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Witchcraft and the Papacy: An Account Drawing on the Formerly Secret Records of the Roman Inquisition (Studies in Early Modern German History) Hardcover – November 29, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0813927473 ISBN-10: 0813927471

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Editorial Reviews


"Let there be no mistake: Decker has not produced a nostalgic apology for the Church, for he works historically in the best sense, by seeking the foundation of historical judgment in the only place he can find it, in empirical fact. In place of the 'Black Legend,' he has not erected a 'rosy legend.'... The last witch was burned in Rome in 1572, just a few years before the first true avalanche of trials overtook Germany and France around 1590, and well before the witch craze reached its high point with many thousands of victims, in the period between 1626 and 1631, but not in Italy or on the south side of the Alps, and not influenced by the Roman Inquisition, but rather in the territories of the Holy Roman Empire.

(Thomas Brechenmacher Tagespost, on the German edition)

This is a very readable book. The methodology is sound and the exposition steadily draws out the steps towards the development of the early modern witchcraft phenomenon.

(Journal of Religious History)

Decker has provided excellent answers to questions about the witch trials that, in the past, have been evaluated more on the basis of assumptions than evidence. This book ought to be read by scholars not only of witchcraft, but anyone interested in early modern Catholicism.


One of the great values of Rainer Decker's sweeping treatment of the papacy's role in European witchcraft trials from the late middle ages to the modern era is to contextualize the Church's position on witchcraft against the backdrop of the constant struggle between secular and ecclesiastical authorities, as well as its attempt to limit potential heresey while not enflaming persecutions.

(Seventeenth-Century News)

On the whole, Decker has written a thoughtful, well-researched, and balanced account of the apacy's response to witchcraft. He adroitly blends the dynamics of local witchcraft cases over six centuries with the variety of ecclesiastical responses that shaped the Catholic Church's understanding of the nature of witchcraft, its distinction between the evil acts themselves and their intent, and ultimately the need for spiritual care and procedural caution.

(Seventeenth-Century News)

Decker has undertaken to write a brief, lucid account of the persecution of witchcraft in Western Europe from the Middle Ages to modern times, with particular respect to the role played by the Romanc papacy and papally appointed inquisitorial authorities in that persecution.

(Journal of World History)

Rainer Decker's illuminating study of the papacy's involvement in witch-hunting from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century represents the most sustained and comprehensive contribution to this revisionism in witchcraft studies.

(Studies in Early Modern German History)

Decker's book, which was originally published in German in 2003, will find its main audience among ecclesiastical and witchcraft historians as well as those interested in the history of criminal justice. Its broad chronological range, references to the broader history of witchcraft in Europe, and excellent translation by H.C. Erik Midelfort also make it suitable for undergraduates encoutnering the history of witchcraft for the first time.

(Studies in Early Modern German History)

About the Author

Rainer Decker is the Director of the Department of History at the Secondary Teachers’ Training Institute in Paderborn, Germany. H. C. Erik Midelfort is professor of religious studies and history at the University of Virginia, author of Exorcism and Enlightenment, and the translator of Wolfgang Behringer’s The Shaman of Oberstdorf (Virginia).

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