Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

INTOLERANCE.

Read the article on “Intolerance” in the great “Encyclopædia.” Read the treatise on “Toleration” composed on occasion of the dreadful assassination of John Calas, a citizen of Toulouse; and if, after that, you allow of persecution in matters of religion, compare yourself at once to Ravaillac. Ravaillac, you know, was highly intolerant. The following is the substance of all the discourses ever delivered by the intolerant:

You monster; you will be burned to all eternity in the other world, and whom I will myself burn as soon as ever I can in this, you really have the insolence to read de Thou and Bayle, who have been put into the index of prohibited authors at Rome! When I was preaching to you in the name of God, how Samson had killed a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass, your head, still harder than the arsenal from which Samson obtained his arms, showed me by a slight movement from left to right that you believed nothing of what I said. And when I stated that the devil Asmodeus, who out of jealousy twisted the necks of the seven husbands of Sarah among the Medes, was put in chains in upper Egypt, I saw a small contraction of your lips, in Latin called cachinnus (a grin) which plainly indicated to me that in the bottom of your soul you held the history of Asmodeus in derision.

And as for you, Isaac Newton; Frederick the Great, king of Prussia and elector of Brandenburg; John Locke; Catherine, empress of Russia, victorious over the Ottomans; John Milton; the beneficent sovereign of Denmark; Shakespeare; the wise king of Sweden; Leibnitz; the august house of Brunswick; Tillotson; the emperor of China; the Parliament of England; the Council of the great Mogul; in short, all you who do not believe one word which I have taught in my courses on divinity, I declare to you, that I regard you all as pagans and publicans, as, in order to engrave it on your unimpressible brains, I have often told you before. You are a set of callous miscreants; you will all go to gehenna, where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched; for I am right, and you are all wrong; and I have grace, and you have none. I confess three devotees in my neighborhood, while you do not confess a single one; I have executed the mandates of bishops, which has never been the case with you; I have abused philosophers in the language of the fish-market, while you have protected, imitated, or equalled them; I have composed pious defamatory libels, stuffed with infamous calumnies, and you have never so much as read them. I say mass every day in Latin for fourteen sous, and you are never even so much as present at it, any more than Cicero, Cato, Pompey, Cæsar, Horace, or Virgil, were ever present at it — consequently you deserve each of you to have your right hand cut off, your tongue cut out, to be put to the torture, and at last burned at a slow fire; for God is merciful.

Such, without the slightest abatement, are the maxims of the intolerant, and the sum and substance of all their books. How delightful to live with such amiable people!

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25