Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

PROVIDENCE.

I was at the grate of the convent when Sister Fessue said to Sister Confite: “Providence takes a visible care of me; you know how I love my sparrow; he would have been dead if I had not said nine ave-marias to obtain his cure. God has restored my sparrow to life; thanks to the Holy Virgin.”

A metaphysician said to her: “Sister, there is nothing so good as ave-marias, especially when a girl pronounces them in Latin in the suburbs of Paris; but I cannot believe that God has occupied Himself so much with your sparrow, pretty as he is; I pray you to believe that He has other matters to attend to. It is necessary for Him constantly to superintend the course of sixteen planets and the rising of Saturn, in the centre of which He has placed the sun, which is as large as a million of our globes. He has also thousands and thousands of millions of other suns, planets, and comets to govern. His immutable laws, and His eternal arrangement, produce motion throughout nature; all is bound to His throne by an infinite chain, of which no link can ever be put out of place!” If certain ave-marias had caused the sparrow of Sister Fessue to live an instant longer than it would naturally have lived, it would have violated all the laws imposed from eternity by the Great Being; it would have deranged the universe; a new world, a new God, and a new order of existence would have been rendered unavoidable.

Sister Fessue.

— What! do you think that God pays so little attention to Sister Fessue?

Metaphysician.

— I am sorry to inform you, that like myself you are but an imperceptible link in the great chain; that your organs, those of your sparrow, and my own, are destined to subsist a determinate number of minutes in the suburbs of Paris.

Sister Fessue.

— If so, I was predestined to say a certain number of ave-marias.

Metaphysician.

— Yes; but they have not obliged the Deity to prolong the life of your sparrow beyond his term. It has been so ordered, that in this convent at a certain hour you should pronounce, like a parrot, certain words in a certain language which you do not understand; that this bird, produced like yourself by the irresistible action of general laws, having been sick, should get better; that you should imagine that you had cured it, and that we should hold together this conversation.

Sister Fessue.

— Sir, this discourse savors of heresy. My confessor, the reverend Father de Menou, will infer that you do not believe in Providence.

Metaphysician.

— I believe in a general Providence, dear sister, which has laid down from all eternity the law which governs all things, like light from the sun; but I believe not that a particular Providence changes the economy of the world for your sparrow or your cat.

Sister Fessue.

— But suppose my confessor tells you, as he has told me, that God changes His intentions every day in favor of the devout?

Metaphysician.

— He would assert the greatest absurdity that a confessor of girls could possibly utter to a being who thinks.

Sister Fessue.

— My confessor absurd! Holy Virgin Mary!

Metaphysician.

— I do not go so far as that. I only observe that he cannot, by an enormously absurd assertion, justify the false principles which he has instilled into you — possibly very adroitly — in order to govern you.

Sister Fessue.

— That observation merits reflection. I will think of it.

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