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InternationalThe religious intolerance and the prudent hand of the secular state

The religious intolerance and the prudent hand of the secular state

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(From the book “Atheistic Delusions” by David B. Hart)

The long history of Christianity is astonishingly rich in majestic moral, intellectual, and cultural achievements, and many of them would never have been possible without the conversion of the Roman Empire to the new faith. However, this story is also a story of a constant struggle between the ability of the Gospel to change and shape society and the ability of the state to absorb any useful institution. However, if the injustices and violence in Western Christianity of the Late Middle Ages and Early Modernity were natural consequences of something inherent in Christian beliefs, if it is indeed true that the emergence of the secular state saved Western humanity from the dominance of religious intolerance, then which we will have to discover, looking back at the course of Western European history, will have to be a continuous, albeit twisted, arc: the decline of the golden days of the Roman imperial order, when religious violence was held back by the prudent hand of the state, to a long period of fanaticism, cruelty, persecution and religious rivalry, and then, after the gradual subjugation of the church, a slow return from the terrible brutality of the “age of faith” – to a progressive, more rational, more humane and less violent social structure. However, this is exactly what we cannot find.

The most striking and fascinating of all the fables with which Modernity likes to exalt itself is that of the struggle for the freedom of Western humanity, of the great emancipation of Western culture from political tyranny, and of delivering Europe from the violence of religious intolerance. It is no doubt true that at the dawn of the modern age, European society has been torn apart by the convulsions of cruelty and bloodshed, chronic and acute, which are tearing Western Christianity apart and taking countless lives, and which are loaded with the symbols and rhetoric of religion. This is the age of the great persecution of witches, the so-called “Religious wars”, the ruthless persecution of “heretics” and the disintegration of the old order of the Roman Catholic Church. We are accustomed to remember this time as the culmination of the whole history of the Christian union of religious absolutism with the power of the secular state — that is, of centuries of hieratic despotism, inquisitions, burning of witches, and crusades: an alliance that has already been mercifully dissolved. , replaced by the modern regime of secular government and guaranteed rights. However, the authenticity of this story can only be determined if we first try to distinguish the medieval from the modern period of “religious” violence, and then in both cases we try to arrive at a reasonable estimate of the relative guilt of the church. and the state.

Some of these accusations can be dismissed more easily than others. And perhaps the funniest of them, for example, is to think of the Middle Ages as the time of inquisitors who burned thousands of witches at the stake: the great enthusiasm for hunting and chasing witches flared up in different regions of Western Europe not before the Early Modern period. – mostly from the end of the sixteenth to the middle of the seventeenth century – taking between thirty thousand and sixty thousand lives in three centuries (from the middle of the fifteenth to the middle of the eighteenth century), although in most cases this did not happen at the instigation or with the approval of the Roman Catholic Church. As for the individual regional church inquisitions, their principal role in the persecution of witches in the Early Modern period was to suppress this persecution: to alleviate the mass hysteria by imposing the trial, to curb the cruelty of the secular courts, and to demand the termination of cases. in practically every possible case. It is true, of course, that the belief in the existence of sorcery and magic is something constant from Antiquity to the period of Early Modernity, just as it is true that there were those who practiced folk magic, that even a few practiced ” “malicious” magic (such as sellers of curses, tyrannical or deadly spells, abortion substances, and poisons). During the better part of the Middle Ages, however, most magical practices were generally neglected or treated with leniency – with the imposition of penances, for example, as we can find in the early penitents, and the belief in the real effectiveness of magic was treated as pagan superstition. In the fifth century, for example, the Synod of St. Patrick [1] anathematized those who believed in the existence of witches with real magical abilities, and the Capitulary for Saxony of the imp. Charlemagne (ca. 742-814), [2] as part of his campaign to Christianize the pagan North, proclaimed the crime of burning or (rather cruelly) devouring the flesh of those accused of witchcraft perpetrated by anyone motivated by pagan faith. in magic. The Episcopal Canon, written at about the same time, [3] held that women who insisted on riding in the air with Diana’s convoy, [4] suffered from devilish fantasies, and prescribed the exclusion from the flock of the Church of those who claimed that witches exist. When the Archbishop of Lyons, St. Agobard (d. 840), discovered that some of the peasants in his diocese believed in Burgundian witches, destroying hail crops and conspiring with people from the mystical land of Mangonia [5] (sending ships through the air to to plunder the farmers ’crops), he was not only obliged to tell his flock that people could not control bad weather, nor could they swim in the wind, nor should they possess any magical abilities at all: he he even has to intervene himself to save four unfortunate people who were rumored to have been captured by Mangonians – not to be stoned to death. In turn, the work “On Church Discipline”, attributed to Regino of Prüm, [6] obliges clergy to warn their flocks of the danger of accepting as credible the insane tales of gatherings of witches flying through the night sky and honoring Diana. Bishop Burhard of Worms (ca. 965-1025) prescribed penance for those who were so unbelieving that they believed in the power of witches. Pope Gregory VII (c. 1022-1085) forbade the courts of Denmark from executing persons accused of using sorcery to influence bad weather, to spread disease, or to cause damage to crops. The great Dominican encyclopedist Vincent of Beauvais (c. 1190 – 1264), in order to lead his visitor out of the delusion that she was a witch who could pass through locks, resorted to the exquisitely simple trick of locking the door and trying to drive this woman out. with his staff, urging her, if she could, to come out.

