What is the Source of the Increase of Works of Witchcraft? Whence comes
it that the Practice of Witchcraft hath so notably increased?
Is it in any way a Catholic opinion to hold that the origin and growth of
witchcraft proceed from the influence of the celestial bodies; or from the
abundant wickedness of men, and not from the abominations of Incubi and
Succubi? And it seems that it springs from man's own wickedness. For S.
Augustine says, in Book LXXXIII, that the cause of a man's depravity lies
in his own will, whether he sins at his own or at another's suggestion. But
a witch is depraved through sin, therefore the cause of it is not the devil
but human will. In the same place he speaks of free-will, that everyone is
the cause of his own wickedness. And he reasons thus: that the sin of man
proceeds from free-will, but the devil cannot destroy free-will, for this
would militate against liberty: therefore the devil cannot be the cause of
that or any other sin. Again, in the book of Ecclesiastic Dogma it is said:
Not all our evil thoughts are stirred up by the devil, but sometimes they
arise from the operation of our own judgement.
Again, if the stars were not the cause of human actions both good and bad,
Astrologers would not so frequently foretell the truth about the result of
wars and other human acts: therefore they are in some way a cause.
Again, the stars influence the devils themselves in the causing of certain
spells; and therefore they can all the more influence men. Three proofs are
adduced for this assumption. For certain men who are called Lunatics are
molested by devils more at one time than at another; and the devils would
not so behave, but would rather molest them at all times, unless they
themselves were deeply affected by certain phases of the Moon. It is proved
again from the fact the Necromancers observe certain constellations for the
invoking of devils, which they would not do unless they knew that those
devils were subject to the stars.
And this is also adduced as a proof; that according to S. Augustine (de
Ciuitate Dei, 10), the devils employ certain lower bodies, such as herbs,
stones, animals, and certain sounds and voices, and figures. But since the
heavenly bodies are of more potency than the lower bodies, therefore the
stars are a far greater influence than these things. And witches are the
more in subjection in that their deeds proceed from the influence of those
bodies, and not from the help of evil spirits. And the argument is supported
from I Kings xvi, where Saul was vexed by a devil, but was calmed
when David struck his harp before him, and the evil departed.
But against this. It is impossible to produce an effect without its
cause; and the deeds of witches are such that they cannot be done without
the help of devils, as is shown by the description of witches in S. Isidore,
Ethics VIII. WItches are so called from the enormity of their magic
spells; for they disturb the elements and confound the minds of men, and
without any venomous draught, but merely by virtue of incantations, destroy
souls, etc. But this sort of effects cannot be caused by the influence of
the stars through the agency of a man.
Besides, Aristotle says in his Ethics that it is difficult to know
what is the beginning of the operation of thought, and shows that it must
be something extrinsic. For everything that begins from a beginning has some
cause. Now a man begins to do that which he wills; and he begins to will
because of some pre-suggestion; and if this is some precedent suggestion, it
must either proceed from the infinite, or there is some extrinsic beginning
which first brings a suggestion to a man. Unless indeed it be argued that
this is a matter of chance, from which it would follow that all human
actions are fortuitous, which is absurd. Therefore the beginning of good in
the good is said to be God, Who is not the cause of sin. But for the wicked,
when a man begins to be influenced towards and wills to commit sin, there
must also be some extrinsic cause of this. And this can be no other than the
devil; especially in the case of witches, as is shown above, for the stars
cannot influence such acts. Therefore the truth is plain.
Moreover, that which has power over the motive has also power over the
result which is caused by the motive. Now the motive of the will is something
perceived through the sense or the intellect, both of which are subject to
the power of the devil. For S. Augustine says in Book 83: This evil, which
is of the devil, creeps in by all the sensual approaches; he places himself
in figures, he adapts himself to colours, he attaches himself to sounds, he
lurks in angry and wrongful conversation, he abides in smells, he impregnates
with flavours and fills with certain exhalations all the channels of the
understanding. Therefore it is seen that it is in the devil's power to
influence the will, which is directly the cause of sin.
