Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Pope Pius II., in an epistle to John Peregal, acknowledges that the Roman court gives nothing without money; it sells even the imposition of hands and the gifts of the Holy Ghost; nor does it grant the remission of sins to any but the rich.

Before him, St. Antonine, archbishop of Florence, had observed that in the time of Boniface IX., who died in 1404, the Roman court was so infamously stained with simony, that benefices were conferred, not so much on merit, as on those who brought a deal of money. He adds, that this pope filled the world with plenary indulgences; so that the small churches, on their festival days, obtained them at a low price.

That pontiff’s secretary, Theodoric de Nieur, does indeed inform us, that Boniface sent questors into different kingdoms, to sell indulgences to such as should offer them as much money as it would have cost them to make a journey to Rome to fetch them; so that they remitted all sins, even without penance, to such as confessed, and granted them, for money, dispensations for irregularities of every sort; saying, that they had in that respect all the power which Christ had granted to Peter, of binding and unbinding on earth.

And, what is still more singular, the price of every crime is fixed in a Latin work, printed at Rome by order of Leo X., and published on November 18, 1514, under the title of “Taxes of the Holy and Apostolic Chancery and Penitentiary.”

Among many other editions of this book, published in different countries, the Paris edition — quarto 1520, Toussaint Denis, Rue St. Jacques, at the wooden cross, near St. Yves, with the king’s privilege, for three years — bears in the frontispiece the arms of France, and those of the house of Medici, to which Leo X. belonged. This must have deceived the author of the “Picture of the Popes” (Tableau de Papes), who attributes the establishment of these taxes to Leo X., although Polydore Virgil, and Cardinal d’Ossat agree in fixing the period of the invention of the chancery tax about the year 1320, and the commencement of the penitentiary tax about sixteen years later, in the time of Benedict XII.

To give some idea of these taxes, we will here copy a few articles from the chapter of absolutions: Absolution for one who has carnally known his mother, his sister, etc., costs five drachmas. Absolution for one who has deflowered a virgin, six drachmas. Absolution for one who has revealed another’s confession, seven drachmas. Absolution for one who has killed his father, his mother, etc., five drachmas. And so of other sins, as we shall shortly see; but, at the end of the book, the prices are estimated in ducats.

A sort of letters too are here spoken of, called confessional, by which, at the approach of death, the pope permits a confessor to be chosen, who gives full pardon for every sin; these letters are granted only to princes, and not to them without great difficulty. These particulars will be found in page 32 of the Paris edition.

The court of Rome was at length ashamed of this book, and suppressed it as far as it was able. It was even inserted in the expurgatory index of the Council of Trent, on the false supposition that heretics had corrupted it.

It is true that Antoine Du Pinet, a French gentleman of Franche-Comté, had an abstract of it printed at Lyons in 1564, under this title: “Casual Perquisites of the Pope’s Shop” (Taxes des Parties Casuelles de la Boutique du Pape), “taken from the Decrees, Councils, and Canons, ancient and modern, in order to verify the discipline formerly observed in the Church; by A. D. P.” But, although he does not inform us that his work is but an abridgment of the other, yet, far from corrupting his original, he on the contrary strikes out of it some odious passages, such as the following, beginning page 23, line 9 from the bottom, in the Paris edition: “And carefully observe, that these kinds of graces and dispensations are not granted to the poor, because, not having wherewith, they cannot be consoled.”

It is also true, that Du Pinet estimates these taxes in tournois, ducats, and carlins; but, as he observes (page 42) that the carlins and the drachmas are of the same value, the substituting for the tax of five, six, or seven drachmas in the original, the like number of carlins, is not falsifying it. We have a proof of this in the four articles already quoted from the original.

Absolution — says Du Pinet — for one who has a carnal knowledge of his mother, his sister, or any of his kindred by birth or affinity, or his godmother, is taxed at five carlins. Absolution for one who deflowers a young woman, is taxed at six carlins. Absolution for one who reveals the confession of a penitent, is taxed at seven carlins. Absolution for one who has killed his father, his mother, his brother, his sister, his wife, or any of his kindred — they being of the laity — is taxed at five carlins; for if the deceased was an ecclesiastic, the homicide would be obliged to visit the sanctuary. We will here repeat a few others.

