This section is from the book "Faith - Healing. Christian Science And Kindred Phenomena", by James Monroe Buckley. Also available from Amazon: Faith-Healing, Christian Science and Kindred Phenomena.
Christianity originated among the Hebrews, who were firm believers in the reality of witchcraft. It was immediately brought into contact with the Romans, of whose empire Syria was a province; and with the Greeks, among whom it spread during the apostolic age. Among the Greeks and Romans the same general belief, with the corresponding practices, existed. Homer is said to have derived many of his verses from Daphne, the daughter of Tyreseis the Soothsayer, who was considered to surpass all women in the art of divination. Scot, in his " Discoverie of Witchcraft," gives extended extracts, among others the passage in Ovid:
Witches can bleed our ground by magic spell. And with enchantment dry the springing soil; Make grapes and currants fly at their command, And strip our orchards bare without a hand.
Virgil and Horace make similar references. Lecky affirms that "Sorcery could say with truth that there was not a single nation of antiquity, from the polished Greek to the rudest savage, which did not admit 0 real art enabling men to foretell the future".
In Asia Minor and adjacent Oriental countries Christianity was saturated with superstitions of every kind, the entire mass directly or indirectly affecting Christians of every nation. The New Testament shows that Christianity did not at once eradicate preexisting superstitions. It required a renunciation of the worship of idols, faith in God as superior to all antagonistic forces, natural and supernatural, and obedience to the precepts of Christ and his Apostles ; but there is no reason to believe that it distinguished concerning the natural or supernatural origin of many superstitious beliefs not essentially incompatible with submission to the Gospel. The credulity of the early Christians is apparent in the writings of most of the ante-Nicene fathers. They believed in the supernatural origin of many of the alleged pagan miracles, some of them in the fable of the phenix, and were prepared to accept any tale of strange things which could be attributed to the devil or his agents. Extraordinary knowledge, devotion to philosophy, and the practice of arts not understood by the people, especially by persons suspected of heresy, were made the foundation of social persecutions and legal prosecutions for witchcraft.
Roger Bacon, in the thirteenth century, on account of his scientific attainments, was charged with witchcraft, denounced by the Pope, and several times imprisoned. From time to time trials for witchcraft are recorded in Roman history. In the fourth century ecclesiastical decrees against it were made, and at various periods trials took place under them. Europe was permeated with the superstition.
Early Christian laws partook largely of the nature and of the spirit of the enactments of the same races when in paganism. The Ostrogoths punished it with death; the Visigoths with stripes, shaving the head, and exposure. The pagan Saxons burned witches and sorcerers, and eveu ate them. The Anglo-Saxons plaeed them under penalty of death; the ancient law of Scotland burned them at the stake. In Hungary they were first handed over to the bishop, then branded on the forehead, neck, and back in the form of a cross.
The accusation of witchcraft was frequently used against societies, such as the Templars, from 1307 to 1313. It was on this charge that Joan of Arc was burned to death. Thus in 1429 the Stedinger, who had fought for nearly thirty years against the Archbishop of Bremen and the Count of Oldenburg, were, with the help of the Pope, suppressed.
In 1488 Pope Innocent VIII. issued a bull establishing commissions of inquisitors, and succeeding popes appointed other commissions. Sometimes the suspects were accused of heresy aggravated by witchcraft, and again of witchcraft leading to heresy. But witchcraft was the charge that especially inflamed the populace, and was pursued with the greatest zeal by the inquisitors. The epidemic raged in France so that by the end of 1320 tires for the execution of witches blazed in nearly every town. The more fires the more witches, accusations, and trials: the priests began to despair, wondering how it could be explained that it was impossible to commit "so great a number of the Devil's slaves to the flames, but that there shall arise from their ashes a sufficient number to supply their places." Seldom were there acquittals.
Luther and the reformers believed as firmly in the existence of witchcraft as the Roman Catholics,though the latter charged that the Hussites in Bohemia, and the followers of Luther, deceived the people by magic and witchcraft. A Jesuit theological professor declared that Albert of Brandenburg was the king of wizards, a famous magician who laid waste the country with fire and sword. The same Jesuit affirmed that wherever the heresy of Calvin went in England, Wales, or Ireland, the " black and diabolical arts of necromancy kept pace with it." Charlton T. Lewis, LL. D., in his history of Germany, says, "Protestants and Catholics alike carried on their judicial barbarities, which desolated whole tracts of country. Neither age, sex,nor rank was a protection against this persecution. Counselors and scholars were sent to the stake, though women were the especial objects of vengeance; and the trials did not end until the reign of Frederick the Great".
In England laws, both ecclesiastical and civil, were enacted against witchcraft. Various changes were made in the phraseology of the law down to the time of Elizabeth, when sorceries, enchantments, charms, and witchcraft were made punishable with death when death ensued from their practice; in other cases, for a first offense, a year's imprisonment, and for a second, death. James I. was not satisfied with any previous act, as he was "an expert and specialist in the matter." In his time a law was passed making various distinctions. In Scotland similar acts were passed, the chief of them dating from 1563. In Ireland trials took place as early as 1324 in ecclesiastical courts.