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History of the Christian Church, Volume V: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1049-1294.
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§ 136. Demonology and the Dark Arts.


Literature: Anselm: de casu diaboli, Migne, 158. 326–362.—P. Lombardus: Sent., II. 7 sqq.—Alb. Magnus: In Sent., Borgnet’s ed., XXVII. etc.—Th. Aquinas: Summa, I. 51 sqq., II. 94–96, Migne, I. 893 sqq., II. 718 sqq., etc. Popular statements, e.g. P. Damiani, Migne, 144, 145. Peter the Venerable: de mirac., Migne, 189. 850–954. —John of Salisbury: Polycraticus, Migne, 199. 405 sqq.—Walter Map—Caesar of Heisterbach: Dial. mirac. Strange’s ed., 2 vols. Bonn, 1851, especially bk. V.—Thos. A Chantimprè: Bonum universale de apibus, Germ. Reprod. by A. Kaufmann, Col. 1899.—Jac. De Voragine: Golden Legend, Temple Class. ed. —Etienne de Bourbon, especially Part IV.—*T. Wright: Narrative of Sorcery and Magic, 2 vols. Lond., 1851.—*G. Roskoff: Gesch. des Teufels, 2 vols. Leipzig, 1869.—*W. G. Soldau: Gesch. der Hexenprocesse, Stuttg., 1843; new ed., by Heppe, 2 vols. Stuttg., 1880.—*Lea: Hist. of the Inquis., III. 379–550.—Lecky: Hist. of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe, chap. 1.—Döllinger-Friedrich: D. Papstthum, Munich, 1892.—A. D. White: Hist. of the Warfare of Science and Theol. in Christendom, 2 vols. N. Y., 1898.—*Joseph Hansen : Zauberwahn, Inquisition und Hexenprocess im Mittelalter und die Entstehung der grossen Hexenverfolgung, Munich, 1900; *Quellen und Untersuchungen zur Gesch. des Hexenwahns und der Hexenverfolgung im MtA., Leip., 1901.—Graf von Hoensbroech: D. Papstthum in seiner sozialkulturellen Wirksamkeit, Leipzig, 2 vols. 1900; 4th ed., 1901, vol. I. 207–380. For special lit. on Witchcraft, 1300–1500, see next volume.


At no point do the belief and experience of our own age differ so widely from the Middle Ages as in the activity of the devil and the realm of evil spirits. The subject has already been touched upon under monasticism and the future state, but no history of the period would be complete which did not give it separate treatment. For the belief that the satanic kingdom is let loose upon mankind was more influential than the spirit of monasticism, or than the spirit which carried on the Crusades.

The credulity of monk and people and the theology of the Schoolmen peopled the earth and air with evil spirits. The writings of popular authors teem with tales of their personal appearances and malignant agency, and the scholastic definitions are nowhere more precise and careful than in the department of satanology. After centuries of Christian culture, a panic seized upon Europe in the first half of the thirteenth century about the fell agency of such spirits, a panic which continued powerfully to influence opinion far beyond the time of the Reformation. The persecution to which it led, was one of the most merciless forms of cruelty ever practised. The pursuit and execution of witches constitute a special chapter in the history, but it is not fully opened till the fifteenth century. Here belong the popular and scholastic conceptions of the devil and his agency before the witch-craze set in.

The sources from which the Middle Ages derived their ideas of the demonic world were the systems of classical antiquity, the Norse mythology, and the Bible as interpreted by Augustine and Gregory the Great. In its wildest fancies on the subject, the mediaeval theology was only following these two greater authorities.

The general term for the dark arts, that is, the arts which were supposed to be under the control of satanic agency, was maleficium, a term inherited from the Romans. The special names were magic, sorcery, necromancy, divination, and witchcraft. Astrology, after some hesitation, was included in the same list.21202120    Alex. of Hales distinguished eight sorts of demonic agency through human instrumentalities, mantic, sortilegium, maleficium, augurium, prestigium, mathesis or astrology, ariolatio, and the interpretation of dreams.

I. The Popular Belief.—The popular belief is set forth by such writers as Peter Damiani, Peter the Venerable, Caesar of Heisterbach, Jacob of Voragine, Thomas of Chantimpré, Etienne de Bourbon, and the French writers of poetry. Even the English writers, Walter Map and John of Salisbury, both travelled men and, as we would say, men of the world from whom we might have expected other things, accepted, with slight modification, the popular views. Map treats Ceres, Bacchus, Pan, the satyr, the dryads, and the fauns as demons, and John discusses in six chapters the pestiferous familiarity of demons and men—pestifera familiaritas daemonum et hominum.21212121    De nug. curalium, Wright’s ed., II. 14; Polycrat., Bk. I. VIII.–XIII. Migne, 199. 404 sqq.

