally, from his Table-talk. Or it may be because Philipp Melanchthon85 firmly reestablished scholastic theology and philosophy in Protestant universities after Luther’s death, for when it came to philosophy the Lutherans considered him to be Germany’s teacher [praeceptor Germaniae], while the Calvinists were favorably disposed toward him, because in their theological quarrels with other Lutherans his views seemed quite similar to their own. Or perhaps the cause was that several Protestant theologians had developed a taste for the benefits that they could derive from this falsehood, just as we saw above had occurred with the papalist theologians. Or perhaps it was just that Lutheran jurists had grown used to copying their treatises on criminal law from the judgments of papalist doctors.
The multitude of witch trials in Lutheran regions. Spizelius’s zeal and the inappropriateness and outcome of a trial in Sweden.46. These are the reasons why so many trials against witches took place after the Reformation, not only under papal authority, but also among Protestants in Europe. The Lutherans in particular staged many strange and gruesome spectacles, above all because those who should have better informed the judges’ consciences instead used to whip the magistrate and judges into a frenzy, partly for reasons of state, partly from good intentions, and partly out of simple-minded piety. In the preface to his frequently mentioned treatise, Spizelius himself praises and commends the judges who diligently conduct witch trials. Writing about himself, he says that he has for many years considered himself to be under a strong obligation to further such beneficial work to the best of his ability. If one heard inhabitants of Lower Saxony and Sweden talk about this, one would learn what great havoc these witch trials and the intemperate zeal for the honor of God had caused there. I remember a credible man who happened to be traveling through Germany and who had himself been an assessor at the courts which the king of Sweden had established against witches. He told me how he and other assessors quickly noticed that there was no basis to initiate an inquisition86 against the accused, since there was no other sign or indication than the fantastic statements of some immature adolescent boys. Nonetheless the clerics kept the upper hand by pretending that the Holy Ghost, who was always eager to preserve the honor of God against the kingdom of the devil, would never have allowed these boys to lie. To this end, the priests quoted the words from the psalm: Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.87 Finally, after many innocent people had been burned at the stake and one of the boys had accused an honorable man of participating in the debauchery, one of the secular assessors at last tried to tempt the boy with the knowledge of the other assessors. He offered the boy half a taler to admit he had erred and to denounce someone other than the accused. When that was easily achieved and the theologians clearly saw that the Holy Ghost did not speak through the child, the court usher chastised the accusing boys with rods, and the trial was closed, even though this was all too late, since so many innocent people had already been burned alive. That the Swedish inquisition was also based on nothing but pernicious fairy tales can be recognized easily by anyone who reads without prejudice the published description, which Spizelius includes in the first part of his treatise, chapter 17, pp. 172ff. And this is so, even though the author wrote this description in order to support the common viewpoint and Spizelius included it in his treatise for the same reason. If anything is remarkable here, though, it is that which Spizelius quotes from the said author on p. 187 and following, where it is clearly shown that the most innocent persons were denounced by these boys.
Reasons why the multitude of trials is now coming to an end and why one should hope for better times.47. Such has been the situation with witch trials in Germany until today. In the Netherlands, however, some of the Reformed theologians went over to Cartesian philosophy, which is opposed to the doctrine of spirits taught in Platonic and scholastic philosophy. Thus, just as among the Reformed in the Netherlands—especially the non-Voetians88 —so too among Germans with whom they had frequent contact, a gentler attitude began to appear, and a view in much closer agreement with sound reason, so that now we do not hear so much of witch trials. As many German theologians and jurists have already discarded most old prejudices, there is thus hope that this one will soon be rejected as well. And even if we do not adhere to Cartesian philosophy—because his views on spirit incline to the other extreme, as is clear to many—it is enough to say that through this philosophy the fantasies of the Scholastics, including the imaginary crime of sorcery, were eliminated from many universities. Nor is it to be feared that they will regain their former reputation in the territories of the Protestant princes.
There has never been a corpus delicti in a witch trial. Therefore it is superfluous to deal with the proofs for this crime.48. Since a true corpus delicti was never found for this crime,89 it follows automatically that a probable proof cannot exist. A matter that does not exist cannot have a proof. And even assuming that a thousand witches had confessed to everything that Carpzov had listed in the sentences included in his fiftieth question on criminal law,90 it is obvious to everyone that they did not confess voluntarily. On the contrary, everything was either supplied by the judges or was extracted from them through cruel and horrible torture. Assuming, too, that a thousand witches had confessed this voluntarily and freely (though I worry whether ten who were guilty could be found among the myriads who were consigned to the flames), I ask, which judge could be so absurd and foolish as to believe a thousand women were they to declare unanimously, for example, that they had been to heaven, had danced with St. Peter, or slept with his hunting dogs. For the depositions collected regarding witches are stupider than these claims—but I will not say that they are more laughable, as the cruelty of witch trials occasions only sadness. This makes it easy to answer the common excuse of our jurists who say that in such hidden and transitory crimes as adultery, whoring, sodomy, heresy, poisoning, and divination it is not possible to provide a corpus delicti otherwise than through conjectures and signs, so that presumptions and speculations must replace full proof; see Carpzov’s 119th question, number 61.91 In these other crimes one occasionally has a corpus delicti whose existence no reasonable person could doubt. But since a corpus delicti has never existed in any case of sorcery, this crime cannot be compared with the others.
