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The Eve of the French Revolution By Edward J. Lowell Characters: 35729

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

The enemies of the Church of France were many and bitter, but one man stands out prominent among them. Voltaire was a poet, much admired in his day, an industrious and talented historian, a writer on all sorts of subjects, a wit of dazzling brilliancy; but he was first, last, and always an enemy of the Catholic Church, and although not quite an atheist, an opponent of all forms of religion. For more than forty years he was the head of the party of the Philosophers. During all that time he was the most conspicuous of literary Frenchmen. Two others, Rousseau and Montesquieu, may rival him in influence on the modern world, but his followers in the regions of thought are numerous and aggressive to-day.

Voltaire was born in 1694 the son of a lawyer named Arouet. There are doubts as to the origin of the name he has made so famous; whether it was derived from a fief possessed by his mother, or from an anagram of AROUET LE JEUNE. At any rate, the name was adopted by the young poet, at his own fancy, a case not without parallel in the eighteenth century. [Footnote: As in the case of D'Alembert. For Voltaire's name, see Desnoiresterres, Jeunesse de Voltaire, 161.]

Voltaire began early to attract public attention. Before he was twenty-five years old he had established his reputation as a wit, had spent nearly a year in the Bastille on a charge of writing satirical verses, and had produced a successful tragedy. In this play a couplet sneering at priests might possibly have become a familiar quotation even had it been written by another pen.[Footnote: Oedipe, written in 1718. "Nos prêtres ne sont point ce qu'un vain peuple pense; Notre credulité fait toute leur science." Act IV., Scene I.] For several years Voltaire went on writing, with increasing reputation. In 1723, his great epic poem, "La Henriade," was secretly circulated in Paris.[Footnote: Desnoiresterres, Jeunesse, 297.] The author was one of the marked men of the town. At the same time his reputation must have been to some extent that of a troublesome fellow. And in December of that year an event occurred which was destined to drive the rising author from France for several years, and add bitterness to a mind naturally acid.

The details of the story are variously told. It appears that Voltaire was one evening at the theatre behind the scenes, and had a dispute with the Chevalier de Chabot, of the family of Rohan. "Monsieur de Voltaire, Monsieur Arouet, what's your name!" the chevalier is said to have called out. "My name is not a great one, but I am no discredit to it," answered the author. Chabot lifted his cane, Voltaire laid his hand on his sword. Mademoiselle Lecouvreur, the actress, for whose benefit, perhaps, the little dispute was enacted, took occasion to faint. Chabot went off, muttering something about a stick.

A few days later, Voltaire was dining at the house of the Duke of Sulli. A servant informed him that some one wanted to see him at the door. So Voltaire went out, and stepped quietly up to a coach that was standing in front of the house. As he put his head in at the coach door, he was seized by the collar of his coat and held fast, while two men came up behind and belabored him with sticks. The Chevalier de Chabot, his noble adversary, was looking on from another carriage.

When the tormentors let him go, Voltaire rushed back into the house and appealed to the Duke of Sulli for vengeance, but in vain. It was no small matter to quarrel with the family of Rohan. Then the poet applied to the court for redress, but got none. It is said that Voltaire's enemies had persuaded the prime minister that his petitioner was the author of a certain epigram, addressed to His Excellency's mistress, in which she was reminded that it is easy to deceive a one-eyed Argus. (The minister had but one eye.) Finally Voltaire, seeing that no one else would take up his quarrel, began to take fencing lessons and to keep boisterous company. It is probable that he would have made little use of any skill he might have acquired as a swordsman. Voltaire was not physically rash. The Chevalier de Chabot, although he held the commission of a staff-officer, was certainly no braver than his adversary, and was in a position to take no risks. Voltaire was at first watched by the police; then, perhaps after sending a challenge, locked up in the Bastille. He remained in that state prison for about a fortnight, receiving his friends and dining at the governor's table. On the 5th of May, 1726, he was at Calais on his way to exile in England. [Footnote: Desnoiresterres, Jeunesse, 345.]