Peter Damiani, the contemporary of Hildebrand, could tell of troops of devils he had seen in the air with his own eyes, and in all sorts of shapes.

Caesar of Heisterbach furnishes a storehouse of tales which to him were as much realities as reports of the Dark Continent by Stanley or Speke would be to us. This genial writer represents an old monk setting at rest the doubts of a novice by assuring him that he himself had seen the devil in the forms of a Moor, an ox, a dog, a toad, an ape, a pig, and even in the garbs of a nun and a prior. Peter the Venerable likewise speaks of Satan as taking on the form of a bear.21222122    De mir., Migne, 189. 883.21232123    The Roman de la Rose, 1280, is an exception and makes light of tail and horns, and the belief that women are transported through the air at night.

The devil made his appearance at all hours of the day and night, in the time of health, and at the hour of death. The monk was no more exempt from his personal solicitations while engaged at his devotions than at other times. One of the places where the evil spirits took particular delight in playing tricks was in the choir when the monastics were met for matins and other services. Here they would vex the devout by blowing out the lights, turning to a wrong leaf, or confusing the tune.21242124    Dial., V. 53, etc., Strange’s ed., I. 336.

On one occasion Herman of Marienstadt saw three who passed so near to him that he might easily have touched them, had he so desired. He noted that they did not touch the floor and that one of them had the face of a woman, veiled. Sometimes a troop appeared and threw one part of the choir into discord, and when the other part took up the chant, the demons hastened over to its side and threw it into the same confusion, so that the two wings of the choir shouted hoarsely and discordantly one to the other.21252125    Dial., V. 5, Strange’s ed., I. 287 sqq.

On another occasion Herman, then become abbot, a monastic whom Caesar calls a man of marked piety, saw the devil in the form of a Moor sitting on one of the windows of the church. He looked as if he had just emerged from hell-fire, but soon took his flight. When Herman was praying to be delivered from such visions, the devil seizing his last opportunity appeared to the abbot as a bright eye as big as a fist, and as if to say, "Look straight at me once more for this is the last time." Nevertheless, the abbot saw the devil again and this time at the sepulture of Countess Aleidis of Freusberg. While the lady’s body was lying in its shroud, the devil appeared, peering into all corners as if he was looking for something he had lost.

It was a bad symptom of the monkish imagination that when the devil was seen in convents, it was often in the form of a woman and a naked woman at that. Sometimes monks got sick from seeing him and could neither eat, drink, nor sleep for days. Sometimes they lost their minds from the same cause and died insane. At times, however, vigilant nuns were able to box his ears.21262126    Dial., III. 11, V. 28, 45, Strange’s ed., I. 123, 311, 330. devil, as might have been expected, was fond of dice and, as in the case of a certain knight, Thieme, after playing with him all night carried him through the roof so that,—according to the testimony of the man’s son, he was never seen again.21272127    Dial., V. 11, 26, 34. by his own statement, cast out demons, as did Norbert and most of the other mediaeval saints. Norbert’s biographer reports that the devil struck some of the Premonstrants with his tail. At other times he imparted to would-be monks an unusual gift to preach and explain the Bible, and the Premonstrants were about to receive some of this class into their order when the trick was revealed. On one occasion, when Norbert was about to cast out a demon from a boy, the demon took the shape of a pea and sat upon the boy’s tongue and then impudently set to work asserting that he would not evacuate his dwelling-place. "You are a liar," said the ecclesiastic, "and have been a liar from the beginning." That truth the devil could not gainsay and so he came out and disappeared but not without leaving ill odors behind and the child sick.21282128    Vita Norb., XIII.

The devil, however, to the discomfiture of the wicked often told the truth. Thus it happened in Norbert’s experience at Maestricht, that when he was about to heal a man possessed and a great crowd was gathered, the demon started to tell on bystanders tales of their adultery and other sins, which had not been covered by confession. No wonder the crowd quickly broke up and took to its heels.21292129    Vita Norb., XIV.stakes so that he was easily detected.21302130    Dial., III. 6.21312131    Dial., III. 6, 7, 13, 14, VII, 25, etc. showing how the crucifix, the host, and holy water protected monks, insidiously attacked by "the children of malediction" and the old enemy of souls"—antiquus hostis. Sometimes resort was had to sprinkling the room and all its furniture with holy water,—a sort of disinfecting process—and the imps would disappear.

De Voragine tells how St. Lupe, as he was praying one night, felt great thirst. He knew it was due to the devil and asked for water. When it was brought, he clapped a lid on the vessel, "shutting the devil up quick." The prisoner howled all night, unable to get out.21322132    Temple ed., V. 88.