The unlawful, false signs of sorcery.49. In this way everything the jurists used to teach about signs of sorcery is also automatically invalid. There are two kinds of signs. Some are based on imperial public law—that is, the criminal code—while others have been added by jurists. With regard to the latter, I do not think them worthy to be mentioned here because they are solely based on the authority of papalist inquisitors and for the above reasons have no validity. Nonetheless, Protestant jurists consider them to be true and unthinkingly incorporated them into their commentaries. I will now cite only Christoph Crusius as an example that demonstrates how obsessively he compiled such absurdities in his treatise, De Indiciis Delictorum Specialibus, chap. 32, and how zealously he tried to defend them.92 To refute everything now would be a vain task, because such trivial and uncertain signs were recently snubbed in an inaugural dissertation at this university. In addition, the author of the Cautio Criminalis93 explicitly refuted these signs.
It is completely absurd that external demonstrations of piety should be a sign of sorcery.50. I cannot refrain, though, from touching on the fact that it is also considered to be a particular indication of sorcery if the accused person displays conspicuous signs of piety, as can be seen in the above-mentioned book by Crusius, 102ff. The apostle [Paul] says that piety is beneficial for everything. Nonetheless, such individuals [as Crusius] declare it to be an indication of the most abominable and serious crime. Could a reasonable person dream of or imagine such an argument? Indeed, they say, this is a hypocritical, not true piety. First, assuming this were true, would it be an indication of witchcraft? Hypocrisy is a vice, to which all people are prone, and primarily those who are devoted to an honorable lifestyle, either by habit or by nature. If all of those leading a wicked life considered all honest people to be sorcerers because of a slight or even serious suspicion of false piety, who could tolerate this without just anger? But it is simply not true that the outward demonstration of great piety is a sign of hypocrisy. Such a profession of piety cannot thus be a sufficient indication of sorcery, so that another sign must be found to strengthen these pseudo-indications. Meanwhile, those suspected of sorcery on these grounds need only appeal to this popular verse for their defense: Omnia dum liceant, non licet esse pium. This means: everything is permitted except for piety. This ridiculous proof of sorcery instead confirms what we have already observed in paragraph 41: namely, that papal clerics invented the vice of sorcery so that under the pretext of justice and divine zeal they could eliminate those pious people they despised. If someone desires to see a specific example of the malevolence of papalist clerics, he can read about it in the entire French treatise called the Histoire des diables de Loudun94 and in Becker’s Enchanted World, chapter II of book IV. He will certainly not be able to do so without being horrified. If someone reads with similar care the fable of the terrible sorcery of Ludovicus Godofredus—included by Franciscus Rossetus in the Sad Events of His Time, and by Martin Zeiler, having translated it from French, in his Sad Murder Stories95 —he will quickly realize that Spizelius had no reason to refer to this story so many times in his often-mentioned book. For in Rossetus’s description itself there are many circumstances which suggest that Ludovicus Godofredus was an honest and pious man whom the clerics condemned as a sorcerer out of pure hatred and jealousy, and that they had earlier arranged everything in such a way that a woman had to make a false accusation against him. I will save everything else that could be said here for a future work.
The signs of sorcery listed in the penal code of the emperor Charles V are also inadequate.51. Now I must also look at the signs of sorcery that are included in the penal code of Charles V. The words from article 44 are: If someone offers to teach sorcery to other people, or threatens to perform magic, and the person, who has been threatened suffers accordingly, or keeps close company with sorcerers and witches, or has to do with suspicious things, gestures, words, and beings, which seem related to sorcery, and is known for sorcery, then this is a serious sign of witchcraft and offers sufficient cause for a criminal investigation.
1. If someone offers to instruct others in sorcery.52. These signs would be of some importance and not to be easily dismissed, if it had been proven that the crime of sorcery does actually exist. However, since this has not been done so far, these proofs must therefore be considered futile and improbable. Let us assume a case where someone has, with sufficient evidence, been proven guilty of offering to teach sorcery to others (even the satanic variety). Should this automatically be a sign that he had made a pact with the devil? I do not think so at all. I have already said above in paragraph 36 that there are many foolish people who long to make a pact with the devil and I have no doubt that there will be malicious individuals who will try to cheat such fools and take their money. They might offer to act as middlemen in making a pact and in order to fulfill their promise, and they might persuade others to represent the devil. Although these and similar events may occur quite frequently, it does not follow that they who do this are sorcerers and that sorcery actually exists. I do not praise these people and I do not excuse them either. I freely admit that both the trickster and his victim should be severely punished. But I am also saying that one cannot punish them for sorcery, and that this kind of deed is not a sufficient sign of sorcery.
2. The threat to cause injury through sorcery.53. I myself do not understand this second sign. Who would be so foolish and threaten another person with sorcery? And if someone did threaten to do harm to another person’s life, health, or belongings, then these threats do not signify a harm coming about through actual sorcery and a pact with the devil. Even if someone explicitly threatened to harm another person through sorcery, how can one be so certain that the harm actually was the result of sorcery, since no such thing exists? If it is known and obvious that the person who uttered these threats did harm to another through mere natural or mortal means, then to this extent he cannot be considered a sorcerer. If there is only a suspicion that the harm he caused others was through secret means, then one still cannot accuse him of sorcery, in part because it remains doubtful whether he was responsible, in part because these secret means are not necessarily acts of the devil. For there is much hidden in nature with which one can harm another person without the help of the devil. These miraculous effects are undoubtedly based on the magnetic power of nature, but neither the Aristotelians, nor the Cartesians can explain them. But we encounter the ancient refuge of academic ignorance when it is argued that whatever effects have not been proved by university physics, and cannot be properly ascribed to God, must necessarily be attributed to the devil.
