Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


This, in religion, is a pure and enlightened attachment to the maintenance and progress of the worship which is due to the Divinity; but when this zeal is persecuting, blind, and false, it becomes the greatest scourge of humanity.

See what the emperor Julian says of the Christians of his time: “The Galileans,” he observes, “have suffered exile and imprisonment under my predecessor; those who are by turns called heretics, have been mutually massacred. I have recalled the banished, liberated the prisoners; I have restored their property to the proscribed; I have forced them to live in peace; but such is the restless rage of the Galileans, that they complain of being no longer able to devour each other.”

This picture will not appear extravagant if we attend to the atrocious calumnies with which the Christians reciprocally blackened each other. For instance, St. Augustine accuses the Manichæans of forcing their elect to receive the eucharist, after having obscenely polluted it. After him, St. Cyril of Jerusalem has accused them of the same infamy in these terms: “I dare not mention in what these sacrilegious wretches wet their ischas, which they give to their unhappy votaries, and exhibit in the midst of their altar, and with which the Manichæan soils his mouth and tongue. Let the men call to mind what they are accustomed to experience in dreaming, and the women in their periodical affections.” Pope St. Leo, in one of his sermons, also calls the sacrifice of the Manichæans the same turpitude. Finally, Suidas and Cedrenus have still further improved on the calumny, in asserting that the Manichæans held nocturnal assemblies, in which, after extinguishing the flambeaux, they committed the most enormous indecencies.

Let us first observe that the primitive Christians were themselves accused of the same horrors which they afterwards imputed to the Manichæans; and that the justification of these equally applies to the others. “In order to have pretexts for persecuting us,” said Athenagoras, in his “Apology for the Christians,” “they accuse us of making detestable banquets, and of committing incest in our assemblies. It is an old trick, which has been employed from all time to extinguish virtue. Thus was Pythagoras burned, with three hundred of his disciples; Heraclitus expelled by the Ephesians; Democritus by the Abderitans; and Socrates condemned by the Athenians.”

Athenagoras subsequently points out that the principles and manners of the Christians were sufficient of themselves to destroy the calumnies spread against them. The same reasons apply in favor of the Manichæans. Why else is St. Augustine, who is positive in his book on heresies, reduced in that on the morals of the Manichæans, when speaking of the horrible ceremony in question, to say simply: “They are suspected of — the world has this opinion of them — if they do not commit what is imputed to them — rumor proclaims much ill of them; but they maintain that it is false?”

Why not sustain openly this accusation in his dispute with Fortunatus, who publicly challenged him in these terms: “We are accused of false crimes, and as Augustine has assisted in our worship, I beg him to declare before the whole people, whether these crimes are true or not.” St. Augustine replied: “It is true that I have assisted in your worship; but the question of faith is one thing, the question of morals another; and it is that of faith which I brought forward. However, if the persons present prefer that we should discuss that of your morals, I shall not oppose myself to them.”

Fortunatus, addressing the assembly, said: “I wish, above all things, to be justified in the minds of those who believe us guilty; and that Augustine should now testify before you, and one day before the tribunal of Jesus Christ, if he has ever seen, or if he knows, in any way whatever, that the things imputed have been committed by us?” St. Augustine still replies: “You depart from the question; what I have advanced turns upon faith, not upon morals.” At length, Fortunatus continuing to press St. Augustine to explain himself, he does so in these terms: “I acknowledge that in the prayer at which I assisted I did not see you commit anything impure.”

The same St. Augustine, in his work on the “Utility of Faith,” still justifies the Manichæans. “At this time,” he says, to his friend Honoratus, “when I was occupied with Manichæism, I was yet full of the desire and the hope of marrying a handsome woman, and of acquiring riches; of attaining honors, and of enjoying the other pernicious pleasures of life. For when I listened with attention to the Manichæan doctors, I had not renounced the desire and hope of all these things. I do not attribute that to their doctrine; for I am bound to render this testimony — that they sedulously exhorted men to preserve themselves from those things. That is, indeed, what hindered me from attaching myself altogether to the sect, and kept me in the rank of those who are called auditors. I did not wish to renounce secular hopes and affairs.” And in the last chapter of this book, where he represents the Manichæan doctors as proud men, who had as gross minds as they had meagre and skinny bodies, he does not say a word of their pretended infamies.

But on what proofs were these imputations founded? The first which Augustine alleges is, that these indecencies were a consequence of the Manichæan system, regarding the means which God makes use of to wrest from the prince of darkness the portion of his substance. We have spoken of this in the article on “Genealogy,” and these are horrors which one may dispense with repeating. It is enough to say here, that the passage from the seventh book of the “Treasure of Manes,” which Augustine cites in many places, is evidently falsified. The arch heretic says, if we can believe it, that these celestial virtues, which are transformed sometimes into beautiful boys, and sometimes into beautiful girls, are God the Father Himself. This is false; Manes has never confounded the celestial virtues with God the Father. St. Augustine, not having understood the Syriac phrase of a “virgin of light” to mean a virgin light, supposes that God shows a beautiful maiden to the princes of darkness, in order to excite their brutal lust; there is nothing of all this talked of in ancient authors; the question concerns the cause of rain.

