Witch trials and the churches of Christ in the middle ages in Europe.
1Pe 3:16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
In the pagan system which was a material system, the spirits of the dead were often trapped on earth. Between earth and the moon, sun and stars, was the realm of spirits and demons, many who were evil.
To counter this various gods were prayer too, who themselves were ancestors of the living, the moon and sun being the most powerful. Good luck charms, prayers to the dead and superstition was rife. Fatalism and a belief if something horrid happened, a spirit had been upset so sacrifice too was used to appease the gods.
Those who died in an unsaved condition such as suicides, the un-baptised and hanged criminals would have a stake hammered through their chest to keep the spirit inside, and as a secondary precaution, would be buried at crossroads so if the spirit did escape, it would be lost, unable to find its way home. If crops failed to grow, illness, accidents or bad luck would be blamed on evil demons, the spirits of the dead.
Halloween was the time of year when through ceremonies the spirits could be dispatched from roaming the earth to a higher realm.
It was believed that evil demons could operate through human slaves, who could be vampires, werewolves and witches.
Europe in the middle ages had only just come out of paganism, and in some parts it remained. The Romish Church unable to defeat those who used the scriptures to defend believers' baptism and oppose original sin, turned to accusations of witchcraft to defeats its enemies. The first evidence used by the Roman Catholics was to seek out parents who withhold their children from baptism. The same parents used Mark 16:16 to defend believers' baptism. The next step was to ban the Bible. The Roman Catholics claimed those accused of witchcraft feared the cross and holy water (this still turns up in vampire films), of course, they denied the cross and holy water along with the miracles claimed by using both of these.
Shockingly where witchcraft was most common, is where in the middle ages the churches of Christ was most prevalent.
In affirming the antics of witches and other malefics, appeal was made supposedly to the Scriptures and to the teachings of the Romish Church, especially to Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.
Persons who took the part of the supposed witch, or ventured to lift up their voices against the trials for witchcraft, did so at the risk of their lives. In 1598, the Dutch priest, Cornelius Loos Callidus, was imprisoned at Treves for declaring that women, making confession under torture to witch devices, confessed to what was not true. And four years before, 1589, Dr. Dietrich Flade, a councillor of Treves, was burnt for attacking the prosecution of witchcraft.
One of the victims wrote from his prison-cell, the burgomaster of Bamberg, Bavaria, Germany, which was Protestant. Though he suffered a century after the Middle Ages had closed, 1628, after being confronted by false witnesses he confessed, under torture, to having indulged in the practices ascribed to the bewitched and he thus wrote to his daughter: “Many hundred good nights, dearly beloved daughter, Veronica. Innocent have I come into prison, innocent must I die. For whoever comes into a witch-prison must become a witch or be tortured till he invents something out of his head and—God pity him—bethinks himself of something. I will tell you how it has gone with me. Then came the executioner and put the thumbscrews on me, both hands bound together, so that the blood ran out at the nails and everywhere, so that for four weeks I could not use my hands, as you can see from the writing. Then they stripped me, bound my hands behind my back and drew me up. I thought heaven and earth were at an end. Eight times did they do this and let me drop again so that I suffered terrible agony (Here follows a rehearsal of the confessions he was induced to make). Now, dear child, you have all my confessions for which I must die. They are sheer lies made up. All this I was forced to say through fear of the rack, for they never leave off the torture till one confesses something. Dear child, keep this letter secret so that people may not find it or else I shall be tortured most piteously and the jailers be beheaded. I have taken several days to write this for my hands are both lame. Good night, for your father Johannes Junius will never see you more.”
The Lutheran Judge, Benedict Carpzov (1595-1666), in 1635 published his Practica Rerum Criminalum to support systemized legal persecution of witches. Under him, 20,000 death warrants for arrest, torture and execution of German witches took place. Carpzov, a man of ‘reason’, even argued that under the most excruciating torture, witches were likely to give a false account, but it should still be employed. This reformed Lutheran even read the bible, cover to cover over fifty three times and took the Lutheran Mass each week.
The Reformers and Catholics missed no tricks in hunting down witches, they were masters of the art of torture and were exemplary in carrying out their trade at every opportunity. The witchfinder’s power was almost unlimited, these diligent hunters would whip young children in front of their parents, who were forced to watch them being burned to death. In Wurzburg, Germany, three hundred children, some as young as three confessed to engaging in sexual intercourse with demons and many considered the minimum age of seven for execution unduly lenient.
When a degree was passed that for protecting girls under twelve from execution, the authorities knew how to be patient. Anne Hauldecoeur, who was aged seven, from Bouchain (northern France) confessed to being a witch. She was placed in prison on 1 September, 1614, she was twelve on 11 July, 1619, the day of her execution.
At least two hundred thousand people died in the holocaust in the witch hunts, and when the reformation came, Luther and Calvin supported the continuation of hunting down those who practiced the ‘dark arts’. The guide remaining the same, if a witch practices Mark 16:16, they are guilty of demon procession. As late as 1768, John Wesley, referring to occurrences in his own time, declared that "giving up witchcraft was, in effect, giving up the Bible."
As recently as 1926, the Catholic theologian, Montague Summers (1880-1948) defended the above by stating that there is a "close correlation between witchcraft and heresy", he states that the Bogomiles, Cathari, Paulicians, Vaudois, Waldenses and Albigenenses are not only charged with being Gnostics and Manichees, saturated with sorcery, witchcraft and revolutionary aims, but that "heresy, sorcery and anarchy were almost interchangeable terms".
The evidence that many of those who died as witches were Christians, who met as the church of Christ (yes, they used this biblical identity) and practiced believers baptism for the remission of sins by immersion.
All that was needed to prove a person a witch was two witnesses, two faithful Roman Catholics, who saw a person flying in the air on a broomstick!
We hear much today of holocaust denial, but this holocaust and its victims – Christians, are rarely mentioned.
Primary sources - Baptism, studies in the Original Christian Baptism, its history and conflicts, its relationship to a State or National Church and its significance for the Present Time, by Johannes Warns, translated from the German by G. H. Lang, 1957, page 133. History of the Christian church, Phillip Schaff, in eight volumes, 1910, Vol 5, Chap 16 Demonology and the Dark Arts page 878, Volume 6, Chapter 7. Witchcraft and its Punishment. Page 514. The History of Witchcraft and Demonology, 1926, Augustus Montague Summers.
Secondary sources - The Golden Bough, A Study in Magic and Religion, Sir James George Frazer, 1955. Witchcraft, the History and Mythology, Richard Marshall, 1995.