Salimbene gives a droll case of a peasant into whom the devil entered, making him talk Latin. But the peasant tripped in his Latin so that "our Lector laughed at his mistakes." The demon spoke up, "I can speak Latin well enough, but the tongue of this boor is so thick that I make sorry work wielding it."21332133    Coulton, From St. Francis, etc., p. 298.ertain Cistercian, Richalmus, of the thirteenth century, in a book on the devil’s wiles, said, "It seems incredible but it is true, it is not fleas and lice which bite us but what we think is their bites are the pricks of demons. For those little insects do not live off our blood, but from perspiration, and we often feel such pricks when there are no fleas."21342134    Lib. revelationum de insidiis et versutiis daemonum, quoted by Cruel, Deutsche Predigt, p. 268.

These incidents may be brought to a close by the following interesting conversation reported by Caesar of Heisterbach as having been carried on by two evil spirits who had possessed two women who got into a quarrel. "Oh, if we had only not gone over to Lucifer," said one, "and been cast out of heaven!" The other replied, "Hold your peace, your repentance comes too late, you couldn’t get back if you would." "If there were only a column of iron," answered the first, "though it were furnished with the sharpest knives and saws, I would be willing to climb up and down it till the last judgment day, if I could only thereby make my way back to glory."

These stories are records of what were believed to be real occurrences. The denizens of the lower world were everywhere present in visible and invisible form to vex and torment saint and sinner in body and soul. No voice is heard protesting against the belief. It is refreshing, however, to have at least one case of scepticism. Thus Vincent de Beauvais tells of a woman who assured her priest that she and other women were under the influence of witchcraft and had one night succeeded in getting into the priest’s bedchamber through the keyhole. After in vain trying to persuade her that she was laboring under a delusion, the priest locked the door and putting the key into his pocket, gave her a good drubbing with a stick, exclaiming, "Get out through the keyhole now, if you can."

II. The Theological Statement.—The wildest popular conceptions of the agency of evil spirits are confirmed by the theological definitions of Peter the Lombard, Albertus Magnus, Bonaventura, Thomas Aquinas, and other Schoolmen. According to the mediaeval theology, the devil is at the head of a realm of demons who are divided into prelacies and hierarchies like the good angels.

The region into which the devil and his angels were cast down was the tenebrous air. There, in the pits of darkness, he and his followers are preserved until the day of final judgment. Their full degree of torment will not be meted out to them till then. In the meantime, they are permitted to trouble and torment men.21352135    Daemones in hoc aere caliginoso sunt ad nostrum exercitium. Th. Aq., Summa, I. 64, 4. So also P. Lomb., II. 7, 6.

Albertus Magnus, who, of all the Schoolmen, might speak on such a subject with precision, fixed the exact location of the aery realm. Following the philosophers, as he said, he defined three zones in the superterrestrial spaces: the higher, lower, and the middle zone.21362136    Zonas, interstitia. In sent., II. 6, 5, Borgnet’s ed., XXVII. 132.ecause the rays of the sun permeate it for a longer time. The lower zone, enveloping and touching the solid earth, is made bright by the powerful reflection of the sun’s rays. The intermediate zone is exceedingly cold and dark. Here the tempests are bred and the hail and snows generated. This is the habitation of the evil spirits, and there they move the clouds, start the thunders, and set a-going other natural terrors to frighten and hurt men. The exact distance of that sphere from the earth the philosophers measure, but Albertus does not choose to determine the measurement.

In defining the mental power and the influence of evil spirits, Thomas Aquinas and the other Schoolmen follow Augustine closely, although in elaboration they go beyond him. The demons did not lose their intellectual keenness by their fall.21372137    Aquinas’ treatment is found in his Summa, I. 51 sqq., II. 94-96, Migne, I. 893 sqq., II. 718 sqq.; P. Lombard, Sent., II. 7 sqq. shrewdness in observation and watching the stars. Their predictions, however, differ from the predictions of the prophets by being the product of the light of nature. The prophets received a divine revelation.

The miracles which the evil spirits perform are, for the most part, juggleries.21382138    Praestigia is the word used by Alb. Magnus, John of Salisbury, etc. upon whom fire came down from heaven. They are not able to create out of nothing, but they have the power to accelerate the development of germs and hidden potencies, to destroy harvests, influence the weather, and produce sickness and death.

The special influence which they exercise over human beings in sorcery and witchcraft they exercise by virtue of a compact entered into between them and men and women, Isa. 28:18: "We have made a covenant with death, and with sheol are we in agreement." The most fiendish and frequent of these operations is to disturb the harmony of the married relation. Men they make impotent; women sterile. The earlier fiction of the succubus and the incubus, inherited from pagan mythology and adopted by Augustine, was fully accepted in the Middle Ages. This was the shocking belief that demons cohabit with men, the succubus, and lie with women, the incubus. The Schoolmen go so far as to affirm that, though the demons have no direct offspring, yet after lying with men they suddenly transform themselves and communicate the seed they have received to women.21392139    This is stated at length by Thomas Aquinas, Summa, I. 51, 3, idem daemon qui est succubus ad virum fit incubus ad mulierem. For other quotations to the same effect from Bonaventura, Duns Scotus, etc., see Hansen, p. 186. Albertus Magnus, Borgnet’s ed., XXVII. 175, speaks of immense cats appearing at these assignations, but the passage is too foul to be repeated. This Schoolman went so far as to say that demons preserved human seed in vessels. As an instance of ultramontane honesty, Hoensbroech, D. Papstthum, I. 222, cites the Dominican Schneider who, in his German translation of Thomas Aquinas, omits altogether the passage, part of which has just been quoted, though he makes the introductory assertion that the translation contains the "entire text."