It is difficult to pinpoint the reason for the renewed appeal of witchcraft and demonolatry in the twilight period of the Middle Ages, which reached epidemic proportions during the Early Modern period. Some of the traditional explanations see these things as some “emotional” effects of the Black Death of the mid-fourteenth century [7] or of an “anxiety” created by the once unthinkable erosion of religious unity in Roman Catholic Europe or some other obscure social pathology, which are impossible to determine. We can probably say, even more vaguely, that this was part of the general trend of the time to look for some outsider or action that people wanted to fear and hate. It was at the end of the eleventh century, for example, that the living conditions of Jews in Western Europe suddenly began to deteriorate. In the Middle Ages, there was indeed a certain prejudice against the Jews, but no popular passion for persecution or massacre. In 1096, however, the civilian “army” that had gathered to take part in the First Crusade, ostensibly on the way to liberate the Christians of the East from their oppressors, the Seljuk Turks, began to plunder and kill thousands of Rhine Jews, even attacking the locals. bishops defending the Jews within their diocesan boundaries. The Benedictine monk and historian Hugo of Flavini (c. 1065–1140) wondered how such atrocities were possible at all, despite popular disgust and ecclesiastical condemnation, excommunication, and threats of severe legal punishment. And certainly the worst time for Jews in Europe throughout the Late Middle Ages was the period when the search for a scapegoat was most active – the years of the plague of 1348 and 1349, when in many areas they were accused of poisoning the wells from which Christians drink. Pope Clement VI (c. 1291 – 1352) even had to issue a decree in defense of the Jews in 1348, stating that they themselves were also victims of the plague (as well as – for his unfailing honor – to continue to offer the Jews the hospitality of his court at Avignon, notwithstanding the suspicion with which they were then viewed).

Another line of argument connects late medieval beliefs in secret satanic cults with the rise of new heresies in Western Europe during the Crusades, and especially with the rise of the Cathar Church in southern France and Italy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It can be assumed that this is the worst crisis of political and ecclesiastical institutions from which medieval Europe has ever suffered. The Cathars (or Albigensians, as they are also called) were a Gnostic sect, meaning that they despised the flesh, refused to produce offspring, considered the material cosmos to be the creation not of God but of Satan, considered this world as a prison in which spirits live closed by successive incarnations, and have preached salvation through inner enlightenment and escape from the shackles of birth and death. According to all the Cathars, they lived an ascetic, sober and quiet life, and the initial attitude of Pope Innocent III (1160-1216) was unusually careful and tolerant, and at first the policy of the Roman Catholic Church towards the Albigensian movement was in fact a policy of peaceful conviction. on the path of theological discussion. And things could easily go on like this until the Cathars themselves, in disgust at the birth of children, caused their own silent erasure. However, some noble families from the Languedoc region of southern France gradually began to embrace the Cathar cause, largely as an excuse for wanting to appropriate property from the Roman Catholic Church. In the late decades of the twelfth century, the Count of Foix forcibly expelled the monks from their abbey in Pamia, desecrated the chapel and appropriated this property for himself, and the Viscount of Béziers looted and burned monasteries, imprisoned an abbot and a bishop and abbot. chained, eccentrically exposing his corpse in the square. In the last decade of the century, the Count of Toulouse, Raymond VI – the most powerful of the barons of the South who supported the Cathars – began not only to insult and persecute some monks of the Roman Catholic Church, but also to rob and burn temples. , and in 1208 he appears to have been involved in a conspiracy to assassinate the papal legate. And Catharism continues to spread. For Innocent III, it is now clear that the Qatari non-of-this-world belief has begun to have certain very secular (and very severe) consequences and has quickly become a source of social disaster that threatens the very foundations of Western Christianity. So, provoked by his fears, he revised his own policy of peaceful dialogue and actively promoted the “march” of the French crown against the South.

