Andrea Alciati Witch Hunts

(Apologia Dodi contra li defensori de le strie; Pavia, 1506), and with Bernardo Rategno (c. 1450-1510), the chief Inquisitor of the diocese of Como, one of those responsible for the Italian persecutions raised his voice, adding many new examples to the debate (Bernard of Como, De Strigibus, 1508). There was a political rift between the church and states that tried to curb witch hunts wherever possible, for instance the Republic of Venice. This conflict was mirrored in the intellectual sphere; for example, philosophers sharply criticized the mass persecutions in the Italian alpine valleys in short treatises, such as that written by Gianfrancesco Ponzinibio (De Lamiis, 1520) from the University of Padua, who was famous for his denial of the immortality of the soul.

As a consequence of this treatise, the debate in Italy flared up again with even more Dominicans defending their cause. These included writers such as Bartolomeo de Spina (1479-1547) in his Quaestio de strigibus (Venice, 1523), Paulus Grillandus (Tractatus de hereticis et sortilegiis [1525-1673]; Lyon, 1536-1673) and, interestingly, Silvester Mazzolini da Prieri (1460-1523), a leading papal theologian and one of the first strong opponents of Luther (De strigimagarum demonumque mirandis libri tres; Rome, 1521), but also Prince Giovanni Francesco Pico della Mirandola (1469-1533), who referred to witch trials in his own territory (Strix; Bologna, 1523). The Italian witch hunts were fiercely criticized by the famous humanist lawyer Andrea Alciati (1492-1550), who labelled these, largely illegal, procedures the 'new holocaust' (De lamiis seu strigibus; 1515-1642, reprinted 1530), and by contemporary scientists such as Henricus Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486-1535), who created and promoted the idea that witchcraft was an inquisitors' invention. Their arguments were on legal and compassionate grounds and not, it seems, related to doubts about demonology itself. The Art of Inquisition' was certainly described as a vain art by Agrippa, but he said this about all the arts and sciences, and his 'murderous inquisitor' referred to the inquisitorial theory of the Malleus rather than demonology in general. 3

Demonology was not a fashionable topic in the Reformation era, presumably because the demonological consensus remained largely intact. No major work on demonology was published between 1520 and 1560, and there were no reprints of the Malleus Maleficarum. It was not until the early 1560s, when social hardship increased and witch hunting became more common again, that the need for explanations re-emerged. JohannWeyer (1515-88), a student of Agrippa and physician at the court of the dukes of Jülich-Kleve, came up with a completely new counter-argument to Henry Kramer's views on witch confessions.

3 Agrippa, De incertitudine et vanitate scientarum, cap. CXVI.

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