Absolution — continues Du Pinet — for any act of fornication whatsoever, committed by a clerk, whether with a nun in the cloister or out of the cloister, or with any of his kinswomen, or with his spiritual daughter, or with any other woman whatsoever, costs thirty-six tournois, three ducats. Absolution for a priest who keeps a concubine, twenty-one tournois, five ducats, six carlins. The absolution of a layman for all sorts of sins of the flesh, is given at the tribunal of conscience for six tournois, two ducats.

The absolution of a layman for the crime of adultery, given at the tribunal of conscience, costs four tournois; and if the adultery is accompanied by incest, six tournois must be paid per head. If, besides these crimes, is required the absolution of the sin against nature, or of bestiality, there must be paid ninety tournois, twelve ducats, six carlins; but if only the absolution of the crime against nature, or of bestiality, is required, it will cost only thirty-six tournois, nine ducats.

A woman who has taken a beverage to procure an abortion, or the father who has caused her to take it, shall pay four tournois, one ducat, eight carlins; and if a stranger has given her the said beverage, he shall pay four tournois, one ducat, five carlins.

A father, a mother, or any other relative, who has smothered a child, shall pay four tournois, one ducat, eight carlins; and if it has been killed by the husband and wife together, they shall pay six tournois, two ducats.

The tax granted by the datary for the contracting of marriage out of the permitted seasons, is twenty carlins; and in the permitted periods, if the contracting parties are the second or third degree of kindred, it is commonly twenty-five ducats, and four for expediting the bulls; and in the fourth degree, seven tournois, one ducat, six carlins.

The dispensation of a layman from fasting on the days appointed by the Church, and the permission to eat cheese, are taxed at twenty carlins. The permission to eat meat and eggs on forbidden days is taxed at twelve carlins; and that to eat butter, cheese, etc., at six tournois for one person only; and at twelve tournois, three ducats, six carlins for a whole family, or for several relatives.

The absolution of an apostate and a vagabond, who wishes to return into the pale of the Church, costs twelve tournois, three ducats, six carlins. The absolution and reinstatement of one who is guilty of sacrilege, robbery, burning, rapine, perjury, and the like, is taxed at thirty-six tournois, nine ducats.

Absolution for a servant who detains his deceased master’s property, for the payment of his wages, and after receiving notice does not restore it, provided the property so detained does not exceed the amount of his wages, is taxed in the tribunal of conscience at only six tournois, two ducats. For changing the clauses of a will, the ordinary tax is twelve tournois, three ducats, six carlins. The permission to change one’s proper name costs nine tournois, two ducats, nine carlins; and to change the surname and mode of signing, six tournois, two ducats. The permission to have a portable altar for one person only, is taxed at ten carlins: and to have a domestic chapel on account of the distance of the parish church, and furnish it with baptismal fonts and chaplains, thirty carlins.

Lastly, the permission to convey merchandise, one or more times, to the countries of the infidels, and in general to traffic and sell merchandise without being obliged to obtain permission from the temporal lords of the respected places, even though they be kings or emperors, with all the very ample derogatory clauses, is taxed at only twenty-four tournois, six ducats.

This permission, which supersedes that of the temporal lords, is a fresh evidence of the papal pretensions, which we have already spoken of in the article on “Bull.” Besides, it is known that all rescripts, or expeditions for benefices, are still paid for at Rome according to the tax; and this charge always falls at last on the laity, by the impositions which the subordinate clergy exact from them. We shall here notice only the fees for marriages and burials.

A decree of the Parliament of Paris, of May 19, 1409, provides that every one shall be at liberty to sleep with his wife as soon as he pleases after the celebration of the marriage, without waiting for leave from the bishop of Amiens, and without paying the fee required by that prelate for taking off his prohibitions to consummate the marriage during the first three nights of the nuptials. The monks of St. Stephen of Nevers were deprived of the same fee by another decree of September 27, 1591. Some theologians have asserted, that it took its origin from the fourth Council of Carthage, which had ordained it for the reverence of the matrimonial benediction. But as that council did not order its prohibition to be evaded by paying, it is more likely that this tax was a consequence of the infamous custom which gave to certain lords the first nuptial night of the brides of their vassals. Buchanan thinks that this usage began in Scotland under King Evan.

