Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


The Jesuits have been so much a subject of discourse and discussion that, after having engaged the attention of Europe for a period of two hundred years, they at last begin to weary and disgust it, whether they write themselves, or whether any one else writes for or against that singular society; in which it must be confessed there have been found, and are to be found still, individuals of very extraordinary merit.

They have been reproached, in the six thousand volumes that have been written against them, with their lax morality, which has not, however, been more lax than that of the Capuchins; and with their doctrine relating to the safety of the person of kings; a doctrine which after all is not to be compared with the horn-handled knife of James Clement; nor with the prepared host, the sprinkled wafer, which so well answered the purpose of Ange de Montepulciano, another Jacobin, and which poisoned the emperor Henry VII.

It is not versatile grace which has been their ruin, nor the fraudulent bankruptcy of the reverend Father Lavalette, prefect of the apostolic missions. A whole order has not been expelled from France and Spain and the two Sicilies, because that order contained a single bankrupt. Nor was it affected by the odious deviations of the Jesuit Guyot-Desfontaines, or the Jesuit Fréron, or the reverend father Marsy, so injurious, in the latter instance, to the youthful and high-born victim. The public refused to attend these Greek and Latin imitations of Anacreon and Horace.

What is it then that was their ruin? — pride. What, it may be asked by some, were the Jesuits prouder than any other monks? Yes; and so much so that they procured a lettre de cachet against an ecclesiastic for calling them monks. One member of the society, called Croust, more brutal than the rest, a brother of the confessor of the second dauphiness, was absolutely, in my presence, going to beat the son of M. de Guyot, afterwards king’s advocate (prêteur-royal) at Strasburg, merely for saying he would go to see him in his convent.

It is perfectly incredible with what contempt they considered every university where they had not been educated, every book which they had not written, every ecclesiastic who was not “a man of quality.” Of this I have myself, times without number, been a witness. They express themselves in the following language, in their libel entitled “It is Time to Speak Out”: “Should we condescend even to speak to a magistrate who says the Jesuits are proud and ought to be humbled?” They were so proud that they would not suffer any one to blame their pride!

Whence did this hateful pride originate? From Father Guinard’s having been hanged? which is literally true.

It must be remarked that after the execution of that Jesuit under Henry IV., and after the banishment of the society from the kingdom, they were recalled only on the indispensable condition that one Jesuit should always reside at court, who should be responsible for all the rest. Coton was the person who thus became a hostage at the court of Henry IV.; and that excellent monarch, who was not without his little stratagems of policy, thought to conciliate the pope by making a hostage of his confessor.

From that moment every brother of the order seemed to feel as if he had been raised to be king’s confessor. This place of first spiritual physician became a department of the administration under Louis XIII., and more so still under Louis XIV. The brother Vadblé, valet de chambre of Father La Chaise, granted his protection to the bishops of France; and Father Letellier ruled with a sceptre of iron those who were very well disposed to be so ruled. It was impossible that the greater part of the Jesuits should not be puffed up by the consequence and power to which these two members of their society had been raised, and that they should not become as insolent as the lackeys of M. Louvois. There have been among them, certainly, men of knowledge, eloquence, and genius; these possessed some modesty, but those who had only mediocrity of talent or acquirement were tainted with that pride which generally attaches to mediocrity and to the pedantry of a college.

From the time of Father Garasse almost all their polemical works have been pervaded with an indecent and scornful arrogance which has roused the indignation of all Europe. This arrogance frequently sank into the most pitiful meanness; so that they discovered the extraordinary secret of being objects at once of envy and contempt. Observe, for example, how they expressed themselves of the celebrated Pasquier, advocate-general of the chamber of accounts:

“Pasquier is a mere porter, a Parisian varlet, a second-rate showman and jester, a journeyman retailer of ballads and old stories, a contemptible hireling, only fit to be a lackey’s valet, a scrub, a disgusting ragamuffin, strongly suspected of heresy, and either heretical or much worse, a libidinous and filthy satyr, a master-fool by nature, in sharp, in flat, and throughout the whole gamut, a three-shod fool, a fool double-dyed, a fool in grain, a fool in every sort of folly.”

They afterwards polished their style; but pride, by becoming less gross, only became the more revolting.

