the enormity of crimes, it is asked whether the crimes of witches
exceed, both in guilt, in pain, and in loss, all the evils which God
allows and has permitted from the beginning of the world up till now.
And it seems that they do not, especially as regards guilt. For the
sin which a man commits when he could easily avoid it is greater than
the sin which another man commits when he could not so easily avoid
it. This is shown by S. Augustine, de Ciuit. Dei: There is
great wickedness in sinning when it is so easy not to sin. But Adam,
and others who have sinned when in a state of perfection or even of
grace, could more easily because of the help of grace have avoided
their sins — especially Adam who was created in grace —
than many witches, who have not shared in such gifts. Therefore the
sins of such are greater than all the crimes of witches.
And again in respect of punishment: the greatest punishment is due to the greater blame. But Adam's sin was the most heavily punished, as is plainly proved by the fact that both his guilt and his punishment are shown in all his posterity by the inheritance of original sin. Therefore his sin is greater than all other sins.
And again, the same is argued in respect of loss. For according to S. Augustine: A thing is evil in that it takes away from the good; therefore where there is the more good lost, there the greater evil has gone before. But the sin of our first parent brought the greatest loss both to nature and to grace, since it deprived us of innocence and immortality; and no subsequent sin has brought such loss, therefore, etc.
But the contrary side: that which includes the most causes of evil is the greater evil, and such are the sins of witches. For they can, with God's permission, bring every evil upon that which is good by nature and in form, as is declared in the Papal Bull. Besides, Adam sinned only in doing that which was wrong in one of two ways; for it was forbidden, but was not wrong in itself: but witches and other sinners sin in doing that which is wrong in both ways, wrong in itself, and forbidden, such as murders and many other forbidden things. Therefore their sins are heavier than other sins.
Besides, sin which comes from definite malice is heavier than sin which comes from ignorance. But witches, out of great malice, despise the Faith and the sacraments of the Faith, as many of them have confessed.
Answer. The evils which are perpetrated by modern witches exceed all other sin which God has ever permitted to be done, as was said in the title of this Question. And this can be shown in three ways, in so far as they are sins involving perversity of character, though it is different with the sins that contravene the other Theological virtues. First in general, by comparing their works indifferently with any other worldly crimes. Secondly in particular, by considering the species of the superstition and into what pact they have entered with the devil. And thirdly, by comparing their sins with the sins of the bad Angels and even with that of our first parents.
And first, sin is threefold, involving guilt, punishment, and loss. Good also is correspondingly threefold, involving righteousness, felicity, and use. And righteousness corresponds with the guilt, felicity with punishment, and use with loss.
That the guilt of witches exceeds all other sins is apparent in this way. For according to the teaching of S. Thomas (II, 22, art. 2), there is in the matter of sin much that may be considered whereby the gravity or lightness of the sin may be deduced; and the same sin may be found heavy in one and light in another. For example, we can say that in fornication a young man sins, but an old man is mad. Yet those sins are, simply speaking, the heavier which are not only attended by the more extensive and more powerful circumstances, but are in their nature and quantity of a more essentially serious sort.
And so we can say that, though the sin of Adam was in some respects heavier than all other sins, inasmuch as he fell to the instigation of a smaller temptation, since it came only from within; and also because he could more easily have resisted on account of the original justice in which he was created: nevertheless in the form and quantity of sin, and in other respects which aggravate the sin the more in that it is the cause of many yet heavier sins, the sins of witches exceed all other sins. And this will be made still clearer in two ways.
For one sin is said to be greater than another in one or other of the following respects: in causality, as was the sin of Lucifer; in generality, as Adam's sin; in hideousness, as was the sin of Judas; in the difficulty of forgiving it, as is the sin against the Holy Ghost; in danger, as in the sin of covetousness; in inclination, as is the sin of the flesh; in the offending of the Divine Majesty, as is the sin of idolatry and infidelity; in the difficulty of combating it, as the sin of pride; in blindness of mind, as the sin of anger. Accordingly, after the sin of Lucifer, the works of witches exceed all other sins, in hideousness since they deny Him crucified, in inclination since the commit nastiness of the flesh with devils, in blindness of mind since in a pure spirit of malignity the rage and bring every injury upon the souls and bodies of men and beasts, as has been shown from what has been said before.
And this, indeed, is indicated, according to S. Isidore, by the word. For they are called witches (maleficae) on account of the enormity of their crimes, as has been said above.