Voltaire spent three years in England, years which exercised a deep influence on his life. He learned the English language exceptionally well, and practiced writing it in prose and verse. He associated on terms of intimacy with Lord Bolingbroke, whom he had already known in France, with Swift, Pope, and Gay. He drew an epigram from Young. He brought out a new and amended edition of the "Henriade," with a dedication in English to Queen Caroline. He studied the writings of Bacon, Newton, and Locke. Thus to the Chevalier de Chabot, and his shameful assault, did French thinkers owe, in no small measure, the influence which English writers exercised upon them.

While in England, Voltaire was taking notes and writing letters. These he probably worked over during the years immediately following his return to France. The "Lettres Philosophiques," or "Letters concerning the English Nation," were first published in England in 1733. They were allowed to slip into circulation in France in the following year. Promptly condemned by the Parliament of Paris as "scandalous and contrary to religion and morals, and to the respect due to the powers that be," they were "torn and burned at the foot of the great staircase," and read all the more for it.

It is no wonder that the church, and that conservative if sometimes heterodox body, the Parliament of Paris, should have condemned the "English Letters." A bitter satire is leveled at France, with her religion and her government, under cover of candid praise of English ways and English laws. What could the Catholic clergy say to words like these, put into the mouth of a Quaker? "God forbid that we should dare to command any one to receive the Holy Ghost on Sunday to the exclusion of the rest of the faithful! Thank Heaven we are the only people on earth who have no priests! Would you rob us of so happy a distinction? Why should we abandon our child to mercenary nurses when we have milk to give him? These hirelings would soon govern the house and oppress mother and child. God has said: `Freely ye have received; freely give.' After that saying, shall we go chaffer with the Gospel, sell the Holy Ghost, and turn a meeting of Christians into a tradesman's shop? We do not give money to men dressed in black, to assist our poor, to bury our dead, to preach to the faithful. Those holy occupations are too dear to us to be cast off upon others."[Footnote: Voltaire, xxxvii. 124.]

Having thus attacked the institution of priesthood in general, Voltaire turns his attention in particular to the priests of France and England. In morals, he says, the Anglican clergy are more regular than the French. This is because all ecclesiastics in England are educated at the universities, far from the temptations of the capital, and are called to the dignities of the church at an advanced age, when men have no passions left but avarice and ambition. Advancement here is the recompense of long service, in the church as well as in the army. You do not see boys becoming bishops or colonels on leaving school. Moreover, most English priests are married men. The awkward manners contracted at the university, and the slight intercourse with women usual in that country, generally compel a bishop to be content with his own wife. Priests sometimes go to the tavern in England, because custom allows it; but if they get drunk, they do so seriously, and without making scandal.

"That indefinable being, who is neither a layman nor an ecclesiastic, in a word, that which we call an abbé, is an unknown species in England. Here all priests are reserved, and nearly all are pedants. When they are told that in France young men known for their debauched lives and raised to the prelacy by the intrigues of women make love publicly, amuse themselves by composing amorous songs, give long and dainty suppers every night, and go thence to ask the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and boldly call themselves successors of the apostles, they thank God that they are Protestants;-but they are vile heretics, to be burned by all the devils, as says Master Francois Rabelais. Which is why I have nothing to do with them."[Footnote: Voltaire, xxxvii. 140.]

While the evil lives of an important part of the French clergy are thus assailed, the doctrines of the Church are not spared. The following is from the letter on the Socinians. "Do you remember a certain orthodox bishop, who in order to convince the Emperor of the consubstantiality [of the three Persons of the Godhead] ventured to chuck the Emperor's son under the chin, and to pull his nose in his sacred majesty's presence? The Emperor was going to have the bishop thrown out of the window, when the good man addressed him in the following fine and convincing words: `Sir, if your Majesty is so angry that your son should be treated with disrespect, how do you think that God the Father will punish those who refuse to give to Jesus Christ the titles that are due to Him?' The people of whom I speak say that the holy bishop was ill-advised, that his argument was far from conclusive, and that the Emperor should have answered: `Know that there are two ways of showing want of respect for me; the first is not to render sufficient honor to my son, the other is to honor him as much as myself.'"[Footnote: Voltaire, xxxvii. 144.] Such words as these were hardly to be borne. But the French authorities recognized that there was a greater and more insidious danger to the church in certain other passages by which Frenchmen were made to learn some of the results of English abstract thought.

