The Witch Hunts in Trier

Original Electronic Text at the web site of the Hanover Historical Texts Project.

In his treatise of demonology and magic, Disquisitiones Magicae (1599-1600), Jesuit author Martin Del Rio recounted an episode that took place in the midst of the witch hunts at Trier in the early 1590s, the recantation of a critic of the witch hunts, Cornelius Loos (Losaeus Callidus). Seeking to end the massive witch hunting occurring in Trier, Loos first wrote letters to the city authorities, and, failing in that effort, then sought to publish a book protesting against the hunts and questioning some of the beliefs of the witch hunters. Before the book could be printed, however, the manuscript copy was seized and Loos imprisoned. He was forced to make a public recantation of his former errors before an assembly of church dignitaries. The text is taken from George L. Burr, ed., The Witch Persecutions (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania History Department, 1897), 14-18

And, finally, as I have made mention of Losaeus Callidius, who tried by a thousand arts to make public the book which he had written in defence of the witches (and some fear that even yet some evil demon may bring this about), I have brought for an antidote the Recantation signed by him. Its authentic and so-called original copy is in the possession of a devout and most honorable man, Joannes Baxius, J. U. Lic. (whose energy and zeal against this nefarious heresy God will some day reward), from whom I have received the following transcript, certified by a notary:

I, Cornelius Losaeus Callidius, born at the town of Gouda in Holland. but now (on account of a certain treatise On True and False Witchcraft,[1] rashly and presumptously written without the knowledge and permission of the superiors of this place, shown by me to others, and then sent to be printed at Cologne) arrested and imprisoned in the Imperial Monastery of St. Maximin, near Trier, by order of the Most Reverend and Most Illustrious Lord, the Papal Nuncio, Octavius, Bishop of Tricarico: whereas I am informed of a surety that in the aforesaid book and also in certain letters of mine on the same subject sent clandestinely to the clergy and town council of Trier, and to others (for the purpose of hindering the execution of justice against the witches, male and female), are contained many articles which are not only erroneous and scandalous, but also suspected of heresy and smacking of the crime of treason, as being seditious and foolhardy, against the common opinion of theological teachers and the decisions and bulls of the Supreme Pontiffs, and contrary to the practice and to the statutes and laws of the magistrates and judges, not only of this Archdiocese of Trier, but of other provinces and principalities, I do therefore revoke, condemn, reject, and repudiate the said articles, in the order in which they are here subjoined.

1. In the first place, I revoke, condemn, reject, and censure the idea (which hoth in words and writing I have often and before many persons pertinaciously asserted, and which I wished to be the head and front of this my disputation) that the things which are written about the bodily transportation or translation of witches, male and female, are altogether fanciful and must be reckoned the figments of an empty superstition; [and this I recant] both because it smacks of rank heresy and because this opinion partakes of sedition and hence savors of the crime of treason.

2. For (and this in the second place I recant), in the letters which I have clandestinely sent to sundry persons, I have pertinaciously, without solid reasons, alleged against the magistracy that the [aerial] flight of witches is false and imaginary; asserting, moreover, that the wretched creatures are compelled by the severity of the torture to confess things which they have never done, and that by cruel butchery innocent blood is shed and by a new alchemy gold and silver coined from human blood.

3. By these and by other things of the same sort, partly in private conversations among the people, partly in sundry letters addressed to both the magistracies,[2] I have accused of tyranny to their subjects the superiors and the judges.

4. And consequently, inasmuch as the Most Reverend and Most Illustrious Archbishop and Prince-Elector of Trier not only permits witches, male and female, to be subjected in his diocese to deserved punishinent, but has also ordained laws regulating the method and costs of judicial procedure against witches, I have with heedless temerity tacitly insinuated the charge of tyranny against the aforesaid Elector of Trier.

5. I revoke and condemn, moreover, the following conclusions of mine, to wit: that there are no witches who renounce God, pay worship to the Devil, bring storms by the Devil's aid, and do other like things, but that all these things are dreams.

6. Also, that magic (magia) ought not to be called witchcraft (maleficium), nor magicians (magi) witches (malefici), and that the passage of Holy Scripture, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (Maleficos non patieris vivere), [3] is to be understood of those who by a natural use of natural poisons inflict death.

