Canon episcopi

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The Canon Episcopi was a canonical regulation in the early Middle Ages that opposed sorcery and superstition and in which the nocturnal ecstatic flights of women in the wake of the pagan goddess Diana were expressly condemned as imagination and delusion. On the one hand, the clerics should combat all sorcery in their communities and cast out the convicted women and men. On the other hand, the church turned against the apparently widespread belief in women driving at night.


Because of their deviation from the Christian faith of the church, the canon describes fortune tellers and magicians, whether men or women, as heretics . The bishops and their helpers, ie the parish clergy, should fight those who spread the belief in witches and cast off the convicted people. The expulsion of the heretics from the parish required by the canon is to be regarded as an extremely severe church punishment.

Obviously particularly severe cases are referred to in this legal text as those "wicked women" who had turned from God to Satan again and who would claim or believe in them, along with a large number of other women in the wake of the pagan goddess Diana on animals at night To have made flights over long distances. These women, according to the canon, would obey the goddess Diana like a mistress and would be summoned by her on certain nights. This allegiance of the women in question to their mistress Diana and their veneration as a divine being is interpreted by the canon as infidelity or an outrage against God, apostasy and relapse into paganism.

So the fault of these women was not that they were witches, but that they claimed to be witches when they weren't. The Canon Episcopi is a condemnation of the belief in witches. The Canon Episcopi states that the witch craze is diabolical.

The central sentence is in German translation: This too must not be ignored that some wicked women who have again converted to Satan are seduced by the pretenses and fantasies of evil spirits and believe and claim that they rode at night with Diana, the goddess of the pagans , and an innumerable number of women on certain animals and covered long stretches of land in the quiet of the deep night and obeyed her (Diana's) commands like those of a mistress and were called to her service on certain nights (Hartmann 2004, p. 421)

The belief of women, against which the priests should also preach with all their vigor, is referred to in the following text as imagination and delusion. Satan, who has turned into an angel of light, would delude women into such delusions in order to spread unbelief among people. He could transform himself into the figures as well as into the images of any person and thus deceive women in their dreams. These women would now believe that they had also physically experienced this aviation imagination. Such is the interpretation of the idea of ​​women from the perspective of early medieval church law. It is controversial whether a pagan-Christian fairy belief, which is widespread in various forms in Europe, is hidden behind the contested ideas.

Origin and reception

The Canon, named after the beginning of the text Episcopi (the bishops), first appeared around 906 in the Libri duo de synodalibus causis et ecclesiasticis disciplinis , the broadcasting manual of Abbot Regino von Prüm . There the text was wrongly ascribed to a council of Ancyra in the 4th century. Regino's possible templates can only be speculated.

The decisive factor was the broad reception of the text: Via Burchard von Worms (died 1025) and Ivo von Chartres (died 1115/1116) the Canon Episcopi was included in the great canon law collection of Gratian and thus in the Corpus Iuris Canonici , which remained valid until 1918 .

The Canon Episcopi could be interpreted in very different ways in the church's fight against sorcery and witchcraft . Heretic persecutors turned the apostasy from God in the dream into an explicit devil's pact , witch persecutors refused to equate the flight of witches, which they regarded as real, with the flight, which in the Canon Episcopi regarded as diabolical delusion. Opponents of the witch trials such as Johann Weyer and moderate theologians (for example in Württemberg in the 16th century), on the other hand, could invoke the Canon Episcopi as a central argument against the flight of witches as an important element of the early modern witch doctrine .


  • Wilfried Hartmann (Hrsg.): The broadcast handbook of Regino von Prüm (= selected sources on the German history of the Middle Ages. Vol. 42). Edited and translated using the edition of FWH Wasserschleben . Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2004, ISBN 3-534-14341-8 , text pp. 420-423.
  • Werner Tschacher: The flight through the air between illusion theory and proof of reality. Studies on the so-called Canon Episcopi and the flight of witches. In: Journal of the Savigny Foundation for Legal History . Vol. 116 = Canonical Department Vol. 85, 1999, pp. 225-276.
  • Josef Steinruck: Sorcery, belief in witches and demons in the broadcasting manual of the Regino von Prüm. In: Gunther Franz, Franz Irsigler (Hrsg.): Hexenglaube and witch trials in the Rhine-Mosel-Saar area (= Trier witch trials. Vol. 1). Spee, Trier 1995, ISBN 3-87760-123-5 , pp. 3-18.
  • Carlo Ginzburg : Witches' Sabbath. Deciphering a nocturnal story (= Fischer 11002 story ). Unabridged edition. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1993, ISBN 3-596-11002-5 .

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