[SANT’UFFIZIO] Practica Sancti Officii Inquisitionis ad usum Caroli Centurioni Consultoris Genue.

Italy, (ms), c.1645


4to. pp. (vi) 155 (v). Brown-black ink in secretary hand, Italian and Latin, typically 18 lines per page. T-p ink ruled. Lightly smudged with slight offsetting to fly and first couple of ll., very minor marginal foxing, the odd thumb mark. A very good copy in contemporary vellum over pasteboards. In slipcase.

A very good clean ms. copy of the ‘Practica officii Inquisitionis’—a generic title, with Latin and vernacular variants, for the official manual of Inquisitors which circulated widely in ms. It includes the ‘Instructio pro formandis processibus in causis strigum, sortilegiorum et maleficiorum’, instructions for the conduct of witchcraft trials composed and sometimes circulated independently. Other such mss. are recorded, e.g., 1MANOSSXX-169 in the Biblioteca Provinciale dei Cappuccini in Genoa, the city where this copy was also made and preserved. It was written c.1645 for Carlo Centurione, counsellor of the Inquisition, possibly a member of the major Genoese aristocratic family. The terse and clearly-structured text introduces definitions of ‘heretics’ and ‘suspected heretics’, what crimes they may be accused of, how they should be brought to court, questioned and punished, with references to papal bulls and the minutes of ecclesiastical Councils. Among the categories of heretics addressed are polygamists, sorcerers, blasphemers, keepers of prohibited books, priests who encourage people in the confessional to discuss their carnal sins with unholy intentions, infidels including Jews and Muslims and those who print and circulate their books, and even possessed nuns. On the one hand, this manual appears to continue the tradition of torture and psychological violence for which the Inquisition was proverbial; in order to break impenitent heretics ‘learned, pious and prudent people would be called to reduce them to the recognition of the Catholic Truth’. On the other hand, a new willingness to avoid major judicial errors was emerging. Curses against God (literally reproduced in the treatise) were to be considered within the context in which they were said (out of anger, for instance) and the alleged demonic possession of nuns would be examined more carefully since the immediate involvement of exorcists might worsen the situation through suggestion and even frighten novices. A similar mindset informs the concluding ‘Instructio’ originally penned by Giovanni Garcia Millino c.1624 to reformulate how testimonies for the prosecution in witchcraft trials should be weighed and to what extent they should be believed. This treatise was a vademecum for Inquisitors, witness to a ms. tradition dating back to the C14 which was still alive in the mid-C17 even though a vernacular manual, Eliseo Marini’s ‘Sacro Arsenale’, had been in print for a few decades.

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