Malleus Maleficarum

Malleus Maleficarum Part 1

Question XVIII

Here follows the Method of Preaching against and Controverting Five Arguments of Laymen and Lewd Folk, which seem to be Variously Approved, that God does not Allow so Great Power to the Devil and Witches as is involved in the Performance of such Mighty Works of Witchcraft.

        Finally, let the preacher br armed against certain arguments of laymen, and even of some learned men, who deny, up to a certain point, that there are witches. For, although they conceded the malice and power of the devil to inflict such evils at his will, they deny that the Divine permission is granted to him, and will not admit that God allows such things to be done. And although they have no method in their argument, groping blindly now this way and now that, it is yet necessary to reduce their assertions to five arguments, from which all their cavillings proceed. And the first is, that God does not permit the devil to rage against men wish such great power.

        The question put is whether the Divine permission must always accompany an infliction caused by the devil through a witch. And give arguments are submitted to prove that God does not permit it, and that therefore there is no witchcraft in the world. And the first argument is taken from God; the second from the devil; the third from the witch; the fourth from the affliction ascribed to witchcraft; and the fifth from the preachers and judges, on the assumption that they have so preached against and punished witches that they would have no security in life.

        And first as follows: God can punish men for their sins, and He punishes with the sword, famine, and pestilence; as well as with various and countless other infirmities to which human nature is subject. Wherefore, there being no need for Him to add further punishments, He does not permit witchcraft.

        Secondly, if that which is said of the devil were true, namely, that he can obstruct the generative forces so that a woman cannot conceive, or that if she does conceive, he can cause an abortion; or, if there is no abortion, he can cause the children to be killed after birth; in that case he would be able to destroy the whole world; and it could also be said that the devil’s works were stronger than God’s, since the Sacrament of matrimony is a work of God.

        Thirdly, they argue from man himself, that if there were any witchcraft in the world, then some men would be more bewitched than others; and that it is a false argument to say that men are bewitched for a punishment of their sins, and therefore false to maintain that there is witchcraft in the world. And they prove that it is false by arguing that, if it were true, then the greater sinners would receive the greater punishment, and that this is not the case; for sinners are less punished sometimes than the just, as is seen in the case of innocent children who are alleged to be bewitched.

        Their fourth argument can be added to that which they adduce concerning God; namely, that a thing which a man can prevent and does not prevent, but allows it to be done, may be judged to proceed from his will. But since God is All-Good, He cannot wish evil, and therefore cannot permit evil to be done which He is able to prevent.

        Again, taking their argument from the infliction itself, which is alleged to be due to witchcraft; they submit that they are similar to natural infirmities and defects, and may therefore by cause by a natural defect. For it may happen through some natural defect that a man becomes lame, or blind, or loses his reason, or even dies; wherefore such things cannot confidently be ascribed to witches.

        Lastly, they argue that preachers and judges have preached and practised against witches in such a way that, if there were witches, their lives would never be safe from them on account of the great hatred that witches would have for them.

        But the contrary arguments may be taken from the First Question, where it treats of the third postulate of the First Part; and those points may be propounded to the people which are most fitting. How God permits evil to be, even though He does not wish it; but He permits it for the wonderful perfecting of the universe, which may be considered in the fact that good things are more highly commendable, are more pleasing and laudable, when they are compared with bad things; and authority can be quoted in support of this. Also that the depth of God’s Divine wisdom, justice, and goodness should be shown forth, whereas it would otherwise remain hidden.

        For a brief settlement of this question there are various treatises available on this subject for the information of the people, to the effect, namely, that God justly permitted two Falls, that of the Angels and that of our first parents; and since these were the greatest of all falls, it is no matter for wonder if other smaller ones are permitted. But it is in their consequences that those two Falls were the greatest, not in their circumstances, in which last respect, as was shown in the last Question, the sins of witches exceed those of the bad angels and our first parents. In the same place it is shown how God justly permitted those first Falls, and anyone is at liberty to collect and enlarge upon what is there said as much as he wishes.

        But we must answer their arguments. As to the first, that God punishes quite enough by means of natural diseases, and by sword and famine, we make a threefold answer. First, that God did not limit His power to the processes of nature, or even to the influences of the stars, in such a way that He cannot go beyond those limits; for He has often exceeded them in the punishment of sins, by sending plagues and other afflictions beyond all the influence of that stars; as when He punished the sin of pride in David, when he numbered the people, by sending a pestilence upon the people.

