In comparison with the estimated number of about 60,000 executed so-called witches (women and men), the number of executed and punished witch-priests seems to be rather irrelevant. This statement, however, overlooks the fact that it was only during medieval and early modern times that the crime of heresy and witchcraft cost the life of friars, monks, and ordained priests at the stake. Clerics were the largest group of men accused of practicing magic, necromancy, and witchcraft. Demonology and the media (in constant dialogue with trials) reveal the omnipresence of the devil’s cleric with his figure possessing the quality of a ‘super-witch’, labelled as patronus sagarum
. In Western Europe, the persecution of Catholic priests played at least two significant roles. First, in confessional debates, it proved to Catholics that Satan was assaulting post-Tridentine Catholicism, the only remaining bulwark of Christianity; for Protestants on the other hand, the news about the devil’s clergy proved that Satan ruled popedom. Second, in the Old Reich and from the start of the 17th century, the prosecution of clerics as the devil’s minions fueled the general debates about the legitimacy of witchcraft trials. In sketching these over-lapping discourses, we meet the devil’s clergy in Catholic political demonology, in the media and in confessional debates, including polemics about Jesuits being witches and sorcerers. Friedrich Spee used the narratives about executed Catholic priests as vital argument to end trials and torture. Inter alia, battling the devil’s clergy played a vital role in campaigns of internal Catholic church reform and clerical infighting. Studying the debates about the devil’s clergy thus provides a better understanding of how the dynamics of the Reformation, counter-Reformation, Catholic Reform, and confessionalization had an impact on European witchcraft trials.
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