Dawn Eden sent me the following information.
A high-school textbook used for the AP (Advanced Placement) European History exam equates the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance with “high magic” and says that, to combat witchcraft in the 13th century, “the Church declared its magic to be the only true magic.”
The Western Heritage Since 1300 (10th Edition, AP Edition, is published by Pearson Education Inc., publishing as Prentice Hall) is written by Donald Kagan of Yale University, Stephen Ozment of Harvard University, and Frank M. Turner of Yale Unversity.
Attached as a PDF file are the relevant portions of the textbook, which were given to me by a teacher at a Catholic high school that uses the textbook. The teacher, who does not teach history, learned about it from a student who asked her if its account of “Church magic” was true.
An actual AP European History study sheet featuring material from the book. The study sheet is available as a download from http://teacherweb.com/ . The download link is http://teacherweb.com/CA/SantiagoHighSchool/Krueger/AP-Euro-Chapter-14-Student-Notes-Pages.doc .
Sample quote from the book’s Chapter 14, p. 438, under the section title “Influence of the Clergy”:
Had ordinary people not believed that “gifted persons” could help or harm by magical means, and had they not been willing to accuse them, the hunts would never have occured; however, the contribution of Christian theologians was equally great. When the church expanded into areas where its power and influence were small, it encountered semipagan cultures rich in folkloric beliefs that predated Christianity. There, it clashed with the cunning men and women, who were respected spiritual authorities in their local communities, the folk equivalents of Christian priests. The Christian clergy also practiced high magic. They could transform bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ (the sacrament of the Eucharist) and eternal penalties for sin into temporal ones (the sacrament of Penance or Confession). The also claimed the power to cast out demons who possessed the faithful.
In the late thirteenth century, the Church declared its magic to be the only true magic. Since such powers were not innate to humans, the theologians reasoned, they must come either from God or from the devil. Those from God were properly exercised within and by the church. Any who practiced magic outside and against the church did so on behalf of the devil.
And a sample quote from the attached study sheet:
1. Influence of the Clergy
– When the church expanded into rural areas, it: ____________
– There the church clashed with the “cunning folk” who were respected in their communities
– The Christian clergy also performed “magic” by turning bread: __________________
– In the 13th century, the church declared its magic to be the only true magic
– The church argued that: ______________________________________________
– Therefore, magic either: ______________________________________________
– Those powers from God were good and were practiced w/in the church
– Those who practiced magic outside the church: ___________________________
– Attacking these so-called witches was a way for the church to extend its spiritual control
– The princes of the day who wanted: ____________________________________
– Witch trials became a way for the church and princes to realize their power goals
N.B. One of the book’s co-authors, Frank M. Turner, who died last month, also wrote a book on Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman that, according to its publisher, “portrays Newman as a disruptive and confused schismatic conducting a radical religious experiment” and “demonstrates that Newman’s passage to Rome largely resulted from family quarrels, thwarted university ambitions, the inability to control his followers, and his desire to live in a community of celibate males.”
I use to complain when history textbooks pretty much had a hole the size of the Catholic Church in them regarding the Church’s contributions to Western Civilization. But this textbook is a textbook example of anti-Catholicism.
This is an appalling amd ignorant libel on the Church. Thank you for making it known.
Happy Advent and God bless!
And this was at a Catholic school? Sheesh. It may be less intentional anti Catholicism and more ignorance. But you don’t want ignorance in an AP History text.
Yeah, that was the textbook used in my European history class in high school. There’s other snarky stuff throughout, I remember–the coverage of the Reformation was decidedly one-sided, and the Church was definitely understood as the thing blocking peace and progress when the Enlightenment struck–that sort of thing. The teacher also at one point said the reason for the Church’s ban on birth control was so that they’d have more Catholics and hence more power.
I’ve heard neopagans describe the sacraments as magic.
Interesting, though, that they admitted that some of the Church’s power was spiritual and not just political, or even just a political fiction.
I’m afraid to think back on my time in high school and contemplate the things I swallowed that were just as stupid.
I realize the text is Western Heritage, but I wonder if Islam gets mentioned and what kind of trreatment it receives.
I don’t think you can blame the school for the textbook. Aren’t the materials for AP exams set by the state? In that case the school has no choice if they want to let their student earn those credits.