3. Consorting with sorcerers and witches.54. Concerning the third sign, that is, the consorting with witches and sorcerers, the question remains unresolved. Where there are no witches and sorcerers, no one can consort with them. Even if I admitted the existence of witches, consorting would be no proof of anything, because there could be many reasons for it; for example, friendship, neighborliness, a common upbringing, a desire for profit, a similar social status, and countless other reasons why someone would associate with a sorcerer. Would one consider all those to be adulterers, tricksters, gluttons who keep company with these kinds of people? Indeed, there is a well-known proverb: Noscitur ex socio, qui non cognoscitur ex se, that is, if there is someone you cannot get to know, you can get to know him through the company he keeps. But it is common knowledge that proverbs such as these are insufficient evidence to have someone tortured. Otherwise one would also have to follow the proverb: Solus cum sola non praesumitur orare Pater noster, that is, it is hard to believe that when a man and a woman are alone together they are reciting the Lord’s prayer, with the consequence that any man found alone with a woman should be tortured as well. It is true that these proverbs arise because of what usually happens, but they commonly hide a multitude of other circumstances not expressed in the proverb. Primarily, however, the proverb quoted above fails concerning the conclusions to be drawn from the company a person keeps. If, for example, I did not know, among other things, that Titius was suspected of a vice and I still associated with him until this became apparent, why should this be held against me? Yet sorcery is regarded as a hidden vice. If someone associates with a person at a time when he passed as an honest man, and if this person is later accused of sorcery and convicted in a general trial, then would it not be a great absurdity to suspect someone of the same crime just because of this association? And it seems that the verse can hardly be referring to someone who has been accused of witchcraft. For either he has already been sentenced to death or else acquitted due to insufficient signs. If he has been sentenced, then it is unlikely that anyone would associate with such a person, because it is difficult to find an example of a sorcerer condemned to death who was pardoned. But if he is acquitted, even if this happened due to lack of evidence, why should a person who associated with him be suspected of sorcery when even the judges did not consider him to be a sorcerer? There are many other things I am not going to address here.
4. If someone uses suspect magical objects.55. The fourth proof—that is, if someone uses things, words, and facial expressions that lead to the suspicion of sorcery—is so general, confused, and obscure that the author of the penal code of Charles V should have been ashamed to admit such an uncertain sign in such an important matter, thereby giving inquisitors the opportunity to include everything, even the most absurd matters, under this category. For, in elaborating the general and specific indications of crimes, it is rare for those who comment on the indications of other crimes to depart too far from the prescriptions of the penal code and multiply the indications. Since, however, they generally do this with regard to witchcraft, it seems likely that these commentators were seduced into this error because they were led to believe that through this or that sign a new case had been uncovered through which a fourth sign could be declared, and so on; for example, if someone under inquisition were found to have a pot filled with toads, human limbs, a book of magic spells, and suchlike, or if such were found under the entrance of a house or barn where it might infect people, and so on; see Crusius chapter 32, number 4. From these and similar matters it is often concluded that there is a case of sorcery and that these signs are sufficient proof that someone is a sorcerer, even though neither is true.
The sole caution regarding witch trials: the prince should not permit trials and lower court judges should not conduct inquiries into the crime of sorcery.56. How cautious does a judge have to be in trials against witches so that the innocent will not be punished? The author of the Cautio Criminalis or Precaution in Criminal Cases96 listed and recommended many different precautions (in qu. 16ff.), pretending to believe in the crime of sorcery. However, since these are still subject to numerous abuses, they must be examined elsewhere. As for me, because I hold the crime of sorcery to be a fable, I offer only a single caution. The prince should never permit judicial inquisition into the crime of magic, that is, into pacts with the devil—the harm someone might do through occult magic, either natural or artificial, is not the issue here—and the lower court judges should never execute such an inquisition. And although I am not unaware of the fact that the intermediate authorities must execute the authority of the commonwealth’s sovereign power, and that they cannot improve or abrogate received laws and mores, I am convinced that there will never be sufficient indications for an inquisition. Further, when the lower court judge allows persons accused of witchcraft to defend themselves in order to avert inquisition, I believe that he should be able to protect himself and his procedure adequately through the law itself and through that which it prescribes regarding the indications of crime.
[1. ]“On the Crime of Sorcery” was first published as the Latin dissertation De crimine magiae in November 1701, when it was defended by Thomasius’s doctoral student Johannes Reiche. It was translated into German in 1702 and again in 1704 under the title “Kurtze Lehr-Sätze von dem Laster der Zauberey.” The second German translation, probably by Reiche, provides the text that we have used here in conjunction with the Latin exemplar. Thomasius had first encountered witchcraft prosecutions in 1694 when the Halle law faculty had been asked to provide advice on an actual case. During the later 1690s he was able to place such prosecutions in the larger account of the relations between church and state developed in such works as his adiaphora disputation (chapter 2, this volume). For Thomasius, witchcraft cases—like heresy prosecutions—were symptomatic of the clerical capture of the state, as they represented an attempt to apply legal categories and political coercion to matters of the spirit lying outside the proper concern of civil authority with “external” social peace. But, again like heresy, witch-mongering was also a product of the superstitious beliefs that flourished when men sought to extend their limited understanding to the divine being, thereby falling into useless and dangerous speculations rather than seeking inward individual grace.
