The 15th-Century Witch-Hunting Manual, The Malleus Maleficarum, Claimed That God Permits The Occurrence Of Witchcraft

(Early 19th century mural painting on the outer wall of Rila Monastery church, Bulgaria, Via Creative Commons (CC 2.5))


The papal inquisitors and witch hunters, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, had to walk a fine line in their book, The Malleus Maleficarum. They wrote, on the one hand, that Satan could influence humans, and that witchcraft was a very real threat. Kramer and Sprenger also claimed, however, that God still had supreme authority over Satan and the demons. The result of combining their two statements of beliefs was understandably awkward.  The Malleus Maleficarum came to the conclusion that God permitted witches and witchcraft, likely as a method of punishment. This is one example from their book:

“Now with regard to the tenor of the Bull of our Most Holy Father the Pope, we will discuss the origin of witches, and how it is that of recent years their works have so multiplied among us. And it must be borne in mind that for this to take place, three things concur, the devil, the witch, and the permission of God who suffers such things to be.” 

  • From The Malleus Maleficarum (Part 1, Question 2) by Kramer and Sprenger, translated by Montague Summers (Dover Publications, 1971).



Written by C. Keith Hansley

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