PART II., QUESTION I.
CHAPTER II CONTINUED
The truth of this is clear. For if it is asked why some witches will not
confess the truth under even the greatest tortures, while other readily
confess their crimes when they are questioned (and some of them, after they
have confessed, try to kill themselves by hanging), the reason is as follows.
It may truly be said that, when it is not due to a Divine impulse conveyed
through a holy Angel that a witch is made to confess the truth and abandon
the spell of silence, then it is due to the devil whether she preserves
silence of confesses her crimes. The former is the case with those whom he
knows to have denied the Faith both with their lips and in their hearts, and
also to have given him their homage; for he is sure of their constancy. But
in the latter case he withdraws his protection, since he knows that they are
of no profit to him.
We have often learned from the confessions of those whom we have caused to
be burned, that they have not been willing agents of witchcraft. And they
have not said this in the hope of escaping damnation, for its truth is
witnessed by the blows and stripes which they have received from devils
when they have been unwilling to perform their orders, and we have often
seen their swollen and livid faces. Similarly, after they have confessed
their crimes under torture they always try to hang themselves; and this we
know for a fact; for after the confession of their crimes, guards are
deputed to watch them all the time, and even then, when the guards have been
negligent, they have been found hanged with their shoe-laces or garments.
For, as we have said, they devil causes this, lest they should obtain pardon
through contrition or sacramental confession; and those whose hearts he
cannot seduce from finding grace with God, he tries to lead into despair
through worldly loss and a horrible death. However, through the great grace
of God, as it is pious to believe, they can obtain forgiveness by true
contrition and pure confession, when they have not been willing participators
in those foul and filthy practices.
This is exemplified by certain events which took place hardly three years
ago in the dioceses of Strasburg and Constance, and in the towns of Hagenau
and Ratisbon. For in the first town one hanged herself with a trifling and
flimsy garment. Another, named Walpurgis, was notorious for her power of
preserving silence, and used to teach other women how to achieve a like
quality of silence by cooking their first-born sons in an oven. Many such
examples are to our hand, as they are also in the case of others burned in
the second town, some of which will be related.
And there is a forth reason why the devil exacts a varying degree of homage,
making it relatively small in some cases because he is more skilful than
Astronomers in knowing the length if human life, and so can easily fix a
term which he knows will be preceded by death, or can, in the manner already
told, forestall natural death with some accident.
All this, in short, can be shown by the actions and behaviour of witches.
But first we can deduce the astuteness of the devil in such things. For
according to S. Augustine in the de Natura
Daemonis seven reasons are assigned why devils can conjecture
probable future events, though they cannot know them certainly. The first is
that they have a natural subtlety in their understanding, by which they
arrive at their knowledge without the process of reasoning which is
necessary for us. Secondly, by their long experience and by revelation of
supernal spirits, they know more than we do. For S. Isidore says that the
Doctors have often affirmed that devils derive their marvellous cunning
from three sources, their natural subtlety, their long experience, and the
revelation of supernal spirits. The third reason is their rapidity of motion,
by which they can with miraculous speed anticipate in the West things which
are happening in the East. Fourthly, just as they are able, with God's
permission, to cause disease and famines, so also they can predict them.
Fifthly, they can more cunningly read the signs of death than a physician
can by looking at the urine or feeling the pulse. For just as a physician
sees signs in a sick man which a layman would not notice, so the devil sees
what no man can naturally see. Sixthly, they can by signs which proceed from
a man's mind conjecture more astutely than the wisest men what is or will be
in that man's mind. For they know what impulses, and therefore what actions,
will probably follow. Seventhly, they understand better than men the acts
and writings of the Prophets, and, since on these much of the future depends,
they can foretell from them much that will happen. Therefore it is not
wonderful that they can know the natural term of a man's life; though it is
different in the case of the accidental term when a witch is burned; for
this the devil ultimately causes when, as has been said, he finds a witch
reluctant, and fears for her conversion; whereas he protects even up to
their natural death others whom he knows to be his willing agents.
Let us give examples of both these cases, which are known to us. There was
in the diocese of Basel, in a town called Oberweiler situated on the Rhine,
an honest parish priest, who fondly held the opinion, or rather error, that
there was no witchcraft in the world, but that it only existed in the
imagination of men who attributed such things to witches. And God wished so
to purge him of this error that he might even be made aware of the practice
of devils in setting a term to the lives of witches. For as he was hastening
to cross a bridge, on some business that he had to do, he met a certain old
woman in his hurry, and would not give way to her, but pressed on so that he
thrust the old woman into the mud. She indignantly broke into a flood of
abuse, and said to him, Father, you will not cross with impunity.
And though he took small notice of those words, in the night, when he wished
to get out of his bed, he felt himself bewitched below the waist, so that he
always had to be supported by the arms of other men when he wished to go to
the church; and so he remained for three years, under the care of his own
mother. After that time the old woman fell sick, the hag whom he had always
suspected as being the cause of his witchcraft, owing to the abusive words
with which she had threatened him; and it happened that she sent to him to
hear her confession. And though the priest angrily said, Let her
confess to the devil her master, yet, at the instance of his mother,
he went to the house supported by two servants, and sat at the head of the
bed where the witch lay. And the two servants listened outside the window,
so eager were they to know whether she would confess that she had bewitched
the priest. Now it happened that, though she made no mention in her
confession of having been the cause of his malady, after the confession was
finished, she said, Father, do you know who bewitched you?
And when he gently answered that he did not, she added, You suspect
me, and with reason; for know that I brought it upon you for this reason,
explaining as we have already told. And when he begged to be liberated, she
said, Lo! the set time has come, and I must die; but I will so cause
it that in a few days, after my death, you will be healed. And so it
happened. For she died at the time fixed by the devil, and within thirty
days the priest found himself completely healed in one night. The name of
that priest is Father Hässlin, and he lives yet in the diocese of
Similarly in the diocese of Basel, in the village called Buchel, near the
town of Gewyll, this happened. A certain woman was taken, and finally burned,
who for six years had had an Incubus devil, even when she was lying in bed
by the side of her husband. And this she did three times a week, on Sundays,
Tuesdays, and Thursdays, and on some of the other more
holy nights. But the homage she had given to
the devil was of such a sort that she was bound to dedicate herself body and
soul to him for ever, after seven years. But God provided mercifully: for
she was taken in the sixth year and condemned to the fire, and having truly
and completely confessed, is believed to have obtained pardon from God. For
she went most willingly to her death, saying that she would gladly suffer an
even more terrible death, if only she could be set free from and escape the
power of the devil.
Page 2 of 2
Question I, Chapter III
This chapter was transcribed by Wicasta Lovelace.
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