[2. ]Francisco Torreblanca y Villalpando (d. 1645) was a jurist in Granada who wrote two books on the subject of sorcery: Epitomes delictorum, in quibus aperta vel occulta invocatio daemonium intervenit (Epitome of crimes, in which demons are openly or secretly invoked) (Sevilla, 1618); and Daemonologia sive de magia naturali daemoniaca, licita & illicita (Demonology or on permitted and prohibited natural magic) (Mainz, 1623). Jean Bodin (1529–96) was a jurist who taught Roman law at the University of Toulouse before he became an adviser to King Henri III and later to the king’s brother, the Duke of Alençon and Anjou. He is well known as the author of the famous book Six livres de la République (Six books of the republic) (1576) and for representing the position of the moderates (politiques) in the French wars of religion, but he was also interested in sorcery and the persecution of witches. His influential book De la Démonomanie des Sorciers (On the demonomania of the sorcerers) (Paris, 1580) was reprinted several times. Nicolas Rémy (Remigius) (ca. 1525–1612) was a French witch-hunting jurist in the duchy of Lorraine who claimed to have executed nine hundred witches. His reflections on this and on witchcraft more broadly are contained in his Daemonolatreia libri tres (Lyon, 1595), in English as Demonolatry, trans. E. A. Ashwin (London: J. Rodker, 1930). Martin Anton Delrio (1551–1608) was born in Antwerp. His early career as a politician in the Spanish Netherlands was cut short by the victory of the Dutch Protestants. In Spain he joined the Jesuit order and later studied theology in Mainz and in Leuven, subsequently becoming a professor of theology. His Disquisitionum magicarum libri sex (Six books of magical investigations) was first published in 1599 in Leuven and reprinted twenty-six times up until 1755.
[3. ]Gabriel Naudé, Apologie pour tous les grands personage qui ont esté faussement soupçonnez de magie (Defense of all the great men who have been falsely acccused of sorcery) (Paris, 1625). In the Latin version of Thomasius’s disputation, the italicized citation from Naudé is in French. The German translation of Naudé’s work, Gabriel Naudaei Schutz-Schrifft, worin alle vornehmen Leute, die der Zauberey fälschlich beschuldiget sind,vertheidiget werden, was published as an appendix to the 1704 German edition of Thomasius’s On the Crime of Sorcery. Naudé (1600–1653), polymath and state-theorist, was librarian for Cardinal Mazarin and later for the Swedish queen.
[4. ]Pierre le Loyer (1550–1634) was a French philosopher and jurist. He is the author of Discours, et histoires des spectres, visions et apparitions des esprits, anges, demons, et ames, se monstrans visibles aux hommes (Paris, 1605), in English: A Treatise of Specters or Straunge Sights, Visions and Apparitions Appearing Sensibly vnto Men. Wherein is delivered, the nature of spirtes, angels, and divels: their power and properties: as also of witches, sorcerers, enchanters, and such like (London, 1605). Pierre de Lancre (1553–1631) was magistrate of the parliament of Bordeaux and presided over witch trials in the southwest of France. He described his experiences in his Tableau de l’inconstance des mauvais anges et démons, où il est amplement traicté des sorciers & de la sorcelerie (Tableau of the inconstancy of bad angels and demons, where sorcerers and sorcery are treated in detail) (Paris, 1612). Parts of this book were translated into German in 1630. See also his L’incrédulité et mescréance du sortilège pleinment convaincue (Complete evidence of the disbelief and infidelity of sorcery) (Paris, 1622). An extract of this book was translated into German in 1683, under the title Kurtzer aber jedoch außbündiger Außzug der Zauberey, gezogen auß Peter de L’ancre, Rathsherrn des Königs im Parlement zu Bordeaux (s.l., 1683). Johann Georg Goedelmann (1559–1611) taught jurisprudence at the University of Rostock and was later a jurist in Dresden. He was well known as the author of the Tractatus de Magis, Veneficis et Lamiis recte cognoscendis et puniendis (Treatise on the right way to discern and punish sorcerers, poisoners, and witches) (Nürnberg, 1676).
[5. ]Johann Weyer (Wier) (1515/16–1588) studied medicine in Orléans and was later physician in the entourage of the Duke of Jülich-Cleve-Berg. He was one of the most famous and influential opponents of witch trials and witch-hunting in Germany. His book De praestigiis daemonum, et incantationibus, ac veneficiis, libri V was first published in Basel in 1563, with at least ten further editions appearing during Weyer’s lifetime. In English: Witches, Devils, and Doctors in the Renaissance: Johann Weyer, De praestigiis daemonum, ed. G. Mora and B. Kohl, trans. J. Shea (Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1991). The book ended the witch trials in the dukedom Jülich-Cleve-Berg, but its influence was limited by the negative reaction of Jean Bodin.
[6. ]Benedict Carpzov (1595–1666) presided at several Saxon courts and was professor of law at the University of Leipzig. He is regarded as a founder of German criminal jurisprudence because of his systematization of customary Saxon law, especially in his Practica nova imperialis saxonica rerum criminalium (New practice of imperial Saxon criminal law) (Wittenburg, 1635). Carpzov was an orthodox Lutheran strongly opposed to heresy and witchcraft and contributed to Lutheran church law through his membership in the Dresden Superior Consistory. Here Thomasius is referring to part 1, question 48 of the Practica nova, De Crimine Sortilegii (On the crime of soothsaying), at pp. 307–25. Our references are to the 1670 edition published in Wittenberg.
[7. ]Giovanni Francesco Ponzinibus was a jurist in Florence and attacked the Malleus Maleficarum (The hammer of witchcraft) in his Tractatus subtilis & elegans de lamiis (Subtle and elegant treatise on witches) (Pavia, 1511). Ponzinibus accepted the existence of sorcery but attacked legal proceedings against witches by denying the elements of the crime—witches’ sabbaths, pacts with the devil, child murder, and so on—as delusions. For the key doctrines of the Malleus Maleficarum, see note 80 in this chapter.
[8. ]See note 5 in this chapter.
