What was the churches attitude to witchcraft in the 17th century?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Church was the primary instigator of witchcraft trials and vigorously pursued them; it was later a secular movement which ended them after the Church seemingly lost interest. Many of those accused of witchcraft belonged to groups branded as heretics during the Reformation, since it was believed their ideas--and support--came from the devil.

The Church's witchcraft persecutions began with the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum (1486) by two Dominican Friars, Jakob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer, at the behest of Pope Innocent VIII who believed that a witch had made him impotent. The Malleus was particularly harsh in its attitude toward women, stating in part:

Woman is more carnal than man….She always deceives….What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with fair colors….To conclude, all witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which in women is insatiable.

Skepticism slowly grew as the public became more and more educated and abandoned superstitious beliefs. Courts demanded more substantial proof of evil deeds, and torture was no longer considered a reliable method of eliciting truthful testimony. The last witch was executed in England in 1682, the same year that Louis XIV of France issued an edict banning witchcraft trials. It was not the Church but an educated public that eventually caused witchcraft trials to fall into disfavor.

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