Malleus Maleficarum Part 1
The Enormity of Witches is Considered, and it is shown that the Whole Matter should be rightly Set Forth and Declared.
Concerning the enormity of crimes, it is asked whether the crimes of witches
exceed, both in guilt, in pain, and in loss, all the evils which God allows
and has permitted from the beginning of the world up till now. And it seems
that they do not, especially as regards guilt. For the sin which a man
commits when he could easily avoid it is greater than the sin which another
man commits when he could not so easily avoid it. This is shown by S.
Augustine, de Ciuit. Dei: There is great wickedness in sinning when
it is so easy not to sin. But Adam, and others who have sinned when in a
state of perfection or even of grace, could more easily because of the help
of grace have avoided their sins especially Adam who was created in grace
than many witches, who have not shared in such gifts. Therefore the sins
of such are greater than all the crimes of witches.
And again in respect of punishment: the greatest punishment is due to the
greater blame. But Adam's sin was the most heavily punished, as is plainly
proved by the fact that both his guilt and his punishment are shown in all
his posterity by the inheritance of original sin. Therefore his sin is
greater than all other sins.
And again, the same is argued in respect of loss. For according to S.
Augustine: A thing is evil in that it takes away from the good; therefore
where there is the more good lost, there the greater evil has gone before.
But the sin of our first parent brought the greatest loss both to nature and
to grace, since it deprived us of innocence and immortality; and no
subsequent sin has brought such loss, therefore, etc.
But the contrary side: that which includes the most causes of evil is the
greater evil, and such are the sins of witches. For they can, with God's
permission, bring every evil upon that which is good by nature and in form,
as is declared in the Papal Bull. Besides, Adam sinned only in doing that
which was wrong in one of two ways; for it was forbidden, but was not wrong
in itself: but witches and other sinners sin in doing that which is wrong
in both ways, wrong in itself, and forbidden, such as murders and many other
forbidden things. Therefore their sins are heavier than other sins.
Besides, sin which comes from definite malice is heavier than sin which
comes from ignorance. But witches, out of great malice, despise the Faith
and the sacraments of the Faith, as many of them have confessed.
Answer. The evils which are perpetrated by modern witches exceed all
other sin which God has ever permitted to be done, as was said in the title
of this Question. And this can be shown in three ways, in so far as they are
sins involving perversity of character, though it is different with the sins
that contravene the other Theological virtues. First in general, by
comparing their works indifferently with any other worldly crimes. Secondly
in particular, by considering the species of the superstition and into what
pact they have entered with the devil. And thirdly, by comparing their sins
with the sins of the bad Angels and even with that of our first parents.
And first, sin is threefold, involving guilt, punishment, and loss. Good
also is correspondingly threefold, involving righteousness, felicity, and
use. And righteousness corresponds with the guilt, felicity with punishment,
and use with loss.
That the guilt of witches exceeds all other sins is apparent in this way.
For according to the teaching of S. Thomas (II, 22, art. 2), there is in the
matter of sin much that may be considered whereby the gravity or lightness
of the sin may be deduced; and the same sin may be found heavy in one and
light in another. For example, we can say that in fornication a young man
sins, but an old man is mad. Yet those sins are, simply speaking, the heavier
which are not only attended by the more extensive and more powerful
circumstances, but are in their nature and quantity of a more essentially
And so we can say that, though the sin of Adam was in some respects heavier
than all other sins, inasmuch as he fell to the instigation of a smaller
temptation, since it came only from within; and also because he could more
easily have resisted on account of the original justice in which he was
created: nevertheless in the form and quantity of sin, and in other respects
which aggravate the sin the more in that it is the cause of many yet
heavier sins, the sins of witches exceed all other sins. And this will be
made still clearer in two ways.
For one sin is said to be greater than another in one or other of the
following respects: in causality, as was the sin of Lucifer; in generality,
as Adam's sin; in hideousness, as was the sin of Judas; in the difficulty
of forgiving it, as is the sin against the Holy Ghost; in danger, as in the
sin of covetousness; in inclination, as is the sin of the flesh; in the
offending of the Divine Majesty, as is the sin of idolatry and infidelity;
in the difficulty of combating it, as the sin of pride; in blindness of mind,
as the sin of anger. Accordingly, after the sin of Lucifer, the works of
witches exceed all other sins, in hideousness since they deny Him crucified,
in inclination since the commit nastiness of the flesh with devils, in
blindness of mind since in a pure spirit of malignity the rage and bring
every injury upon the souls and bodies of men and beasts, as has been shown
from what has been said before.
And this, indeed, is indicated, according to S. Isidore, by the word. For
they are called witches (maleficae) on account of the enormity of
their crimes, as has been said above.
