Is it in any way a Catholic opinion to
hold that the origin and growth of witchcraft proceed from the
influence of the celestial bodies; or from the abundant wickedness of
men, and not from the abominations of Incubi and Succubi? And it
seems that it springs from man's own wickedness. For S. Augustine
says, in Book LXXXIII, that the cause of a man's depravity lies in
his own will, whether he sins at his own or at another's suggestion.
But a witch is depraved through sin, therefore the cause of it is not
the devil but human will. In the same place he speaks of free-will,
that everyone is the cause of his own wickedness. And he reasons
thus: that the sin of man proceeds from free-will, but the devil
cannot destroy free-will, for this would militate against liberty:
therefore the devil cannot be the cause of that or any other sin.
Again, in the book of Ecclesiastic Dogma it is said: Not all our evil
thoughts are stirred up by the devil, but sometimes they arise from
the operation of our own judgement.
Again, if the stars were not the cause of human actions both good and bad, Astrologers would not so frequently foretell the truth about the result of wars and other human acts: therefore they are in some way a cause.
Again, the stars influence the devils themselves in the causing of certain spells; and therefore they can all the more influence men. Three proofs are adduced for this assumption. For certain men who are called Lunatics are molested by devils more at one time than at another; and the devils would not so behave, but would rather molest them at all times, unless they themselves were deeply affected by certain phases of the Moon. It is proved again from the fact the Necromancers observe certain constellations for the invoking of devils, which they would not do unless they knew that those devils were subject to the stars.
And this is also adduced as a proof; that according to S. Augustine (de Ciuitate Dei, 10), the devils employ certain lower bodies, such as herbs, stones, animals, and certain sounds and voices, and figures. But since the heavenly bodies are of more potency than the lower bodies, therefore the stars are a far greater influence than these things. And witches are the more in subjection in that their deeds proceed from the influence of those bodies, and not from the help of evil spirits. And the argument is supported from I Kings xvi, where Saul was vexed by a devil, but was calmed when David struck his harp before him, and the evil departed.
But against this. It is impossible to produce an effect without its cause; and the deeds of witches are such that they cannot be done without the help of devils, as is shown by the description of witches in S. Isidore, Ethics VIII. WItches are so called from the enormity of their magic spells; for they disturb the elements and confound the minds of men, and without any venomous draught, but merely by virtue of incantations, destroy souls, etc. But this sort of effects cannot be caused by the influence of the stars through the agency of a man.
Besides, Aristotle says in his Ethics that it is difficult to know what is the beginning of the operation of thought, and shows that it must be something extrinsic. For everything that begins from a beginning has some cause. Now a man begins to do that which he wills; and he begins to will because of some pre-suggestion; and if this is some precedent suggestion, it must either proceed from the infinite, or there is some extrinsic beginning which first brings a suggestion to a man. Unless indeed it be argued that this is a matter of chance, from which it would follow that all human actions are fortuitous, which is absurd. Therefore the beginning of good in the good is said to be God, Who is not the cause of sin. But for the wicked, when a man begins to be influenced towards and wills to commit sin, there must also be some extrinsic cause of this. And this can be no other than the devil; especially in the case of witches, as is shown above, for the stars cannot influence such acts. Therefore the truth is plain.
Moreover, that which has power over the motive has also power over the result which is caused by the motive. Now the motive of the will is something perceived through the sense or the intellect, both of which are subject to the power of the devil. For S. Augustine says in Book 83: This evil, which is of the devil, creeps in by all the sensual approaches; he places himself in figures, he adapts himself to colours, he attaches himself to sounds, he lurks in angry and wrongful conversation, he abides in smells, he impregnates with flavours and fills with certain exhalations all the channels of the understanding. Therefore it is seen that it is in the devil's power to influence the will, which is directly the cause of sin.
Besides, everything which has a choice of two ways needs some determining factor before it proceeds to the action. And the free-will of man has the choice between good and ill; therefore when he embarks upon sin, it needs that he is determined by something towards ill. And this seems chiefly to be done by the devil, especially in the actions of witches, whose will is made up for evil. Therefore it seems that the evil will of the devil is the cause of evil will in man, especially in witches. And the argument may be substantiated thus; that just as a good Angel cleaves to good, so does a bad Angel to evil; but the former leads a man into goodness, therefore the latter leads him into evil. For it is, says Dionysius, the unalterable and fixed law of divinity, that the lowest has it cause in the highest.
Answer. Such as contend that witchcraft has its origin in the influence of the stars stand convicted of three errors. In the first place, it is not possible that it originated from astromancers and casters of horoscopes and fortune-tellers. For if it is asked whether the vice of witchcraft in men is caused by the influence of the stars, then, in consideration of the variety of men's characters, and for the upholding of the true faith, a distinction must be maintained; namely, that there are two ways in which it can be understood that men's characters can be caused by the stars. Either completely and of necessity, or by disposition and contingency. And as for the first, it is not only false, but so heretical and contrary to the Christian religion, that the true faith cannot be maintained in such an error. For this reason, he who argues that everything of necessity proceeds from the stars takes away all merit and, in consequence, all blame: also he takes away Grace, and therefore Glory. For uprightness of character suffers prejudice by this error, since the blame of the sinner redounds upon the stars, licence to sin without culpability is conceded, and man is committed to the worship and adoration of the stars.
But as for the contention that men's characters are conditionally varied by the disposition of the stars, it is so far true that is it not contrary to reason or faith. For it is obvious that the disposition of a body variously causes many variations in the humours and character of the soul; for generally the soul imitates the complexions of the body, as it said in the Six Principles. Wherefore the choleric are wrathful, the sanguine are kindly, the melancholy are envious, and the phlegmatic are slothful. But this is not absolute; for the soul is master of its body, especially when it is helped by Grace. And we see many choleric who are gently, and melancholy who are kindly. Therefore when the virtue of the stars influences the formation and quality of a man's humours, it is agreed that they have some influence over the character, but very distantly: for the virtue of the lower nature has more effect on the quality of the humours than has the virtue of the stars.