This view which the Schoolmen formulated was common belief. The story of Merlin, the son of an incubus and a nun, was a popular one in the Middle Ages.21402140    Merlin, the "prophet of Britain" as Caesar of Heisterbach calls him, Dial., III. 12, Strange’s ed., 1. 124. The nun was seduced on a night when she happened to retire without making the sign of the cross. It was thought by some that anti-christ would be engendered in this way.ing of an incubus.21412141    an., 1249. The child in six months had a full set of teeth and was of the stature of a boy of 17, the mother wasted away and died.21422142    Dial., V. 12.21432143    See quotation in Kaufmann’s Caesar of Heisterbach, II. 80.ives many stories of the cohabitation of demons with priests and women.21442144    Sometimes demons took the place of loose women with whom priests had made assignations, Dial., III. 10. Caesar tells of a woman who had committed whoredom with a demon for seven years and, while confessing her sin to the priest, fell dead.

This malign activity upon the marital relation was made by Thomas Aquinas a proper ground of divorce.21452145    He gives a full chapter to the subject. In Sent., IV. 34, 1. theologian, and as far back as the twelfth century the Patarenes were accused of practices, as by Walter Map, which were at a later period associated with witches. They held their meetings or synagogues behind closed doors and after the lights were put out the devil descended in the shape of a cat, holding on to a rope. Scenes of indiscriminate lust followed. Map was even willing to believe that the heretics kissed the cat under the tail.21462146    Wright’s ed., p. 61. plurimi sub cauda, plerique pudenda.

The mind of Europe did not become seriously exercised on the subject of demonic possession until after heresy made its appearance and the measures to blot it out were in an advanced stage. The Fourth Lateran did not mention the dark arts, and its failure to do so can only be explained on the ground that the mind of Christendom was not yet aroused. It was not long, however, before violent incursions of the powers of darkness, as they were supposed to be, rudely awakened the Church, and from the time of Gregory IX. the agency of evil spirits and heresy were closely associated. In one of his deliverances against the Stedinger, this pope vouched for the belief that heretics consulted witches, held communion with demons, and indulged in orgies with them and the devil who, as he said, met with them in the forms of a great toad and black cat. Were the stars in heaven and the elements to combine for the destruction of such people without reference to their age or sex, it would be an inadequate punishment.21472147    A translation of the bull dated June, 1233, Potthast, I. no. 9230, is given by Hoensbroech, I. 215 sqq.

After 1250 the persecution of heretics for doctrinal error diminishes and the trials for sorcery, witchcraft, and other demonic iniquity become frequent.21482148    Hansen dates the new treatment of sorcery by the Church with 1230 and carries the period on to 1430, when he dates the period of witchcraft and its punishment by the Church.ring of heresy.21492149    Hansen, Quellen, p. 1.

At this juncture came the indorsement of Thomas Aquinas and his great theological contemporaries. There was nothing left for the ecclesiastical and civil authorities to do but to ferret out sorcerers, witches, and all who had habitual secret dealings with the devil. A craze seized upon the Church to clear the Christian world of imaginary armies of evil spirits, demonizing men and especially women. Pope after pope issued orders not to spare those who were in league with the devil, but to put them to torture and cast them into the flames.21502150    Hansen gives a number of such bulls and quotes an author who speaks of 103 papal bulls directed against sorcery, a number Hansen doubts. Quellen, p. 1.rogatories of the Inquisition on the subject date twenty-five years later.21512151    Hansen, Quellen, pp. 43 sqq., gives it under the title forma et modus interrogandi augures et ydolatras, and assigns it to 1270, Gesch., p. 243. Douais places it a little earlier. A portion of Bernard Gui’s Practica inquisitionis (1320) is an interrogatory of practisers of the occult arts, interrog. ad sortileges et divinos ei invocatores daemonum. See Douais’ ed., Paris, 1886.

Men like Albertus Magnus and Roger Bacon were popularly charged with being wizards. Bacon, enlightened beyond his age, pronounced some of the popular beliefs delusions, but, far from denying the reality of sorcery and magic, he tried to explain the efficacy of spells and charms by their being made at seasons when the heavens were propitious.



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