Piety in the Torture Chamber

Michael Ostling

in Between the Devil and the Host

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199587902
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731228 | DOI:

Series: The Past & Present Book Series

Piety in the Torture Chamber

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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What can the Polish witch-trials tell us about Christianity in early modern Poland? Missionaries and reformers constructed Christianity in opposition to paganism, superstition, ignorance, and magic—a rhetorical strategy that nearly always renders the peasantry as ignorant, practico-magical, or worse. Modern scholarship has too often repeated this pattern, making use of Frazer’s distinction between magic and religion without examining the Christian apologetic genealogy of that schema. The confessions of accused witches under torture challenge our preconceptions, and require us to hear Christianity in their invocations of Jesus, the Holy Sacrament, the Virgin Mary, and all the saints in their time of trial. Read carefully, some confessions to diabolical witchcraft can be seen as witnesses to Christian piety.

Keywords: Christianity; piety; torture; paganism; magic and religion; confession; superstition

Chapter.  4910 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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