“In the sixteenth and even for most of the seventeenth century, the academic discussion of theological, philosophical, and legal aspects of witchcraft was a recognized branch of university studies” (von Greyerz 145).

“The basic idea of the book is that witches were not heretics in the religious sense or evildoers in the legal sense, ‘‘but ignorant and melancholy women deceived by the Devil.’’ 59 Weyer’s book was widely read and stirred up an intense discussion, in which Thomas Erastus and Jean Bodin, among others, made a name for themselves as enemies of Weyer. 60 But nothing more happened, since critics like Weyer represented merely a small minority in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Public criticism of the persecution of witches was not without danger, as we learn from the example of the Catholic theologian Cornelius Loos: persuaded by Weyer’s arguments, he was subsequently forced to recant by the nuncio of Cologne and was banished from the city. Later, as a priest in Brussels, his implacable opposition to witch trials landed him in prison for a while. 61 The particular danger that critics of witch trials faced was the charge of atheism, which all too readily could have legal consequences. Another early critic of witch persecutions who spoke out against trials in spite of this danger was the Englishman Reginald Scot, in his 1584 work The Discoverie of Witchcraft . This polemical tract prompted James VI of Scotland (the future James I of England), for example, to arrange for the publication in Edinburgh in 1597 of a treatise on demonology directed against Scot and others like him. 62 The last phase of the battle over witch persecutions in the publishing arena was marked from the middle of the seventeenth century by, on the one hand, the reception of Descartes’ philosophy, whose physics categorically ruled out the existence of spirits and demons, and, on the other hand, the early Enlightenment in general. In this context we should mention the Cartesian criticism of the belief in witches by Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan , first published in 1653, and by the Dutch theologian Balthasar Bekker in De betoverde Wereld (1681), as well as the emphatic rejection of demonological theories by the German Christian Thomasius in his writings of 1701 and 1712. 63 The dates of the published works I have mentioned also trace the chronological framework of the larger witch persecutions in the early modern period. It extends essentially from around 1560 to the last third of the seventeenth century. To be sure, witches had been persecuted before, in the late Middle Ages, but larger, panic-like persecutions did not occur until about 1560. Persecutions declined rapidly in the later seventeenth century, while the eighteenth century saw only a few scattered trials, until the whole process came to a halt for good, with the exception of a few ignominious, late trials” (von Greyerz 146).

von, Greyerz, Kasper, and Kasper von Greyerz. Religion and Culture in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800, Oxford University Press USA – OSO, 2007. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/buffalo/detail.action?docID=415714.
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