        Secondly, it agrees with the Divine wisdom that He should so govern all things that He allows them to act at their own instigation. Consequently, it is not His purpose to prevent altogether the malice of the devil, but rather to permit it as far as He sees it to be for the ultimate good of the universe; although it is true that the devil is continually held in check by the good Angels, so that he may not do all the harm that he wishes. Similarly He does not propose to restrain the human sins which are possible to man through his free-will, such as the abnegation of the Faith, and the devotion of himself to the devil, which things are in the power of the human will. From these two premisses it follows that, when God is most offended, He justly permits those evils which are chiefly sought for by witches, and for which they deny the Faith, up to the extent of the devil’s power; and such is the ability to injure men, animals, and the fruits of the earth.

        Thirdly, God justly permits those evils which indirectly cause the greatest uneasiness and torment to the devil; and of such a sort are those evils which are done by witches through the power of devils. For the devil is indirectly tormented very greatly when he sees that, against his will, God uses all evil for the glory of His name, for the commendation of the Faith, for the purgation of the elect, and for the acquisition of merit. For it is certain that nothing can be more galling to the pride of the devil, which he always rears up against God (as it is said: The pride of them that hate Thee increases ever), than that God should convert his evil machinations to His own glory. Therefore God justly permits all these things.

        Their second argument has been answered before; but there are two points in it which must be answered in detail. In the first place, far from its being true that the devil, or his works, as stronger than God, it is apparent that his power is small, since he can do nothing without the Divine permission. Therefore it may be said that the devil’s power is small in comparison with the Divine permission, although it is very great in comparison with earthly powers, which it naturally excels, as is shown in the often quoted text in


xi: There is no power on earth to be compared with him.

        In the second place, we must answer the question with God permits witchcraft to affect the generative powers more than any other human function. This has been dealt with above, under the title, How witches can obstruct the generative powers and the venereal act. For it is on account of the shamefulness of that act, and because the original sin due to the guilt of our first parents is inherited by means of that act. It is symbolized also by the serpent, who was the first instrument of the devil.

        To their third we answer that the devil has more intention and desire to tempt the good than the wicked; although he does in fact tempt the wicked more than the good, for the reason that the wicked have more aptitude than the good to respond to his temptation. In the same way, he is more eager to injure the good than the bad, but he finds it easier to injure the wicked. And the reason for this is, according to S. Gregory, that the more often a man gives way to the devil, the harder he makes it for himself to struggle against him. But since it is the wicked who most often give way to the devil, their temptations are the hardest and most frequent, as they have not the shield of Faith with which to protect themselves. Concerning this shield S. Paul speaks in


vi. Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. But on the other hand, he assails the good more bitterly than the wicked. And the reason for this is that he already possesses the wicked, but not the good; and therefore he tried the harder to draw into his power through tribulation the just, who are not his, than the wicked, who are already his. In the same way, an earthly prince more severely chastises those who disobey his laws, or injure his kingdom, that those who do not set themselves against him.

        In answer to their fourth argument, in addition to what has already been written on this subject, the preacher can expound the truth that God permits evil to be done, but does not wish it to be done, by the five signs of the Divine will, which are Precept, Prohibition, Advice, Operation, and Permission. See S. Thomas, especially in his First Part, quest. 19, art. 12, where this is very plainly set forth. For although there is only one will in God, which is God Himself, just as His Essence is One; yet in respect of its fulfilment, His will is shown and signified to us in many ways, as the


says: The mighty works of the Lord are fulfilled in all His wishes. Wherefore there is a distinction between the actual essential Will of God and its visible effects; even as the will, properly so called, is the will of a man’s good pleasure, but in a metaphorical sense it is the will expressed by outward signs. For it is by signs and metaphors that we are shown that God wishes this to be.

