Is it lawful to remove witchcraft by
means of further witchcraft, or by any other forbidden means?
It is argued that it is not; for it has already been shown that in the Second Book of Sentences, and the 8th Distinction, all the Doctors agree that it is unlawful to use the help of devils, since to do so involves apostasy from the Faith. And, it is argued, no witchcraft can be removed without the help of devils. For it is submitted that it must be cured either by human power, or by diabolic, or by Divine power. It cannot be by the first; for the lower power cannot counteract the higher, having no control over that which is outside its own natural capacity. Neither can it be by Divine power; for this would be a miracle, which God performs only at His own will, and not at the instance of men. For when His Mother besought Christ to perform a miracle to supply the need for wine, He answered: Woman, what have I to do with thee? And the Doctors explain this as meaning, “What association is there between you and me in the working of a miracle?” Also it appears that it is very rarely that men are delivered from a bewitchment by calling on God's help or the prayers of the Saints. Therefore it follows that they can only be delivered by the help of devils; and it is unlawful to seek such help.
Again it is pointed out that the common method in practice of taking off a bewitchment, although it is quite unlawful, is for the bewitched persons to resort to wise women, by whom they are very frequently cured, and not by priests or exorcists. So experience shows that such curses are effected by the help of devils, which it is unlawful to seek; therefore it cannot be lawful thus to cure a bewitchment, but it must patiently be borne.
It is further argued that S. Thomas and S. Bonaventura, in Book IV, dist. 34, have said that a bewitchment must be permanent because it can have no human remedy; for if there is a remedy, it is either unknown to men or unlawful. And these words are taken to mean that this infirmity is incurable and must be regarded as permanent; and they add that, even if God should provide a remedy by coercing the devil, and the devil should remove his plague from a man, and the man should be cured, that cure would not be a human one. Therefore, unless God should cure it, it is not lawful for a man to himself to try in any way to look for a cure.
In the same place these two Doctors add that it is unlawful even to seek a remedy by the superadding of another bewitchment. For they say that, granting this to be possible, and that the original spell be removed, yet the witchcraft is none the less to be considered permanent; for it is in no way lawful to invoke the devil's help through witchcraft.
Further, it is submitted that the exorcisms of the Church are not always effective in the repression of devils in the matter of bodily afflictions, since such are cured only at the discretion of God; but they are effective always against those molestations of devils against which they are chiefly instituted, as, for example, against men who are possessed, or in the matter of exorcising children.
Again, it does not follow that, because the devil has been given power over someone on account of his sins, that power must come to an end on the cessation of the sin. For very often a man may cease from sinning, but his sins still remain. So it seems from these sayings that the two Doctors we have cited were of the opinion that it is unlawful to remove a bewitchment, but that it must be suffered, just as it is permitted by the Lord God, Who can remove it when it seems good to Him.
Against this opinion it is argued that just as God and Nature do not abound in superfluities, so also they are not deficient in necessities; and it is a necessity that there should be given to the faithful against such devils' work not only a means of protection (of which we treat in the beginning of this Second Part), but also curative remedies. For otherwise the faithful would not be sufficiently provided for by God, and the works of the devil would seem to be stronger than God's work.
Also there is the gloss on that text in Job. There is no power on earth, etc. The gloss says that, although the devil has power over all things human, he is nevertheless subject to the merits of the Saints, and even to the merits of saintly men in this life.
Again, S. Augustine (De moribus Ecclesiae) says: No Angel is more powerful than our mind, when we hold fast to God. For if power is a virtue in this world, then the mind that keeps close to God is more sublime than the whole world. Therefore such minds can undo the works of the devil.
Answer. Here are two weighty opinions which, it seems, are at complete variance with each other.
For there are certain Theologians and Canonists who agree that it is lawful to remove witchcraft even by superstitious and vain means. And of this opinion are Duns Scotus, Henry of Segusio, and Godfrey, and all the Canonists. But it is the opinion of the other Theologians, especially the ancient ones, and of some of the modern ones, such as S. Thomas, S. Bonaventura, Blessed Albert, Peter a Palude, and many others, that in no case must evil be done that good may result, and that a man ought rather to die than consent to be cured by superstitious and vain means.
Let us now examine their opinions, with a view to bringing them as far as possible into agreement. Scotus, in his Fourth Book, dist. 34, on obstructions and impotence caused by witchcraft, says that it is foolish to maintain that it is unlawful to remove a bewitchment even by superstitious and vain means, and that to do so is in no way contrary to the Faith; for he who destroys the work of the devil is not an accessory to such works, but believes that the devil has the power and inclination to help in the infliction of an injury only so long as the outward token or sign of that injury endures. Therefore when that token is destroyed he puts an end to the injury. And he adds that it is meritorious to destroy the works of the devil. But, as he speaks of tokens, we will give an example.
There are women who discover a witch by the following token. When a cow's supply of milk has been diminished by witchcraft, they hang a pail of milk over the fire, and uttering certain superstitious words, beat the pail with a stick. And though it is the pail that the women beat, yet the devil carries all those blows to the back of the witch; and in this way both the witch and the devil are made weary. But the devil does this in order that he may lead on the woman who beats the pail to worse practices. And so, if it were not for the risk which it entails, there would be no difficulty in accepting the opinion of this learned Doctor. Many other examples could be given.
Henry of Segusio, in his eloquent Summa on genital impotence caused by witchcraft, says that in such cases recourse must be had to the remedies of physicians; and although some of these remedies seem to be vain and superstitious cantrips and charms, yet everyone must be trusted in his own profession, and the Church may well tolerate the suppression of vanities by means of others vanities.
