Montesquieu
 

XII.5 On certain accusations which particularly call for moderation and prudence

An impor­tant maxim : great cir­cum­spec­tion is requi­red in the pur­suit of magic and heresy. Accusation for these two cri­mes can hugely threa­ten free­dom, and be the source of limit­less tyran­nies, if the legis­la­tor is una­ble to contain it. For as it does not bear directly on the acts of a citi­zen, but rather on the notion someone has for­med of his cha­rac­ter, it beco­mes dan­ge­rous in pro­por­tion to the igno­rance of the peo­ple ; and then a citi­zen is always in dan­ger, because the best conduct in the world, the purest mora­lity, and the prac­tice of one’s every duty, are no pro­tec­tion against sus­pi­cions for those cri­mes.

Under Manuel Komnenos, the pro­tes­ta­tor1 was accu­sed of cons­pi­ring against the empe­ror, and for that pur­pose making use of cer­tain secrets that make men invi­si­ble. It is said in the life of that empe­ror2 that Aaron was caught rea­ding a book of Solomon’s, the rea­ding of which conju­red legions of demons. Now by sup­po­sing there is in magic a force that conju­res hell, and begin­ning with that, the man who is cal­led a magi­cian is seen as the one per­son on earth most likely to shake and over­turn society, and the impul­sion is to punish him without mea­sure.

Indignation grows when magic is cre­di­ted with the power to des­troy reli­gion. The his­tory of Constantinople3 tells us that, based on a reve­la­tion recei­ved by a bishop that a mira­cle had cea­sed because of one indi­vi­dual’s magic, the man and his son were condem­ned to death. On how many extra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stan­ces did this crime not depend ? That the exis­tence of reve­la­tions should not be rare, that the bishop should have recei­ved one, that it was genuine, that there had been a mira­cle, that said mira­cle had cea­sed, that there had been magic, that the magic had been able to over­po­wer reli­gion, that this indi­vi­dual was a magi­cian, and finally that he had per­pe­tra­ted this act of magic.

Emperor Theodoros Laskaris attri­bu­ted his ill­ness to magic. People who were accu­sed of it had no other recourse than to handle a hot iron without bur­ning them­sel­ves. Among the Greeks it would have hel­ped to be a magi­cian to defend one­self for magic. Such was the excess of their pecu­lia­rity that with the most uncer­tain of cri­mes they com­bi­ned the most uncer­tain kinds of evi­dence.

Under the reign of Philip the Tall, the Jews were dri­ven out of France, accu­sed of using lepers to poi­son springs. This absurd accu­sa­tion should make us doubt all accu­sa­tions that are based on public ani­mo­sity.

I have not said here that heresy should not be puni­shed ; I am saying that one must be very cir­cum­spect in puni­shing it.

Nicetas Acominatus, Life of Manuel Komnenos, book IV.

Ibid.

History of the emperor Maurice by Theophylactus, ch. xi.