Our contention is also deduced from the following. There are two gradations in sin, a turning away, and a change of heart. See our quotation from S. Augustine: Sin is to reject the incommutable good, and to cleave to things that are variable. And the turning away from God is as it were formal, just as the change of heart is as it were material. Therefore the more a man is separated from God by it, the heavier is the sin. And since infidelity is the chief cause of man's separation from God, the infidelity of witches stands out as the greatest of sins. And this is given the name of Heresy, which is Apostasy from the Faith; and in this witches sin throughout their whole lives.
For the sin of infidelity consists in opposing the Faith; and this may come about in two ways, by opposing a faith which has not yet been received, or by opposing it after it has been received. Of the first sort is the infidelity of the Pagans or Gentiles. In the second way, the Christian Faith may be denied in two ways: either by denying the prophecies concerning it, or by denying the actual manifestation of its truth. And the first of these is the infidelity of the Jews, and the second the infidelity of Heretics.
It is clear from this that the heresy of witches is the most heinous of the three degrees of infidelity; and this fact is proved both by reason and authority. For it is said in II. S. Peter ii: It has been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from it. And it is reasonable to suppose that, just as he who does not perform what he has promised commits a greater sin than he who does not perform what he never promised, so the infidelity of the heretics, who while professing the faith of the Gospel fight against it by corrupting it, is a greater sin than that of the Jews and Pagans.
And again, the Jews sin more greatly than the Pagans; for they received the prophecy of the Christian Faith in the Old Law, which they corrupt through badly interpreting it, which is not the case with the Pagans. Therefore their infidelity is a greater sin than that of the Gentiles, who never received the Faith of the Gospel. But concerning Apostasy, S. Thomas says in the Second of the Second, question 12: Apostasy means a turning away from God and religion, and this may happen according to the different ways by which man is joined to God; that is, by faith, or by the subjection of the will to obedience, or by religion and Holy Orders. S. Raymund and Hostiensis say that Apostasy is a rash departure from the state of faith or obedience or Religion. Now if that which precedes is removed, that which follows from it is also removed; but the converse proposition is not true. Therefore Apostasy from the Faith is a greater sin than the other two forms of infidelity, since in its case a precedent Religion has been removed.
But according to S. Raymund, a man is not to be judged an Apostate or deserter, however far and long he may have strayed, unless he shows by his subsequent life that he has not though of returning to the Faith. And this would be shown in the case of a cleric if he were to marry a wife, or commit some similar crime. In the same way it is an Apostasy of disobedience when a man wilfully spurns the teaching of the Church and the Bishops. And such a man must be convicted of his infamy, and be excommunicated.
Now when we speak of the Apostasy of witches, we mean the Apostasy of perfidy; and this is so much the more heinous, in that it springs from a pact made with the enemy of the Faith and the way of salvation. For witches are bound to make this pact, which is exacted by that enemy either in part or wholly. For we Inquisitors have found some witches who have denied all the articles of Faith, and others who have denied only a certain number of them; but they are all bound to deny true and sacramental confession. And so, even the Apostasy of Julian does not seem to have been so great, although in other respects he did more harm against the Church; but we cannot speak of that here.
But it may be incidentally objected that it is possible that they may keep the Faith in the thoughts of their hearts, which God alone, and not even any Angel, can see into; but do reverence and obedience to the devil only in outward form. The answer to this seems to be that there are two degrees of the Apostasy of perfidy. One consists in outward acts of infidelity, without the formation of any pact with the devil, as when one lives in the lands of the infidels and conforms his life to that of the Mohammedans. The other consists in a pact made with the devil by one who lives in Christian lands, In the first case, men who keep the Faith in their hearts but deny it in their outward acts, though they are not Apostates or Heretics, are guilty of deadly sin. For in this way Solomon showed reverence to the gods of his wives. And no one can be excused on the ground that he does this through fear; for S. Augustine says: It is better to die of hunger than to be fed by Idolaters. But however much witches may retain the Faith in their hearts while denying it with their lips, they are still to be judged Apostates, since they have made a treaty with death and a compact with hell. Wherefore S. Thomas (II, 4), speaking of such magic works, and of those who in any way seek help from devils, says: They are all Apostates from the Faith, by reason of a pact made with the Devil, either in word, when some invocation is used, or by some deed, even if there is no actual sacrifice. For no man can serve two masters.
