VISCONTI, Zaccaria [Zacharia Vicecomite]

Complementum Artis Exorcisticae


Venice: Francesco Barilettum. 1600.

First edition. Small 8vo. 145x95mm. pp. [6], 716, [4bl], 32. Bound in vellum. Some wear and marking and two small tears to foot of spine. Marginal tear to foot of title page with loss of about 25mm but no loss of text. Small worm hole on front free endpaper, title page and first two leaves of text. Some foxing and toning but overall a very good copy of a rare and influential work on the theology, practice and rituals of exorcism. Front free endpaper has the book plate of E.R.D.Maclagan who was an art historian and Director of the V&A. 
The driving out of evil spirits is common to all the major religions but in Christianity it traces its origins to Christ's expulsion of demons and so has, traditionally been granted a special, albeit not sacramental, place in traditional worship. Despite the Biblical exhortation to practice exorcism, official guides and rules only appeared in the Catholic Church with the adoption of the official Roman Rite in 1614. The formalisation of the rites relating to exorcism followed a long process of debate and a series of detailed studies of exorcism of which this book by Visconti, first published in 1600 and running to seven editions over the next forty five years is among the most important. One of the central aims of the exorcism reforms was a prohibition on lay people carrying out the expulsion of evil spirits. The Church wanted to bring it all "in-house" as it were. Unsurprisingly then, Visconti was a priest, a member of the order of Saints Barnabas and Ambrose and a renowned teacher of exorcism. Complementum Artis Exorcisticae includes sections on how to spot the signs of a person possessed by demons. Once spotted, the spirits can be removed and most of Visconti's book involves a discussion of the theology of exorcism and the rites and practices involved. These are a combination of medical-herbal remedies and prayers and invocations designed to free the possessed body from its demons.
In 1607, there appeared a compendium of six recent works on exorcism. Among them was Visconti's Complementum. This Thesaurus Exorcismorum was an attempt to bring together some of the most important studies of the subject but also crystallise the rules and theology which had developed over the previous century and would find their clearest and most authoritative expression in the Rituale Romanum of 1614.

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