1. Totally opposite to what “history of ideas” scholars have traced happening. When the Church expanded into pagan and semipagan areas, it was adamant that there were no such thing as special magical or pagan powers. To falsely accuse anyone of being a witch or making a curse that worked was punishable by death, in many countries. Why? Because accusing each other of witchcraft and killing the supposed witches was a big pagan social problem, particularly in Germanic and Slavic countries. (As it still is among Apaches, certain African countries, etc.)
In the late Middle Ages, the more openminded/frightened types thought that there might be something scientific behind all this magic, alchemy, and optics stuff, and that maybe the Devil had more power than they thought. So they investigated witchcraft accusations instead of executing the accuser, and witchcraft accusations did multiply somewhat. However, almost all investigations concluded that the person was not guilty (though secular governments took it dimly if someone was attempting to hurl non-working death spells, at least if you were hired to do it or part of a conspiracy). Still, that German loony Sprenger catalogued all the traditional German fears and legends of witches as if it were reliable. This came into play later, with Protestants.
2. Most prosecutions of magic happened in Protestant countries, because they stopped having a hierarchy cracking down on false accusations, and let the people give way to their native witchcraft fears. Since the climate had grown colder, crops and people had diseases, and there was war and disorder everywhere, people had lots of issues to blame on witches. But lots of people were getting killed for treason, heresy, and so forth by the Protestant kingdoms also; witchcraft trials were just one tiny bit of the general craziness and injustice.
3. That’s not what “high magic” means, either. Sheeeeeeesh. I think I remember that it was a style of ceremonial magic which used Latin (and sometimes Greek and Hebrew) words and freaky diagrams, and proposed to communicate with and/or command mighty powers of the vasty deep, and to wreak one’s will upon the world. As opposed to low magic, which was the stuff that uneducated people did without all the freaky robes and supposedly magical words and names, which also proposed to communicate with and/or command mighty beings, and to wreak one’s will upon the world.
(Or just to pray to God in a semi-occult way while doing various things — which generally came down the generations in various ritual forms, much like folk poetry or songs. But most people didn’t think of this as magic per se, and most churchmen didn’t frown on it too hard if it didn’t get out of hand.)
Sounds like my education in nyc public schools. “In the 13th century, the church declared its magic to be the only true magic.” That is how those who dabbled in the occult may have seen it; I get the impression the authors are trying to view history from the vantage point of the oppressed, the dispossessed, and the excluded minority.
— How do we desecrate this execrable institution?
— Focus on the Hocus-Pocus!
I’m currently in a Medieval Studies MA program at Columbia and I’m actually gathering research to write an end-of-term paper on exactly this topic. Maureen is right; the Church treated witchcraft accusations a lot harsher than the practice itself as it expanded in the early Middle Ages. She viewed magical practice as mere pagan superstition that required better catechesis, not legal persecution. There was the general attitude that the practice would die out as paganism became more and more a distant memory. It was only treated harshly when done for the purpose of seriously injuring another (and hey, even today we prosecute people for attempted murder; just because it was ineffective, doesn’t mean it wasn’t malicious). Even then, the punishment was usually banishment or excommunication, not execution.
Most of this magic was the sort of “common” magic that Maureen mentioned. It was rarely for personal gain. Most of it consisted of charms and incantations that were intended to aid in daily life or heal the sick. Some authorities viewed these practices with suspicion, but they were so common that even someone who condemned one such practice would himself participate in a different one. It’s important to note that for ordinary people, their intention was not really to perform magic. They had an integrated view of the universe; the line between the physical and spiritual realms were not nearly as distinct as we consider them. Thus, a farmer who recites some form of Christianized incantation over his field didn’t think of himself as performing magic. It was simply good husbandry to bless one’s crops. On a related note, the common image of the Church viciously descending upon some poor old midwife with knowledge of herbal remedies is simply false–that was the greater part of medieval medicine! Even the use of medicinal stones–today somewhat a New Agey practice–was not considered immoral because received medical wisdom told medieval people that they had the same potential for healing that plant and animal products did. Bl. Hildegard von Bingen wrote an entire manual cataloguing plants, animals and stones and their various healing properties.
