Satan the Heretic. the Birth of Demonology in the Medieval West

By Page, Sophie | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2007 | Go to article overview

Satan the Heretic. the Birth of Demonology in the Medieval West


Page, Sophie, The Catholic Historical Review


Satan the Heretic. The Birth of Demonology in the Medieval West. By Alain Boureau. Translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 2006. Pp. 216. $30.00, £19.00.)

In this book Alain Boureau argues that a new obsession with the Devil and demons among theologians in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century was a crucial stage in the origins of the witchcraft persecutions. He shows that the period 1280-1330 was a turning point in theological attitudes to humandemon interaction, with a significant event being Pope John XXIFs consultation of ten theologians and canonists in 1320 on the categorization of magical practices as heretical. The causes for the new anxiety about magical practices and the heightened scholastic interest in demons included the influx of learned magic texts translated from Arabic into Latin in the twelth and thirteenth centuries and the perceived threat to orthodoxy posed by dualist heresies.

The discipline of demonology emerged in a context of changing attitudes to the efficacy of magical rituals. In the thirteenth century there was a shift from skepticism about the reality of magical transformations to a widespread belief that magical practitioners could produce real effects in the physical world with the assistance of demons. Boureau argues that in the period 12801330 the fear of demons grew as stories about the ways humans and spirits could be bound together through possession, invocation, and pact became more credible and significant. These three types of interaction with spirits had different implications. Boureau draws attention to the openness of the human subject in the Middle Ages. It was thought to have the potential to undergo incorporation and inhabitation with the divine, but also to be vulnerable to possession by the Devil through a mere word or ill-judged wish. A second development, which is not discussed in detail but which supports Boureau's argument about the theological anxiety about demons, was the new emphasis found in learned magic texts on the ability of humans to compel, persuade , and manipulate spirits. …

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