Thursday, January 21, 2010

17th Century Jesuits And Their Dealings With Witchcraft

The Jesuits of the time were anxious about the effect of the Adam Tanner, S.J. book, (Universa theologica scholastica, speculativa, practiaa ad methodum sancti Thomae) for great difficulties were likely to arise on account of the way in which Fredrich Spee von Langenfeld, S.J. had attacked judges and princes.
It is known that some of the jurists even before the publication of this work had demanded the expulsion of the order from Germany, for protecting the witches. Of the princes who were most zealous in the witch-persecution, not a few were protectors and benefactors of Jesuit colleges.
The Society had to expect their wrath if a member of the order censured them so severely. Yet the expected results did not follow and "the Society may point to his work as a
full off-set for the deplorable blunders committed by Martin Anton Delrio and Gregory de Valentia." Two other Jesuits, George Scherer and Jeremias Drexelius, took the opposite side and urged the secular authorities to persecute witches. . . .
Scherer (1583) brings demoniacal possession into close connection with witchcraft, and gives an example of the exorcising of a possessed girl whose grandmother was a witch. The statements of the witch at the questioning and on the rack, are for Scherer conclusive evidence of her guilt. He advises the magistrate of Vienna to proceed against all sorceresses with suitable punishment.
This exhortation to the persecution of witches did not meet with the approval of the General of the Society, Claudius Aquaviva, who wrote to the provinces of the Society as follows:
'' Even if it is allowable to give the general advice as to the adoption of measures against poisoning which in that district is said to be widespread, and also to admonish witches, that they are in duty bound when interrogated, to name their accomplices, nevertheless the Fathers must not mix themselves in the witch-trials and must not insist on the punishment of witches; they must have nothing to do with exorcising them, to prevent them recanting their statements; for these things do not concern us."
Drexelius treats of witchcraft in a work on Almsgiving, published in 1637, in which he gives as a reason for bestowing alms the fact that it protects from witchcraft. He writes,
"who could dare accuse of error and injustice the judges, who, with fire and sword, proceed against this pest (witchcraft) ? Yet there are Christians unworthy of the name, who oppose with might and main the extirpation of this vice, lest perhaps, they say, the innocent might suffer. 0, ye enemies of the Divine honor! Does not the law of God command, 'You shall not suffer wizards to live?' And I cry out as loud as I can, at the divine bidding, to bishops, princes and kings; you shall not suffer witches to live. Extirpate this pest with fire and sword."

In the annual reports of the Jesuits there is frequent mention of trials of witches, and sorceresses and of the spiritual consolation which the Fathers administered to the victims; frequent instances are cited of how they led back into the right way women or men who, under demoniacal influence, had committed dreadful crimes; but there is not a single instance of their having brought anyone before the court, or given any encouragement to witch burning.

Link (here) to this portion contained in the book entitled, The Attitude of the Catholic Church Towards Witchcraft and the Allied Practices of Sorcery and Magic, by Sr. Antoinette Marie Pratt, A.M. of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur, Belgium.

Old print of the Witch Trials of Trier is found (here)


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