“The great prince,” says Tirbon, cited by St. Epiphanius, “sends out for himself, in his passion, black clouds, which darken all the world; he chafes, worries himself, throws himself into a perspiration, and that it is which makes the rain, which is no other than the sweat of the great prince.” St. Augustine must have been deceived by a mistranslation, or rather by a garbled, unfaithful extract from the “Treasure of Manes,” from which he only cites two or three passages. The Manichæan Secundinus also reproaches him with comprehending nothing of the mysteries of Manichæism, and with attacking them only by mere paralogisms. “How, otherwise,” says the learned M. de Beausobre — whom we here abridge — “would St. Augustine have been able to live so many years among a sect in which such abominations were publicly taught? And how would he have had the face to defend it against the Catholics?”

From this proof by reasoning, let us pass to the proofs of fact and evidence alleged by St. Augustine, and see if they are more substantial. “It is said,” proceeds this father, “that some of them have confessed this fact in public pleadings, not only in Paphlagonia, but also in the Gauls, as I have heard said at Rome by a certain Catholic.”

Such hearsay deserves so little attention that St. Augustine dared not make use of it in his conference with Fortunatus, although it was seven or eight years after he had quitted Rome; he seems even to have forgotten the name of the Catholic from whom he learned them. It is true, that in his book of “Heresies,” he speaks of the confessions of two girls, the one named Margaret, the other Eusebia, and of some Manichæans who, having been discovered at Carthage, and taken to the church, avowed, it is said, the horrible fact in question.

He adds that a certain Viator declared that they who committed these scandals were called Catharistes, or purgators; and that, when interrogated on what scripture they founded this frightful practice, they produced the passage from the “Treasure of Manes,” the falsehood of which has been demonstrated. But our heretics, far from availing themselves of it, have openly disavowed it, as the work of some impostor who wished to ruin them. That alone casts suspicion on all these acts of Carthage, which “Quod-vult-Deus” had sent to St. Augustine; and these wretches who were discovered and taken to the church, have very much the air of persons suborned to confess all they were wanted to confess.

In the 47th chapter on the “Nature of Good,” St. Augustine admits that when our heretics were reproached with the crimes in question, they replied that one of their elect, a seceder from the sect, and become their enemy, had introduced this enormity. Without inquiring whether this was a real sect whom Viator calls Catharistes, it is sufficient to observe here, that the first Christians likewise imputed to the Gnostics the horrible mysteries of which they were themselves accused by the Jews and Pagans; and if this defence is good on their behalf, why should it not be so on that of the Manichæans?

It is, however, these vulgar rumors which M. de Tillemont, who piques himself on his exactness and fidelity, ventures to convert into positive facts. He asserts that the Manichæans had been made to confess these disgraceful doings in public judgments, in Paphlagonia, in the Gauls, and several times at Carthage.

Let us also weigh the testimony of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, whose narrative is altogether different from that of St. Augustine; and let us consider that the fact is so incredible and so absurd that it could scarcely be credited, even if attested by five or six witnesses who had seen and would affirm it on oath. St. Cyril stands alone; he had never seen it; he advances it in a popular declamation, wherein he gives himself a licence to put into the mouth of Manes, in the conference of Cascar, a discourse, not one word of which is in the “Acts of Archælaus,” as M. Zaccagni is obliged to allow; and it cannot be alleged in defence of St. Cyril that he has taken only the sense of Archælaus, and not the words; for neither the sense nor the words can be found there. Besides, the style which this father adopts is that of a historian who cites the actual words of his author.

Nevertheless, to save the honor and good faith of St. Cyril, M. Zaccagni, and after him M. de Tillemont, suppose, without any proof, that the translator or copyist has omitted the passage in the “Acts” quoted by this father; and the journalists of Trévoux have imagined two sorts of “Acts of Archælaus”— the authentic ones which Cyril has copied, and others invented in the fifth century by some historian. When they shall have proved this conjecture, we will examine their reasons.

Finally, let us come to the testimony of Pope Leo touching these Manichæan abominations. He says, in his sermons, that the sudden troubles in other countries had brought into Italy some Manichæans, whose mysteries were so abominable that he could not expose them to the public view without sacrificing modesty. That, in order to ascertain them, he had introduced male and female elect into an assembly composed of bishops, priests, and some lay noblemen. That these heretics had disclosed many things respecting their dogmas and the ceremonies of their feast, and had confessed a crime which could not be named, but in regard to which there could be no doubt, after the confession of the guilty parties — that is to say, of a young girl of only ten years of age; of two women who had prepared her for the horrible ceremony of the sect; of a young man who had been an accomplice; of the bishop who had ordered and presided over it. He refers those among his auditors who desire to know more, to the informations which had been taken, and which he communicated to the bishops of Italy, in his second letter.