[9. ]Petrus de Apono (also Petrus Abanus or Petrus Aponensis, 1246–1320?), philosopher and first professor of medicine at the University of Padua. The Heptameron, seu elementa magica appeared as an appendix to Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim’s (posthumous) Liber quartus de occulta philosophia (1565); its ascription to Abano (as to Agrippa) may be spurious. In English: Henry Cornelius Agrippa’s Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, and Geomancy. Magical Elements of Peter de Abano. Astronomical Geomancy [by Gerardus Cremonensis]. The Nature of Spirits [by Georgius Pictorius]. And Arbatel of Magick, trans. Robert Turner (London, 1655).
[10. ]Pietro Pomponazzi (1462–1526?) taught philosophy at the University of Padua. His book De naturalium effectuum causis, sive de incantationibus (On the causes of natural effects, or on sorcery) was published posthumously in Basel in 1556. Reginald Scott (1538?–99) was a member of the English gentry who offered a purely social account of the emergence of witchcraft. Scott’s The Discoverie of Witchcraft (London, 1548) was designed as a refutation of Bodin’s Démonologie (1580) and considerably sharpened Johann Weyer’s arguments, which Scott knew. There is no contemporary evidence for the later story that Scott’s work was burned.
[11. ]Gisbertus Voetius (1589–1676) was a professor of theology in Utrecht where he opposed Descartes’ teachings on the basis of Calvinist doctrine. His Disputationes Theologiae Selectae (Select theological disputations) appeared in five volumes between 1648 and 1669.
[12. ]See note 3 in this chapter.
[13. ]Nicolas Malebranche (1638–1715), French philosopher and Oratorian priest who argued that miracles are the outcome of divine laws of nature. This was part of a fervent defense of the unison between reason and faith, an argument that made his works influential in the French Enlightenment. See his De la Recherche de la Vérité (Paris, 1674–78), and for a modern English translation, The Search after Truth, trans. T. M. Lennon and P. J. Olscamp (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
[14. ]Antonius van Dale (1638–1708) was a Dutch physician working at a hospital in Haarlem. Thomasius refers here to De oraculis ethnicorum (On the oracles of the pagans) (Amsterdam, 1683) and Dissertationes de origine ac progressu Idolatriae et Superstitionum, de vera ac falsa Prophetia, uti et de Divinationibus Idolatricis Judaeorum (Dissertations on the origin and progress of idolatry and superstition, on true and false prophecy, and on the idolatrous divinations of the Jews) (Amsterdam, 1696).
[15. ]Balthasar Bekker (1634–98) was a Protestant preacher in Amsterdam. His famous book De betoverde Wereld (Leuwaarden, 1691), which was translated into German (1693), French (1694), and English (The World Bewitch’d, 1695), caused great theological controversy, and he was banned from preaching in 1692.
[16. ]The author of the Cautio criminalis was the Jesuit priest Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld. He published his book anonymously in 1631, the first attributed edition appearing in 1721 in Augsburg. The full title is Cautio criminalis seu de Processibus contra sagas Liber. Ad Magistratus Germaniae hoc tempore necessarius, tum autem Consiliariis & Confessariis Principum, Inquisitoribus, Judicibus, Advocatis, Confessariis reorum, Concionatoribus, caeterisque lectu utilissimus. Auctore incerto theologo orthodox (Rinteln, 1631); in English as Cautio criminalis, or, A Book on Witch Trials, trans. M. Hellyer (Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Press, 2003). Friedrich Spee was one of the most famous and influential opponents of witch trials in Germany. He argued for their immediate cessation and was convinced that the idea of the crime of witchcraft was caused only by the use of torture and by the persecutor’s obsessive belief in witches.
[17. ]Here we have used Marcus Hellyer’s translation of the passage. See Spee von Langenfeld, Cautio Criminalis, or, A Book on Witch Trials, 15–16.
[18. ]Aristotelian philosophy (physics, cosmology, metaphysics, and ethics) remained dominant in Lutheran universities until the latter part of the seventeenth century and in Catholic (Jesuit) universities until long after this, not least because of its scholastic merging with Christian doctrine. In Protestant universities Aristotelianism was challenged by new conceptions of scientific method associated with Bacon, Descartes, and Galileo, and by new conceptions of philosophy and politics associated with Hobbes, Pufendorf, and the eclectic philosophers, including Thomasius himself. Aristotelian physics and metaphysics were used to support belief in witches as these doctrines showed how (nonspatial) spiritual substances such as angels and demons could exist inside corporeal beings like man, taking over his faculties.
[19. ]Corpuscular philosophy, as elaborated by the French philosophers Pierre Gassendi and René Descartes, explains natural phenomena in terms of the qualities and movements of atoms (corpuscula). It is thus somewhat similar to mechanistic philosophy, which explains phenomena in terms of quantifiable force, motion, and resistance, but it also supports Epicurean ethics by freeing the world from divine control.
[20. ]Thomasius is referring to his own Vom Wesen des Geistes (On the nature of spirit) (Halle, 1699). Here he tries to forge a link between physics and metaphysics by constructing a theory of spirit in which spirit is the moving power of passive matter, in this regard paralleling his Aristotelian opponents. Thomasius’s theory derives from mystical sources and was developed as an alternative to Cartesian mechanics, which Thomasius regarded as leading to atheism through its emphasis on matter.
[21. ]Before Shaftesbury’s positive interpretation of enthusiasm in his Letter concerning Enthusiasm (1708), the term was used as a synonym for antirational fanaticism and a pathological form of fantasy and imagination. In the eighteenth century, it was of ambiguous connotation.
