In a universe where God and the devil had, to such an extent, abandoned their traditional roles, learned theologians had plenty of space in which to carve out the new category of witchcraft. Although the broad contours of late-medieval learned conceptions of witchcraft were determined by basic metaphysical assumptions, the specific form these conceptions took was primarily the result of the evidence and experience available to various authors. This chapter discusses the epistemological problems posed by belief in witchcraft. It examines how motifs drawn from traditional beliefs about spectral night-traveling women informed the construction of learned witch categories in the late middle Ages. In the case of Institoris and Sprenger, their category ‘witch’ responded to their experience as inquisitors, which included extensive familiarity with the oral testimony of victims of witchcraft and of accused witches themselves. Their witches were the common people's witches, those unpleasant and unpopular individuals held responsible for damaging crops, souring milk and causing illness out of petty malice. Institoris and Sprenger were predisposed to accept almost any consistent body of testimony at face value. Their notion of witchcraft retained congruence with traditional beliefs lacking in the constructions of authors with different experience or epistemological orientations.
This chapter discusses a different set of ideas about the construction of learned witch categories in the late Middle Ages, all of which, from the clerical perspective, revolved around the idea of direct or indirect commerce with the devil: heresy, black magic and superstition. In late medieval times, witchcraft was a composite – a combination of motifs derived from a number of quite different traditions: those associated with monstrous female spirits, animal transformation, demonolatrous heresy, maleficent magic and superstition being among the most prominent. The resulting composite figures were in no way haphazard; rather, each one of these established categories were used as a kind of conceptual template to provide the underlying principles around which one version of witchcraft was ordered and constructed. In the text, as in some other German texts, the witch was defined through her maleficium and practice of magic. Many French models of witchcraft depicted the witch more as a demonised heretic – a being defined by her willing entry into the demonic pact and her worship of the devil. In every case, however, the template originally chosen by the witch theorist both defined and restricted the field of his inquiry and the scope of his investigation, while determining, at the same time, the inherent plausibility of his definition of ‘witch’ and ‘witchcraft’, and the extent to which these categories could be used to drive witchcraft persecutions.
Research on the continuation of witchcraft beliefs after the end of the witch trials is still in its infancy among German historians. Cultural and denominational distance must have played a prominent role and should not be underestimated, especially as it was used for auxiliary argumentation culminating in the handy and catchy accusation of superstition. Even if exorcists and witch doctors who spread the belief in witchcraft were seen as damaging, superstitious and dangerous in the official verdict, this view only prevailed very haltingly among the local population. Prussian medical authorities, and many doctors in their wake, tried to use their medical and scientific world-view to rationalize the irrational and to explain 'abnormal' beliefs increasingly in terms of mental illness. The Catholic Church and state administration were confronted time and again with petitions and queries regarding witchcraft and magic, which contain many differing views and interpretations.
The conclusion explains why the English Reformation ended in the late eighteenth century. It discounts a secular and secularizing Enlightenment as an explanation. Rather, it offers three other reasons for the Reformation’s ending. Firstly, by the last quarter of the eighteenth century enough time had passed to make the seventeenth-century wars of religion less threatening than they had seemed earlier in the century. Secondly, the Reformation issues with which the eighteenth-century English dealt got supplanted by other, more urgent ones, often having to do with England’s expanding empire. Finally, and importantly, the Reformation ended because the polemical divines who are the subject of this book failed fully in their tasks of defining truth and of defending the autonomy of the established Church of England. In the end, the modern state took on the role as truth’s arbiter and made the Church a subordinate, dependent institution.
Having lost a legal battle with Richard Bentley, Conyers Middleton went to Rome for a year and a half during the mid 1720s. During his time in Italy, Middleton developed a view of Christian antiquity at odds with the mainstream orthodox one. This chapter examines both the evolution of Middleton’s stance orthodoxy to heterodoxy and the perceptions and consequences of that evolution. It considers the arguments of his Letter from Rome (1729), highlighting their latently heterodox implications. It shows how the Letter from Rome’s latent heterodoxy became manifest in Middleton’s Letter to Dr Waterland (1730). Finally, it details the ways that his attacks on Daniel Waterland destroyed his relationship with his first patron — Edward Harley, second earl of Oxford — and permanently damaged his career prospects.