Among the French writers of the eighteenth century are several men of eminent talent; one only whose sinister but original genius has given a new direction to the human mind. I shall treat farther on of the ideas of Rousseau. The others, and Voltaire among them, belong to that class of great men who assimilate, express, and popularize thought, rather than to the very small body of original thinkers. Let us then pause for a moment, while studying the French Philosophers and their action on the church, and ask who were their masters.

Montaigne, Bayle, and Grotius may be considered the predecessors on the Continent of the French Philosophic movement, but its great impulse came from England. Bacon had much to do with it; Hooker and Hobbes were not without influence; Newton's discoveries directed men's minds towards physical science; but of the metaphysical and political ideas of the century, John Locke was the fountain-head. Some Frenchmen have in modern times disputed his claims. To refute these disputants it is only necessary to turn from their books to those of Voltaire and his contemporaries. The services rendered by France to the human race are so great that her sons need never claim any glory which does not clearly belong to them. All through modern history, Frenchmen have stood in the front rank of civilization. They have stood there side by side with Englishmen, Italians, and Germans. International jealousy should spare the leaders of human thought. They belong to the whole European family of nations. The attempt to set aside Locke, Newton, and Bacon, as guides of the eighteenth century belongs not to that age but to our own.

The works of Locke are on the shelves of most considerable libraries; but many men, now that the study of metaphysics is out of fashion, are appalled at the suggestion that they should read an essay in three volumes on the human understanding, evidently considering their own minds less worthy of study than their bodies or their estates. It may be worth while, therefore, to give a short summary of those theories, or discoveries of Locke which most modified French thought in the eighteenth century. The great thinker was born in 1632 and died in 1704. His principal works were published shortly after the English Revolution of 1688, but had been long in preparation; and the "Essay on the Human Understanding" is said to have occupied him not less than twenty years.

It is the principal doctrine of Locke that all ideas are derived from sensation and reflection. He acknowledges that "it is a received doctrine that men have native ideas and original characters stamped upon their minds in their very first being;" but he utterly rejects every such theory. It is his principal business to protest and argue against the existence of such "innate ideas." Virtue he believes to be generally approved because it is profitable, not on account of any natural leaning of the mind in its direction. Conscience "is nothing else but our own opinion or judgment of the moral rectitude or pravity of our own actions." Memory is the power in the mind to revive perceptions which it once had, with this additional perception annexed to them, that it has had them before. Wit lies in the assemblage of ideas, judgment in the careful discrimination among them. "Things are good or evil only in reference to pleasure or pain;" … "our love and hatred of inanimate, insensible beings is commonly founded on that pleasure or pain which we receive from their use and application any way to our senses, though with their destruction; but hatred or love of beings incapable of happiness or misery is often the uneasiness or delight which we find in ourselves, arising from a consideration of their very being or happiness. Thus the being and welfare of a man's children or friends, producing constant delight in him, he is said constantly to love them. But it suffices to note that our ideas of love and hatred are but dispositions of the mind in respect of pleasure or pain in general, however caused in us."

We have no clear idea of substance nor of spirit. Substance is that wherein we conceive qualities of matter to exist; spirit, that in which we conceive qualities of mind, as thinking, knowing, and doubting. The primary ideas of body are the cohesion of solid, and therefore separate parts, and a power of communicating motion by impulse. The ideas of spirit are thinking and will, or a power of putting body into motion by thought, and, which is consequent to it, liberty. The ideas of existence, mobility, and duration are common to both.

