Polemics Reclamation Project: Malleus Maleficarum


The Polemics Reclamation Project is a slow and steady attempt by Pulpit & Pen to reclaim various historic documents important to the theological field of polemics. Many times, these documents are only available on microfiche or in a foreign tongue and must be put into English or modern type. Other times, the documents are available in more obscure places of the Internet. We are trying to compile thousands of these documents before they are forgotten.

Reclaimed Document: Malleus Maleficarum

Author: Catholic Clergyman, Heinrich Kramer, under the direction and final approval of Pope Paul IV

Date Written: 1487, Germany

Subject: Extermination of Witches

Summary: Also known as “The Witch’s Hammer,” this Roman Catholic manual detailed the Inquisition process to determine the guilt of witches. It is every bit as absurd as Monty Python’s famous skit. The Malleus Maleficarum (The Witch Hammer), first published in 1486, is arguably one of the most infamous
books ever written, due primarily to its position and regard during the Middle Ages. It served as a guidebook for Inquisitors during the Inquisition, and was designed to aid them in the identification, prosecution, and dispatching ofWitches. It set forth, as well, many of the modern misconceptions and fears concerning witches and the influence of witchcraft. The questions, definitions, and accusations it set forth in regard to witches, which were reinforced by its use during the Inquisition, came to bewidely regarded as irrefutable truth

Synopsis: This Romanist manual – approved by the Vatican – lined out the rules for inquiring as to whether or not someone was a witch. Believed to almost always be women, the female sex received the harshest treatment. Far from influencing only the trials of witches, the book went on to be used as a guidebook for the Inquisition, a time of extreme persecution of the Protestant Church, which put anywhere from 600,000 to 9 million people to death (estimates vary widely based upon what country is counted and for what cause. The vast majority of these individuals were put to death by torture. Only women who were celibate and a part of a commune-environment were considered innocent, and the rest – even married women – were presumed guilty until proven innocent. Unfortunately, the guidebook doesn’t allow the accused to speak on their behalf, hear the witnesses or evidence against them, or provide evidence of their innocence. How they responded under torture was the only means to determine their guilt or innocence; the historical record does not show any individual being found innocent who was tried under the Inquisition.

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Malleus Maleficarum

Whether the belief that there are such beings as witches is so essential a part of the Catholic
faith that obstinately to maintain the opposite opinion manifestly savours of heresy. And it is
argued that a firm belief in witches is not a Catholic doctrine: see chapter 26, question 5, of the
work of Episcopus. Whoever believes that any creature can be changed for the better or the worse,
or transformed into another kind or likeness, except by the Creator of all things, is worse than a
pagan and a heretic. And so when they report such things are done by witches it is not Catholic,
but plainly heretical, to maintain this opinion.

Moreover, no operation of witchcraft has a permanent effect among us. And this is the proof
thereof: For if it were so, it would be effected by the operation of demons. But to maintain that the
devil has power to change human bodies or to do them permanent harm does not seem in
accordance with the teaching of the Church. For in this way they could destroy the whole world,
and bring it to utter confusion.

Moreover, every alteration that takes place in a human body – for example, a state of health or
a state of sickness – can be brought down to a question of natural causes, as Aristotle has shown in
his 7th book of Physics. And the greatest of these is the influence of the stars. But the devils
cannot interfere with the stars. This is the opinion of Dionysius in his epistle to S. Polycarp. For
this alone God can do. Therefore it is evident the demons cannot actually effect any permanent
transformation in human bodies; that is to say, no real metamorphosis. And so we must refer the
appearance of any such change to some dark and occult cause.

And the power of God is stronger than the power of the devil, so divine works are more true
than demoniac operations. Whence inasmuch as evil is powerful in the world, then it must be the
work of the devil always conflicting with the work of God. Therefore as it is unlawful to hold that
the devil’s evil craft can apparently exceed the work of God, so it us unlawful to believe that the
noblest works of creation, that is to say, man and beast, can be harmed and spoiled by the power of
the devil.

Moreover, that which is under the influence of a material object cannot have power over
corporeal objects. But devils are subservient to certain influences of the stars, because magicians
observe the course of certain stars in order to evoke the devils. Therefore they have not the power
of effecting any change in a corporeal object, and it follows that witches have even less power than
the demons possess.

For devils have no power at all save by a certain subtle art. But an art cannot permanently
produce a true form. (And a certain author says: Writers on Alchemy know that there is no hope of
any real transmutation.) Therefore the devils for their part, making use of the utmost of their craft,
cannot bring about any permanent cure – or permanent disease. But if these states exist it is in truth
owing to some other cause, which may be unknown, and has nothing to do with the operations of
either devils or witches.

But according to the Decretals (33) the contrary is the case. “If by witchcraft or any magic art
permitted by the secret but most just will of God, and aided by the power of the devil, etc . . . . ”
The reference here is to any act of witchcraft which may hinder the end of marriage, and for this
impediment to take effect three things can concur, that is to say, witchcraft, the devil, and the
permission of God. Moreover, the stronger can influence that which is less strong. But the power
of the devil is stronger than any human power (Job xl). There is no power upon earth which can be
compared to him, who was created so that he fears none.

Answer. Here are three heretical errors which must be met, and when they have been
disproved the truth will be plain. For certain writers, pretending to base their opinion upon the
words of S. Thomas (iv, 24) when he treats of impediments brought about by magic charms, have
tried to maintain that there is not such a thing as magic, that it only exists in the imagination of
those men who ascribe natural effects, the cause whereof are not known, to witchcraft and spells.
There are others who acknowledge indeed that witches exist, but they declare that the influence of
magic and the effects of charms are purely imaginary and phantasmical. A third class of writers
maintain that the effects said to be wrought by magic spells are altogether illusory and fanciful,
although it may be that the devil does really lend his aid to some witch.
The errors held by each one of these persons may thus be set forth and thus confuted. For in
the very first place they are shown to be plainly heretical by many orthodox writers, and especially
by S. Thomas, who lays down that such an opinion is altogether contrary to the authority of the
saints and is founded upon absolute infidelity. Because the authority of the Holy Scriptures says
that devils have power over the bodies and over the minds of men, when God allows them to
exercise this power, as is plain from very many passages in the Holy Scriptures. Therefore those
err who say that there is no such thing as witchcraft, but that it is purely imaginary, even although
they do not believe that devils exist except in the imagination of the ignorant and vulgar, and the
natural accidents which happen to a man he wrongly attributes to some supposed devil. For the
imagination of some men is so vivid that they think they see actual figures and appearances which
are but the reflection of their thoughts, and then these are believed to be the apparitions of evil
spirits or even the spectres of witches. But this is contrary to the true faith, which teaches us that
certain angels fell from heaven and are now devils, and we are bound to acknowledge that by their
very nature they can do many wonderful things which we cannot do. And those who try to induce
others to perform such evil wonders are called witches. And because infidelity in a person who has
been baptized is technically called heresy, therefore such persons are plainly heretics.

As regards those who hold the other two errors, those, that is to say, who do not deny that
there are demons and that demons possess a natural power, but who differ among themselves
concerning the possible effects of magic and the possible operations of witches: the one school
holding that a witch can truly bring about certain effects, yet these effects are not real but
phantastical, the other school allowing that some real harm does befall the person or persons
injured, but that when a witch imagines this damage is the effect of her arts she is grossly deceived.

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