Ubertinus also, in his Fourth Book, uses these words: A bewitchment can be removed either by prayer or by the same art by which it was inflicted.
Godfrey says in his Summa: A bewitchment cannot always be removed by him who caused it, either because he is dead, or because he does not know how to cure it, or because the necessary charm is lost. But if he knows how to effect relief, it is lawful for him to cure it. Our author is speaking against those who said that an obstruction of the carnal act could not be caused by witchcraft, and that it could never be permanent, and therefore did not annul a marriage already contracted.
Besides, those who maintained that no spell is permanent were moved by the following reasons: they thought that every bewitchment could be removed either by another magic spell, or by the exorcisms of the Church which are ordained for the suppression of the devil's power, or by true penitence, since the devil has power only over sinners. So in the first respect they agree with the opinion of the others, namely, that a spell can be removed by superstitious means.
But S. Thomas is of the contrary opinion when he says: If a spell cannot be revoked except by some unlawful means, such as the devil's help or anything of that sort, even if it is known that it can be revoked in that way, it is nevertheless to be considered permanent; for the remedy is not lawful.
Of the same opinion are S. Bonaventura, Peter a Palude, Blessed Albert, and all the Theologians. For, touching briefly on the question of invoking the help of the devil either tacitly or expressedly, they seem to hold that such spells may only be removed by lawful exorcism or true penitence (as is set down in the Canon Law concerning sortilege), being moved, as it seems, by the considerations mentioned in the beginning of this Question.
But it is expedient to bring these various opinions of the learned Doctors as far as possible into agreement, and this can be done in one respect. For this purpose it is to be noted that the methods by which a spell of witchcraft can be removed are as follows: - either by the agency of another witch and another spell; or without the agency of a witch, but by means of magic and unlawful ceremonies. And this last method may be divided into two; namely, the use of ceremonies which are both unlawful and vain, or the use of ceremonies which are vain but not unlawful.
The first remedy is altogether unlawful, in respect both of the agent and of the remedy itself. But it may be accomplished in two ways; either with some injury to him who worked the spell, or without an injury, but with magic and unlawful ceremonies. In the latter case it can be included with the second method, namely, that by which the spell is removed not by the agency of a witch, but by magic and unlawful ceremonies; and in this case it is still to be judged unlawful, though not to the same extent as the first method.
We may summarize the position as follows. There are three conditions by which a remedy is rendered unlawful. First, when a spell is removed through the agency of another witch, and by further witchcraft, that is, by the power of some devil. Secondly, when it is not removed by a witch, but by some honest person, in such a way, however, that the spell is by some magical remedy transferred from one person to another; and this again is unlawful. Thirdly, when the spell is removed without imposing it on another person, but some open or tacit invocation of devils is used; and then again it is unlawful.
And it is with reference to these methods that the Theologians say that it is better to die than to consent to them. But there are two other methods by which, according to the Canonists, it is lawful, or not idle and vain, to remove a spell; and that such methods may be used when all the remedies of the Church, such as exorcisms and the prayers of the Saints and true penitence, have been tried and have failed. But for a clearer understanding of these remedies we will recount some examples known to our experience.
In the time of Pope Nicolas there had come to Rome on some business a certain Bishop from Germany, whom it is charitable not to name although he had now paid the debt of all nature. There he fell in love with a girl, and sent her to his diocese in charge of two servants and certain other of his possessions, including some rich jewels, which were indeed very valuable, and began to think in her heart that, if only the Bishop were to die through some witchcraft, she would be able to take possession of the rings, the pendants and carcanets. The next night the Bishop suddenly fell ill, and the physicians and his servants gravely suspected that he had been poisoned; for there was such a fire in his breast that he had to take continual draughts of cold water to assuage it. On the third day, when there seemed no hope of his life, an old woman came and begged that she might see him. So they let her in, and she promised the Bishop that she could heal him if he would agree to her proposals. When the Bishop asked what it was to which he had to agree in order to regain his health, as he so greatly desired, the old woman answered: Your illness has ben caused by a spell of witchcraft, and you can only be healed by another spell, which will transfer the illness from you to the witch who caused it, so that she will die. The Bishop was astounded; and seeing that he could be healed in no other way, and not wishing to come to a rash decision, decided to ask the advice of the Pope. Now the Holy Father loved him very dearly, and when he learned that he could only be healed by the death of the witch, he agreed to permit the lesser of two evils, and signed this permission with his seal. So the old woman was again approached and told that both he and the Pope had agreed to the death of the witch, on condition that he was restored to his former health; and the old woman went away, promising him that he would be healed on the following night. And behold! when about the middle of the night he felt himself cured and free from all illness, he sent a messenger to learn what had happened to the girl; and he came back and reported that she had suddenly been taken ill in the middle of the night while sleeping by her mother's side.
It is to be understood that at the very same hour and moment the illness left the Bishop and afflicted the girl witch, through the agency of the old witch; and so the evil spirit, by ceasing to plague the Bishop, appeared to restore him to health by chance, whereas it was not he but God who permitted him to afflict im, and it was God Who properly speaking restored him; and the devil, by reason of his compact with the second witch, who envied the fortune of the girl, has to afflict the Bishop's mistress. And it must be thought that those two evil spells were not worked by one devil serving two persons, but by two devils serving two separate witches. For the devils do not work against themselves, but work as much as possible in agreement for the perdition of souls.