Locke's intelligence was clear enough to perceive that these two ideas, spirit and matter, stand on a similar footing. Less lucid thinkers have boldly denied the existence of spirit while asserting that of matter. Locke's system would not allow him to believe that either conception depended on the nature of the mind itself. He therefore rejected the claims of substance as unequivocally as those of spirit, declaring it to be "only an uncertain supposition of we know not what, i. e., of something whereof we have no particular, distinct, positive idea, which we take to be the substratum or support of those ideas we know." Yet he inclines on the whole toward materialism. "We have," he says, "the ideas of matter and thinking, but possibly shall never be able to know whether any mere material being thinks, or no; it being impossible for us, by the contemplation of our own ideas, without revelation, to discover whether omnipotency has not given to some system of matter, fitly disposed, a power to perceive and think, or else joined and fixed to matter so disposed a thinking immaterial substance, it being, in respect of our notions, not much more remote from our comprehension to conceive that God can, if he pleases, superadd to matter a faculty of thinking, than that he should superadd to it another substance, with a faculty of thinking; since we know not wherein thinking consists, nor to what sort of substances the Almighty has been pleased to give that power, which cannot be in any created being, but merely by the good pleasure and power of the Creator."… "All the great ends of morality and religion," he adds, "are well secured without philosophical proof of the soul's immateriality." As to our knowledge "of the actual existence of things, we have an intuitive knowledge of our own existence, and a demonstrative knowledge of the existence of God; of the existence of anything else, we have no other but a sensitive knowledge, which extends not beyond the objects present to our senses."[Footnote: Is not an intuitive knowledge suspiciously like an innate idea? Locke's Works, i. 38, 39, 72, 82, 137, 145, 231; ii. 10, 11, 21, 331, 360, 372 (Book i. ch. 3, 4, Book ii. ch. 1, 10, 11, 20, 23, Book iv. ch. 3).]

The eulogy of Locke in Voltaire's "Lettres Philosophiques" gave especial offense to the French churchmen. Voltaire writes to a friend that the censor might have been brought to give his approbation to all the letters but this one. "I confess," he adds, "that I do not understand this exception, but the theologians know more about it than I do, and I must take their word for it."[Footnote: Voltaire, li. 356 (Letter to Thieriot, 24 Feb. 1733).] The letter to which the censor objected was principally taken up with the doctrine of the materiality of the soul. "Never," says Voltaire, "was there perhaps a wiser or a more methodical spirit, a more exact logician, than Locke." … "Before him great philosophers had positively decided what is the soul of man; but as they knew nothing at all about it, it is very natural

that they should all have been of different minds." And he adds in another part of the letter, "Men have long disputed on the nature and immortality of the soul. As to its immortality, that cannot be demonstrated, since people are still disputing about its nature; and since, surely, we must thoroughly know a created being to decide whether it is immortal or not. Human reason alone is so unable to demonstrate the immortality of the soul, that religion has been obliged to reveal it to us. The common good of all men demands that we should believe the soul to be immortal; faith commands it; no more is needed, and the matter is almost decided. It is not the same as to its nature; it matters little to religion of what substance is the soul, if only it be virtuous. It is a clock that has been given us to regulate, but the maker has not told us of what springs this clock is composed."[Footnote: Voltaire, xxxvii. 177, 182 (Lettres philosophiques. In the various editions of Voltaire's collected works published in the last century these letters do not appear as a series, but their contents is distributed among the miscellaneous articles, and those of the Dictionnaire philosophique. The reason for this was that the letters, having been judicially condemned, might have brought their publishers into trouble if they had appeared under their own title. Bengesco, ii. 9. Desnoiresterres, Voltaire à Cirey, 28, Voltaire, xxxvii. 113. In Beuchot's edition the letters appear in their original form).]

The "Lettres philosophiques" may be considered the first of Voltaire's polemic writings. They exhibit his mordant wit, his clear-sightedness and his moral courage. There is in them, perhaps, more real gayety, more spontaneous fun, than in his later books. Voltaire was between thirty-five and forty years old when they were written, and although he possessed to the end of his long life more vitality than most men, yet he was physically something of an invalid, and his many exiles and disappointments told upon his temper. From 1734, when these letters first appeared in France, to 1778, when he died, worn out with years, labors, quarrels, and honors, his activity was unceasing. He had many followers and many enemies, but hardly a rival. Voltaire was and is the great representative of a way of looking at life; a way which was enthusiastically followed in his own time, which is followed with equal enthusiasm to-day. This view he expressed and enforced in his numberless poems, tragedies, histories, and tales. It formed the burden of his voluminous correspondence. As we read any of them, his creed becomes clear to us; it is written large in every one of his more than ninety volumes. It may almost be said to be on every page of them. That creed may be stated as follows: We know truth only by our reason. That reason is enlightened only by our senses. What they do not tell us we cannot know, and it is mere folly to waste time in conjecturing. Imagination and feeling are blind leaders of the blind. All men who pretend to supernatural revelation or inspiration are swindlers, and those who believe them are dupes. It may be desirable, for political or social purposes, to have a favored religion in the state, but freedom of opinion and of expression should be allowed to all men, at least to all educated men; for the populace, with their crude ideas and superstitions, may be held in slight regard.

