Two remarkable statutes were passed in the year 1541 ; one against false prophecies, the other against the act of conjuration, withchcraft, and sorcery, and, at the same time, against breaking and destroying crosses. The former enactment was certainly made to ease the suspicious and wayward fears of the tetchy King Henry. The prohibition against witchcraft might be also dictated by the king's jealous doubts of hazard to the succession. The enactment against breaking crosses was obviously designed to check the ravages of the reformers, who, in England as well as elsewhere, desired to sweep away Popery with the besom of destruction. This latter statute was abrogated in the first year of Edward VI., perhaps as placing an undue restraint on the zeal of good Protestants against idolatry.
At length, in 1562, a formal statute against sorcery, as penal in itself, was actually passed ; but, as the penalty was limited to the pillory for the first transgression, the legislature probably regarded those who might be brought to trial as impostors rather than wizards. There are instances of individuals tried and convicted as impostors and cheats, and who acknowledged themselves such before the court and people. But, in their articles of visitation, the prelates directed enquiry to be made after those who should use enchantments, witchcraft, sorcery, or any like craft, invented by the devil.
But it is here proper to make a pause for the purpose of enquiring in what manner the religious disputes, which occupied all Europe about this time, influenced the proceedings of the rival sects in relation to Demonology.
The Papal Church had long reigned by the proud and absolute humour which she had assumed of maintaining every doctrine which her rulers had adopted in dark ages ; but this pertinacity at length made her citadel too large to be defended at every point by a garrison whom prudence would have required to abandon positions which had been taken in times of darkness, and were unsuited to the warfare of a more enlightened age. The sacred motto of the Vatican was, " Vestigia nulla retrorsum ;" and this rendered it impossible to comply with the more wise and moderate of her own party, who would otherwise have desired to make liberal concessions to the Protestants, and thus prevent, in its commencement, a formidable schism in the Christian world.
To the system of Rome the Calvinists offered the most determined opposition, affecting, upon every occasion, and on all points, to observe an order of church-government, as well as of worship, expressly in the teeth of its enactments ; in a word, to be a good Protestant, they held it almost essential to be, in all things, diametrically opposite to the Catholic form and faith. As the foundation of this sect was laid in republican states ; as its clerical discipline was settled on a democratic basis ; and as the countries which adopted that form of government were chiefly poor, the preachers, having lost the rank and opulence enjoyed by the Roman Church, were gradually thrown on the support of the people. Insensibly they became occupied with the ideas and tenets natural to the common people, which, if they have usually the merit of being honestly conceived and boldly expressed, are not the less often adopted with credulity and precipitation, and carried into effect with unhesitating harshness and severity.
Betwixt these extremes the Churchmen of England endeavoured to steer a middle course, retaining a portion of the ritual and forms of Rome, as in themselves admirable, and at any rate too greatly venerated by the people to be changed merely for opposition's sake. Their comparatively undilapidated revenue, the connexion of their system with the state, with views of ambition as ample as the station of a churchman ought to command, rendered them independent of the necessity of courting their flocks by any means save regular discharge of their duty ; and the excellent provisions made for their education afforded them learning to confute ignorance and enlighten prejudice.
Such being the general character of the three Churches, their belief in, and persecution of, such crimes as witchcraft and sorcery were necessarily modelled upon the peculiar tenets which each system professed, and gave rise to various results in the countries where they were severally received.
The Church of Rome, as we have seen, was unwilling, in her period of undisputed power, to call in the secular arm to punish men for witchcraft, a crime which fell especially under ecclesiastical cognizance, and could, according to her belief, be subdued by the spiritual arm alone. The learned men at the head of the establishment might safely despise the attempt at those hidden arts as impossible; or, even if they were of a more credulous disposition, they might be unwilling to make laws by which their own enquiries in the mathematics, algebra, chemistry, and other pursuits vulgarly supposed to approach the confines of magic art, might be inconveniently restricted. The more selfish part of the priesthood might think that a general belief in the existence of witches should be permitted to remain, as a source both of power and of revenue— that if there were no possessions there could be no exorcism-fees—and, in short, that a wholesome faith in all the absurdities of the vulgar creed, as to supernatural influences, was necessary to maintain the influence of Diana of Ephesus. They suffered spells to be manufactured, since every friar had the power of reversing them—they permitted poison to be distilled, because every convent had the antidote, which was disposed of to all who chose to demand it. It was not till the universal progress of heresy, in the end of the fifteenth century, that the bull of Pope Innocent VIII., already quoted, called to convict, imprison, and condemn the sorcerers, chiefly because it was the object to transfer the odium of these crimes to the Waldenses, and excite and direct the public hatred against the new sect, by confounding their doctrines with the influences of the Devil and his Fiends. The bull of Pope Innocent was afterwards, in the year 1523, enforced by Adrian VI., with a new one, in which excommunication was directed against sorcerers and heretics.