History of Catholic Persecution of Witches
#21
Interestingly, a sizeable proportion of the individuals accused of (and then burned or hanged for) witchcraft were male. The percentage differs from country to country and from period to period, but I recall that the percentage of male witches all over Europe was about 10-25%. In Iceland, more male witches than female witches were executed. So, witchcraft persecution cannot be said to be simply a symptom of mysogyny.

Also (even more interestingly), Catholic countries par excellence such as Spain and Italy hardly executed any witches at all. Spain was (even before the pre modern age) a highly centralized kingdom, with a well developed legal system where people could lodge appeal (with a central authority) against a verdict of a lower court that had convicted them for witchcraft. Persecution of witches flourished in smaller territories (like the hundreds of German kingdoms, princedoms and bishoprics, but also in those parts of France that did not fall under the autority of the parlement de Paris) where the accused had no appeal to a central authority.

Several paradigms have been developed to explain the "witch craze" phenomenon.

Margaret Murray (in her "God of the witches") took the position that witchcraft trials were specifically directed against female adherents of some old pre-Christian religion. Later on, Murray's research was totally discredited, however, when it was shown that she had intentionally misquoted and distorted documentary evidence to fit her hypothesis.

Macfarlane (in his studies of English witchcraft) has put forward that the explosion of witchcraft accusations in the early modern period can be related to the breakdown of the traditional charity systems in the 16th century. The number of poor people increased, better off co-villagers who refused to help them felt "bad" after denying the favour asked, and attributed any mishap following the denial to a malevolent action of the person whom they denied to help.

Other explanations invoke the crisis of faith leading to, and the new zeal following, the Reformation. Before the early modern era, large proportions of the European population had only been very superficially touched by Christian teaching. The existence of witches, being in league with the Devil, was thought to furnish irrefutable, easy and very visible proof for the existence of God. If you want to read more about this, go for "Demon lovers" by Stephens, one of the best books I ever read. He also discusses the various developmental stages of the Malleus Maleficarum.

The best general introduction to the history of witchcraft trials and prosecutions, however, is Norman Cohn's "Europe's inner demons".

It's a fascinating subject.

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#22
(10-22-2009, 02:21 PM)vinceteipsum Wrote: Before the early modern era, large proportions of the European population had only been very superficially touched by Christian teaching.

Eamon Duffy argues effectively against this claim, and he convincingly makes the case that traditional Christian religion penetrated deep and flourished broadly even among simple country people in England. His monumental book on the subject is The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, c.1400 to c.1580 .

The claim that the Church took no pains in educating the people in even the rudiments of the faith is a myth constructed by Protestants as a justification for the apostasy of the "Reformation."The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, c.1400 to c.1580
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#23
(10-22-2009, 03:58 PM)Cyriacus Wrote: Eamon Duffy argues effectively against this claim, and he convincingly makes the case that traditional Christian religion penetrated deep and flourished broadly even among simple country people in England. His monumental book on the subject is The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, c.1400 to c.1580 .

In the first place, England isn't Europe. Second, Duffy argues that there was broad popular support for Catholic ritual and devotional practices among the people. One can practise rituals without understanding the teachings of the Church. Simple people in the early modern era were illiterate and uneducated. Of course they understood "the rudiments of the faith". As I said, they had been "superficially touched" by Christian teaching. But as a result of the Reformation, the Catholic Church realised that only understanding the rudiments was insufficient. It's not a coincidence that catechisation of the population was made a priority following the Council of Trent.
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#24
I'd have to agree with vinceteipsum's position.

Yes, Catholic devotion was strong in Henry VIII's England. Henry himself walked the last two miles of the Walsingham pilgrimage barefoot. But there is a good argument to be made that religious education among the peasantry left much to be desired. How else do you think the Church of England got started with hardly a shot fired? (And no, the Pilgrimage of Grace was really historically insignificant. It was nothing like the Vendee massacres.)
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#25
(10-22-2009, 04:45 PM)The_Harlequin_King Wrote: I'd have to agree with vinceteipsum's position.

Yes, Catholic devotion was strong in Henry VIII's England. Henry himself walked the last two miles of the Walsingham pilgrimage barefoot. But there is a good argument to be made that religious education among the peasantry left much to be desired. How else do you think the Church of England got started with hardly a shot fired? (And no, the Pilgrimage of Grace was really historically insignificant. It was nothing like the Vendee massacres.)

Well, the peasantry couldn't tell the difference sometimes. That is how it worked; it didn't really change anything that the common people could notice (at least, sometimes). However, the Church of England had a lot of those educated people actively working for it, so the education, whatever it was like, was not a good indication.

Strong devotion does not mean they have a lot of information, just strong devotion.
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#26
(10-22-2009, 04:55 PM)Rosarium Wrote: Well, the peasantry couldn't tell the difference sometimes. That is how it worked; it didn't really change anything that the common people could notice (at least, sometimes).

