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Canon Episcopi

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Extract from Burchard of Worms' Decretum

Pages from Burchard of Worms' Decretum

The Canon Episcopi is an important document in the history of witchcraft.[{{fullurl:{{wikipedia:FULLPAGENAME}}}}#endnote_Stephens] It is first attested in the Libri de synodalibus causis et disciplinis ecclesiasticis composed by Regino of Prüm around 906, but Regino considered it an older text; he, and later scholars following him, believed it to be from a "Council of Anquira" in 314, but no other evidence of this council exists, and scholars today consider it probably to be a ninth-century Frankish composition.[{{fullurl:{{wikipedia:FULLPAGENAME}}}}#endnote_Russell][{{fullurl:{{wikipedia:FULLPAGENAME}}}}#endnote_Lea] It was included in Burchard of Worms' Decretum (compiled between 1008 and 1012), an early attempt at collecting all of Canon law, and subsequently in Gratian's authoritative Corpus juris canonici of c. 1140. Because it was included in Gratian's compilation the text was treated as canon law for centuries, until Roman Catholic views on European witchcraft began to change dramatically in the late medieval period.

The Canon Episcopi has received a great deal of attention from historians of the witch craze period as early documentation of the Catholic church's theological position on the question of witchcraft. It has also received attention from scholars of Neo-paganism, such as Ronald Hutton[{{fullurl:{{wikipedia:FULLPAGENAME}}}}#endnote_Hutton], because the document seems to link witchcraft beliefs with the Pagan worship of the goddess Diana of Roman myth. This linkage has been used by authors, such as Charles Godfrey Leland, as support for the thesis, normally attributed to Margaret Murray, that European witchcraft represented a continuation of pre-Christian Pagan beliefs.

While the entire Canon Episcopi is several paragraphs long, the critical passage is as follows:

"Have you believed or have you shared a superstition to which some wicked women claim to have given themselves, instruments of Satan, fooled by diabolical phantasms? During the night, with Diana, the pagan goddess, in the company of a crowd of other women, they ride the backs of animals, traversing great distances during the silence of the deep night, obeying Diana's orders as their mistress and putting themselves at her service during certain specified nights. If only these sorceresses could die in their impiety without dragging many others into their loss. Fooled into error, many people believe that these rides of Diana really exist. Thus they leave the true faith and fall into pagan error in believing that a god or goddess can exist besides the only God."[{{fullurl:{{wikipedia:FULLPAGENAME}}}}#endnote_Koziol]

The unknown author's position is that these "rides of Diana" are "superstition" and "phantasm"; that they did not actually exist, and goes so far as to condemn belief in the existence of the "rides of Diana" as leaving the true faith, or committing heresy. This skeptical treatment of magic in the eleventh century has been compared by witchcraft scholars, such as Jeffrey Russell[{{fullurl:{{wikipedia:FULLPAGENAME}}}}#endnote_Russell], to the credulity of the much later witch craze period. The authors of the Malleus Maleficarum, a witch-hunter's manual from 1487 that played a key role in the witch craze, were forced to argue for a reinterpretation of the Canon Episcopi in order to reconcile their beliefs that witchcraft was both real and effective with those expressed in the Canon[{{fullurl:{{wikipedia:FULLPAGENAME}}}}#endnote_Malleus].

A further complication in the history of the Canon Episcopi is the addition of other names to the document as companions to Diana. Burchard of Worms added the New Testament figure Herodias to his copy of the document in one passage, and the Teutonic goddess Holda in another. Later, in the twelfth century, Hugues de Saint-Victor quoted the Canon Episcopi as reading "Diana Minerva" in a church tract that was attributed to Augustine of Hippo. Later collections included the names "Benzozia" and "Bizazia"[{{fullurl:{{wikipedia:FULLPAGENAME}}}}#endnote_AHotIotMA].

Notes and references

  1. ^ See especially Stephens, Walter (2002). Demon lovers: witchcraft, sex, and the crisis of belief. University of Chicago Press. 
  2. ^ Russell, Jeffrey Burton (1972). Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Cornell University Press.  pp. 75-82.
  3. ^  "Book 8, Chapter 9, A History of the Spanish Inquisition, vol. 4". Retrieved October 15, 2005. 
  4. ^ Hutton, Ronald (2000). Triumph of the Moon. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0500272425. 
  5. ^  Translation by Geoffrey G. Koziol. Full translated text at "University of Berkeley translations". Retrieved October 13, 2005. 
  6. ^  Russell, Jeffrey (1984). Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801492890. 
  7. ^  Malleus Maleficarum, Part II: Chapters 2, 8 and 11.
  8. ^  "Excerpt from A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages". Retrieved October 15, 2005. eo:Canon Episcopija:司教法令集fi:Canon Episcopi

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