[22. ]Theophilus Spizelius (1639–91), a Lutheran theologian and pastor in Augsburg, Die gebrochene Macht der Finsternüß oder Zerstörte teuflische Bunds- und Buhls-Freundschafft mit den Menschen (The broken power of darkness or destruction of the devil’s friendship-pact with men) (Augsburg, 1687).
[23. ]Johann Adam Osiander (1622–97) was professor of theology in Tübingen. See his Tractatus theologicus de magia (Theological treatise on sorcery) (Tübingen, 1687). Ludovicus Caelius Rhodiginus (1469–1525) taught Greek and Latin at the University of Milan and later at the University of Padua. See his Lectionum Antiquarum Libri XVI (Lectures on antiquity in sixteen books) (Venice, 1516). Caspar Peucer (1525–1602) had a chair in mathematics and later in medicine at the University of Wittenberg. Thomasius refers here to the Commentarius de praecipuis divinationum generibus (Commentary on the main kinds of divination) (Wittenberg, 1553).
[24. ]Natural and artificial magic were products of Renaissance Neoplatonism. They were taught as esoteric arts for acquiring knowledge and control of things through the discovery and manipulation of hidden correspondences, signs, and influences, particularly those linking man as microcosm with the heavens as macrocosm. “Artificial” here means technical or based on the rules of an art.
[25. ]See Carpzov, Practica nova, pt. I, qu. 48, §40, pp. 312–13.
[27. ]Carpzov, Practica nova, §40, p. 312.
[28. ]Carpzov, Practica nova, §§41–42, p. 313.
[29. ]See 1 Samuel 28:9.
[30. ]King of Judah (690–640 ) whom the Bible portrays as promoting idolatry and sorcery and incurring God’s wrath. See 2 Kings 21:1–18.
[31. ]In his Laws, Plato (427–347 ) sketches a comprehensive legal code, including penal law. The death penalty for sorcerers is suggested in book XI (933c–a).
[32. ]Carpzov, Practica nova, §§43–45, p. 313.
[34. ]Carpzov, Practica nova, §46, p. 313.
[35. ]An author with the name Chirlandus could not be verified. It is possible that here Carpzov is referring to Paulus Grillandus, a famous papal judge in the witch trials in the district of Rome, whose writings include the Tractatus de hereticis et sortilegiis (Treatise on heretics and witches) (Lyon, 1536).
[36. ]Carpzov, Practica nova, §47, p. 313.
[37. ]Legalese meaning a case or precedent that is exactly on point, or falls within exact and determinative boundaries. In the following sentence Thomasius uses the phrase to mock the pedantry of his fellow jurists by suggesting that when other scholars form an idea of lawyers that is in terminis terminantibus—or exactly on point—then it is not at all flattering.
[38. ]Carpzov, Practica nova, §47, p. 313.
[39. ]Ibid. Despite purporting to quote Carpzov, on this occasion Thomasius is paraphrasing him, albeit accurately.
[40. ]Carpzov, Practica nova, §48, p. 313. In this quotation from Carpzov, Thomasius also silently includes a paraphrase of Carpzov’s quotation from Nicolas Remy’s Daemonolatreia (bk. 3, chap. 12). See note 4 in this chapter.
[41. ]The Tisch-Reden (Table-talk) of the reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546) was first published in Eisleben twenty years after his death in 1566. The book contains a collection of Luther’s conversations, held in his house in Wittenberg.
[42. ]That is, syphilis.
[43. ]Carpzov, Practica nova, §49, p. 314.
[44. ]Thomas Aquinas (1224–74) and Bonaventura (1217–74) were famous philosophers and theologians of High Scholasticism. Johannes de Turrecremata (Juan de Torquemada) (1388–1468) was an influential theologian who argued for the absolute power of the pope within the church.
[45. ]See Pierre Bayle, Pensées diverses, écrites à un docteur de Sorbonne, à l’occasion de la comète qui parût au mois décembre 1680 (1st ed. under different title, 1682; 2nd definitive ed., Rotterdam, 1683; English trans. 1708). For a modern English edition, see Pierre Bayle, Various Thoughts on the Occasion of a Comet, trans. R. C. Bartlett (New York: SUNY Press, 2000). Thomasius is thinking of the Seventh Letter, especially, perhaps, sections 114–22 and 129–32 (pp. 144–51, 159–65).
[46. ]Fathers of the Church, who lived between 155 and 430.
[47. ]This is a central plank of Thomasius’s argument. Without denying the devil’s (moral) existence, as Bekker does, he argues that as a spirit the devil lacks the body required to do such things as enter into contracts and fornicate with witches, which were key elements of the crime of witchcraft (see paragraphs 32 and 33). In arguing thus, Thomasius was not only rejecting popular beliefs about the devil but also turning his back on that entire dimension of Christian metaphysics that is concerned with the way in which spiritual substance can occupy corporeal things. This was a set of speculations that had been applied to the phenomenon of diabolical possession but, far more centrally, to the crucial and divisive question of Christ’s presence in the Eucharistic host.
[48. ]Popular name of several German mountains where, according to folk belief, witches celebrated their Sabbath on the night of April 30.
[49. ]Sunday Oculi refers to the observances carried out on the third Sunday in Lent.
[50. ]See Luke 24:39.
[51. ]That is, presumably, between those rendered effective by faith and those not.
[52. ]Here Thomasius is referring to the Talmud, completed in the fifth century and the most important collection of doctrines and traditions for postbiblical Judaism.
[53. ]According to tradition, the school of skeptical philosophy was founded by the Greek Pyrrho (ca. 360–270 ). It opposed all “dogmatic” schools by arguing that nothing can be known with certainty. In his Introductio ad philosophiam aulicam (Introduction to court-philosophy) (1688) Thomasius calls the skeptics the “enemies of the philosophy.”