But all this turned out to be a simple pretext for the French king to subdue Toulouse and the rest of the South, and for the nobles of the Norman north to seize the southern feudal estates from the aristocratic families of Languedoc – not only from the Albigensians but also from the Roman Catholics. More effective in suppressing the Cathars was the decision of Pope Innocent IV († 1254) – truly dependent in his struggles against the Holy Roman Emperor on the protection of the Frankish King Louis IX (1214–1270) – not only to establish the first Inquisition. to deal with this heresy, but also (in 1252) to allow the extraordinary and limited use of torture in order to extract confessions. The use of torture is an ancient, general clause of Roman law that is the opposite of centuries of Christian use of law, but has recently been revived by the civil courts of the Holy Roman Empire. And these same courts, like the courts of pagan emperors of the past, regard heresy as a form of treason punishable by death, and although the church itself cannot take a life, the Inquisition could betray the unrepentant heretics of secular power to torture them and possibly execute them. Thus, the church became a de facto accomplice in the state violence against those accused of being the bearers of social disorder. And since ecclesiastical institutions have a principled attitude to heresy, they sometimes deal with sorcery, despite the fact that such cases rightfully belong to the sphere of secular jurisprudence. Thus, although the number of witches who were actually tortured or ceded to the state by the church inquisitions was negligibly small, the hierarchy of the medieval church helped lay the groundwork for the persecution of witches in the Early Modern period. However, there is something else to keep in mind.

It is clearly obvious that the church was no exception to the general alarm over the malevolent magic and cults of Satanist cannibals, especially in the late fifteenth century. Two Dominican monks, for example, are people who approx. In 1486, they wrote the ticklishly scary book The Hammer of Witches, [8] a guide to the infamous witch hunt that, however, convinced many of its readers of the reality of satanic magic. We would note, however, that the book’s lead author, Heinrich Kramer, was known to many of his contemporaries as a mad imbecile. In Innsbruck, for example, the local bishop not only thwarted his attempts to accuse some local women of witchcraft, but even forced him to leave the city. In the year that the Hammer of Witches appeared, the Carmelite Jan van Beetz published his Exposition of the Ten Commandments (Decalogue), an ice-skeptical interpretation of the stories of black magic. Of course, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there were popes who, whether they believed in magic or not, still believed the folk tales of the rising trend of Satanism, and who therefore commissioned the inquisitors to search for criminals. . In any case, the Roman Catholic Church remains the only institution of its time to treat any accusation of witchcraft with the most pronounced distrust. Where secular courts and unbridled mobs were eager to hand over the accused to the tender care of the public executioner, the church inquisitions tended to demand hard evidence and, in the absence of such evidence, to dismiss the accusation. After all, in those territories where the authority of the church and its inquisitions was strong, especially during the culmination of the witch hunt, convictions were extremely rare. In Spain, for example, throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, we have evidence of only two investigations that have reached trial. In the middle of the sixteenth century, the Inquisition of Catalonia set the precedent (very soon followed by the other Inquisitions) to oppose all any future investigations into witchcraft. In or about 1609, in a panic over witch-hunts in the Basque country, the Spanish Inquisition went so far as to ban even the very discussion of witchcraft, and more than once in the following years the Iberian Inquisition was forced to intervene. in cases where secular courts have resumed persecution. [10]