Our contention is also deduced from the following. There are two gradations
in sin, a turning away, and a change of heart. See our quotation from S.
Augustine: Sin is to reject the incommutable good, and to cleave to things
that are variable. And the turning away from God is as it were formal, just
as the change of heart is as it were material. Therefore the more a man is
separated from God by it, the heavier is the sin. And since infidelity is
the chief cause of man's separation from God, the infidelity of witches
stands out as the greatest of sins. And this is given the name of Heresy,
which is Apostasy from the Faith; and in this witches sin throughout their
For the sin of infidelity consists in opposing the Faith; and this may come
about in two ways, by opposing a faith which has not yet been received, or
by opposing it after it has been received. Of the first sort is the
infidelity of the Pagans or Gentiles. In the second way, the Christian Faith
may be denied in two ways: either by denying the prophecies concerning it,
or by denying the actual manifestation of its truth. And the first of these
is the infidelity of the Jews, and the second the infidelity of Heretics.
It is clear from this that the heresy of witches is the most heinous of the
three degrees of infidelity; and this fact is proved both by reason and
authority. For it is said in II. S. Peter ii: It has been better for
them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known
it, to turn from it. And it is reasonable to suppose that, just as he who
does not perform what he has promised commits a greater sin than he who does
not perform what he never promised, so the infidelity of the heretics, who
while professing the faith of the Gospel fight against it by corrupting it,
is a greater sin than that of the Jews and Pagans.
And again, the Jews sin more greatly than the Pagans; for they received the
prophecy of the Christian Faith in the Old Law, which they corrupt through
badly interpreting it, which is not the case with the Pagans. Therefore
their infidelity is a greater sin than that of the Gentiles, who never
received the Faith of the Gospel. But concerning Apostasy, S. Thomas says in
the Second of the Second, question 12: Apostasy means a turning away
from God and religion, and this may happen according to the different ways
by which man is joined to God; that is, by faith, or by the subjection of
the will to obedience, or by religion and Holy Orders. S. Raymund and
Hostiensis say that Apostasy is a rash departure from the state of faith or
obedience or Religion. Now if that which precedes is removed, that which
follows from it is also removed; but the converse proposition is not true.
Therefore Apostasy from the Faith is a greater sin than the other two forms
of infidelity, since in its case a precedent Religion has been removed.
But according to S. Raymund, a man is not to be judged an Apostate or
deserter, however far and long he may have strayed, unless he shows by his
subsequent life that he has not though of returning to the Faith. And this
would be shown in the case of a cleric if he were to marry a wife, or commit
some similar crime. In the same way it is an Apostasy of disobedience when
a man wilfully spurns the teaching of the Church and the Bishops. And such a
man must be convicted of his infamy, and be excommunicated.
Now when we speak of the Apostasy of witches, we mean the Apostasy of
perfidy; and this is so much the more heinous, in that it springs from a pact
made with the enemy of the Faith and the way of salvation. For witches are
bound to make this pact, which is exacted by that enemy either in part or
wholly. For we Inquisitors have found some witches who have denied all the
articles of Faith, and others who have denied only a certain number of them;
but they are all bound to deny true and sacramental confession. And so, even
the Apostasy of Julian does not seem to have been so great, although in
other respects he did more harm against the Church; but we cannot speak of
But it may be incidentally objected that it is possible that they may keep
the Faith in the thoughts of their hearts, which God alone, and not even
any Angel, can see into; but do reverence and obedience to the devil only
in outward form. The answer to this seems to be that there are two degrees
of the Apostasy of perfidy. One consists in outward acts of infidelity,
without the formation of any pact with the devil, as when one lives in the
lands of the infidels and conforms his life to that of the Mohammedans. The
other consists in a pact made with the devil by one who lives in Christian
lands, In the first case, men who keep the Faith in their hearts but deny it
in their outward acts, though they are not Apostates or Heretics, are guilty
of deadly sin. For in this way Solomon showed reverence to the gods of his
wives. And no one can be excused on the ground that he does this through
fear; for S. Augustine says: It is better to die of hunger than to be fed by
Idolaters. But however much witches may retain the Faith in their hearts
while denying it with their lips, they are still to be judged Apostates,
since they have made a treaty with death and a compact with hell. Wherefore
S. Thomas (II, 4), speaking of such magic works, and of those who in any way
seek help from devils, says: They are all Apostates from the Faith, by reason
of a pact made with the Devil, either in word, when some invocation is used,
or by some deed, even if there is no actual sacrifice. For no man can serve
To the same effect writes Blessed Albertus Magnus, where he asks whether
the sin of Magicians and Astrologers is an Apostasy from the Faith. And he
answers: In such there is always Apostasy either of word or of deed. For if
any invocations are made, then there is an open pact made with the devil,
and it is plainly Apostasy in word. But if their magic is simply a matter
of action, then it is Apostasy in deed. And since in all these there is
abuse of the Faith, seeing that they look for from the devil what they
ought to look for from God, therefore they are always to be judged Apostates.
