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"Desiring with Supreme Ardor" (Summis desiderantes affectibus) was the title of a papal bull issued by Pope Innocent VIII on this day in 1484. It dealt with the activity of witches, and gave explicit papal approval for the torture of women accused of witchcraft. Here is the heart of his message, in one gigantic sentence:

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.

Despite this papal stamp of approval, the top inquisitor for witchcraft (one Heinrich Kramer) found he could not torture and execute enough witches to rid Europe of its troubles. Local authorities kept getting in his way, annoyingly protecting individual women that he wanted to put to the rack, or burn at the stake.

In response, Kramer retired from his inquisitorial position and wrote his masterwork, The Hammer of Witches (in Latin: Malleus Maleficarum). This book was single-handedly responsible for the centuries-long return of the torture and persecution of innocent women on trumped-up charges of witchcraft. It was reprinted 29 times between 1487 and 1669, and is still in print in English today. I bought a copy while in college; my nauseated horror at the contents of that book was the primary cause for my conversion to atheism.

5 Dec 1484 was among the blackest days in the entire history of religion.

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