Random Quote #87 topic: voltaire-dict, Philosophical Dictionary by Voltaire, 1694-1778


The institution of religion exists only to keep mankind in order, and to
make men merit the goodness of God by their virtue. Everything in a
religion which does not tend towards this goal must be considered
foreign or dangerous.

Instruction, exhortation, menaces of pains to come, promises of immortal
beatitude, prayers, counsels, spiritual help are the only means
ecclesiastics may use to try to make men virtuous here below, and happy
for eternity.

All other means are repugnant to the liberty of the reason, to the
nature of the soul, to the inalterable rights of the conscience, to the
essence of religion and of the ecclesiastical ministry, to all the
rights of the sovereign.

Virtue supposes liberty, as the carrying of a burden supposes active
force. Under coercion no virtue, and without virtue no religion. Make a
slave of me, I shall be no better for it.

The sovereign even has no right to use coercion to lead men to religion,
which supposes essentially choice and liberty. My thought is subordinate
to authority no more than is sickness or health.

In order to disentangle all the contradictions with which books on canon
law have been filled, and to fix our ideas on the ecclesiastical
ministry, let us investigate amid a thousand equivocations what the
Church is.

The Church is the assembly of all the faithful summoned on certain days
to pray in common, and at all times to do good actions.

The priests are persons established under the authority of the sovereign
to direct these prayers and all religious worship.

A numerous Church could not exist without ecclesiastics; but these
ecclesiastics are not the Church.

It is no less evident that if the ecclesiastics, who are part of civil
society, had acquired rights which might trouble or destroy society,
these rights ought to be suppressed.

It is still more evident that, if God has attached to the Church
prerogatives or rights, neither these rights nor these prerogatives
should belong exclusively either to the chief of the Church or to the
ecclesiastics, because they are not the Church, just as the magistrates
are not the sovereign in either a democratic state or in a monarchy.

Finally, it is quite evident that it is our souls which are under the
clergy's care, solely for spiritual things.

Our soul acts internally; internal acts are thought, volition,
inclinations, acquiescence in certain truths. All these acts are above
all coercion, and are within the ecclesiastical minister's sphere only
in so far as he must instruct and never command.

This soul acts also externally. External actions are under the civil
law. Here coercion may have a place; temporal or corporal pains maintain
the law by punishing those who infringe it.

Obedience to ecclesiastical order must consequently always be free and
voluntary: no other should be possible. Submission, on the other hand,
to civil order may be coerced and compulsory.

For the same reason, ecclesiastical punishments, always spiritual, do
not reach here below any but those who are convinced inwardly of their
fault. Civil pains, on the contrary, accompanied by a physical ill, have
their physical effects, whether or no the guilty recognize their

From this it results obviously that the authority of the clergy is and
can be spiritual only; that it should not have any temporal power; that
no coercive force is proper to its ministry, which would be destroyed by

It follows from this further that the sovereign, careful not to suffer
any partition of his authority, must permit no enterprise which puts
the members of society in external and civil dependence on an
ecclesiastical body.

Such are the incontestable principles of real canon law, of which the
rules and decisions should be judged at all times by the eternal and
immutable truths which are founded on natural law and the necessary
order of society.


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