Besides, everything which has a choice of two ways needs some determining
factor before it proceeds to the action. And the free-will of man has the
choice between good and ill; therefore when he embarks upon sin, it needs
that he is determined by something towards ill. And this seems chiefly to
be done by the devil, especially in the actions of witches, whose will is
made up for evil. Therefore it seems that the evil will of the devil is the
cause of evil will in man, especially in witches. And the argument may be
substantiated thus; that just as a good Angel cleaves to good, so does a
bad Angel to evil; but the former leads a man into goodness, therefore the
latter leads him into evil. For it is, says Dionysius, the unalterable and
fixed law of divinity, that the lowest has it cause in the highest.
Answer. Such as contend that witchcraft has its origin in the
influence of the stars stand convicted of three errors. In the first place,
it is not possible that it originated from astromancers and casters of
horoscopes and fortune-tellers. For if it is asked whether the vice of
witchcraft in men is caused by the influence of the stars, then, in
consideration of the variety of men's characters, and for the upholding
of the true faith, a distinction must be maintained; namely, that there are
two ways in which it can be understood that men's characters can be caused
by the stars. Either completely and of necessity, or by disposition and
contingency. And as for the first, it is not only false, but so heretical
and contrary to the Christian religion, that the true faith cannot be
maintained in such an error. For this reason, he who argues that everything
of necessity proceeds from the stars takes away all merit and, in
consequence, all blame: also he takes away Grace, and therefore Glory.
For uprightness of character suffers prejudice by this error, since the
blame of the sinner redounds upon the stars, licence to sin without
culpability is conceded, and man is committed to the worship and adoration
of the stars.
But as for the contention that men's characters are conditionally varied by
the disposition of the stars, it is so far true that is it not contrary to
reason or faith. For it is obvious that the disposition of a body variously
causes many variations in the humours and character of the soul; for
generally the soul imitates the complexions of the body, as it said in the
Six Principles. Wherefore the choleric are wrathful, the sanguine are kindly,
the melancholy are envious, and the phlegmatic are slothful. But this is
not absolute; for the soul is master of its body, especially when it is
helped by Grace. And we see many choleric who are gently, and melancholy
who are kindly. Therefore when the virtue of the stars influences the
formation and quality of a man's humours, it is agreed that they have some
influence over the character, but very distantly: for the virtue of the
lower nature has more effect on the quality of the humours than has the
virtue of the stars.
Wherefore S. Augustine (de Ciuitate Dei, V), where he resolves a
certain question of two brothers who fell ill and were cured simultaneously,
approves the reasoning of Hippocrates rather than that of an Astronomer.
For Hippocrates answered that it is owing to the similarity of their humours;
and the Astronomer answered that it was owing the identity of their
horoscopes. For the Physician's answer was better, since he adduced the more
powerful and immediate cause. Thus, therefore, it must be said that the
influence of the stars is to some degree conducive to the wickedness of
witches, if it be granted that there is any such influence over the bodies
that predisposes them to this manner of abomination rather than to any
other sort of works either vicious or virtuous: but this disposition must
not be said to be necessary, immediate, and sufficient, but remote and
Neither is that objection valid which is based on the book of the
Philosophers on the properties of the elements, where it says that kingdoms
are emptied and lands depopulated at the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn;
and it is argued from this that such things are to be understood as being
outside the free-will of men, and that therefore the influence of the stars
has power over free-will. For it is answered that in this saying the
Philosopher does not mean to imply that men cannot resist the influence of
that constellation towards dissensions, but that they will not. For Ptolemy
in Almagest says:
A wise man will be the master of the stars.
For although, since Saturn has a melancholy and bad influence and Jupiter a
very good influence, the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn can dispose men to
quarrels and discords; yet, through free-will, men can resist that
inclination, and very easily with the help of God's grace.
And again it is no valid objection to quote
S. John Damascene where he says (Book II,
chap. vi) that comets are often the sign of the death of kings. For it will
be answered that even if we follow the opinion of S. John Damascene, which
was, as is evident in the book referred to, contrary to the opinion of the
Philosophic Way, yet this is no proof of the inevitability of human actions.