The somewhat confusing truth about the obsession with witchcraft and the universal witch-hunt in early modernity is that they were not the last, desperate expressions of an entire intellectual and religious tradition slowly fading into oblivion on the eve of the rise of scientific and social “enlightenment.” “, On the contrary – something completely new, a modern phenomenon, at best only weakly foretold by some new historical trends in the Late Middle Ages, which not only does not contradict the birth of secular modernity, but in a sense is its ultimate expression. . In many cases, it was those who were most hostile to the church’s right to interfere in secular affairs who were most eager to see the power of the state, expressed in the ruthless destruction of the most insidious of dissenters: witches. Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), for example — this greatest of the modern theorists of the full sovereignty of the state — regarded all religious doctrine as fundamentally false and did not really believe in magic, but nevertheless believed that witches should continue to be punished for the good of society. The author of “On the Demonomania of Wizards” (1580), probably the most influential and most inciting (in the literal sense of the word) to hunt witches of all the manifestos of his time, was Jean Boden (c. 1530 – 1596 ) [11] – a person who believed that witches should be burned at the stake, that nations that did not seek and exterminate them would suffer from famine, plague and war, that interrogation through torture should be used when there is even the mere suspicion of witchcraft, and that no one accused of witchcraft should be acquitted unless the lie of his accusers is as brilliantly obvious as the sun. However, Boden was also the first great theorist of these same modern political ideas about the absolute sovereignty of the secular state, and he was certainly not an orthodox Roman Catholic, but rather adhered to his own version of “natural” religion. British laws, which made witchcraft a felony, were not approved until 1542 and 1563, long after the Anglican Church came under the rule of the Crown and the State, and this act was not repealed until 1736. In 1542, Liege a concordat declared under the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500–1558) stipulates that the investigation of witchcraft pass entirely into the hands of secular tribunals. And this, hardly by chance, coincides exactly with the time of the serious beginning of the great witch hunt.


[1] The Synod of St. Patrick is a document with decisions on the management of the Church in Ireland, which is preserved in a transcript from the 7th century, but contains decrees from the 5th century.

[2] Capitulare Saxonicum are the first two documents from the so-called “Saxon Justice” (“Lex Saxonum”) – a code of legal regulations issued by the imp. Charlemagne between 782 and 803 in order to Christianize the Saxons by harmonizing church legislation with their local customs.

[3] The name Canon episcopi is a conditional passage from medieval canon law, which testifies that approx. 900 The Church in the West still denies the existence of magic – the passage in question came into circulation after it was published by the Benedictine monk Regino of Prüm (c. 840-915), who mistakenly identified it as an ancient authoritative text of the fourth century.

[4] It is about the pagan goddess Diana.

[5] According to the polemical treatise “De Grandine et Tonitruis” (“On Hail and Thunder”) by Archbishop. Agobard “Magonia” (Mangonia) is the name of a kingdom located in the clouds, where criminal air sailors come to plunder the crops destroyed by hail and storms. (translation note)

[6] “De ecclesiasticis disciplinis” is a collection of canons, in 434 sections, for use in official church visits; section 364 of the collection represents the already mentioned Canon episcopi.

[7] This is the plague epidemic of 1346–1353.

[8] The book Malleus Maleficarum (1486) by Heinrich Kramer and Jakob Sprenger was first published in 1487 in Speyer, southwestern Germany, after which it underwent numerous editions to become the most popular. Guide to Witch Hunting in the 16th and 17th Centuries

[9] “Expositio decem catalogie praeceptum” by Jan van Beetz (or Johannes Beets, or Johannes Beetzius; † 1476) – Professor of Theology at the University of Leuven from 1471 to 1476.

[10] For detailed accounts of the great witch hunt, see, for example, Levack, B. P. The Witch – Hunt in Early Modern Europe, London: Longman, 1995; Henningsen, G. The Witches ’Advocate: Basque Witchcraft and the Spanish Inquisition (1609-1614), Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1980; Middelfort, H. C. E. Witch – Hunting in Southwestern Germany, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1972; Stark, R. For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the end of Slavery, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003, p. 201-288.

[11] This is De Bod Démonomanie des Sorciers by Jean Bodin, a French lawyer and political philosopher, Member of Parliament of Paris and Professor of Law at the University of Toulouse.

Photo: Pope Innocent III (1160–1216)

(To be continued)

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