If it be in accordance with the
Catholic Faith to maintain that in order to bring about some effect
of magic, the devil must intimately co-operate with the witch, or
whether one without the other, that is to say, the devil without the
witch, or conversely, could produce such an effect.
And the first argument is this: That the devil can bring about an effect of magic without the co-operation of any witch. So S. Augustine holds. All things which visibly happen so that they can be seen, may (it is believed) be the work of the inferior powers of the air. But bodily ills and ailments are certainly not invisible, nay rather, they are evident to the senses, therefore they can be brought about by devils. Moreover, we learn from the Holy Scriptures of the disasters which fell upon Job, how fire fell from heaven and striking the sheep and the servants consumed them, and how a violent wind threw down the four corners of a house so that it fell upon his children and slew them all. The devil by himself without the co-operation of any witches, but merely by God's permission alone, was able to bring about all these disasters. Therefore he can certainly do many things which are often ascribed to the work of witches.
And this is obvious from the account of the seven husbands of the maiden Sara, whom a devil killed. Moreover, whatever a superior power is able to do, it is able to do without reference to a power superior to it, and a superior power can all the more work without reference to an inferior power. But an inferior power can cause hailstorms and bring about diseases without the help of a power greater than itself. For Blessed Albertus Magnus in his work De passionibus aeris says that rotten sage, if used as he explains, and thrown into running water, will arouse most fearful tempests and storms.
Moreover, it may be said that the devil makes use of a witch, not because he has need of any such agent, but because he is seeking the perdition of the witch. We may refer to what Aristotle says in the 3rd book of his Ethics. Evil is a voluntary act which is proved by the fact that nobody performs an unjust action, and a man who commits a rape does this for the sake of pleasure, not merely doing evil for evil's sake. Yet the law punishes those who have done evil as if they had acted merely for the sake of doing evil. Therefore if the devil works by means of a witch he is merely employing an instrument; and since an instrument depends upon the will of the person who employs it and does not act of its own free will, therefore the guilt of the action ought not to be laid to the charge of the witch, and in consequence she should not be punished.
But an opposite opinion holds that the
devil cannot so easily and readily do harm by himself to mankind, as
he can harm them through the instrumentality of witches, although
they are his servants. In the first place we may consider the act of
generation. But for every act which has an effect upon another some
kind of contact must be established, and because the devil, who is a
spirit, can have no such actual contact with a human body, since
there is nothing common of this kind between them, therefore he uses
some human instruments, and upon these he bestows the power of
hurting by bodily touch. And many hold this to be proven by the text,
and the gloss upon the text, in the 3rd chapter of S. Paul's Epistle
to the Galatians: O senseless Galatians, who hath bewitched
you that you should not obey the truth? And the gloss upon this
passage refers to those who have singularly fiery and baleful eyes,
who by a mere look can harm others, especially young children. And
Avicenna also bears this out, Naturalism, Book 3, c. the last,
when he says; “Very often the soul may have as much influence
upon the body of another to the same extent as it has upon its own
body, for such is the influence of the eyes of anyone who by his
glance attracts and fascinates another.” And the same opinion
is maintained by Al-Gazali in the 5th book and 10th c. of his
Physics. Avicenna also suggests, although he does not put this
opinion forward as irrefutable, that the power of the imagination can
actually change or seem to change extraneous bodies, in cases where
the power of the imagination is too unrestrained; and hence we father
that the power of the imagination is not to be considered as distinct
from a man's other sensible powers, since it is common to them all,
but to some extent it includes all those other powers. And this is
true, because such a power of the imagination can change adjacent
bodies, as, for example, when a man is able to walk along some narrow
beam which is stretched down the middle of a street. But yet if this
beam were suspended over deep water he would not dare to walk along
it, because his imagination would most strongly impress upon his mind
the idea of falling, and therefore his body and the power of his
limbs would not obey his imagination, and they would not obey the
contrary thereto, that is to say, walking directly and without
hesitation. This change may be compared to the influence exercised by
the eyes of a person who has such influence, and so a mental change
is brought about although there is not any actual and bodily
Moreover, if it be argued that such a change is cause by a living body owing to the influence of the mind upon some other living body, this answer may be given. In the presence of a murderer blood flows from the wounds in the corpse of the person he has slain. Therefore without any mental powers bodies can produce wonderful effects, and so a living man if he pass by near the corpse of a murdered man, although he may not be aware of the dead body, is often seized with fear.
Again, there are some things in nature which have certain hidden powers, the reason for which man does not know; such, for example, is the lodestone, which attracts steel and many other such things, which S. Augustine mentions in the 20th book Of the City of God.
And so women in order to bring about
changes in the bodies of others sometimes make use of certain things,
which exceed our knowledge, but this is without any aid from the
devil. And because these remedies are mysterious we must not
therefore ascribe them to the power of the devil as we should ascribe
evil spells wrought by witches.
