THE sixth method of bringing to a
conclusion a process on behalf of the faith is used when the person
accused of heresy, after a careful examination of the merits of the
process in consultation with learned lawyers, is found to be gravely
suspected of heresy. And this is when the accused is not convicted of
heresy by her own confession or by the evidence of the facts or by
the legitimate productions of witnesses, but there are indications,
not only light or even strong, but very strong and grave, which
render her gravely suspected of the said heresy, and by reason of
which she must be judged as one gravely suspected of the said
And for a clearer understanding of this, we shall give examples both of a case of simple heresy and of the heresy of witches. For the case would fall under this head in simple heresy if the accused were not lawfully found convicted by his own confession, etc. as above, but for something which he had said or done. As, for example, he may have been summoned in a case not concerning the faith, and have been sentenced to excommunication; and if he should continue obstinate in excommunication for a year or more, he would come under a light suspicion of heresy; for such behaviour is not without some suspicion of heresy. But if he should then be summoned on a charge concerning the faith, and should not appear but contumaciously refuse to appear, and therefore be excommunicated, then he would be strongly suspected of heresy; for then the light suspicion would become a strong one. And if he remained obstinate in that excommunication for a year, then he would be gravely suspected of heresy; for then the strong suspicion would become a grave one, against which no defence is admitted. And from that time such a person would be condemned as a heretic, as is shown by the Canon, c. cum contumacia, lib. 6.
An example of a grave suspicion in the heresy of witches would be when the accused has said or done anything which is practised by witches when they wish to bewitch anyone. And it commonly happens that they are constrained to manifest themselves by threatening words, by deeds, by a look or a touch, and this is for three reasons. First that their sins may be aggravated and more manifest to the their Judges; secondly, that they may be the more easily seduce the simple; and thirdly, that God may be the more offended and they may be granted more power of injuring men. Therefore a witch must be gravely suspected when, after she has used such threatening words as “I will soon make you feel,” or the like, some injury has befallen the person so threatened or his cattle. For then she is not to be considered as lightly suspected, as was the case with those who are familiar with witches, or those who wish to provoke someone to inordinate love. See above where we deal with the three degrees of suspicion, light, strong, and grave.
Now we must consider what procedure is to be observed in such a case. For in the case of one gravely suspected of simple heresy, the following is the procedure. Although he may not in actual truth be a heretic, since there may not be any error in his understanding, or if there is, he may not cling obstinately to it in his will: nevertheless he is to be condemned as a heretic because of the said grave suspicion, against which no proof is admitted.
Such a heretic is condemned in this manner. If he refuses to return and abjure his heresy and give fitting satisfaction, he is delivered to the secular Court to be punished. But if he is willing and consents, he abjures his heresy and is imprisoned for life. And the same holds good in the case of one gravely suspected of the heresy of witches.
But although the same method in the main is to be observed in the case of one gravely suspected of the heresy of witches, there are some differences. It is to be noted that, if the witch maintains her denial, or claims that she uttered those words not with the implied intention but in a vehement and womanish passion; then the Judge has not sufficient warrant to sentence her to the flames, in spite of the grave suspicion. Therefore he must place her in prison, and cause inquiry to be made by proclamation whether she has been known to have done the like before. And if it is found that this is so, he must inquire whether she was then publicly defamed in respect of that heresy; and from this he can proceed further so that, before all else, she may be exposed to an interrogation under the question and torture. And then, if she shows signs of such heresy, or of the taciturnity of witches; as that she should be unable to shed tears, or remain insensible under torture and quickly recover her strength afterwards; then he may proceed with the various precautions which we have already explained where we dealt with such cases.
And in case all should fail, then let him take note that, if she has perpetrated the like before, she is not to be altogether released, but must be sent to the squalor of prison for a year, and be tortured, and be examined very often, especially on the more Holy Days. But if, in addition to this, she has been defamed, then the Judge may proceed in the manner already shown in the case of simple heresy, and condemn her to the fire, especially if there is a multitude of witnesses and she had often been detected in similar or other deeds of witchcraft. But if he wishes to be merciful, he may set her a canonical purgation, that she should find twenty or thirty sponsors, sentencing her in such a way that, if she should fail in her purgation, she shall be condemned to the fire as convicted. And the Judge can proceed in such a manner.
And if she should purge herself, then the Judge must sentence her to an abjuration of all heresy, on pain of the punishment for backsliders, together with the perpetual penance, in the following manner. The preparations for the abjuration will be the same as were explained in the fourth and fifth methods of concluding a process on behalf of the faith.
