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Malleus Maleficarum Part 3

Question XVIII

The Method of passing Sentence upon one who hath Confessed to Heresy but is Relapsed, Albeir now Penitent

        THE ninth method of arriving at a conclusive sentence in a process on behalf of the faith is used when the person accused of heresy, after a careful investigation of the circumstances of the process in consultation with men of good judgement, is found to have confessed her heresy and to be penitent, but that she has truly relapsed. And this is when the accused herself confesses in Court before the Bishop or Judges that she has at another time abjured all heresy, and this is legally proved, and that she has afterwards fallen into such a heresy or error: or that she has abjured some particular heresy, such as that of witches, and has afterwards returned to it; but that following better advice she is penitent, and believes the Catholic faith, and returns to the unity of the Church. Such a one is not, if she humbly ask for them, to be denied the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist; but however much she may repent, she is nevertheless to be delivered up as a backslider to the secular Court to suffer the extreme penalty. But it must be understood that this refers to one who had made her abjuration as one manifestly taken in heresy, or as one strongly suspected of heresy, and not to one who has so done as being under only a light suspicion.
        The following procedure must be observed in this case. When, after mature and careful and, if necessary, repeated investigation by learned men, it has been concluded that the said prisoner has actually and prepense relapsed into heresy, the Bishop or Judge shall send to the said prisoner in the place of detention two or three honest men, especially religious or clerics, who are zealous for the faith, of whom the prisoner has no suspicion, but rather places confidence in them; and they shall go in to her at a suitable time and speak to her sweetly of the contempt of this world and the miseries of this life, and of the joys and glory of Paradise. And leading up from this, they shall indicate to her on the part of the Bishop or Judge that she cannot escape temporal death, and that she should therefore take care for the safety of her soul, and prepare herself to confess her sins and receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist. And they shall visit her often, persuading her to penitence and patience, strengthening her as much as they can in the Catholic truth, and they shall diligently cause her to confess, so that she may receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist at her humble petition. For these Sacraments are not to be denied to such offenders.
        And when she has received these Sacraments, and been well disposed by these men to salvation; after two or three days during which they have strengthened her in the Catholic faith and induced her to repentance, the Bishop or Judge of that place shall notify the bailiff of the place or the authorities of the secular Court, that on such a day at such an hour (not a Feast Day) he should be with his attendants in such a square or place (but it must be outside a church) to receive from their Court a certain backslider whom the Bishop and Judge will hand over to him.
        And on the morning of the day fixed, or on the day before, it shall be publicly proclaimed throughout the city of place in those towns and villages where such proclamations are customary, that on such a day at such an hour in such a place there will be a sermon preached in defence of the Faith, and that the Bishop and other Judges will condemn a certain person who has relapsed into the sin of heresy, delivering her up to secular justice.
        But here it must be considered that, if he who has so relapsed should have been ordained in any Holy Orders, or should be a priest or a religious of any Order, before he is handed over he is to be degraded and stripped of the privileges of his ecclesiastic order. And so, when he has been degraded from all ecclesiastical office, let him be handed over to secular justice to receive his due punishment.
        When, therefore, such a one is to be degraded from his orders and handed over to the secular Court, let the Bishop summon together all the prelates and religious men of his Diocese. For in this case, though not in others, only the Bishop together with the other prelates and religious and learned men of his diocese can degrade one who has received Holy Orders when he is to be delivered to the secular Court, or is to be imprisoned for life for the sin of heresy.
        On the day appointed for the degrading of the backslider and the handing of him over to the secular Court, if he be a cleric, or, if he be a layman, for leaving him to hear his definitive sentence, the people shall gather together in some square or open place outside the church, and the Inquisitor shall preach a sermon, and the prisoner shall be set on a high place in the presence of the secular authorities. And if the prisoner be a cleric who is to be degraded, the Bishop shall don his Pontifical robes, together with the other prelates of his Diocese in their vestments and copes, and the prisoner shall be clothed and robed as if he were to minister his office; and the Bishop shall degrade him from his order, beginning from the higher and proceeding to the lowest. And just as in conferring Holy Orders the Bishop uses the words ordained by the Church, so in degrading him he shall take off his chasuble and stole, and so with the other vestments, using words of a directly opposite meaning.
        When this degradation has been accomplished, the proceedings must continue in the legal and accustomed manner, and the Notary or religious or clerk shall be bidden to read the sentence, which shall be after the following manner, whether the prisoner be a layman or a degraded cleric:
