Refutation de l’erreur du vulgaire touchant les reponses des diables exorcises.

Constances, Par Jean le Carrel, 1618.


FIRST EDITION. 8vo. ff. [14]-143. Roman letter, some Italic. Title within charming, four part, grotesque woodcut border, floriated woodcut initials, grotesque headpieces, typographical ornaments, autograph ‘Campaigne 1621” on recto of front fly, “Coti Andrea in memore 1668” below and “J. André aux hor’ (d’Amiens)” in C19th century hand below that, “Com Coti Andreii memore ord. D 1669” on title, C19th armorial library stamp of ‘Charles Henneguier’ on verso of fly, modern bookplate of Eric Gruaz on pastedown. A very good copy, crisp and clean, in contemporary vellum, yapp edges, remains of ties, title ms on spine. 

Exceptionally rare edition of this most interesting work on exorcism and diabolic possession by the Augustinian, Brother Sanson Birette, entitled the ‘Refutation of the Error of the Vulgar, Regarding the Responses of Exorcised Devils’, relating accounts of demonic possession in Normandy in the towns of ‘Coutances, Valognes, Barfleur, etc’, including a lengthy section explaining how to best use God’s power to harm or injure devils. “It is easy to see that the large-scale exorcisms this period, described copiously in print, would raise anxieties about the question of audience. Priests making the devil talk made other priests nervous, both about the public profile of the church and the potential fate of souls deluded by charlatans and devils. In 1618 the Augustinian Sanson Birette wrote deploring public exorcisms as no better than the kind of divination traditionally associated with witchcraft. He describes as an intolerable abuse the interrogation of possessing devils ‘on the misfortunes of illness, of death, of accidents, of losses, of animals and of occult crimes, in order to have revelation about them’. Birette’s argument was founded on the paternalistic concern for all those unable to tell the difference when a devil speaks ‘under the honey of truth [in order to] transmit the infection of lies’. He cited a papal bull of Sixtus V, which stipulated that the devil may only be asked how many spirits are present in the possessed, the cause and subject of the possession, and the time when they entered the possessed; and he found endorsement for this in the Norman ritual of Coustances, which he said limited the interrogation of demons to questions regarding the number of demons in the possessed, why the person was possessed, and when the possession began. Yet even these strictures, which Birette implied would prevent excessive exorcist interrogations, clearly left room for eliciting information about those ‘occult crimes’, such as witchcraft, whose exposure he feared would lead to belief in diabolical lies. … Birette’s piece, which might seem to be a precursor of modern humane sentiments about which hunting, can therefore be seen as very much a creature of its time; a document designed to reject witchcraft accusations, certainly, but because these were signs of excessive use of the sacramental of exorcism on the part of the ‘vulgar’, the uneducated clergy and the gullible laity.” Sarah Ferber. ‘Demonic Possession and Exorcism: In Early Modern France.’

The work was published in two editions of the same year, one at Rouen and the present. This edition is particularly rare; we have only located two copies in libraries at Cornell University and in Paris at the Bibliothèque interuniversitaire Sainte-Geneviève.

Guaita, 953 ‘Ouvrage de demonology fort rare’ [Rouen edition only]. Not in BM STC [Rouen ed. only] USTC or Caillet.


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