Everything is pardoned except pride; and this accounts for the fact that all the parliaments in the kingdom, the members of which had the greater part of them been disciples of the Jesuits, seized the first opportunity of effecting their annihilation; and the whole land rejoiced in their downfall.

So deeply was the spirit of pride rooted in them that it manifested itself with the most indecent rage, even while they were held down to the earth by the hand of justice, and their final sentence yet remained to be pronounced. We need only read the celebrated memorial already mentioned, entitled “It is Time to Speak Out,” printed at Avignon in 1763, under the assumed name of Anvers. It begins with an ironical petition to the persons holding the court of parliament. It addresses them with as much superiority and contempt as could be shown in reprimanding a proctor’s clerk. The illustrious M. de Montclar, procureur-général, the oracle of the Parliament of Provence, is continually treated as “M. Ripert,” and rebuked with as much consequence and authority as a mutinous and ignorant scholar by a professor in his chair. They pushed their audacity so far as to say that M. de Montclar “blasphemed” in giving an account of the institution of the Jesuits.

In their memorial, entitled “All Shall be Told,” they insult still more daringly the Parliament of Metz, and always in the style of arrogance and dictation derived from the schools.

They have retained this pride even in the very ashes to which France and Spain have now reduced them. From the bottom of those ashes the serpent, scotched as it has been, has again raised its hostile head. We have seen a contemptible creature, of the name of Nonnotte, set himself up for a critic on his masters; and, although possessing merely talent enough for preaching to a mob in the churchyard, discoursing with all the ease of impudence about things of which he has not the slightest notion. Another insolent member of the society, called Patouillet, dared, in the bishop’s mandates, to insult respectable citizens and officers of the king’s household, whose very lackeys would not have permitted him to speak to them.

One of the things on which they most prided themselves, was introducing themselves into the houses of the great in their last illness, as ambassadors of God, to open to them the gates of heaven, without their previously passing through purgatory. Under Louis XIV. it was considered as having a bad aspect, it was unfashionable and discreditable, to die without having passed through the hands of a Jesuit; and the wretch, immediately after the fatal scene had closed, would go and boast to his devotees that he had just been converting a duke and peer, who, without his protection, would have been inevitably damned.

The dying man might say: “By what right, you college excrement, do you intrude yourself on me in my dying moments? Was I ever seen to go to your cells when any of you had the fistula or gangrene, and were about to return your gross and unwieldy bodies to the earth? Has God granted your soul any rights over mine? Do I require a preceptor at the age of seventy? Do you carry the keys of Paradise at your girdle? You dare to call yourself an ambassador of God; show me your patent and if you have none, let me die in peace. No Benedictine, Chartreux, or Premonstrant, comes to disturb my dying moments; they have no wish to erect a trophy to their pride upon the bed of our last agony; they remain peacefully in their cells; do you rest quietly in yours; there can be nothing in common between you and me.”

A comic circumstance occurred on a truly mournful occasion, when an English Jesuit, of the name of Routh, eagerly strove to possess himself of the last hour of the great Montesquieu. “He came,” he said, “to bring back that virtuous soul to religion;” as if Montesquieu had not known what religion was better than a Routh; as if it had been the will of God that Montesquieu should think like a Routh! He was driven out of the chamber, and went all over Paris, exclaiming, “I have converted that celebrated man; I prevailed upon him to throw his ‘Persian Letters’ and his ‘Spirit of Laws’ into the fire.” Care was taken to print the narrative of the conversion of President Montesquieu by the reverend father Routh in the libel entitled “The Anti-Philosophic Dictionary.”

Another subject of pride and ambition with the Jesuits was making missions to various cities, just as if they had been among Indians or Japanese. They would oblige the whole magistracy to attend them in the streets; a cross was borne before them, planted in the principal public places; they dispossessed the resident clergy; they became complete masters of the city. A Jesuit of the name of Aubert performed one of these missions to Colmar, and compelled the advocate-general of the sovereign council to burn at his feet his copy of “Bayle,” which had cost him no less than fifty crowns. For my own part, I acknowledge that I would rather have burned brother Aubert himself. Judge how the pride of this Aubert must have swelled with this sacrifice as he boasted of it to his comrades at night, and as he exultingly wrote the account of it to his general.

O monks, monks! be modest, as I have already advised you; be moderate, if you wish to avoid the calamities impending over you.

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