Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Christianity's relationship with witchcraft: Part 1

Christianity's relationship with witchcraft: Part 1

Hello, you’re listening to the Ex-Christian Monologues, a podcast from ExChristian.Net. I’m Dave, and today’s date is April 24, 2006.

Today I want to talk a little bit about Christianity’s historic relationship with witchcraft. This is part one of a three-part podcast. Part One draws heavily on the History of the Christian Church by Philip Schaff and the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Schaff’s classic work is in the public domain and freely available on the Internet.

Most primitive cultures attributed witches with the power to supernaturally injure crops, animals, health, and possessions. Many ancient cultures created laws to punish the offense. As in other cultures, the ancient Hebrews condemned witchcraft, as expressed in the Mosaic Law (
Deut 18:10 & Exodus 22:18). Following in Judaism's footsteps, the early Christian Church believed in and condemned witchcraft Acts 19:19, Acts 8:9. (Click here for Moree examples).

Belief in witchcraft never disappeared, but it wasn’t always severely persecuted. The Synod of Reisbach in 799, for example, formally mandated penance as a punishment for women convicted of witchcraft, but prohibited any capital punishment. For a time the official rhetoric of the Church even tried to tone down belief in magic or witchcraft, labeling it as either false superstition or delusion.

For centuries Christianity had taught that God was in HIS heaven, far removed from human society. The Church encouraged people to be content with their miserable, medieval lot in life. Poverty and sickness were considered gifts of God that helped people remain holy by focusing their minds away from this world and on to the next. Physical pleasures should be shunned — this life was to be endured, but not necessarily enjoyed. Common people weren't easily convinced to meekly adopt this philosophy — many hung on tenaciously to a belief in magic. They thought magic could empower them to deal with the some harsh realities of their lives. Belief in magic, instead of subsiding, actually grew.

Some so-called heretical groups, and some well meaning churchmen, doubted that witchcraft was anything more than illusions of the Devil. Most were convinced that witchcraft was a real power, fueled by the denizens of hell.

Witches were reportedly transporting people through the air and holding meetings, or sabbats, where they indulged in lust-filled orgies with demons. Mention is given to these activities in the The Bishop’s Canon, which appeared first in the 10th century and was later incorporated by Franciscus Gratianus, a lawyer from Bologna, in his collection of canon law in 1150. Women confessed to flying through the air, but Gratianus considered the women delusional. English author, diplomat and bishop of Chartres John of Salisbury, felt the stories illusions propagated by the Devil. But, his contemporaries, such as Englishman Walter Map, reported that the wild orgies were real, with the Devil appearing on the scene in the form of a tom-cat.

According to Philip Schaff, the daughter of a count was carried through the air every night, one night even escaping the arms a Franciscan monk who tried to hold her back. In 1275, a woman of Toulouse, under torture, confessed she had indulged in sexual intercourse with a demon for many years and had given birth to a part wolf, part serpent, monster. She added that she sustained the creature by feeding murdered children to it.

Pope after pope called upon the Inquisition to root out and punish witches alongside the heretics they were already persecuting. Pope Gregory IX issued a bull in 1231 invoking the use of civil punishment against witchcraft. Dominican theologians spread the belief that incubi and succubi were mating with people—a belief that was rooted in Augustine’s “City of God,” xv23., as well as in the Genesis account of angels mating with humans.

In 1233, Pope Gregory IX asserted that the Devil was making appearances in the forms of a toad, a pallid ghost and a black cat. His papal bull, the “Vox Rama,” shockingly and graphically detailed what was taking place during witch's satanic, sexual orgies, and with the stroke of his pen launched an official, large-scale persecution of witches.

In 1274, Thomas Aquinas supported the claims that humans were cohabitation with demons, and even declared that old women could inject an evil essence into young people with just a glance. I suppose that's where the evil eye myth was born.

Jean Gerson, the leading theologian of his age, said it was heresy and impious to doubt the practice of witchcraft, and Pope Eugenius IV spoke in detail about those who made pacts with demons and sacrificed to them.

Among all the papal and other documents on witchcraft, perhaps the place of pre-eminence is held by the papal bull, Summis desiderantes issued by Innocent VIII in 1484. The pontiff wrote, “…by their incantations, charms, and conjurings… they cause to perish the offspring of women, the foal of animals, the products of the earth, the grapes of vines, and the fruits of trees, as well as men and women, cattle and flocks and herds and animals of every kind, vineyards also and orchards, meadows, pastures, harvests, grains and other fruits of the earth… and hinder men from begetting and women from conceiving, and prevent all consummation of marriage; that, moreover, they deny with sacrilegious lips the faith… at the risk of their own souls, to the insult of the divine majesty and to the pernicious example and scandal of multitudes.”


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