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Reflections on The Malleus Maleficarum in Light of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Reflections on The Malleus Maleficarum in Light of the Trial of Joan of Arc


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Reflections on The Malleus Maleficarum in Light of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Cant, Lisa (Columbia University, USA)

Vexillum: The Undergraduate Journal of Classical and Medieval Studies, Vol 2, (2012)

Abstract

The sensational European witchcraft trials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had their foundations in medieval ideologies. In 1487 Heinrich Institoris, with some help from James Sprenger, published what became the definitive text on the subject, called The Malleus Maleficarum, or The Hammer of Witches. Within fifty years, the position put forth in the treatise became widely accepted, and it became the guidebook for judges prosecuting witchcraft trials. Did the treatise reflect what people at the time believed about witches, or was it a departure from learned thought? About fifty-five years before the publication of The Malleus Maleficarum, Joan of Arc was tried for heresy, including witchcraft, by an ecclesiastical court. An examination of this trial reveals that, while its judges and Institoris agreed about the activities of witches, they differed on a key point: the witches’ pact with the devil. Institoris’s theoretical basis for the existence of witches was their pact, while the judges in Joan’s trial did not believe witches had these pacts. This indicates that the publication was not representative of beliefs then current in France.

The sensational European witchcraft trials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had their foundations in medieval ideologies. In 1487 Heinrich Institoris, with some help from James Sprenger, published what became the definitive text on the subject, called The Malleus Maleficarum, or The Hammer of Witches. Within fifty years, the position put forth in the treatise became widely accepted, and it became the guidebook for judges prosecuting witchcraft trials.Did the treatise reflect what people at the time believed about witches, or was it a departure from learned thought? About fifty-five years before the publication of The Malleus Maleficarum, Joan of Arc was tried for heresy, including witchcraft, by an ecclesiastical court. Institoris’s theoretical basis for the existence of witches was their pact, while the judges in Joan’s trial did not believe witches had these pacts. This indicates that the publication was not representative of beliefs then current in France.


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