Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


The epoch of the establishment of annats is uncertain, which is a proof that the exaction of them is a usurpation — an extortionary custom. Whatever is not founded on an authentic law is an abuse. Every abuse ought to be reformed, unless the reform is more dangerous than the abuse itself. Usurpation begins by small and successive encroachments; equity and the public interest at length exclaim and protest; then comes policy, which does its best to reconcile usurpation with equity, and the abuse remains.

In several dioceses the bishops, chapters, and archdeacons, after the example of the popes, imposed annats upon the curés. In Normandy this exaction is called droit de déport. Policy having no interest in maintaining this pillage, it was abolished in several places; it still exists in others; so true is it that money is the first object of worship!

In 1409, at the Council of Pisa, Pope Alexander V. expressly renounced annats; Charles VII. condemned them by an edict of April, 1418; the Council of Basel declared that they came under the domination of simony, and the Pragmatic Sanction abolished them again.

Francis I., by a private treaty which he made with Leo X., and which was not inserted in the concordat, allowed the pope to raise this tribute, which produced him annually, during that prince’s reign, a hundred thousand crowns of that day, according to the calculation then made by Jacques Capelle, advocate-general to the Parliament of Paris.

The parliament, the universities, the clergy, the whole nation, protested against this exaction, and Henry II., yielding at length to the cries of his people, renewed the law of Charles VII., by an edict of the 3d of September, 1551.

The paying of annats was again forbidden by Charles IX., at the States of Orleans, in 1560: “By the advice of our council, and in pursuance of the decrees of the Holy Councils, the ancient ordinances of the kings, our predecessors, and the decisions of our courts of parliament, we order that all conveying of gold and silver out of our kingdom, and paying of money under the name of annats, vacant or otherwise, shall cease, on pain of a four-fold penalty on the offenders.”

This law, promulgated in the general assembly of the nation, must have seemed irrevocable, but two years afterwards the same prince, subdued by the court of Rome, at that time powerful, re-established what the whole nation and himself had abrogated.

Henry IV., who feared no danger, but feared Rome, confirmed the annats by an edict of the 22d of January, 1596.

Three celebrated jurisconsults, Dumoulin, Lannoy, and Duaren, have written strongly against annats, which they call a real simony. If, in default of their payment the pope refuses his bulls, Duaren advises the Gallican Church to imitate that of Spain, which, in the twelfth Council of Toledo, charged the archbishop of that city, on the pope’s refusal, to provide for the prelates appointed by the king.

It is one of the most certain maxims of French law, consecrated by article fourteen of our liberties, that the bishop of Rome has no power over the temporalities of benefices, but enjoys the revenues of annats only by the king’s permission. But ought there not to be a term to this permission? What avails our enlightenment if we are always to retain our abuses?

The amount of the sums which have been and still are paid to the pope is truly frightful. The attorney-general, Jean de St. Romain, has remarked that in the time of Pius II. twenty-two bishoprics having become vacant in France in the space of three years, it was necessary to carry to Rome a hundred and twenty thousand crowns; that sixty-one abbeys having also become vacant, the like sum had been paid to the court of Rome; that about the same time there had been paid to this court for provisions for the priorships, deaneries, and other inferior dignities, a thousand crowns; that for each curate there was at least a grâce expectative, which was sold for twenty-five crowns, besides an infinite number of dispensations, amounting to two millions of crowns. St. Romain lived in the time of Louis XI. Judge then, what these sums would now amount to. Judge how much other states have given. Judge whether the Roman commonwealth in the time of Lucullus drew more gold and silver from the nations conquered by its sword than the popes, the fathers of those same nations, have drawn from them by their pens.

Supposing that St. Romain’s calculation is too high by half, which is very unlikely, does there not still remain a sum sufficiently considerable to entitle us to call the apostolical chamber to an account and demand restitution, seeing that there is nothing at all apostolical in such an amount of money?

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