This testimony appears more precise and more decisive than that of St. Augustine; but it is anything but conclusive in regard to a fact belied by the protestations of the accused, and by the ascertained principles of their morality. In effect, what proofs have we that the infamous persons interrogated by Leo were not bribed to depose against their sect?

It will be replied that the piety and sincerity of this pope will not permit us to believe that he has contrived such a fraud. But if — as we have said in the article on “Relics”— the same St. Leo was capable of supposing that pieces of linen and ribbons, which were put in a box, and made to descend into the tombs of some saints, shed blood when they were cut — ought this pope to make any scruple in bribing, or causing to be bribed, some abandoned women, and I know not what Manichæan bishop, who, being assured of pardon, would make confessions of crimes which might be true as regarded themselves, but not as regarded their sect, from whose seduction St. Leo wished to protect his people? At all times, bishops have considered themselves authorized to employ those pious frauds which tend to the salvation of souls. The conjectural and apocryphal scriptures are a proof of this; and the readiness with which the fathers have put faith in those bad works, shows that, if they were not accomplices in the fraud, they were not scrupulous in taking advantage of it.

In conclusion, St. Leo pretends to confirm the secret crimes of the Manichæans by an argument which destroys them. “These execrable mysteries,” he says, “which the more impure they are, the more carefully they are hid, are common to the Manichæans and to the Priscillianists. There is in all respects the same sacrilege, the same obscenity, the same turpitude. These crimes, these infamies, are the same which were formerly discovered among the Priscillianists, and of which the whole world is informed.”

The Priscillianists were never guilty of the crimes for which they were put to death. In the works of St. Augustine is contained the instructionary remarks which were transmitted to that father by Orosius, and in which this Spanish priest protests that he has plucked out all the plants of perdition which sprang up in the sect of the Priscillianists; that he had not forgotten the smallest branch or root; that he exposed to the surgeon all the diseases of the sect, in order that he might labor in their cure. Orosius does not say a word of the abominable mysteries of which Leo speaks; an unanswerable proof that he had no doubt they were pure calumnies. St. Jerome also says that Priscillian was oppressed by faction, and by the intrigues of the bishops Ithacus and Idacus. Would a man be thus spoken of who was guilty of profaning religion by the most infamous ceremonies? Nevertheless, Orosius and St. Jerome could not be ignorant of crimes of which all the world had been informed.

St. Martin of Tours, and St. Ambrosius, who were at Trier when Priscillian was sentenced, would have been equally informed of them. They, however, instantly solicited a pardon for him; and, not being able to obtain it, they refused to hold intercourse with his accusers and their faction. Sulpicius Severus relates the history of the misfortunes of Priscillian. Latronian, Euphrosyne, widow of the poet Delphidius, his daughter, and some other persons, were executed with him at Trier, by order of the tyrant Maximus, and at the instigation of Ithacus and Idacus, two wicked bishops, who, in reward for their injustice, died in excommunication, loaded with the hatred of God and man.

The Priscillianists were accused, like the Manichæans, of obscene doctrines, of religious nakedness and immodesty. How were they convicted? Priscillian and his accomplices confessed, as is said, under the torture. Three degraded persons, Tertullus, Potamius, and John, confessed without awaiting the question. But the suit instituted against the Priscillianists would have been founded on other depositions, which had been made against them in Spain. Nevertheless, these latter informations were rejected by a great number of bishops and esteemed ecclesiastics; and the good old man Higimis, bishop of Cordova, who had been the denouncer of the Priscillianists, afterwards believed them so innocent of the crimes imputed to them that he received them into his communion, and found himself involved thereby in the persecution which they endured.

These horrible calumnies, dictated by a blind zeal, would seem to justify the reflection which Ammianus Marcellinus reports of the emperor Julian. “The savage beasts,” he said, “are not more formidable to men than the Christians are to each other, when they are divided by creed and opinion.”

It is still more deplorable when zeal is false and hypocritical, examples of which are not rare. It is told of a doctor of the Sorbonne, that in departing from a sitting of the faculty, Tournély, with whom he was strictly connected, said to him: “You see that for two hours I have maintained a certain opinion with warmth; well, I assure you, there is not one word of truth in all I have said!”

The answer of a Jesuit is also known, who was employed for twenty years in the Canada missions, and who himself not believing in a God, as he confessed in the ear of a friend, had faced death twenty times for the sake of a religion which he preached to the savages. This friend representing to him the inconsistency of his zeal: “Ah!” replied the Jesuit missionary, “you have no idea of the pleasure a man enjoys in making himself heard by twenty thousand men, and in persuading them of what he does not himself believe.”

It is frightful to observe how many abuses and disorders arise from the profound ignorance in which Europe has been so long plunged. Those monarchs who are at last sensible of the importance of enlightenment, become the benefactors of mankind in favoring the progress of knowledge, which is the foundation of the tranquillity and happiness of nations, and the finest bulwark against the inroads of fanaticism.

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