Voltaire's hatred was especially warm against the regular clergy. "Religion," he says, "can still sharpen daggers. There is within the nation a people which has no dealings with honest folk, which does not belong to the age, which is inaccessible to the progress of reason, and over which the atrocity of fanaticism preserves its empire, like certain diseases which attack only the vilest populace." The best monks are the worst, and those who sing "Pervigilium Veneris" in place of matins are less dangerous than such as reason, preach, and plot. And in another place he says that "a religious order should not a part of history." But it is well to notice that Voltaire's hatred of Catholicism and of Catholic monks is not founded on a preference for any other church. He thinks that theocracy must have been universal among early tribes, "for as soon as a nation has chosen a tutelary god, that god has priests. These priests govern the spirit of the nation; they can govern only in the name of their god, so they make him speak continually; they set forth his oracles, and all things are done by God's express commands." From this cause come human sacrifices and the most atrocious tyranny; and the more divine such a government calls itself, the more abominable it is.

All prophets are imposters. Mahomet may have begun as an enthusiast, enamored of his own ideas; but he was soon led away by his reveries; he deceived himself in deceiving others; and finally supported a doctrine which he believed to be good, by necessary imposture. Socrates, who pretended to have a familiar spirit, must have been a little crazy, or a little given to swindling. As for Moses, he is a myth, a form of the Indian Bacchus. The Koran (and consequently the Bible) may be judged by the ignorance of physics which it displays. "This is the touchstone of the books which, according to false religions, were written by the Deity, for God is neither absurd nor ignorant." Several volumes are devoted by Voltaire to showing the inconsistencies, absurdities and atrocities of the Old and New Testaments, and the abominations of the Jews.

The positive religious opinions of Voltaire are less important than his negations, for the work of this great writer was mainly to destroy. He was a theist, of wavering and doubtful faith. He was well aware that any profession of atheism might be dangerous, and likely to injure him at court and with some of his friends. He thought that belief in God and in a future life were important to the safety of society, and is said to have sent the servant out of the room on one occasion when one of the company was doubting the existence of the Deity, giving as a reason that he did not want to have his throat cut. Yet it is probable that his theism went a little deeper than this. He says that matter is probably eternal and self-existing, and that God is everlasting, and self-existing likewise. Are there other Gods for other worlds? It may be so; some nations and some scholars have believed in the existence of two gods, one good and one evil. Surely, nature can more easily suffer, in the immensity of space, several independent beings, each absolute master of its own portion, than two limited gods in this world, one confined to doing good, the other to doing evil. If God and matter both exist from eternity, "here are two necessary entities; and if there be two there may be thirty. We must confess our ignorance of the nature of divinity."