Be this as it may, the lords of Prellay and Persanny, in Piedmont, called this privilege “carrajio”; but having refused to commute it for a reasonable payment, the vassals revolted, and put themselves under Amadeus VI., fourteenth count of Savoy.

There is still preserved a procès-verbal, drawn up by M. Jean Fraguier, auditor in the Chambre des Comptes, at Paris, by virtue of a decree of the said chamber of April 7, 1507, for valuing the county of Eu, fallen into the king’s keeping by the minority of the children of the count of Nevers, and his wife Charlotte de Bourbon. In the chapter of the revenue of the barony of St. Martin-le-Gaillard, dependent on the county of Eu, it is said: “Item, the said lord, at the said place of St. Martin, has the right of ‘cuissage’ in case of marriage.”

The lords of Souloire had the like privilege, and having omitted it in the acknowledgment made by them to their sovereign, the lord of Montlevrier, the acknowledgement was disapproved; but by deed of Dec. 15, 1607, the sieur de Montlevrier formally renounced it; and these shameful privileges have everywhere been converted into small payments, called “marchetta.”

Now, when our prelates had fiefs, they thought — as the judicious Fleury remarks — that they had as bishops what they possessed only as lords; and the curates, as their under-vassals, bethought themselves of blessing their nuptial bed, which brought them a small fee under the name of wedding-dishes — i. e., their dinner, in money or in kind. On one of these occasions the following quatrain was put by a country curate under the pillow of a very aged president, who married a young woman named La Montagne. He alludes to Moses’ horns, which are spoken o in Exodus.

Le Président à barbe grise

Sur La Montagne va monter;

Mais certes il peut bien compter

D’en descendre comme Moïse.

A word or two on the fees exacted by the clergy for the burial of the laity. Formerly, at the decease of each individual, the bishops had the contents of his will made known to them; and forbade those to receive the rights of sepulchre who had died “unconfessed,” i. e., left no legacy to the Church, unless the relatives went to the official, who commissioned a priest, or some other ecclesiastic, to repair the fault of the deceased, and make a legacy in his name. The curates also opposed the profession of such as wished to turn monks, until they had paid their burial-fees; saying that since they died to the world, it was but right that they should discharge what would have been due from them had they been interred.

But the frequent disputes occasioned by these vexations obliged the magistrates to fix the rate of these singular fees. The following is extracted from a regulation on this subject, brought in by Francis de Harlai de Chamvallon, archbishop of Paris, on May 30, 1693, and passed in the court of parliament on the tenth of June following:

Liv. Sous.
For the publication of the bans   1 10
For the betrothing   2   0
For celebrating the marriage   6   0
For the certificate of the publication of the bans, and the permission given to the future husband to go and be married in the parish of his future wife   5   0
For the wedding mass   1 10
For the vicar   1 10
For the clerk of the sacraments   1   0
For blessing the bed   1 10
Funeral Processions.
Of children under seven years old, when the clergy do not go in a body:
For the curate   1 10
For each priest   1 10
When the clergy go in a body:
For the curial fee   4   0
For the presence of the curate   2   0
For each priest   0 10
For the vicar   1   0
For each singing-boy, when they carry the body   8   0
And when they do not carry it   5   0
And so of young persons from seven to twelve years old.
Of persons above twelve years old:
For the curial fee   6   0
For the curate’s attendance   4   0
For the vicar   2   0
For each priest   1   0
For each singing-boy   0 10
Each of the priests that watch the body in the night, for drink, etc   3   0
And in the day, each   2   0
For the celebration of the mass   1   0
For the service extraordinary called the complete service; viz., the vigils and the two masses of the Holy Ghost and the Holy Virgin   4 10
For each of the priests that carry the body   1   0
For carrying the great cross   0 10
For the holy water-pot carrier   0   5
For carrying the little cross   0   5
For the clerk of the processions   0   1
For conveying bodies from one church to another there shall be paid, for each of the above fees, one-half more.
For the reception of bodies thus conveyed:
To the curate   6 10
To the vicar   1 10
To each priest   0 15

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