Church History

Research Article

French Catholic Demonologists and Their Enemies in the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries

Jonathan L. Pearla1

a1 Mr. Pearl is associate professor of history in the University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Since the eighteenth century, critics and historians have looked with embarrassment and horror at the belief in and persecution of witches in France, as well as in the rest of Europe, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The witchcraft crisis has seemed to be either an example of the evils of traditional religious bigotry or an odd aberration in the march of progress following the Renaissance. Those who defined and propagated the learned theories of witchcraft—its reality and dangers and the need for severe persecution of witches—have been depicted almost universally as oppressive, bigoted extremists. In recent years historians have dealt with witchcraft from new points of view and have provided valuable new information and interpretations, but they still have tended to confirm the traditional images of the writers of demonological tracts. They are horrified and repulsed by the demonologists, whom they see as spokesmen for a unified oppressive upper class.