Demonology and Witchcraft - "Less we forget"

Cornelius Loos


Written and compiled by George Knowles 

Cornelius Loos (1546 – February 3, 1595), also known as Cornelius Losaeus Callidius, was a Roman Catholic priest, theologian, and professor of theology.  He was the first Catholic official to write publicly against the witch trials raging throughout Europe during the 1580s/90s.  For this, he was imprisoned and forced to recant his work, which was then confiscated and suppressed by church officials.  His manuscript against witchcraft (De vera et falsa magia or True and False Magic) was thought to have been lost in time, but was found some 300 years later in 1886 located in what was left of the old Jesuit Library of Trier by the American historian, George Lincoln Burr. 

George Lincoln Burr

Loos was born in 1546 at Gouda in the Netherlands.  He was from a patrician family and studied Philosophy and Theology at what is today known as the Catholic University of Leuven.  In 1574, Loos and his family were forced to leave Gouda for political reasons (primarily the capture of the city by Protestant/nationalist rebels during the Dutch Revolt).  After which he was ordained a Priest, and in 1578 was awarded a Doctor of Theology degree at the University of Mainz, where he remained becoming a Professor of Theology and a vigorous campaigner against Protestant beliefs.

In the 1580’s, Loos published a number of works:  a prayer book, some polemical theological writings against Protestantism, a political work (by subscription) about the Netherlands rebellion, a survey of German Catholic authors, and a pocket Latin grammar book.

In 1585, he moved to Trier, where he observed first hand the terrifying atrocities being dealt out to people accused of witchcraft during the witch trials.  Loos first wrote letters to the city authorities, but failing in that effort, in 1592 he sought to publish a book protesting against the witch-hunts and questioning some of the beliefs of the witch-hunters.  The attempted publication of “De vera et falsa magia” (True and False Magic) offended Peter Binsfeld, the Suffragan Bishop of Trier and deputy to Johann VI von Schonenberg, one of the highest-ranking officials in the Holy Roman Empire.

Before his book could be printed however, the Inquisition seized the manuscript and Loos was imprisoned.  On the 25th March 1593 he was forced to make a public recantation of his errors before an assembly of church officials in Brussels (which included the Papal Nuncio).  The manuscript of his book, which the Inquisition was thought to have destroyed, had then remained hidden for the next 300 years.

In 1886, the American literary historian and scholar George Lincoln Burr discovered the manuscript of True and False Magic in the Jesuit Library in Trier (a remnant of the University, which was dissolved in 1798).  Although the title page was missing and no author was listed, Burr was able to authenticate the document by comparing the points made in the text with the points recanted in Loos’ confession to the Inquisition.  A copy of the book can be found in the rare manuscript collection at Cornell University; the original is still held by the Trier Municipal Library.

In the manuscript, Loos argues against the existence of witchcraft and especially against the validity of confessions obtained under torture.  (Binsfeld had in 1589 published his own book on witchcraft, in which he supported confessions and denunciations obtained through torture).  In his work, Loos is believed to have been influenced by the arguments of Johann Weyer, a Protestant Dutch physician, who in 1563 put forth a book attacking the persecution of Witches, while also categorizing various magical demons.  After recanting, Loos was placed under constant watch by religious officials, and was briefly imprisoned several more times due to accusations that he had relapsed into theological error.  This continued persecution was conducted by his nemesis, a priest in the Jesuit order named Martin Del Rio.  Loos died on the 03rd February 1595 in Brussels, where he succumbed to the Plague.  Del Rio in the meantime lamented that Loos had died before he could have him executed.

Although, as noted above, Loos was not the first to write against the witch-hunts, but he was the first Catholic priest and theologian to do so, and the first to specifically question the validity of confessions obtained under torture.  Even though his work was lost for 300 years, his opponent Martin Del Rio ensured his continuing fame by publishing a book denouncing him, and by summarizing each of his arguments in the recantation he had forced Loos to sign. 



The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology - by Rossell Hope Robbins  

Written and compiled by George Knowles  © 09th March 2020