[54. ]The “poetic philosophy” of the Greeks is represented by the poetry of Homer (lived at the end of the eighth century) and Hesiod (lived around 700 ). Early modern thinkers found philosophical themes in mythological and poetic form in the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer and the Theogonia of Hesiod.
[55. ]Diogenes Laertius’s biographical history of ancient Greek philosophy, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (first half of the third century ), had been rediscovered and republished in 1533. It had a lasting influence on the conception of the history of ancient philosophy. Plutarch (ca. 50–125), a Greek philosopher and historian, was a prominent representative of Middle Platonism. Thomasius refers here to his Lives of famous Greeks and Romans. The Ionian Philosophers were a group of early Greek philosophers who were interested in the basic principles of nature and the originating substances of matter. Thales of Miletus (ca. 624–ca. 547 ) is traditionally considered the first one of them and as such the first Greek philosopher in a strict sense. Johann Scheffer (1621–79) was professor of rhetoric and politics at the University of Uppsala and librarian to the Swedish queen. Here Thomasius is referring to Scheffer’s De naturae & constitutione philosophiae italicae seu Pythagoricae librum (Of the nature and the constitution of Italian philosophy, or a book on the Pythagorians) (Uppsala, 1664). A second edition appeared in Wittenberg in 1701. The followers of Pythagoras (ca. 580–ca. 500 ) founded a society in southern Italy that was both a religious community and a scientific school.
[56. ]Thomasius followed tradition by dividing ancient philosophy into four main “sects,” or schools, founded by Epicurus (341–271 ), Zeno (ca. 336–ca. 264 ), Plato (427–347 ), and Aristotle (384–322 ). See Thomasius, Introductio ad philosophiam aulicam, chap. I, §17.
[57. ]See note 24 in this chapter.
[58. ]A Jewish party that emerged in the second century , the Pharisees were scribes influential in the time of Jesus. They tried to harmonize the tradition of oral exegesis of revelation with revelation itself.
[59. ]Philo was a Jewish philosopher who lived in Alexandria between ca. 20 or 15 and 42. He combined Platonic philosophy with the Jewish religion.
[60. ]Jewish esoteric mysticism, which appeared in the thirteenth century in the north of Spain and the south of France. The aims of the Kabbalah are unity with God, spiritual knowledge of the last and hidden things, and an earthly messianism. By interpreting individual letters in biblical passages and by using mystical numerology, the Kabbalists claimed to discern the esoteric meaning of any sentence in the Bible.
[61. ]According to the Talmud, Bat Kol is a heavenly voice coming from God and leading men to decisions and insights that are authorized by God.
[62. ]Augustine of Hippo (354–430), who began his intellectual life as a Neoplatonist, was converted to Christianity but then used Neoplatonic philosophy to elaborate Christian doctrine, particularly in his seminal City of God.
[63. ]Lucius Caelius Lactantius lived from ca. 250 to ca. 335. His Divinae Institutiones (Divine institutes), written between 304 and 313, marks the first attempt to develop a system of the Christian doctrine.
[64. ]Athenagoras (ca. 133–ca. 190) was a Platonic philosopher who converted to Christianity and wrote important defenses of Christian belief. Tertullian (ca. 155–ca. 225) was one of the most innovative theologians prior to Augustine and dealt with such practical questions as marriage, prayer, and penance. Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus (a.k.a. St. Jerome, ca. 347–419) was a church father who wrote commentaries on all the books of the Bible, which he also translated into Latin.
[65. ]Justus Lipsius (1547–1606), an influential Dutch humanist and philologist, taught at the universities of Jena, Cologne, Leiden, and Leuven. Thomasius refers to Lipsius’s Physiologiae Stoicorum libri tres (Three books on the physiology of the Stoics) (Antwerpen, 1604).
[66. ]See Isaiah 13–14. The reference to Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the king of Babylon is not in the Latin dissertation, appearing first in the 1704 German translation.
[67. ]See 1 Genesis 6:4.
[68. ]Incubi and succubi are, respectively, male and female demons, with whom witches were supposed to have sexual intercourse.
[69. ]Hieronymus (St. Jerome) wrote imaginary lives of St. Anthony and St. Paul of Thebes, probably as illustrations of the monastic life.
[70. ]Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469–1536), theologian and leading humanist in Europe, edited St. Jerome’s Opera omnia, 9 vols. (Basel, 1516–20).
[71. ]Followers of John Duns Scotus (1265–1308), a scholastic metaphysician who taught in Oxford, Paris, and Cologne.
[72. ]See note 34 in this chapter.
[73. ]See Corpus juris civilis, title 18 in bk. 9 of the Codex Justiniani:De Maleficiis et Mathematicis et ceteris similibus (On sorcerers, astrologers, and others similar).
[74. ]Augustus (63 b.c.e.–14 c.e.) was the first Roman emperor, ruling from 31 b.c.e. to 14 c.e.
[75. ]Constantine the Great (b. between 274 and 288), Roman emperor 306–37.
[77. ]The canons (from the Greek canon, or rule) were the laws of the church. The monk Gratian collected all the church laws enacted since the councils of the fourth century and published them in 1140 in his Concordantia discordantium canonum (The concord of discordant canons). Gratian created with his so-called Decretum Gratiani the basis for the latter Corpus juris canonici, which contains not only the collection of Gratian but also the Decretals and the Extravagantes. The Corpus juris canonici was promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1592.
