Canon Episcopi (or Capitulum Episcopi)

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Canon Episcopi (or Capitulum Episcopi)

An early religious document of unknown origin, erroneously attributed to the Council of Ancyra, which met in 314 C.E. It was first quoted by Regino of Prüm, Abbot of Treves, in 906 C.E.

In the twelfth century it was incorporated in the Corpus Juris Canonici by Gratian of Bologna and became part of canon law. The importance of this document is that it is an early ecclesiastical statement describing witchcraft as the practice of pagan religion and ascribing the acts of witches to dreams and fantasies. The document became important in the rise of the Inquisition, which was limited in its scope to heretics (those Christians who held nonorthodox doctrines) and apostates (those Christians who had rejected the faith). Since witchcraft was related to the practice of another religion, rather than being within the purview of either heretics or apostates, the Inquisition could not touch them.

The Canon Episcopai was overturned by a papal encyclical issued by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484. Summis desiderantes affectibus redefined witchcraft as devil worship, hence abandoning one's religious fault. The encyclical had the effect of unleashing the Inquisition on people accused of practicing witchcraft.


Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1972.