That's part of an argument I made in another thread. In Henry's church, there was pretty much no difference at all for the peasants before and after the schism, except that the monasteries were being sacked and the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket dismantled. But the monarchy was in a unique position at that time in history where somehow, it achieved pretty much absolute authority and trust. To most Englishmen, Henry VIII was "The Man", and could do no wrong. If he had declared himself the fourth person of the Trinity, he could still have probably gotten away with it.

By the time Edward VI's regents really started changing things up, it was too late to complain to the Pope; and in any case, the monarchy was strong enough to just kill anyone who disagreed.
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#27
(10-22-2009, 04:35 PM)vinceteipsum Wrote: In the first place, England isn't Europe. Second, Duffy argues that there was broad popular support for Catholic ritual and devotional practices among the people. One can practise rituals without understanding the teachings of the Church. Simple people in the early modern era were illiterate and uneducated. Of course they understood "the rudiments of the faith". As I said, they had been "superficially touched" by Christian teaching. But as a result of the Reformation, the Catholic Church realised that only understanding the rudiments was insufficient. It's not a coincidence that catechisation of the population was made a priority following the Council of Trent.

I think it is wise to remember that the things which many people in the modern world deem important to know are not necessarily as important to a person's salvation as they may think.  Nobody is admitted into Heaven for the great wealth of knowledge they possess, but rather for the ways in which they loved God; that is, by their cooperation with grace.  To an extent, belief is rather secondary to action: if one believes in transubstiation (and understands it, to boot) but does not assist at Mass on Sundays and feast days, does that belief (and knowledge) do them any actual good outside of the possibility of grace that must be embraced through action to be efficacious?  The laity, and even priests to a large degree, are not required to be theologians who have the ability to present a coherent and learned lecture about the mysteries of the Faith.  They are required to know certain key aspects of the Faith, though, and are encouraged to learn as much as they are able (ability and opportunity permitting) about the Faith.  One must simply "believe all that the Church teaches;" this does not require anybody to know everything the Church teaches, but simply to place their trust in the Church that Jesus founded.

Thus, simply because the medieval laity may not have known as much intellectually as many of us do (due to increased literacy rates and so forth) does not mean the medieval laity were ignorant about the Faith or were only "superficially touched" by orthodox teaching.  The laity in earlier periods may have had more Faith than we do; they may have believed more than we do, even if they did not know as much as we do intellectually.

Also, we must remember that many of the secular clergy (and a significant number of the religious clergy) were only slightly more "touched" by Christian teaching than the laity.  Before the Council of Trent, very few regions had a defined method of selecting, instructing, and placing priests.  Few seminaries, in the manner that we know them, existed before the late sixteenth century, so many priests were as knowledgeable (or as ignorant, if you prefer) as the laity.  The priests often attended simple parochial or cathedral schools which taught them the basics of literacy, and priests often learned and acquired skills for their vocation (or trade, if you prefer) through simply being around and talking with other priests.  The priests were instructed to celebrate the lturgy correctly, the basics (or the rudiments) of the Faith, and some practical things to allow them to fulfill their functions, but that was about it.  Instruction and advice about hearing confessions, delivering sermons, and so forth were frequently learned "on the job" through manuals and prayer books or by more senior priests.  Thus, the beliefs and the theological knowledge of the clergy were very similar to those of the laity.  This does not mean that the clergy were dumb and/or negligent, necessarily, but it does indicate that the laity were not far removed from their pastors.

Those that believe the "peasantry" were unaware of the changes brought about by the Protestant revolt are, I think, being misled by believing that intellectual knowledge about the Faith would have prevented the revolt.  If that were true, then there should not have been so many problems in the past forty years because, I assume, most people here would claim that the modern men and women of the 1960s were vastly superior intellectually than the medieval peasanty.  I think, however, that the majority of the peasants during the revolt saw it as a temporary problem that would soon be corrected; this is the reason why they took great pains to salvage and hide banned items (relics, vestments, images, and so forth) and why they continued many of their devotional practices even when the foundation for those devotions were abolished (Eucharistic processions, Books of Hours, rosaries, and such).  Throughout Europe, those that appeared to go along with the revolt by not vociferously protesting it were simply biding their time until the revolt was stopped/reversed or until it became so bad that they needed to make a stand.
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#28
(10-22-2009, 05:30 PM)Miles_Dei Wrote: Those that believe the "peasantry" were unaware of the changes brought about by the Protestant revolt are, I think, being misled by believing that intellectual knowledge about the Faith would have prevented the revolt. 

Intellectual knowledge about the Faith will not suffice, I agree. But I do not agree that belief is secondary to "action". What would be better: believing and making an Act of spiritual Communion, or "just" stepping up to the altar rail? The latter does not require much eduation (you can imitate the person going before you and "go through the motions"), whereas the former does.

The early modern era (the "witch craze" period) saw the development of centralized states. Such states sought to control the population to a much larger extent than during the Middle Ages. One means of control was of course education. An interesting aspect of this centralization is the shifting of emphasis (from the late mediaeval period into the 16th century) from the Seven Deadly Sins as the cornerstone of good behaviour, to the (eminently God-centered) Ten Commandments.
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