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Giovanni Batista Cibo, elected pope in 1484, issued what has been termed one of the most important documents in the history of the Church's fight against witchcraft: the Bull of 1484, Summis desiderantes affectibus ("Desiring with supreme ardor"). Though credited with launching the Inquisition full force against witches, it actually followed a long line of earlier bulls inveighing against witchcraft and sorcery, issued since the 13th century.

The Canon Episcopi of 906 had relegated witchcraft to the realm of fantasy, but in the 13th century, popes began to speak out on their beliefs in the reality of witchcraft as an evil against mankind. In his first year as pope, Innocent VIII was approached by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, two Dominican inquisitors, who persuaded him that they were being impeded by local ecclesiastical authorities in their efforts to prosecute witches. They asked for help, and the result was the Bull of 1484, which granted them full authority to carry out their inquisitions and demanded that they receive whatever support was necessary from local officials.

The bull, noted Sir Walter Scott in Letters on Demonol-ogy and Witchcraft (1830), "rang the tocsin against this formidable, crime [of sorcery], and set forth in the most dismal colours the guilt, while it stimulated the inquisitors to the unsparing discharge of their duty in searching out and punishing the guilty." Its chief object was to transfer the crimes of sorcery to the Waldenses, a religious sect labeled heretics, "and excite and direct the public hatred against the new sect by confounding their doctrines with the influences of the Devil and his fiends."

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