        We may take an example from a human father who, while he has only one will in himself, expresses that will in five ways, either by his own agency, or through that of someone else. Through his own agency he expresses it in two ways, either directly or indirectly. Directly, when he himself does a thing; and then it is Operation. Indirectly, when he does not hinder someone else from acting (see Aritotle’s


, IV: Prohibition is indirect causation), and this is called the sign of Permission. And the human father signifies his will through the agency of someone else in three ways. Either he orders someone to do something, or conversely forbids something; and these are the signs of Precept and Prohibition. Or he persuades and advises someone to do something; and this is the sign of Advice. And just as the human will is manifested in these five ways, so is God’s will. For that God’s will is shown by Precept, Prohibition, and Advice is seen in

S. Matthew

vi: Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven: that is to say, may we on earth fulfil His Precepts, avoid His Prohibitions, and follow His Advice. And in the same way, S. Augustine shows that Permission and Operation are signs of God’s will, where he says in the


Nothing is done unless Almighty God wishes it to be done, either by permitting it or by Himself doing it.

        To return to the argument; it is perfectly true that when a man can prevent a thing, and does not, that thing may be said to proceed from his will. And the inference that God, being All-Good, cannot wish evil to be done, is also true in respect of the actual Good Pleasure of God’s Will, and also in respect of four of the signs of His Will; for it is needless to say that He cannot operate evil, or command evil to be done, or fail to be opposed to evil, or advise evil; but He can, however, permit evil to be done.

        And if it is asked how it is possible to distinguish whether an illness is caused by witchcraft or by some natural physical defect, we answer that there are various methods. And the first is by means of the judgement of doctors. See the words of S. Augustine

On the Christian Doctrine:

To this class of superstition belong all charms and amulets suspended or bound about the person, which the School of Medicine despises. For example, doctors may perceive from the circumstances, such as the patient’s age, healthy complexion, and the reaction of his eyes, that his disease does not result from any defect of the blood or the stomach, or any other infirmity; and they therefore judge that it is not due to any natural defect, but to some extrinsic cause. And since that extrinsic cause cannot be any poisonous infection, which would be accompanied by ill humours in the blood and stomach, they have sufficient reason to judge that it is due to witchcraft.

        And secondly, when the disease is incurable, so that the patient can be relieved by no drugs, but rather seems to be aggravated by them.

        Thirdly, the evil may come so suddenly upon a man that it can only be ascribed to witchcraft. An example of how this happened to one man has been made known to us. A certain well-born citizen of Spires had a wife who was of such an obstinate disposition that, though he tried to please her in every way, yet she refused in nearly every way to comply with his wishes, and was always plaguing him with abusive taunts. It happened that, on going into his house one day, and his wife railing against him as usual with opprobrious words, he wished to go out of the house to escape from quarrelling. But she quickly ran before him and locked the door by which he wished to go out; and loudly swore that, unless he beat her, there was no honesty or faithfulness in him. At these heavy words he stretched out his hand, not intending to hurt her, and struck her lightly with his open palm on the buttock; whereupon he suddenly fell to the ground and lost all his senses, and lay in bed for many weeks afflicted with a most grievous illness. Now it is obvious that this was not a natural illness, but was caused by some witchcraft of the woman. And very many similar cases have happened, and been made known to many.

        There are some who can distinguish such illnesses by means of a certain practice, which is as follows. They hold molten lead over the sick man, and pour it into a bowl of water. And if the lead condenses into some image, they judge that the sickness is due to witchcraft. And when such men are asked whether the image so formed is caused by the work of devils, or is due to some natural cause, they answer that it is due to the power of Saturn over lead, the influence of that planet being in other respects evil, and that the sun has a similar power over gold. But what should be thought of this practice, and whether it is lawful or not, will be discussed in the Second Part of this treatise. For the Canonists say that it is lawful that vanity may be confounded by vanity; but the Theologians hold a directly opposite view, saying that it is not right to do evil that good may come.

        In their last argument they advance several objections. First, why do not witches become rich? Secondly, why, having the favour of princes, do they not co-operate for the destruction of all their enemies? Thirdly, why are they unable to injure Preachers and others who persecute them?

        For the first, it is to be said that witches are not generally rich for this reason: that the devils like to show their contempt for the Creator by buying witches for the lowest possible price. And also, lest they should be conspicuous by their riches.

        Secondly, they do not injure princes because they wish to retain, as far as possible, their friendship. And if it is asked why they do not hurt their enemies, it is answered that a good Angel, working on the other side, prevents such witchcraft. Compare the passage in


The Prince of the Persians withstood me for twenty-one days. See S. Thomas in the

Second Book of Sentences

, where he debates whether there is any contest among the good Angels, and of what sort.

        Thirdly, it is said that they cannot injure Inquisitors and other officials, because they dispense public justice. Many examples could be adduced to prove this, but time does not permit it.