Note that in all the following methods of pronouncing sentence, when the Judge wishes to proceed in a merciful manner he can act in the way we have already explained. But since secular Judges use their own various methods, proceeding with rigour but not always with equity, no fixed rule or method can be given for them as it can for an ecclesiastical Judge, who can receive the abjuration and impose a perpetual penance in the following manner:
I, N., of such a place in such a Diocese, standing in person before you my venerable Lords the Bishop of such city and Judges, having touched with my hands the Holy Gospel placed before me, swear that I believe in my heart and profess with my lips the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith which the Holy Roman Church holds, professes, believes, preaches and teaches. And consequently I abjure all heresy, and renounce and revoke all who raise themselves against the Holy Roman and Apostolic Church, of whatever sect or error they be. Also I swear and promise that I shall never henceforward do, say, or cause to be done such and such (naming them) which I have done and said, and for which, in my guilt, you hold me gravely suspected of the said heresy. Also I swear and promise that I will perform every penance which you wish to impose upon me for the said crimes to the best of my strength, and that I will not omit any part of it, so help me God and the Holy Gospel. And if (which God forbid) I should hereafter act in contravention of this abjuration, I here and now bind and oblige myself to suffer the due punishments for backsliders, however sever they may be.
Let the Notary take care to set it down that the said abjuration was made by one gravely suspected of heresy, so that if she should be proved to have relapsed, she should then be judged accordingly and delivered up to the secular Court.
After this let the Bishop absolve her from the sentence of excommunication which she has incurred as one gravely suspected of heresy. For when a heretic returns to the faith and abjures his heresy, he is to be released from the sentence of excommunication which is passed on all heretics. Similarly, such a one as we are considering was condemned as a heretic, as we have said; but after she has abjured her heresy she is to be released from excommunication; and after this absolution she is to be sentenced in the following manner:
We N., Bishop of such city, and, if he is present, Judge in the territory of such Lord, seeing that you N., of such a place in such a Diocese, have been accused before us of such and such touching the faith (naming them), and that we have proceeded to inform ourselves concerning them as justice demanded by a careful examination of the merits of the process and of all that has been done and said in the present case, have found that you have committed such and such (naming them). Wherefore, and not without reason holding you gravely suspected of such heresy (naming it), we have caused you as one so suspected publicly to abjure all heresy in general, as the canonical sanctions bid us. And since according to those same canonical institutions all such are to be condemned as heretics, but you holding to wiser counsel and returning to the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church have abjured, as we have said, all vile heresy, therefore we absolve you from the sentence of excommunication by which you were deservedly bound as one hateful to the Church of God. And if with true heart and faith unfeigned you have returned to the unity of the Church, you shall be reckoned from henceforth among the penitent, and as from now are received back into the merciful bosom of the Holy Church. But since it would be most scandalous to pass over with connivent eyes and leave unpunished your offences against God and your injuries to men, for it is a graver matter to offend the Divine Majesty than a human monarch, and that your crimes may not be an incentive for other sinners, and that you may become more careful in the future and less prone to commit again the aforesaid crimes, and may suffer the less punishment in the next world: We the aforesaid Bishop and Judge, having availed ourselves of the wise and considered advice of learned men in this matter, sitting in tribunal as Judges judging, having before our eyes only God and the irrefragable truth of the Holy Faith, with the Holy Gospels placed before us that our judgement may proceed as from the countenance of God and our eyes see with equity, sentence and condemn, or rather impose penance in the following manner upon you N., appearing in person before us on the day and at the hour which was before assigned to you. First, you shall put on over all the garments which you wear a grey-blue garment after the manner of a monk’s scapulary, made without a hood either before or behind, and having upon it crosses of yellow cloth three palms long and two palms wide, and you shall wear this garment over all others for such a length of time (setting a period of one or two years, more or less as the guilt of the person demands), And in the said garment and crosses you shall stand in the door of such a church at such a time for so long, or on the four major Feasts of the Glorious Virgin, or in such and such cities in the doors of such and such churches; and we sentence and condemn you for life, or for such a period, to such a prison. (Let this be set down as seems most to the honour of the faith, and according to the greater or less guilt and obstinacy of the accused.) And we expressly, and in the sure knowledge that it is so ordained by canonical institution, reserve to ourselves the right to mitigate the said penance, to increase it, change it, or remove it, in whole or in part, as often as seems good to us. This sentence was given, etc.
And when this has been read, it shall at once be duly put into execution, and she shall be clothed with the aforesaid garment with the crosses as has been said.