Malleus Maleficarum Part 3
Of the Second Method of Pronouncing Sentence, when the Accused is no more than Defamed
THE second method of delivering judgement is to be employed when he or she who
is accused, after a diligent discussion of the merits of the case in
consultation with learned lawyers, is found to be no more than defamed as a
heretic in some village, town, or province. And this is when the accused does
not stand convicted either by her own confession, or by the evidence of the
facts, or by the legitimate production of witnesses; nor has there been
anything proved against her except that she is the subject of common
aspersion: so that no particular act of witchcraft can be proved by which she
can be brought under strong or grave suspicion, as that she has uttered
threatening words, for example, You will soon feel what will happen to
you, or something to that effect, and afterwards some injury has
befallen the person or the cattle of the man she threatened.
The following procedure, therefore, is to be employed in the case of such a
one against whom nothing has been proved except public obloquy. In this case
judgement cannot be delivered for the accused, nor can she be absolved as in
the first method; but a canonical purgation must be imposed upon her.
Therefore let the Bishop or his deputy, or the Judge, first take note that, in
a case of heresy, it is not necessary that a person should be defamed only by
good and respected people; for the calumniation uttered by common and simple
folk carries equal weight.
And the reason for this is, that the same persons who are admitted as accusers
in a case of heresy are also admitted as detractors. Now any heretic can be
accused by anybody, except his mortal enemies; therefore he can also be
defamed by anybody.
Therefore let the Bishop or Judge pronounce his sentence of canonical
purgation in this or some similar manner:
We N., by the mercy of God Bishop of such a city, or Judge of such a county,
having diligently examined the merits of the process conducted by us against
you N. of such a Diocese accused before us of the crime of heresy, etc. We
have not found that you have confessed to or have been convicted of the
aforesaid sin or that you are even lightly suspected of it, except that we
find that truly and legitimately you are publicly defamed by both good and bad
in such a village, town, or Diocese; and that you may be in good odour among
the company of the faithful we impose upon you as by law a canonical
purgation, assigning to you such a day of such a month at such hour of the
day, upon which you shall appear in person before us with so many persons of
equal station with you to purge you of your defamation. Which sponsors must be
men of the Catholic faith and of good life who have known your habits and
manner of living not only recently but in time past. And we signify that, if
you should fail in this purgation, we shall hold you convicted, according to
the canonical sanctions.
Here it is to be considered that, when a person is duly found to be publicly
defamed of some heresy, and nothing is proved against him except that
defamation, a canonical purgation shall be imposed upon him. That is, he must
produce some seven, ten, twenty, or thirty men, according to the extent to
which he has been defamed and the size and important of the place concerned,
and these must be men of his own station and condition. For example, if he who
is defamed is a religious, they must be religious; if he is a secular, they
must be seculars; if he be a solder, they must be soldiers who purge him from
the crime for which he is defamed. And these sponsors must be men professing
the Catholic faith and of good life, who have known his habits and life both
recently and for a long time.
But if he refuses this purgation, he must be excommunicated; and if he remains
obstinate in that excommunication for a year, he is then to be condemned as a
And if he accepts the purgation and fails in it; that is, if he cannot find
sponsors of the number and quality desired; he shall be considered as
convicted, and is to be condemned as a heretic.
And it must here be remarked that, when it is said that he must purge himself
by means of so many men of his own station in life, this is meant generically
and not specifically. Thus, if a Bishop is to be purged, it is not necessary
that all his sponsors should be Bishops; but Abbots and other religious who
are priests are admitted; and similarly in other cases.
And the defamed person shall purge himself in the following manner. At the
time assigned to him for his canonical purgation, he shall appear in person
with his sponsors before the Bishop who is his Judge, in the place where he is
known to be defamed; and, placing his hand upon the Book of the Gospels set
before him, he shall say as follows:
I swear upon these four Holy Gospels of God that I never held, believed or
taught, neither do I hold or believe such heresy (naming it) for which I am
That is to say, he shall deny on oath whatever it is for which he is
After this, all his sponsors shall place their hands on the Gospels; and each
of them severally shall say: And I swear upon this Holy Gospel of God that I
believe him to have sworn the truth. And then he is canonically purged.
It is also to be noted that a person defamed of heresy is to be purged in the
place where he is known to be defamed. And if he has been defamed in many
places, he must be required to profess the Catholic faith and deny the heresy
in all the places in which he is known as defamed.
And let not such a person hold in light esteem this canonical purgation. For
it is provided by the Canon Law that, if he afterwards falls into the heresy
of which he has been purged, he is to be handed over as a backslider to the
secular Court. But the case is somewhat different if he falls into some other
heresy, of which he has not before been purged.
Next: Question XXII
Of the Third Kind of Sentence, to be Pronounced on one who is Defamed, and who is to be put to the Question