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The Hammer of Witches

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The Hammer of Witches

Characteristic of the opinion of post-scholastic theologians is the socalled "Hammer of Witches", a handbook on how to discover and punish witches.

H. KRAMER and J. SPRENGER. The Malleus Maleficarum (Lyons 1486), here Dover Publications, Reprint, New York 1971.

A typical excerpt from this book shows incredible prejudices against women! The prejudices led to thousands of innocent women being executed as witches.

The influence of the Hammer of Witches

First printed in 1486, the book saw innumerable reprints in German, French, Italian and English and was responsible for bringing thousands of innocent women to the stake.

It may be objected here that the “Hammer of Witches” was an exceptional book and that quoting from it may prejudice us unfairly against post-scholastic theologians. The truth is that, in spite of its monstrosities, the book was universally accepted as containing good theology and sound Catholic doctrine. One of its authors, Jakob Sprenger, O.P., was Dean of Cologne University. The other, Heinrich Kramer, O.P., was prior and spiritual director in many places. Both men were appointed inquisitors for Germany by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484. Both wrote many theological treatises.

We quote from the introduction: "There can be no doubt that the Malleus Maleficarum had in its day and for a full couple of centuries an enormous influence. There are few demonologists and writers upon witchcraft who did not refer to its pages as an ultimate authority. It was continually quoted and appealed to in the witch trials of Germany, France, Italy, and England; whilst the methods and examples of the two Inquisitors gained an even more extensive credit and sanction owing to their reproduction (sometimes without direct acknowledgement) in the works of Bodin, De Moura, Oberlal, Cicogna, Peperni, Martinus Aries, Anania, Binsfeld, Bernard, Basin, Menghi, Stampa. Clodius, Schslharmer, Wolf, Stegmann, Neissner, Voigt, Cattani, Richardus and a hundred more" (Ibid, pg. XXXiX).

In a preface to the book written on October the 7th 1946 (!!) Fr. Montague Summers has some amazing things to say. After asserting that the writings of the two authors, "are well approved by many learned men, Pontiffs, Saints, and Theologians alike’’, he praises the virtues of the "Hammer of Witches":

“One turns to it again and again with edification (!) and interest. From the point of view of psychology (!), from the point of view of jurisprudence, from the point of view of history, it is supreme. What is most surprising is the modernity of the book. There is hardly a problem, a complex, a difficulty, which they have not foreseen, and discussed, and resolved...with the greatest clarity, with unflinching logic with scrupulous impartiality (!) (Ibid,1948 Preface, pg. ix-x).

Yet, this is the book which describes in the most lurid details imaginary sexual orgies between penis-toting devils and human witches (all proved from Scripture, of course). This is the book that sanctioned limitless torture to extract confessions from the accused. It is a book full of superstitious belief, sadistic cruelty, bigotry and hatred for women.

It is sad to reflect that while so many harmless books were put on the "Index" of forbidden books, a book of this nature was continuously reprinted with an approving Bull of Innocent VIII (1484 AD) to give it ecclesiastical authority.

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

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