This chapter is about anti-Methodism and focuses especially on Warburton’s Doctrine of Grace (1763). Firstly, it reveals how Warburton’s engagement with George Whitefield’s Journals; with John Byrom’s work on enthusiasm; and with Daniel Neal’s History of the Puritans shaped and sharpened his thinking about Methodism. Secondly, it anatomizes the argument of a long anti-Methodist manuscript — The True Methodist — that Warburton wrote during the mid 1750s, yet never published. Finally, it shows how Warburton reworked the True Methodist’s anti-Methodist arguments in his Doctrine of Grace. Running through all of Warburton’s thinking on Methodism, from Methodism’s emergence in the late 1730s until the end of his life, was a fear of enthusiasm. Precisely what constituted enthusiasm was up for debate during the eighteenth century. Yet while enthusiasm was a labile term during the eighteenth century, it was almost always associated with the disordered religious and political life of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. This chapter shows how and why contemporaries made that association.
This chapter anatomizes the dispute between Zachary Grey and Dissenting historians like Daniel Neal who together mined the recent English past for ammunition in eighteenth-century religious and political fights. It locates these historical debates within efforts during the 1730s to repeal the Test and Corporation Acts. It then charts the development of Grey’s take on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English history. It shows that while the seventeenth-century wars of religion were over, their causes and lessons remained contested. Precisely because the causes and lessons of those wars were not settled, polemical divinity retained practical political value. The chapter also uses Zachary Grey’s anti-Dissenting historical scholarship further to consider the economic realities of polemical divinity. While religious works continued to dominate booksellers’ catalogues, they had to be pitched and packaged in ways that were marketable. Grey’s anti-Neal tracts were hardly profitable. The chapter concludes by examining a work of English historical scholarship that was financially successful: Zachary Grey’s scholarly edition of Samuel Butler’s Hudibras.
Conyers Middleton’s History of the Life of Marcus Tullius Cicero (1741) proved not to be a vehicle for personal and professional redemption. Its content rankled the orthodox, and the book failed to remove the heterodox stain to his reputation. While he profited financially from the publication, his ecclesiastical career remained stalled, his resentment metastasized and he returned again to overt polemical divinity. This chapter explores how orthodox coercion and punishment could intensify and deepen a polemical divine’s heterodoxy. It explains what about an ostensibly theologically neutral work bothered the orthodox. It explains why Middleton returned to overt polemical divinity during the mid 1740s, uninhibited by hopes of ecclesiastical promotion. Finally, it shows how his treatment of miracles focused on epistemological and hermeneutical problems that had long consumed him and whose origins he explicitly traced to England’s Reformation.
This chapter concerns the sources of the triune Christian God’s revealed truth about himself and his creation. In particular, it anatomizes the debates over deism between Waterland and Matthew Tindal, The Tindal-Waterland debate was not simply about how God could be known but about God’s relation to and scope of action within his creation. In Waterland’s defence of the Bible’s truth, he argued for a radically transcendent God, one who could do whatever he wanted; whenever and wherever he wanted; and for reasons that might be wholly inscrutable to human beings. To Tindal, this was an irrational — and, hence, an immoral — argument. This chapter explains why Tindal and Waterland argued as they did. Locating their dispute within eighteenth-century debates over deism, this chapter also shows how Waterland worked out his thinking about Tindal’s Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730) in the margins of his own copy of the work. His initial objections focused on the threat Tindal’s work posed to the nation’s morality. In Scripture Vindicated, though, Waterland confronted what he took to be the underlying hermeneutical challenges posed by Tindal’s work.
Part II of this book (chapters 6-9) concern Conyers Middleton. This introductory chapter to Part II sets the scene for this story by considering feud between Middleton and Richard Bentley and its implications for Middleton’s later career. It illustrates two salient points. Firstly, it shows how seemingly scholarly debates — Middleton’s dispute with Bentley over Bentley’s proposed edition of the New Testament in Greek and Latin — were sometimes really just proxy wars in more parochial political squabbles. Secondly, it shows how polemical divines used the law to coerce and punish their polemical rivals.