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  • 12/5/2010

Today in History:

Papal Bull Bestows Authority to Prosecute Witchcraft in Germany (1484)


Summis desiderantes affectibus (English: Desiring with supreme ardor) was a papal bull issued by Pope Innocent VIII on December 5, 1484.

The bull was written in response to the request of Dominican Inquisitor Heinrich Kramer for explicit authority to prosecute witchcraft in Germany, after he was refused assistance by the local ecclesiastical authorities.

The bull recognized the existence of witches and gave full papal approval for the Inquisition to move against witches and permission to do whatever necessary to get rid of them. The bull essentially repeated Kramer's view that an outbreak of witchcraft and heresy had occurred in the Rhine River valley, specifically in the bishoprics of Mainz, Cologne, Trier, Salzburg and Bremen, including accusations of certain acts.

The bull urged local authorities to cooperate with the inquisitors and threatened those who impeded their work with excommunication.

Despite this threat, the bull failed to ensure that Kramer got the support he had hoped for, causing him to retire and compiling his views on witchcraft in his book Malleus Maleficarum, which was published in 1487. To bolster the book's challenged authority, Krammer among other things included Summis desiderantes affectibus as the preface of his book, feigning papal approval for his work.

The bull is often viewed opening the door for the witchhunts of the early modern period. However, its similarities to previous papal documents, emphasis on preaching, and lack of dogmatic pronouncement complicate this view. The Catholic Encyclopedia criticizes the importance attached to the encyclical in the context of the ensuing witch hunts as "altogether illusory."

Some scholars view the bull as "clearly political", motivated by jurisdictional disputes between the local German Catholic priests and those of the Inquisition who answered more directly to the pope.

Source: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com

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