TREATISE ON TOLERANCE
ON THE OCCASION OF THE DEATH OF JEAN CALAS
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VIRTUE IS BETTER THAN LEARNING
The fewer dogmas, the fewer disputes; and the fewer disputes, the fewer misfortunes: if this is not true, I am mistaken.
Religion is instituted to make us happy in this life and the next. But what is required to make us happy in the life to come? To be just.
To be happy in this life, as much as the wretchedness of our nature will permit, what do we need? To be indulgent.
It would be the height of madness to pretend to bring all mankind to think exactly in the same manner about metaphysics. We might, with much greater ease, conquer the whole universe by force of arms than subject the minds of all the inhabitants of one single village.
Euclid found no difficulty in persuading every one of the truths of geometry. And why? Because there is not one of them which is not a self-evident corollary of this simple axiom: "Two and two make four." But is it not altogether the same for the mixture of metaphysics and theology.
When Bishop Alexander and Arius the priest began first to dispute in what manner the Logos proceeded from the Father, the Emperor Constantine wrote to them in the following words reported by Eusabius and Socrates: "You are great fools to dispute about things you can not understand."
If the two contending parties had been wise enough to agree that the emperor was right, Christendom would not have been drenched in blood for three hundred years.
And, indeed, what can be more foolish, or more horrible than to address mankind in this manner: "My friends, it is not sufficient that you are faithful subjects, dutiful children, tender parents, and good neighbors; that you practice every virtue; that you are friendly, grateful, and worship Jesus-Christ in peace; it is furthermore required of you that you should know how a thing is begotten from all eternity and if you cannot distinguish the omousian in the hypostasis, we declare to you that you will be burned for all eternity; and in the meantime we will begin by cutting your throats"?
If such a decision as this had been presented to Archimedes, Posidonius, Varro, Cato, or Cicero, what answer do you think they would have made?
Constantine, however, did not persevere in silencing the two parties; he might easily have summoned the chiefs of the disputes before him, and have demanded of them by what authority they disturbed the peace of mankind. "Are you," he might have said, "members of the divine family? What is it to you whether the Logos Son was made or begotten, provided that you are faithful to it; that you preach a virtuous morality and practise it if you can? I have committed many faults in my lifetime, and so have you; you are ambitious, and so am I; it has cost me many falsehoods and cruelties to gain the empire; I have murdered almost all my relatives; but I now repent: I want to expiate my crimes by restoring peace to the Roman Empire; do not prevent me from doing the only good action which can possibly make my former cruel ones forgotten; help me to end my days in peace." Perhaps Constantine might not have prevailed over the disputants, and perhaps he might have been pleased with presiding over a council in a long crimson robe, with his forehead glittering with jewels.
This, however, opened the way to all those dreadful calamities which overran the West from Asia. Out of every contested verse there issued a fury armed with an interpretation and a dagger, who made men stupid and cruel. The Huns, the Heruli, the Goths, and Vandals, who came afterwards, did infinitely less harm, and the greatest they did was that of afterwards engaging in the same fatal disputes.
OF UNIVERSAL TOLERANCE
It does not require any great art or studied elocution to prove that Christians ought to tolerate one another. I will go even further and say that we ought to look upon all men as our brothers. What! call a Turk, a Jew, and a Siamese, my brother? Yes, of course; for are we not all children of the same father, and the creatures of the same God?
But these people despise us and call us idolaters! Well, then, I should tell them that they are very wrong. And I think that I could stagger the headstrong pride of an imaum, or a talapoin, were I to speak to them something like this:
"This little globe, which is no more than a point, rolls, together with many other globes, in that immensity of space in which we are lost. Man, who is about five feet high, is certainly a very inconsiderable part of the creation; but one of those hardly visible beings says to some of his neighbors in Arabia or South Africa: Listen to me, for the God of all these worlds has enlightened me. There are about nine hundred millions of us little insects who inhabit the earth, but my ant-hill alone is cherished by God who holds all the rest in horror for all eternity; those who live with me upon my spot will alone be happy, and all the rest eternally wretched."
They would stop me and ask, "What madman could have made so foolish a speech?" I should then be obliged to answer them, "It is yourselves." After which I should try to pacify them, but that would not be very easy.
