Innocent VIII

Pope Innocent VIII

Summis desiderantes affectibus (English: Desiring with supreme ardor)[1][2] was a papal bull issued by Pope Innocent VIII on December 5, 1484.

The bull was written in response to the request of Dominican Inquisitor Heinrich Kramer for explicit authority to prosecute witchcraft in Germany, after he was refused assistance by the local ecclesiastical authorities.[2]

The bull recognized the existence of witches:

"many persons of both sexes, unmindful of their own salvation and straying from the Catholic Faith, have abandoned themselves to devils, incubi and succubi, and by their incantations, spells, conjurations, and other accursed charms and crafts, enormities and horrid offences, have slain infants yet in the mother's womb, as also the offspring of cattle, have blasted the produce of the earth, the grapes of the vine, the fruits of the trees, nay, men and women, beasts of burthen, herd-beasts, as well as animals of other kinds, vineyards, orchards, meadows, pasture-land, corn, wheat, and all other cereals; these wretches furthermore afflict and torment men and women, beasts of burthen, herd-beasts, as well as animals of other kinds, with terrible and piteous pains and sore diseases, both internal and external; they hinder men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving, whence husbands cannot know their wives nor wives receive their husbands; over and above this, they blasphemously renounce that Faith which is theirs by the Sacrament of Baptism, and at the instigation of the Enemy of Mankind they do not shrink from committing and perpetrating the foulest abominations and filthiest excesses to the deadly peril of their own souls, whereby they outrage the Divine Majesty and are a cause of scandal and danger to very many (...) the abominations and enormities in question remain unpunished not without open danger to the souls of many and peril of eternal damnation."[3]
and gave full papal approval for the Inquisition to move against witches and permission to do whatever necessary to get rid of them. The bull essentially repeated Kramer's view that an outbreak of witchcraft and heresy had occurred in the Rhine River valley, specifically in the bishoprics of Mainz, Cologne, Trier, Salzburg and Bremen, including accusations of certain acts.[4]

The bull urged local authorities to cooperate with the inquisitors and threatened those who impeded their work with excommunication.[5]

Despite this threat, the bull failed to ensure that Kramer got the support he had hoped for, causing him to retire and to compile his views on witchcraft into his book Malleus Maleficarum, which was published in 1487. Summis desiderantes affectibus was published as part of the preface of the book, signaling papal approval for the work.[6]

The bull, which synthesized the spiritual and the secular crimes of witchcraft,[7] is often viewed as opening the door for the witchhunts of the early modern period. However, its similarities to previous papal documents, emphasis on preaching, and lack of dogmatic pronouncement complicate this view.[2] The Catholic Encyclopedia dismisses the importance attached to the encyclical in the context of the ensuing witch hunts as "altogether illusory".[8]

Some scholars view the bull as "clearly political", motivated by jurisdictional disputes between the local German Catholic priests and those of the Inquisition who answered more directly to the pope.[9]


  1. The name is sometimes abbreviated Summis desiderantes (Kors and Peters, p. 180; Burr, p. 7). Burr also refers to this document as The Witch-Bull of 1484.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Kors and Peters, 2000, p. 177.
  3. Quotes from the 1928 English translation of the bull.
  4. Black, 2003, p. 6.
  5. Darst, 1979, p. 299.
  6. Russell, 229-231
  7. This specific cultural and intellectual background that made the German witchhunts possible is explored by H. Erik Midelfort, Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany, 1562-1684,(Stanford University Press) 1972, with full bibliography.
  8. Wikisource-logo "Witchcraft" in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia.
  9. Darst, 1979, p. 298.


This page uses content from the English Wikisource. The original article was at Summis desiderantes affectibus. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Religion wiki, the text of Wikisource is available under the CC-BY-SA.
Published in the series: Translations and reprints from the original sources of European history ; v. 3, no. 4.

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