Wherefore S. Augustine (de Ciuitate Dei, V), where he resolves a certain question of two brothers who fell ill and were cured simultaneously, approves the reasoning of Hippocrates rather than that of an Astronomer. For Hippocrates answered that it is owing to the similarity of their humours; and the Astronomer answered that it was owing the identity of their horoscopes. For the Physician's answer was better, since he adduced the more powerful and immediate cause. Thus, therefore, it must be said that the influence of the stars is to some degree conducive to the wickedness of witches, if it be granted that there is any such influence over the bodies that predisposes them to this manner of abomination rather than to any other sort of works either vicious or virtuous: but this disposition must not be said to be necessary, immediate, and sufficient, but remote and contingent.
Neither is that objection valid which is based on the book of the Philosophers on the properties of the elements, where it says that kingdoms are emptied and lands depopulated at the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn; and it is argued from this that such things are to be understood as being outside the free-will of men, and that therefore the influence of the stars has power over free-will. For it is answered that in this saying the Philosopher does not mean to imply that men cannot resist the influence of that constellation towards dissensions, but that they will not. For Ptolemy in Almagest says: A wise man will be the master of the stars. For although, since Saturn has a melancholy and bad influence and Jupiter a very good influence, the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn can dispose men to quarrels and discords; yet, through free-will, men can resist that inclination, and very easily with the help of God's grace.
And again it is no valid objection to quote S. John Damascene where he says (Book II, chap. vi) that comets are often the sign of the death of kings. For it will be answered that even if we follow the opinion of S. John Damascene, which was, as is evident in the book referred to, contrary to the opinion of the Philosophic Way, yet this is no proof of the inevitability of human actions. For S. John considers that a comet is not a natural creation, nor is it one of the stars set in the firmament; wherefore neither its significance nor influence is natural. For he says that comets are not of the stars which were created in the beginning, but that they are made for a particular occasion, and then dissolved, by Divine command. This then is the opinion of S. John Damascene. But God by such a sign foretells the death of kings rather than of other men, both because from this may arise the confusion of a kingdom. And the Angels are more careful to watch over kings for the general good; and kings are born and die under the ministry of Angels.
And there is no difficulty in the opinion of the Philosophers, who say that a comet is a hot and dry conglomeration, generated in the higher part of space near the fire, and that a conjoined globe of that hot and dry vapour assumes the likeness of a star. But unincorporated parts of that vapour stretch in long extremities joined to that globe, and are a sort of adjunct to it. And according to this view, not of itself but by accident, it predicts death which proceeds from hot and dry infirmities. And since for the most part the rich are fed on things of a hot and dry nature, therefore at such times many of the rich die; among which the death of kings and princes is the most notable. And this view is not far from the view of S. John Damascene, when carefully considered, except as regards the operation and co-operation of the Angels, which not even the philosophers can ignore. For indeed when the vapours in their dryness and heat have nothing to do with the generation of a comet, even then, for reasons already set out, a comet may be formed by the operation of an Angel.
In this way the star which portended the death of the learned S. Thomas was not one of the stars set in the firmament, but was formed by an Angel from some convenient material, and, having performed it office, was again dissolved.
From this we see that, whichever of those opinions we follow, the stars have no inherent influence over the free-will, or, consequently, over the malice and character of men.
It is to be noted also that Astronomers often foretell the truth, and that their judgements are for the most part effective on one province or one nation. And the reason is that they take their judgements from the stars, which, according to the more probable view, have a greater, though not an inevitable, influence over the actions of mankind in general, that is, over one nation or province, than over one individual person; and this because the greater part of one nation more closely obeys the natural disposition of the body than does one single man. But this is mentioned incidentally.
And the second of the three ways by which we vindicate the Catholic standpoint is by refuting the errors of those who cast Horoscopes and Mathematicians who worship the goddess of fortune. Of these S. Isidore (Ethics, VIII. 9) says that those who cast Horoscopes are so called from their examination of the stars at nativity, and are commonly called Mathematicians; and in the same Book, chapter 2, he says that Fortune has her name from fortuitousness. and is a sort of goddess who mocks human affairs in a haphazard and fortuitous manner. Wherefore she is called blind, since she runs here and there with no consideration for desert, and comes indifferently to good and bad. So much for Isidore. But to believe that there is such a goddess, or that the harm done to bodies and creatures which is ascribed to witchcraft does not actually proceed from witchcraft, but from that same goddess of Fortune, is sheer idolatry: and also to assert that witches themselves were born for that very purpose that they might perform such deeds in the world is similarly alien to the Faith, and indeed to the general teaching of the Philosophers. Anyone who pleases may refer to S. Thomas in the 3rd book of his Summa of the Faith against the Gentiles. question 87, etc., and he will find much to this effect.
Nevertheless one point must not be omitted, for the sake of those who perhaps have not great quantity of books. It is there noted that three things are to be considered in man, which are directed by three celestial causes, namely, the act of the will, the act of the intellect, and the act of the body. The first of these is governed directly and soley by God, the second by an Angel, and the third by a celestial body. For choice and will are directly governed by God for good works, as the Scripture says in Proverbs xxi: The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord; he turneth it whithersoever he will. And it says “the heart of the king” to signify that, as the great cannot oppose His will, so are others even less able to do so. Also S. Paul says: God who causeth us to wish and to perform that which is good.