I might next address myself to the Christians and venture to say, for example, to a Dominican, one of the judges of the inquisition: "Brother, you know that every province in Italy has a jargon of its own and that they do not speak in Venice and Bergamo as they do in Florence. The Academy della Crusca has fixed the standard of the Italian language; its dictionary is an absolute rule, and Buonmattei's Grammar is an infallible guide, from neither of which we ought to depart; but do you think that the president of the Academy, or in his absence Buonmattei, could in conscience order the tongues of all the Venetians and Berga-mese, who persisted in their own dialect, to be cut out?"
The inquisitor would reply: "There is a very wide difference; here the salvation of your soul is concerned; and it is entirely for your good that the directory of the inquisition orders that you be seized, upon the deposition of a single person, though of the most infamous character; that you have no lawyer to plead for you, nor even be acquainted with the name of your accuser; that the inquisitor promise you favor, and afterwards condemn you; that he make you undergo five different kinds of torture, and that afterwards you be either whipped, sent to the galleys, or burned at the stake. Father Ivonet, and the doctors, Cuchalon, Zanchinus Campegius, Roias, Felynus, Gomarus, Diabarus, and Gemelinus are exactly of this opinion, and this pious practice will not admit of contradiction."
To all of which I should take the liberty of making the following reply: "My brother, you may perhaps be in the right; I am perfectly well convinced of the great good you would do me; but may I not be saved without all this?"
It is true that these absurd horrors do not daily stain the face of the earth; but they have been frequent, and one might easily collect instances enough to make a volume much larger than that of the Holy Gospels, which condemn such practices. It is not only very cruel to persecute in this short life those who do not think in the same way as we do, but I very much doubt if there is not an impious boldness in pronouncing them eternally damned. In my opinion, it little befits such insects of a summer's day as we are thus to anticipate the decrees of the Creator. I am very far from opposing the maxim, "outside the church there is no salvation;" I respect it and all that it teaches, but, after all, do we know all the ways of God, and all the extent of his mercy? Are we not permitted to hope in him, as well as to fear him? Is it not sufficient if we are faithful to the Church? Must every individual usurp the rights of Divinity and determine, before it, the eternal fate of all men?
When we wear mourning for a king of Sweden, Denmark, England or Prussia, do we say that we are in mourning for a damned soul that is burning eternally in hell? There are about forty millions of inhabitants in Europe who are not members of the Church of Rome; should we say to every one of them, "Sir, since you are infallibly damned, I shall neither eat, converse, nor have any connections with you?"
Is there an ambassador of France who, when he is presented to the Grand Seigneur for an audience, will seriously say to himself, his highness will infallibly burn for all eternity for having submitted to circumcision? If he really thought that the Grand Seigneur was a mortal enemy of God, and the object of his vengeance, could he converse with such a person; ought he to be sent to him? With what man could we carry on any commerce, or perform any of the civil duties of society, if we were indeed convinced that we were conversing with persons destined to eternal damnation?
O different worshippers of a peaceful God! if you have a cruel heart, if, while you adore he whose whole law consists of these few words, "Love God and your neighbor," you have burdened that pure and holy law with false and unintelligible disputes, if you have lighted the flames of discord sometimes for a new word, and sometimes for a single letter of the alphabet; if you have attached eternal punishment to the omission of a few words, or of certain ceremonies which other people cannot comprehend, I must say to you with tears of compassion for mankind: "Transport yourselves with me to the day on which all men will be judged and on which God will do unto each according to his works.
"I see all the dead of past ages and of our own appearing in his presence. Are you very sure that our Creator and Father will say to the wise and virtuous Confucius, to the legislator Solon, to Pythagoras, Zaleucus, Socrates, Plato, the divine Antonins, the good Trajan, to Titus, the delights of mankind, to Epictetus, and to many others, models of men: Go, monsters, go and suffer torments that are infinite in intensity and duration. Let your punishment be eternal as I am. But you, my beloved ones, John Châtel, Ravaillac, Damiens, Cartouche, etc. who have died according to the prescribed rules, sit forever at my right hand and share my empire and my felicity."
You draw back with horror at these words; and after they have escaped me, I have nothing more to say to you.