Overview

In 1631, at the epicenter of the worst excesses of the European witch-hunts,
Friedrich Spee, a Jesuit priest, published the Cautio Criminalis, a book speaking out against the
trials that were sending thousands of innocent people to gruesome deaths. Spee, who had himself
ministered to women accused of witchcraft in Germany, had witnessed ...

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Cautio Criminalis, or a Book on Witch Trials

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Overview

In 1631, at the epicenter of the worst excesses of the European witch-hunts,
Friedrich Spee, a Jesuit priest, published the Cautio Criminalis, a book speaking out against the
trials that were sending thousands of innocent people to gruesome deaths. Spee, who had himself
ministered to women accused of witchcraft in Germany, had witnessed firsthand the twisted logic and
brutal torture used by judges and inquisitors. Combined, these harsh prosecutorial measures led
inevitably not only to a confession but to denunciations of supposed accomplices, spreading the
circle of torture and execution ever wider.

Driven by his priestly charge of
enacting Christian charity, or love, Spee sought to expose the flawed arguments and methods used by
the witch-hunters. His logic is relentless as he reveals the contradictions inherent in their
arguments, showing there is no way for an innocent person to prove her innocence. And, he questions,
if the condemned witches truly are guilty, how could the testimony of these servants and allies of
Satan be reliable? Spee’s insistence that suspects, no matter how heinous the crimes of which
they are accused, possess certain inalienable rights is a timeless reminder for the present
day.

The Cautio Criminalis is one of the most important and moving works in the
history of witch trials and a revealing documentation of one man’s unexpected humanity in a
brutal age. Marcus Hellyer’s accessible translation from the Latin makes it available to
English-speaking audiences for the first time.

Studies in Early Modern German
History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813934174
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press
  • Publication date: 10/5/2012
  • Series: Studies in Early Modern German History
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 233
  • Sales rank: 905,978
  • File size: 534 KB

Meet the Author

Marcus Hellyer is the Dibner Fund Assistant Professor for the History of Science at
Brandeis University.

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