To the same effect writes Blessed Albertus Magnus, where he asks whether the sin of Magicians and Astrologers is an Apostasy from the Faith. And he answers: In such there is always Apostasy either of word or of deed. For if any invocations are made, then there is an open pact made with the devil, and it is plainly Apostasy in word. But if their magic is simply a matter of action, then it is Apostasy in deed. And since in all these there is abuse of the Faith, seeing that they look for from the devil what they ought to look for from God, therefore they are always to be judged Apostates. See how clearly they set forth two degrees of Apostasy, understanding a third, namely, that of thought. And even if this last is lacking, yet witches are judged to be Apostates in word and deed. Therefore, as will be shown, they must be subject to the punishment of Heretics and Apostates.
And there is in them a third enormity of crime, exceeding all other heresies. For S. Augustine (XXVIII, 1 and 2) tells us that the whole life of infidels is a sin; and the gloss on Romans xiv says that everything which comes not of faith is sin. What then is to be thought of the whole life of witches, that is, of all their other actions which are not pleasing to the devil, such as fasting, attending church, communicating, and other things? For in all these things they commit deadly sin, as is shown as follows. So far have they fallen in sin that, although they have not lost all power of amendment (since sin does not corrupt the whole good of their nature, and a natural light yet remains in them); yet, because of their homage given to the devil, and unless they be absolved from it, all their works, even when they appear to be good, are rather of an evil nature. And this is not seen to be the case with other infidels.
For according to S. Thomas in the Second of the Second, question 10, Whether every action of an infidel is a sin; he says that the deeds of the unfaithful which are, of themselves, good, such as fasting, almsgiving, and deeds of that sort, are no merit to them because of their infidelity, which is a most grievous sin. Yet sin does not corrupt the whole good of their nature, and there remains in them a natural light. Therefore not ever deed of theirs is mortal sin, but only those which proceed from their very infidelity, or are related to it. For example, a Saracen fasts, to observe the law of Mohammed as to fasting, and a Jew observes his Feast days; but in such things he is guilty of mortal sin. And in this way is to be understood the above dictum of S. Augustine, that the whole life of infidels is sin.
That Witches Deserve the heaviest Punishment above All the Criminals of the World.
of witches, then, exceed the sins of all others; and we now declare
what punishment they deserve, whether as Heretics or as Apostates.
Now Heretics, according to S. Raymund, are punished in various ways,
as by excommunication, deposition, confiscation of their goods, and
death. The reader can be fully informed concerning all these by
consulting the law relating to the sentence of excommunication.
Indeed even their followers, protectors, patrons and defenders incur
the heaviest penalties. For, besides the punishment of
excommunication inflicted upon them, Heretics, together with their
patrons, protectors and defenders, and with their children to the
second generation on the father's side, and to the first degree on
the mother's side, are admitted to no benefit or office of the
Church. And if a Heretic have Catholic children, for the heinousness
of his crime they are deprived of their paternal inheritance. And if
a man be convicted, and refuse to be converted and abjure his heresy,
he must at once be burned, if he is a layman. For if they who
counterfeit money are summarily put to death, how much more must they
who counterfeit the Faith? But if he is a cleric, after solemn
degradation he is handed over to the secular Court to be put to
death. But if they return to the Faith, they are to be imprisoned for
life. But in practice they are treated more leniently after
recantation than they should be according to the judgement of the
Bishops and Inquisition, as will be shown in the Third Part, where
the various methods of sentencing such are treated of; that is to
say, those who are arrested and convicted and have recanted their
But to punish witches in these ways does not seem sufficient, since they are not simple Heretics, but Apostates. More than this, in their very apostasy they do not deny the Faith for any fear of men or for any delight of the flesh, as has been said before; but, apart from their abnegation, even give homage to the very devils by offering them their bodies and souls. Is is clear enough from this that, however much they are penitent and return to the Faith, they must not be punished like other Heretics with lifelong imprisonment, but must be made to suffer the extreme penalty. And because of the temporal injury which they do to men and beasts in various ways, the laws demand this. Is is even equally culpable to learn as it is to teach such iniquities, say the laws concerning Soothsayers. Then how much more emphatically do they speak concerning witches, where they say that the penalty for them is the confiscation of their goods and decapitation. The laws also say much concerning those who by witchcraft provoke a woman to lust, or, conversely, cohabit with beasts. But these matters were touched upon on the First Question.