Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Priests in a state approach nearly to what preceptors are in private families: it is their province to teach, pray, and supply example. They ought to have no authority over the masters of the house; at least until it can be proved that he who gives the wages ought to obey him who receives them. Of all religions the one which most positively excludes the priesthood from civil authority, is that of Jesus. “Give unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s.”—“Among you there is neither first nor last.”—“My kingdom is not of this world.”

The quarrels between the empires and the priesthood, which have bedewed Europe with blood for more than six centuries, have therefore been, on the part of the priests, nothing but rebellion at once against God and man, and a continual sin against the Holy Ghost.

From the time of Calchas, who assassinated the daughter of Agamemnon, until Gregory XII., and Sixtus V., two bishops who would have deprived Henry IV., of the kingdom of France, sacerdotal power has been injurious to the world.

Prayer is not dominion, nor exhortation despotism. A good priest ought to be a physician to the soul. If Hippocrates had ordered his patients to take hellebore under pain of being hanged, he would have been more insane and barbarous than Phalaris, and would have had little practice. When a priest says: Worship God; be just, indulgent, and compassionate; he is then a good physician; when he says: Believe me, or you shall be burned; he is an assassin.

The magistrate ought to support and restrain the priest in the same manner as the father of a family insures respect to the preceptor, and prevents him from abusing it. The agreement of Church and State is of all systems the most monstrous, for it necessarily implies division, and the existence of two contracting parties. We ought to say the protection given by government to the priesthood or church.

But what is to be said and done in respect to countries in which the priesthood have obtained dominion, as in Salem, where Melchisedek was priest and king; in Japan, where the dairo has been for a long time emperor? I answer, that the successors of Melchisedek and the dairos have been set aside.

The Turks are wise in this; they religiously make a pilgrimage to Mecca; but they will not permit the xerif of Mecca to excommunicate the sultan. Neither will they purchase from Mecca permission not to observe the ramadan, or the liberty of espousing their cousins or their nieces. They are not judged by imans, whom the xerif delegates; nor do they pay the first year’s revenue to the xerif. What is to be said of all that? Reader, speak for yourself.

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