See how clearly they set forth two degrees of Apostasy, understanding a
third, namely, that of thought. And even if this last is lacking, yet
witches are judged to be Apostates in word and deed. Therefore, as will be
shown, they must be subject to the punishment of Heretics and Apostates.
And there is in them a third enormity of crime, exceeding all other heresies.
For S. Augustine (XXVIII, 1 and 2) tells us that the whole life of infidels
is a sin; and the gloss on Romans xiv says that everything which
comes not of faith is sin. What then is to be thought of the whole life of
witches, that is, of all their other actions which are not pleasing to the
devil, such as fasting, attending church, communicating, and other things?
For in all these things they commit deadly sin, as is shown as follows. So
far have they fallen in sin that, although they have not lost all power of
amendment (since sin does not corrupt the whole good of their nature, and a
natural light yet remains in them); yet, because of their homage given to
the devil, and unless they be absolved from it, all their works, even when
they appear to be good, are rather of an evil nature. And this is not seen
to be the case with other infidels.
For according to S. Thomas in the Second of the Second, question 10,
Whether every action of an infidel is a sin; he says that the deeds of the
unfaithful which are, of themselves, good, such as fasting, almsgiving, and
deeds of that sort, are no merit to them because of their infidelity, which
is a most grievous sin. Yet sin does not corrupt the whole good of their
nature, and there remains in them a natural light. Therefore not ever deed
of theirs is mortal sin, but only those which proceed from their very
infidelity, or are related to it. For example, a Saracen fasts, to observe
the law of Mohammed as to fasting, and a Jew observes his Feast days; but in
such things he is guilty of mortal sin. And in this way is to be understood
the above dictum of S. Augustine, that the whole life of infidels is sin.
That Witches Deserve the heaviest Punishment above All the
Criminals of the World.
The crimes of witches, then, exceed the sins of all others; and we now
declare what punishment they deserve, whether as Heretics or as Apostates.
Now Heretics, according to S. Raymund, are punished in various ways, as by
excommunication, deposition, confiscation of their goods, and death. The
reader can be fully informed concerning all these by consulting the law
relating to the sentence of excommunication. Indeed even their followers,
protectors, patrons and defenders incur the heaviest penalties. For, besides
the punishment of excommunication inflicted upon them, Heretics, together
with their patrons, protectors and defenders, and with their children to the
second generation on the father's side, and to the first degree on the
mother's side, are admitted to no benefit or office of the Church. And if a
Heretic have Catholic children, for the heinousness of his crime they are
deprived of their paternal inheritance. And if a man be convicted, and
refuse to be converted and abjure his heresy, he must at once be burned, if
he is a layman. For if they who counterfeit money are summarily put to death,
how much more must they who counterfeit the Faith? But if he is a cleric,
after solemn degradation he is handed over to the secular Court to be put to
death. But if they return to the Faith, they are to be imprisoned for life.
But in practice they are treated more leniently after recantation than they
should be according to the judgement of the Bishops and Inquisition, as will
be shown in the Third Part, where the various methods of sentencing such are
treated of; that is to say, those who are arrested and convicted and have
recanted their error.
But to punish witches in these ways does not seem sufficient, since they are
not simple Heretics, but Apostates. More than this, in their very apostasy
they do not deny the Faith for any fear of men or for any delight of the
flesh, as has been said before; but, apart from their abnegation, even give
homage to the very devils by offering them their bodies and souls. Is is
clear enough from this that, however much they are penitent and return to
the Faith, they must not be punished like other Heretics with lifelong
imprisonment, but must be made to suffer the extreme penalty. And because of
the temporal injury which they do to men and beasts in various ways, the
laws demand this. Is is even equally culpable to learn as it is to teach
such iniquities, say the laws concerning Soothsayers. Then how much more
emphatically do they speak concerning witches, where they say that the
penalty for them is the confiscation of their goods and decapitation. The
laws also say much concerning those who by witchcraft provoke a woman to
lust, or, conversely, cohabit with beasts. But these matters were touched
upon on the First Question.
Next: Question XV
It is Shown that, on Account of the Sins of Witches, the Innocent are often Bewitched, yea, Sometimes even for their Own Sins.