It is noticeable that, like most men on whom the idea of God does not take a very strong hold, Voltaire imagined powers in some respects superior to Deity. Thus he says above that nature can more easily suffer several independent gods than two opposed ones. Having supposed one or several gods to put the universe in order, he supposes an order anterior to the gods. This idea of a superior order, Fate, Necessity, or Nature, is a very old one. It is probably the protest of the human mind against those anthropomorphic conceptions of God, from which it is almost incapable of escaping. Voltaire and the Philosophers almost without exception believed that there was a system of natural law and justice connected with this superior order, taught to man by instinct. Sometimes in their system God was placed above this law, as its origin; sometimes, as we have seen, He was conceived as subjected to Nature. "God has given us a principle or universal reason," says Voltaire, "as He has given feathers to birds and fur to bears; and this principle is so lasting that it exists in spite of all the passions which combat it, in spite of the tyrants who would drown it in blood, in spite of the impostors who would annihilate it in superstition. Therefore the rudest nation always judges very well in the long run concerning the laws that govern it; because it feels that these laws either agree or disagree with the principles of pity and justice which are in its heart." Here we have something which seems like an innate idea of virtue. But we must not expect complete consistency of Voltaire. In another place he says, "Virtue and vice, moral good and evil, are in all countries that which is useful or injurious to society; and in all times and in all places he who sacrifices the most to the public is the man who will be called the most virtuous. Whence it appears that good actions are nothing else than actions from which we derive an advantage, and crimes are but actions that are against us. Virtue is the habit of doing the things which please mankind, and vice the habit of doing things which displease it. Liberty, he says elsewhere, is nothing but the power to do that which our wills necessarily require of us."[Footnote: Voltaire, xx. 439 (Siècle de Louis XIV., ch. xxxvii.), xxi. 369 (Louis XV.), xv. 34, 40, 123, 316 (Essai sur les moeurs), xliii. 74 (Examen important de Lord Bolingbroke), xxxi. 13 (Dict. philos. Liberté) xxxvii. 336 (Traité de métaphysique_). For general attacks on the Bible and the Jews, see (Oeuvres, xv. 123-127, xliii. 39-205, xxxix. 454-464. Morley's Diderot, ii. 178). Notice how many of the arguments that are still repeated nowadays concerning the Mosaic account of the creation, etc. etc., come from Voltaire. Notice also that Voltaire, while too incredulous of ancient writers, was too credulous of modern travelers.]

The Church of France was both angered and alarmed by the writings of Voltaire and his friends, and did her feeble best to reply to them. But while strong in her organization and her legal powers, her internal condition was far from vigorous. Incredulity had become fashionable even before the attacks of Voltaire were dangerous. An earlier satirist has put into the mouth of a priest an account of the difficulties which beset the clergy in those days. "Men of the world," he says, "are astonishing. They can bear neither our approval nor our censure. If we wish to correct them, they think us ridiculous. If we approve of them, they consider us below our calling. Nothing is so humiliating as to feel that you have shocked the impious. We are therefore obliged to follow an equivocal line of conduct, and to check libertines not by decision of character but by keeping them in doubt as to how we receive what they say. This requires much wit. The state of neutrality is difficult. Men of the world, who venture to say anything they please, who give free vent to their humor, who follow it up or let it go according to their success, get on much better.

"Nor is this all. That happy and tranquil condition which is so much praised we do not enjoy in society. As soon as we appear, we are obliged to discuss. We are forced, for instance, to undertake to prove the utility of prayer to a man who does not believe in God; the necessity of fasting to another who all his life has denied the immortality of the soul. The task is hard, and the laugh is not on our side."[Footnote: Montesquieu, Lettres persanes, i. 210, 211, Lettre lxi.]

The prelates appointed to their high offices by Louis XV. and his courtiers were not the men to make good their cause by spiritual weapons. There was no Bossuet, no Fénelon in the Church of France of the eighteenth century. Her defense was intrusted to far weaker men. First we have the archbishops, Lefranc de Pompignan of Vienne and Elie de Beaumont of Paris. Then come the Jesuit Nonnotte and the managers of the Mémoires de Trévoux, the Benedictine Chaudon, the Abbé Trublet, the journalist Fréron, and many others, lay and clerical. The answers of the churchmen to their Philosophic opponents are generally inconclusive. Lefranc de Pompignan declared that the love of dry and speculative truth was a delusive fancy, good to adorn an oration, but never realized by the human heart. He sneered at Locke and at the idea that the latter had invented metaphysics. His objections and those of the Catholic church to that philosopher's teachings were chiefly that the Englishman maintained that thought might be an attribute of matter; that he encouraged Pyrrhonism, or universal doubt; that his theory of identity was doubtful, and that he denied the existence of innate ideas. All these matters are well open to discussion, and the advantage might not always be found on Locke's side. But in general the Catholic theologians and their opponents were not sufficiently agreed to be able to argue profitably. They had no premises in common. If one of two disputants assumes that all ideas are derived from sensation and reflection, and the other, that the most important of them are the result of the inspiration of God, there is no use in their discussing minor points until those great questions are settled. The attempt to reconcile views so conflicting has frequently been made, and no writings are more dreary than those which embody it. But men who are too far apart to cross swords in argument may yet hurl at each other the missiles of vituperation, and there were plenty of combatants to engage in that sort of warfare with Voltaire, Rousseau, and the Encyclopaedists.