        We, N., by the mercy of the God Bishop of such city, and Judge in the territories of such Prince, seeing that we are legitimately informed that you, N., of such a place in such a Diocese, have been before us (or before such Bishop and Judges) accused of such heresy or heresies (naming them), of which you were lawfully convicted by your own confession and by witnesses, and that you had obstinately persisted in them for so long, but afterwards, listening to better advice, publicly in such a place abjured, renounced and revoked those heresies in the form provided by the Church, on which account the said Bishop and Inquisitor, believing that you had truly returned to the bosom of the Holy Church of God, did absolve you from the sentence of excommunication by which you were bound, enjoining upon you a salutary penance if with true heart and faith unfeigned you had returned to the unity of the Holy Church; but whereas after all the aforesaid and the lapse of so many years you are again accused before us and have again fallen into such heresies which you had abjured (naming them), and though it was sore grief to us to hear such things of you, yet we were by justice compelled to investigate the matter, to examine the witnesses, and to summon and question you on oath, proceeding in each and every way as we are bidden by the canonical institutions.
        And since we wished to conclude this case without any doubt, we convened in solemn council learned men of the Theological faculty and men skilled in the Canon and the Civil Law, and in consultation with them maturely and carefully examined all and singular which had been done, said and seen in the process and diligently discussed each circumstance, weighing all equally in the balance as it behoved us; and we find both by the legitimate evidence of witnesses and by your own confession received in Court that you have fallen into the heresies which you had abjured. For we find that you have said or done such and such (let all be named), on account of which, with the concurrence of the said learned men, we have judged and now judge that you are a backslider, according tot he canonical institutions, to which we refer in grief and grieve to refer.
        But since it has come to the knowledge of Us and of many honest Catholic men that, by the inspiration of Divine grade, you have once more returned to the bosom of the Church and to the truth of the faith detesting the aforesaid errors and heresies and with true orthodoxy unfeigned believing and protesting the Catholic faith, we have admitted you to receive the Church's Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist at your humble request. But since the Church of God has no more which it can do in respect of you, seeing that it has acted so mercifully towards you in the manner we have said, and you have abused that mercy by falling back into the heresies which you had abjured: therefore We the said Bishop and Judges, sitting in tribunal as Judges judging, having before us the Holy Gospels that our judgement may proceed as from the countenance of God and our eyes see with equity, and having before our eyes only God and the irrefragable truth of the Holy Faith and the extirpation of the plague of heresy; against you, N., in this place on the day and at the hour before assigned to you for the hearing of your definitive sentence, we pronounce in sentence that you have truly fallen back into the sin of heresy, although you are penitent; and as one truly so relapsed we cast you forth from this our ecclesiastical Court, and leave you to be delivered to the secular arm. But we earnestly pray that the said secular Court may temper its justice with mercy, and that there be no bloodshed or danger of death.
        And here the Bishop and his assessors shall withdraw, and the secular Court shall perform its office.
        It is to be noted that, although the Bishop and Inquisitor ought to use their utmost diligence, both by their own efforts and those of others, to induce the prisoner to repent and return to the Catholic faith; yet, after he has repented and it has been decided in council that, though he is penitent, he is nevertheless truly a backslider and as such to be handed over in person to the secular Court, they ought not to inform him of such sentence and punishment. therefore from that time, neither before nor after the sentence should they present themselves before him, that he be not moved in his spirit against them, a thing which is very carefully to be avoided in death of this sort. But, as we have said, let them send to him some honest men, especially those in religious orders, or clerics, in whom he has confidence; and let them inform him of the sentence to come and of his death, and strengthen him in the faith, exhorting him to have patience; and let them visit him after the sentence, and console him and pray with him, and not leave him until he has rendered his spirit to his Creator.
        Let them, therefore, beware and be on their guard not to do or say anything which may enable the prisoner to anticipate his death, or place themselves in an irregular position. And, as they have burdened themselves with the care of his soul, let them then share also in his punishment and guilt.
        It must also be remarked that such a sentence which delivers up a person to the secular Court ought not to be pronounced on a Festival or Solemn Day, nor in a church, but outside in some open space. For it is a sentence which leads to death; and it is more decent that it should be delivered on an ordinary day and outside the church; for a Feast Day and the church are dedicated to God.
Next: Question XXIX
The Method of passing Sentence upon one who hath Confessed to Heresy but is Impenitent, although not Relapsed