Moreover, witches use certain images and other strange periapts, which they are wont to place under the lintels of the doors of houses, or in those meadows where flocks are herding, or even where men congregate, and thus they cast spells over their victims, who have oft-times been known to die. But because such extraordinary effects can proceed from these images it would appear that the influence of these images is in proportion to the influence of the stars over human bodies, for as natural bodies are influenced by heavenly bodies, so may artificial bodies likewise be thus influenced. But natural bodies may find the benefit of certain secret but good influences. Therefore artificial bodies may receive such influence. Hence it is plain that those who perform works of healing may well perform them by means of such good influences, and this has no connexion at all with any evil power.
Moreover, it would seem that most
extraordinary and miraculous events come to pass by the working of
the power of nature. For wonderful and terrible and amazing things
happen owing to natural forces. And this S. Gregory points out in his
Second Dialogue. The Saints perform miracles, sometimes by a
prayer, sometimes by their power alone. There are examples of each;
S. Peter by praying raised to life Tabitha, who was dead. By rebuking
Ananias and Sapphira, who were telling a lie, he slew the without any
prayer. Therefore a man by his mental influence can change a material
body into another, or he can change such a body from health to
sickness and conversely.
Moreover, the human body is nobler than any other body, but because of the passions of the mind the human body changes and becomes hot or cold, as is the case with angry men or men who are afraid: and so even greater change takes place with regard to the effects of sickness and death, which by their power can greatly change a material body.
But certain objections must be allowed. The influence of the mind cannot make an impression upon any form except by the intervention of some agent, as we have said above. And these are the words of S. Augustine in the book which we have already quoted: It is incredible that the angels who fell from Heaven should be obedient to any material things, for the obey God only. And much less can a man of his natural power bring about extraordinary and evil effects. The answer must be made, there are even to-day many who err greatly on this point, making excuses for witches and laying the whole blame upon the craft of the devil, or ascribing the changes that they work to some natural alteration. These errors may be easily made clear. First, by the description of witches which S. Isidore gives in his Etymologiae, c. 9: Witches are so called on account of the blackness of their guilt, that is to say, their deeds are more evil than those of any other malefactors. He continues: They stir up and confound the elements by the aid of the devil, and arouse terrible hailstorms and tempests. Moreover, he says they distract the minds of men, driving them to madness, insane hatred, and inordinate lusts. Again, he continues, by the terrible influence of their spells alone, as it were by a draught of poison, they can destroy life.
And the words of S. Augustine in his book on The City of God are very much to the point, for he tells us who magicians and witches really are. Magicians, who are commonly called witches, are thus termed on account of the magnitude of their evil deeds. These are they who by the permission of God disturb the elements, who drive to distraction the minds of men, such as have lost their trust in God, and by the terrible power of their evil spells, without any actual draught or poison, kill human beings. As Lucan says: A mind which has not been corrupted by any noxious drink perishes forspoken by some evil charm. For having summoned devils to their aid they actually dare to heap harms upon mankind, and even to destroy their enemies by their evil spells. And it is certain that in operations of this kind the witch works in close conjunction with the devil. Secondly, punishments are of four kinds: beneficial, hurtful, wrought by witchcraft, and natural. Beneficial punishments are meted out by the ministry of good Angels, just as hurtful punishments proceed from evil spirits. Moses smote Egypt with ten plagues by the ministry of good Angels, and the magicians were only able to perform three of these miracles by the aid of the devil. And the pestilence which fell upon the people for three days because of the sin of David who numbered the people, and the 72,000 men who were slain in one night in the army of Sennacherib, were miracles wrought by the Angels of God, that is, by good Angels who feared God and knew that they were carrying out His commands.
Destructive harm, however, is wrought by the medium of bad angels, at whose hands the children of Israel in the desert were often afflicted. And those harms which are simply evil and nothing more are brought about by the devil, who works through the medium of sorcerers and witches. There are also natural harms which in some manner depend upon the conjunction of heavenly bodies, such as dearth, drought, tempests, and similar effects of nature.
It is obvious that there is a vast difference between all these causes, circumstances, and happenings. For Job was afflicted by the devil with a harmful disease, but this is nothing to the purpose. And if anybody who is too clever and over-curious asks how it was that Job was afflicted with this disease by the devil without the aid of some sorcerer or witch, let him know that he is merely beating the air and not informing himself as to the real truth. For in the time of Job there were no sorcerers and witches, and such abominations were not yet practised. But the providence of God wished that by the example of Job the power of the devil even over good men might be manifested, so that we might learn to be on our guard against Satan, and, moreover, by the example of this holy patriarch the glory of God shines abroad, since nothing happens save what is permitted by God.Index