[78. ]Antonius Matthaeus (1601–54) taught Roman law in the Netherlands; see his De criminibus, ad lib. XLVII et XLVIII dig. commentarius (Utrecht, 1644). For a recent English translation, see M. L. Hewett and B. C. Stoop, On Crimes, a Commentary on Books XLVII and XLVIII of the Digest by Antonius Matthaeus (Cape Town: Juta, 1987–96).
[79. ]Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 55–120) was a Roman historian who wrote an ethnographical study of Germany that played an important role in political discussion in early modern Europe.
[80. ]See Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, Malleus Maleficarum (ca. 1486/87). In English, Malleus Maleficarum: The Hammer of Witchcraft, trans. M. Summers (1928; repr. New York: Dover, 1971). Kramer (1430?–1505), a Dominican, was the zealous inquisitor for Tyrol, Salzburg, Bohemia, and Moravia. Sprenger (1436/38–1494), likewise a Dominican, was the inquisitor extraordinary for Mainz, Trèves, and Cologne. Their activities were authorized by Pope Innocent VIII, whose bull Summis desiderantes affectibus of December 1484 prefaced the book. Malleus Malleficarum defines the four elements of the crime of sorcery: the contract with the devil (pactumcum daemone), harm caused by sorcery (maleficium), sexual intercourse with the devil (coitus cum diabolo), and the participation at the witches’ Sabbath.
[81. ]Here Thomasius is outlining a crucial expansion of the scope of the crime, from causing actual harm—for example, by poisoning or causing illness—to worship of the devil. This change brought sorcery and witchcraft closer to heresy.
[82. ]The penal code of Emperor Charles V, the Constitutio Criminalis Carolina, was law for the whole of the German Empire. It was promulgated in 1532 in Regensburg and based on the progressive Constitutio Criminalis Bambergensis (1507). The latter was written by Johann von Schwarzenberg, the president of the Episcopal court of justice in Bamberg, and by his collaborators who were—in contrast to Schwarzenberg—learned jurists educated in Italy.
[83. ]Carpzov, Practica nova, pt. I, qu. 48, §7, p. 308.
[84. ]August was Elector of Saxony from 1553 to 1586.
[85. ]Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560) was a philologist and theologian who taught at the University of Wittenberg. He was a friend of Martin Luther but nevertheless an independent reformer who tried to harmonize humanism with the aims of Protestant Reformation. Because of his engagement in the reorganization of schools and universities he was called the “teacher of Germany.”
[86. ]The inquisition was the main part of a witch trial, which started with a denunciation. Everybody was obliged to denounce people who were suspected of witchcraft. After the denunciation the judge initiated the judicial proceedings with an inquisition designed to obtain a confession from the accused person. As the interrogators were able to use unrestricted torture, those accused of witchcraft had little choice but to confess to the crime and to denounce others for participating in the witches’ Sabbath. As a result, each witch trial produced a chain of other trials. Thomasius attacked the use of inquisition in witch trials in a special disputation, De Origine ac Progressu Processus Inquisitorii contra Sagas (On the origin and progress of inquisitorial proceedings against witches) (Halle, 1712).
[87. ]See Psalms 8:2.
[88. ]Followers of Gisbertus Voetius; see note 11 in this chapter.
[89. ]In a strict sense the corpus delicti is the body or the thing that is injured by a criminal act. In a broader sense the corpus delicti is any perceptible element of a criminal offense. Thomasius argues that as concrete evidence of harm cannot be adduced for charges of sorcery, the crime is impossible to prove.
[90. ]Carpzov, Practica nova, pt. I, qu. 50, pp. 326–43.
[91. ]Carpzov, Practica nova, pt. III, qu. 119, §60, p. 174.
[92. ]Christoph Crusius, Tractatus de indiciis delictorum specialibus (Treatise on the specific proofs of crimes) (Frankfurt, 1635).
[93. ]That is, Friedrich Spee; see note 16 in this chapter.
[94. ]See Nicolas Aubin (b. 1655), Histoire des Diables de Loudon ou de la possession des Réligieuses Ursulines et de la condemnation et du Supplice d’Urbain Grandier (Amsterdam, 1693). A Dutch translation appeared in 1694 in Utrecht and an English one in 1703: The Cheats and Illusions of Romish Priests and Exorcists. Discover’d in the history of the devils of Loudon, being an account of the pretended possession of the Ursuline nuns, and of the Condemnation and punishment of Urban Grandier a parson of the same town (London).
[95. ]François de Rosset (ca. 1570–ca. 1630) was a French man of letters well known as one of the first translators of Cervantes’s Don Quixote. His book Les Histoires tragiques de nostre temps (Tragic stories of our times) was a best-seller, appearing first in 1614 with a further forty editions being published before 1758. Thomasius refers here to the German translation of Martin Zeiler (1589–1661): Theatrum tragicum, Das ist: Newe Wahrhafftige traurig, kläglich und wunderliche Geschichten die wegen Zauberey, Diebstal, unnd Rauberey . . . sich vor wenig Iaren mehrertheils in Franckreich zugetragen haben (Tübingen, 1628).
[96. ]That is, Friedrich Spee; see note 16 in this chapter.
The Latin word is veneficus (m.) or venefica (f.), which signifies a sorcerer or witch in the sense of a mixer of potions and poisons.
Here civil law is the Roman Corpus Juris Civilis, codified by the Roman emperor Justinian in 534.
The school of the glossators was founded by Irnerius (ca. 1055–ca. 1130), a jurist and philologist who founded the Bologna School of Law. Through their commentaries on the Roman legal texts the glossators expanded and adapted them to deal with contemporary problems. The Glossa ordinaria of Accursius (ca. 1185–1263) was a particularly influential example of this practice.