7. That no compact does or can exist between the Devil and a human being.

8. That devils do not assume bodies.

9. That the life of Hilarion written by St. Jerome is not authentic.

10. That there is no sexual intercourse between the Devil and human beings.

11. That neither devils nor witches can raise tempests, rain. storms, hailstorms, and the like, and that the things said about these are mere dreams.

12. That spirit and form apart from matter cannot be seen by man.

13. That it is rash to assert that whatever devils can do, witches also can do through their aid.

14. That the opinion that a superior demon can cast out an inferior is erroneous and derogatory to Christ. [4]

15. That the Popes in their bulls do not say that magicians and witches perpetrate such things (as are mentioned above).

16. That the Roman Pontiffs granted the power to proceed against witches, lest if they should refuse they might be unjustly accused of magic, just as some of their predecessors had been justly accused of it.

These assertions, all and singular, with many calumnies, falsehoods, and sycophancies, toward the magistracy, both secular and ecclesiastical, spitefully, immodestly, aud falsely poured forth, without cause, with which my writings on magic teem, I hereby expressly and deliberately condemn, revoke, and reject, earnestly beseeching the pardon of God and of my superiors for what I have done, and solemnly promising that in future I will neither in word nor in writing, by myself or through others, in whatsoever place it may befall me to be, teach, promulgate, defend, or assert any of these things. If I shall do to the contrary, I subject myself thenceforward, as if it were now, to all the penalties of the law against relapsed heretics, recusants, seditious offenders, traitors, backbiters, sycophants, who have been openly convicted, and also to those ordained against perjurers. I submit myself also to arbitrary correction, whether by the Archbishop of Trier or by any other magistrates under whom it may befall me to dwell, and who may be certified of my relapse and of my broken faith, that they may punish me according to my deserts, in honor and reputation, property and person.

In testimony of all which I have, with my own hand, signed this my recantation of the aforesaid articles, in presence of notary and witnesses.



(and attested)

Done in the Imperial Monastery of St. Maximin, outside the walls of Trier, in the abbot's chamber, in presence of the Reverend, Venerable, and Eminent Sirs, Peter Binsfeld, [5] Bishop of Azotus, vicar-general in matters Spiritual of the Most Reverend Archbishop of Trier, our most clement lord, and Reinerus, abbot of the said monastery, Bartholomaeus van Bodeghem, of Delft, J.U.L., Official of the Ecclesiastical Court of Trier, Georgius von Helffenstein, Doctor of Theology, Dean of the Collegiate Church of St. Simeon in the city of Trier, and Joannes Colmann, J.U.D., Canon of the said church and Seal-Bearer of the Court of Trier, [6] etc., in the year of Our Lord 1592 more Trev.,[7] on Monday, March 15th, in the presence of me the notary undersigned and of the worthy Nicolaus Dolent and Daniel Maier, secretary and copyist respectively of the Reverend Lord Abbot, as witnesses specially called and summoned to this end.

(Signed) ADAMUS HEC Tectonius, Notary.

(And below)

Compared with its original and found to agree, by me the undersigned Secretary of the town of Antwerp,


Here you have the Recantation in full. And yet afterwards again at Brussels, while serving as curate in the church of Notre Dame de la Chapelle, he was accused of relapse, and was released only after a long imprisonment, and being again brought into suspicion (whence you may understand the pertinacity of his madness) escaped a third indictment through a premature death; but (much the pity !) left behind not a few partisans, men so imperfectly versed in medicine and sound theology as to share this stupid error. Would that they might he wise, and seriously realize at last how rash and noxious it is to prefer the ravings of a single heretic, Weyer,[8] to the judgment of the Church!

Delrio, Disquisitiones Magicae, lib. v, appendix 1. Latin.


[1] This book, confiscated by the ecclesiastical authorities, has been partly recovered in our own day.
[2] i.e. both lay and spiritual.
[3] Exodus, xxii, 18.
[4] A marginal note here cites Luke, xi.
[5] Binsfeld, suffragan bishop and real head of ecclesiastical affairs in the diocese, was doubtless the prime mover in the punishment of Loos. He had himself written a book, De confessionibus maleficorum et sagarum (Trier, 1589), to prove that the confessions of witches were worthy of all faith.
[6] i.e., the ecclesiastical court, of which Bodeghem was the head (the Official).
[7] 1593, according to our calendar; according to the mos Trevirense the year began on March 25th.
[8] Johann Weyer was a German physician, who in 1563 put forth a book attacking the witch-persecution. Loos had been influenced by this and was looked on as Weyer's disciple.

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