Academic journal article Parergon

Scourging the Temple of God: Towards an Understanding of Nicolas Jacquier's Flagellum Haereticorum Fascinariorum (1458)

Academic journal article Parergon

Scourging the Temple of God: Towards an Understanding of Nicolas Jacquier's Flagellum Haereticorum Fascinariorum (1458)

Article excerpt

In 1458, the Dominican inquisitor Nicolas Jacquier wrote the Flagellum haereticorum fascinariorum (The Scourge of Heretical Bewitchers). Designed both to expose a heretical sect and to defend an orthodox demonology, the tract survives in at least nine contemporary manuscript copies and a print edition which appeared in 1581. (1) Despite the tract's wide dissemination, there is no comprehensive study of the Flagellum in the English language, and what scholarship there is has remained hampered by a failure to read the text in its entirety. The Flagellum's chief concern is a new sect of 'witches', the fascinarii, who gathered at nocturnal Sabbaths to worship the Devil, denying the Christian faith and performing harmful magical acts (maleficia) with the aid of their demonic associates. (2) But the tract is also concerned with those who do not believe that the fascinarii actually exist in physical reality. In fact, the text consistently identifies those who believe the fascinarii do not exist with members of sect itself. The tract is a fierce defence of the reality of demonic intervention in the world and of the reality of the fascinarii, aiming to scourge the sect from the temple of God.

The reception of Jacquier's text by scholars in the last one hundred years has been shaped by the seminal and still valuable work of Joseph Hansen, who in 1901 published a series of extracts from important witchcraft texts, the Quellen und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte des Hexenwahns und der Hexenverfolgung im Mittelalter). (3) Hansen's choice of excerpts from the Flagellum formed part of an early twentieth-century 'liberal-rational school' of witchcraft scholarship. (4) Important events in the history of witchcraft were chosen and organized to reveal an intellectual 'development' in the conceptualization of witchcraft. The result was that Hansen included those sections of the Flagellum which formed part of the 'progress' of ideas about the reality of the Sabbath or which related directly to 'evidence' about the 'real' sect of the fascinarii. (5) Exempla and material in Jacquier's text considered peripheral to the development of the history of witchcraft, but in fact central to Jacquier's argument, were removed.

Hansen's influence persists among scholars who no longer subscribe to his historical method. Werner Tschacher, in his excellent short study of night flight, 'Der Flug durch die Luft zwischen Illusionstheorie und Realitatsbeweis', only refers to the excerpts of the Flagellum in Hansen's compendium. (6) In English-language scholarship the problem is marked in the most recent and highly influential study of demonic reality, Walter Stephens's Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex and the Crisis of Belief (2002). (7) Stephens claims that his method is based on reading witchcraft treatises 'cover to cover' and as 'complete wholes', yet he has only consulted Jacquier's text in the excerpts printed in Hansen's collection. (8) Jacquier's use of scriptural exempla, for example, is entirely omitted by Stephens in his discussion of the reality of night flight. (9) Yet, on the same page, Stephens cites exactly the same exempla used by Jacquier as 'crucial' parts of Jean Vinet's near-contemporary Tractatus contra demonum invocatores. On this basis, Stephens is able to boil down one hundred and eighty pages of more and less complex argument to a simplistic stereotype. With ill-disguised contempt, Stephens labels Jacquier's proof of demonic reality 'pathetic', without having read it. (10)

Despite these methodological problems, in Jacquier's case Stephens is right to emphasize that bodily interaction between demons and witches was an important part of late medieval theological discourses of all kinds, be they the real presence in the Eucharist or ideas of night flights to the Sabbath. Yet the motivations for theological concerns about bodily reality and their role in complex interplays of social, intellectual, and cultural life are not easily reduced to Stephens's thesis that late medieval demonological theory was the symptom of a 'crisis of belief'. …

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