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Malleus Maleficarum

Latin for ‘‘Witches’ Hammer’’ (also known as Hexenhammer); penned in the fifteenth century, primarily by German monk Heinrich Kramer. According to The Da Vinci Code, ‘‘The Catholic Inquisition published the book that arguably could be called the most blood-soaked publication in human history. Malleus Maleficarum—or The Witches’ Hammer—indoctrinated the world to ‘the dangers of freethinking women’ and instructed the clergy how to locate, torture, and destroy them’’ (125).

In fact, the Catholic Church did not publish Malleus Maleficarum, and the Inquisition actually condemned its views.

While writing, Kramer directed a trial at Innsbruck, where he investi­gated fifty-seven suspected witches. The bishop of Brixen became so disgusted by Kramer’s fascination with the witches’ sexual behavior that he stopped the trial, declaring that the devil was not in the witches but in Kramer. Malleus Maleficarum clearly reflected his own vulgar sexual preoccupations.

In 1487, Kramer attempted to have the book approved by the Catholic faculty of Cologne University; they rejected it because its legal procedures were unethical and because Kramer’s demonology differed radically from the church’s understanding of Scripture. In response, Kramer forged a glowing letter of approval and claimed it came from them. The Inquisition condemned Kramer and his book in 1490.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Malleus Maleficarum did become popular among secular and Protestant judges; until publication of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress in 1678, it was Europe’s second-most-popular book. Nevertheless, it wasn’t used in the Inquisition, but primarily in secular courts. Furthermore, although its recommendations were applied in some cases, there is little evidence that its procedures were followed throughout Europe. Its long-term popularity was likely due to its prurient appeal rather than in its usefulness in locating and trying witches. See also Inquisition; witch-hunts.

Printed with permission from Bethany House Publishers, South Bloomington, Minnesota from the book "The Da Vinci Codebreaker : an easy-to-use fact checker for truth seekers" by James L. Garlow.

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