Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


We know that all belief taught by the Church is a dogma which we must embrace. It is a pity that there are dogmas received by the Latin Church, and rejected by the Greek. But if unanimity is wanting, charity replaces it. It is, above all, between hearts that union is required. I think that we can relate a dream to the purpose, which has already found favor in the estimation of many peaceably disposed persons.

“On Feb. 18, 1763, of the vulgar era, the sun entering the sign of the fishes, I was transported to heaven, as all my friends can bear witness. The mare Borac, of Mahomet, was not my steed, neither was the fiery chariot of Elijah my carriage. I was not carried on the elephant of Somonocodom, the Siamese; on the horse of St. George, the patron of England; nor on St. Anthony’s pig. I avow with frankness that my journey was made I know not how.

“It will be easily believed that I was dazzled; but it will not so easily be credited that I witnessed the judgment of the dead. And who were the judges? They were — do not be displeased at it — all those who have done good to man. Confucius, Solon, Socrates, Titus, Antoninus, Epictetus, Charron, de Thou, Chancellor de L’ Hôpital, and all the great men who, having taught and practised the virtues that God requires, seemed to be the only persons possessing the right of pronouncing his decrees.

“I shall not describe on what thrones they were seated, nor how many celestial beings were prostrated before the eternal architect of all worlds, nor what a crowd of the inhabitants of these innumerable worlds appeared before the judges. I shall not even give an account of several little interesting peculiarities which were exceedingly striking.

“I remarked that every spirit who pleaded his cause and displayed his specious pretensions had beside him all the witnesses of his actions. For example, when Cardinal Lorraine boasted of having caused some of his opinions to be adopted by the Council of Trent, and demanded eternal life as the price of his orthodoxy, there immediately appeared around him twenty ladies of the court, all bearing on their foreheads the number of their interviews with the cardinal. I also saw those who had concerted with him the foundations of the infamous league. All the accomplices of his wicked designs surrounded him.

“Over against Cardinal Lorraine was John Calvin, who boasted, in his gross patois, of having trampled upon the papal idol, after others had overthrown it. ‘I have written against painting and sculpture,’ said he; ‘I have made it apparent that good works are of no avail, and I have proved that it is diabolical to dance a minuet. Send away Cardinal Lorraine quickly, and place me by the side of St. Paul.’

“As he spoke there appeared by his side a lighted pile; a dreadful spectre, wearing round his neck a Spanish frill, arose half burned from the midst of the flames, with dreadful shrieks. ‘Monster,’ cried he; ‘execrable monster, tremble! recognize that Servetus, whom you caused to perish by the most cruel torments, because he had disputed with you on the manner in which three persons can form one substance.’ Then all the judges commanded that Cardinal Lorraine should be thrown into the abyss, but that Calvin should be punished still more rigorously.

“I saw a prodigious crowd of spirits, each of which said, ‘I have believed, I have believed!’ but on their forehead it was written, ‘I have acted,’ and they were condemned.

“The Jesuit Letellier appeared boldly with the bull Unigenitus in his hand. But there suddenly arose at his side a heap, consisting of two thousand lettres-de-cachet. A Jansenist set fire to them, and Letellier was burned to a cinder; while the Jansenist, who had no less caballed than the Jesuit, had his share of the flames.

“I saw approach, from right and left, troops of fakirs, talapoins, bonzes, and black, white, and gray monks, who all imagined that, to make their court to the Supreme Being, they must either sing, scourge themselves, or walk quite naked. ‘What good have you done to men?’ was the query. A dead silence succeeded to this question. No one dared to answer; and they were all conducted to the mad-houses of the universe, the largest buildings imaginable.

“One cried out that he believed in the metamorphoses of Xaca, another in those of Somonocodom. ‘Bacchus stopped the sun and moon!’ said this one. ‘The gods resuscitated Pelops!’ said the other. ‘Here is the bull in cœna Domini!’ said a newcomer — and the officer of the court exclaimed, ‘To Bedlam, to Bedlam!’

“When all these causes were gone through, I heard this proclamation: ‘By the Eternal Creator, Preserver, Rewarder, Revenger, Forgiver, etc., be it known to all the inhabitants of the hundred thousand millions of millions of worlds that it hath pleased us to form, that we never judge any sinners in reference to their own shallow ideas, but only as to their actions. Such is our Justice.’

“I own that this was the first time I ever heard such an edict; all those which I had read, on the little grain of dust on which I was born, ended with these words: ‘Such is our pleasure.’ ”

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