On the two sides, treatises, comedies, tales, and epigrams were written. It was not difficult to point out that the sayings of the various opponents of the church were inconsistent with each other; that Rousseau contradicted Voltaire, that Voltaire contradicted himself. There were many weak places in the armor of those warriors. Pompignan discourses at great length, dwelling more especially on the worship which the Philosophers paid to physical science, on their love of doubt, and on their mistaken theory that a good Christian cannot be a patriot. Chaudon, perhaps the cleverest of the clerical writers, sometimes throws a well directed shaft. "That same Voltaire," he says, "who thinks that satires against God are of no consequence, attaches great importance to satires written against himself and his friends. He is unwilling to see the pen snatched from the hands of the slanderers of the Deity; but he has often tried to excite the powers that be against the least of his critics." This was very true of Voltaire, who was as thin-skinned as he was violent; and who is believed to have tried sometimes to silence his opponents by the arbitrary method of procuring from some man in power a royal order to have them locked up. Palissot, in a very readable comedy, makes fun of Diderot and his friends. As for invective, the supply is endless on both sides. The Archbishop of Paris condemns the "émile" of Rousseau as containing a great many propositions that are "false, scandalous, full of hatred of the church and her ministers, erroneous, impious, blasphemous, and heretical." The same prelate argues as follows: "Who would not believe, my very dear brethren, from what this impostor says, that the authority of the church is proved only by her own decisions, and that she proceeds thus: `I decide that I am infallible, therefore so I am.' A calumnious imputation, my very dear brethren! The constitution of Christianity, the spirit of the Scriptures, the very errors and the weakness of the human mind tend to show that the church established by Jesus Christ is infallible. We declare that, as the Divine Legislator always taught the truth, so his church always teaches it. We therefore prove the authority of the church, not by the church's authority, but by that of Jesus Christ, a process as accurate as the other, with which we are reproached, is absurd and senseless."

The arguments of the clerical writers were not all on this level. Chaudon and Nonnotte prepared a series of articles, arranged in the form of a dictionary, in which the Catholic doctrine is set forth, sometimes clearly and forcibly. But it is evident that the champions of Catholicism in that age were no match in controversy for her adversaries.[Footnote: Lefranc de Pompignan, i. 27 (Instruction pastorale sur la prétendue philosophie des incredules). Dictionnaire antiphilosophique, republished and enlarged by Grosse under the title Dictionnaire d'antiphilosophisme, Palissot, Les philosophes. Beaumont's "mandement" given in Rousseau, (Oeuvres, vii. 22, etc. See also Barthelémy, Erreurs et mensonges, 5e, l3e, 14e Série, articles on Fréron, Nonnotte, Trublet, and Patrouillet. Confessions de Fréron. Nisard, Les ennemis de Voltaire). The superiority of the Philosophers over the churchmen in argument is too evident to be denied. Carné, 408.]

The strength of a church does not lie in her doctors and her orators, still less in her wits and debaters, though they all have their uses. The strength of a church lies in her saints. While these have a large part in her councils and a wide influence among her members, a church is nearly irresistible. When they are few, timid and uninfluential, knowledge and power, nay, simple piety itself, can hardly support her. In the Church of France, through the ages, there have been many saints; but in the reigns of Louis XVI. and his immediate predecessor there were but few, and none of prominence. The persecution of the Jansenists, petty as were the forms it took, had turned aside from ardent fellowship in the church many of the most earnest, religious souls in France. The atmosphere of the country was not then favorable to any kind of heroism. Such self-devoted Christians as there were went quietly on their ways; their existence to be proved only when, in the worst days of the Revolution, a few of them should find the crown of martyrdom.

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