For S. John considers that a comet is not a natural creation, nor is it one
of the stars set in the firmament; wherefore neither its significance nor
influence is natural. For he says that comets are not of the stars which
were created in the beginning, but that they are made for a particular
occasion, and then dissolved, by Divine command. This then is the opinion
of S. John Damascene. But God by such a sign foretells the death of kings
rather than of other men, both because from this may arise the confusion of
a kingdom. And the Angels are more careful to watch over kings for the
general good; and kings are born and die under the ministry of Angels.
And there is no difficulty in the opinion of the Philosophers, who say that
a comet is a hot and dry conglomeration, generated in the higher part of
space near the fire, and that a conjoined globe of that hot and dry vapour
assumes the likeness of a star. But unincorporated parts of that vapour
stretch in long extremities joined to that globe, and are a sort of adjunct
to it. And according to this view, not of itself but by accident, it predicts
death which proceeds from hot and dry infirmities. And since for the most
part the rich are fed on things of a hot and dry nature, therefore at such
times many of the rich die; among which the death of kings and princes is
the most notable. And this view is not far from the view of S. John
Damascene, when carefully considered, except as regards the operation and
co-operation of the Angels, which not even the philosophers can ignore. For
indeed when the vapours in their dryness and heat have nothing to do with
the generation of a comet, even then, for reasons already set out, a comet
may be formed by the operation of an Angel.
In this way the star which portended the death of the learned S. Thomas was
not one of the stars set in the firmament, but was formed by an Angel from
some convenient material, and, having performed it office, was again
From this we see that, whichever of those opinions we follow, the stars have
no inherent influence over the free-will, or, consequently, over the malice
and character of men.
It is to be noted also that Astronomers often foretell the truth, and that
their judgements are for the most part effective on one province or one
nation. And the reason is that they take their judgements from the stars,
which, according to the more probable view, have a greater, though not an
inevitable, influence over the actions of mankind in general, that is, over
one nation or province, than over one individual person; and this because
the greater part of one nation more closely obeys the natural disposition
of the body than does one single man. But this is mentioned incidentally.
And the second of the three ways by which we vindicate the Catholic
standpoint is by refuting the errors of those who cast Horoscopes and
Mathematicians who worship the goddess of
fortune. Of these S. Isidore (Ethics, VIII. 9) says that those who
cast Horoscopes are so called from their examination of the stars at
nativity, and are commonly called Mathematicians; and in the same Book,
chapter 2, he says that Fortune has her name from fortuitousness. and is a
sort of goddess who mocks human affairs in a haphazard and fortuitous manner.
Wherefore she is called blind, since she runs here and there with no
consideration for desert, and comes indifferently to good and bad. So much
for Isidore. But to believe that there is such a goddess, or that the harm
done to bodies and creatures which is ascribed to witchcraft does not
actually proceed from witchcraft, but from that same goddess of Fortune,
is sheer idolatry: and also to assert that witches themselves were born for
that very purpose that they might perform such deeds in the world is
similarly alien to the Faith, and indeed to the general teaching of the
Philosophers. Anyone who pleases may refer to S. Thomas in the 3rd book of
his Summa of the Faith against the Gentiles. question 87, etc., and
he will find much to this effect.
Nevertheless one point must not be omitted, for the sake of those who
perhaps have not great quantity of books. It is there noted that three things
are to be considered in man, which are directed by three celestial causes,
namely, the act of the will, the act of the intellect, and the act of the
body. The first of these is governed directly and soley by God, the second
by an Angel, and the third by a celestial body. For choice and will are
directly governed by God for good works, as the Scripture says in
Proverbs xxi: The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord; he
turneth it whithersoever he will. And it says the heart of the king
to signify that, as the great cannot oppose His will, so are others even
less able to do so. Also S. Paul says: God who causeth us to wish and to
perform that which is good.
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Question V Continued . . . .
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