Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


England is the country of sects; “multæ sunt mansiones in domo patris mei:” an Englishman, like a free man, goes to heaven which way he pleases. However, although every one can serve God in his own way, the national religion — that in which fortunes are made — is the Episcopal, called the Church of England, or emphatically, “The Church.” No one can have employment of any consequence, either in England or Ireland, without being members of the establishment. This reasoning, which is highly demonstrative, has converted so many nonconformists that at present there is not a twentieth part of the nation out of the bosom of the dominant church.

The English clergy have retained many Catholic ceremonies, and above all that of receiving tithes, with a very scrupulous attention. They also possess the pious ambition of ruling the people, for what village rector would not be a pope if he could?

With regard to manners, the English clergy are more decorous than those of France, chiefly because the ecclesiastics are brought up in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, far from the corruption of the metropolis. They are not called to the dignities of the Church until very late, and at an age when men, having no other passion than avarice, their ambition is less aspiring. Employments are, in England, the recompense of long service in the church, as well as in the army. You do not there see young men become bishops or colonels on leaving college; and, moreover, almost all the priests are married. The pedantry and awkwardness of manners, acquired in the universities, and the little commerce they have with women, generally oblige a bishop to be contented with the one which belongs to him. The clergy go sometimes to the tavern, because custom permits it, and if they get “Bacchi plenum” it is in the college style, gravely and with due decorum.

That indefinable character which is neither ecclesiastical nor secular, which we call abbé, is unknown in England. The ecclesiastics there are generally respected, and for the greater part pedants. When the latter learn that in France young men distinguished by their debaucheries, and raised to the prelacy by the intrigues of women, publicly make love; vie with each other in the composition of love songs; give luxurious suppers every day, from which they arise to implore the light of the Holy Spirit, and boldly call themselves the apostles’ successors — they thank God they are Protestants. But what then? They are vile heretics, and fit only for burning, as master Francis Rabelais says, “with all the devils.” Hence I drop the subject.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01