The later medieval period, however, saw the rise of several factors that influenced the development of “elite” magic, the two biggest being the development of the university and the importation of more classical learning from Jewish and Arabic sources, especially arithmetic and astrology.
The rise of the university system was significant because it a) caused a greater divorce of learning from the supervision of the Church and b) created a class of clerics (as university students were considered) that were disproportionate to the actual numerical needs of the priesthood and monastic orders. This class of clerics had no real function, so in some cases they created one. They themselves didn’t see invoking demons as particularly wrong or harmful (at least some of them didn’t; sometimes consecrated wafers were used in the rituals, which became pretty hard to justify). They thought that their clerical “power” protected them and that they were free to “command” demons to do good against their will. Naturally, most orthodox theologians were suspicious of this claim and asserted that there was no way one could “command” a demon: at some implicit level, there was a submission and a “pact” being made.
Astrology itself was a debated “science” in the Middle Ages. Such notables as Albertus Magnus defended as legitimate and not necessarily contrary to human free will. In there defense, the issue was not as immediately clear as we see it. The sun caused life to grow on Earth and the Moon affected the tides, so why, they reasoned, shouldn’t other heavenly bodies affect terrestrial life? Nevertheless, arithmetic and astrology began to be used in elite magic to create elaborate rituals for invoking demons.
Obviously, this form of magic cannot be counted as mere superstition. Elite magicians were usually clerics who should have known perfectly well the immorality of what they were doing. This alone would have made the Church and secular governments more likely to increase their legal condemnation of such practices. Starting in the twelfth century however, a number of heretical groups arose and became very successful. The Church, not unnaturally, saw a connection between a rejection of its authority and sacraments on a theological grounds to a subversion of its authority and manipulation of its sacraments for personal power as two sides of the same coin. Boniface VIII produced a canon law book–Liber sextus–that allowed the prosecution of magic deemed heretical and several works after that dealt with the legal prosecution of elite magic, especially necromancy.
Unfortunately, as Maureen pointed out, a fanatic named Sprenger made this sensible approach to a real social problem into a text that allowed for the widespread persecution of all sorts of “common magic” as well. Though produced it the twilight of the Middle Ages, the effect Malleus Maleficarum had was not a medieval one. Rather, it was the Ren/Ref period–and well into the so-called Enlightenment–that the book was used to create a climate of terror and a tool for casting suspicions upon one’s neighbors.
I do think that we, the Church, should fight back. Ignorance is our enemy. Surely most western places have liable laws or anti hate legislation which would apply.
I teach AP Euro using the 9th edition of the textbook, and that particular text is the same. Fortunately, I used a separate document for that particular section and my students weren’t subjected to that particular idiocy.
I’m somewhat surprised by it, given the treatment of the Church elsewhere in the book. For example, it’s the only textbook I’ve seen that doesn’t give a one-sided account of Galileo or even attempt a hagiography of him. It addresses the personal conflict between Galileo and Urban VIII, saying it was “much more complicated than a simple case of conflict between science and religion,” which is more than most APEH textbooks will grant.
Seems to me it’s mostly a desperate attempt to keep everyone, including the neo-pagans who claim their origins in some way to the 17th c. witch-hunts, happy with some sort of “equal playing field”. Hopefully I’ve taught my students well enough that, if they did happen to browse that section, they’d tear it apart with their critical thinking and analysis.
This all depends, of course, on how you want to define the term “magic”. If it is simply “a ritual practise that affects the supernatural realm”, then one could make a case that the Sacraments are a kind of magic. However, the more common definition is that it is a ritual practise that *constrains* or *subordinates* the supernatural realm (i.e., angels, demons, sundry spirits and even God) to the will of the ritualist, then the Sacraments are most emphatically *not* magic.
Regardless, I agree that the authors of the book could have taken a bit more care with what they write down, I would think.
As a public-school teacher (Oh, don’t boo; I was in Viet-Nam and was voting Republican before you were born) I can assure you that many of my students come to class with bizarre anti-Catholic prejudices learned at home. One year I gave all my students cheap little wooden Celtic crosses for Christmas. One student asked, suspiciously, “Is this a Catholic thing?” Another, a professing witch, bit off the arms, leaving the circle, and said “Now it’s the rightful symbol of Lugh again!’
And so it goes.
So, is somebody who knows the real history going to write the publisher?