Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


We only ask here from the censors of books, permission to transcribe from that which the Dominican missionary Labat, proveditor of the holy office, has written concerning the nails of the cross, into which it is more than probable no nails were ever driven.

“The Italian priest who conducted us had sufficient interest to get us, among other things, a sight of the nails with which our Saviour was fastened to the cross. They appeared to me very different from those which the Benedictines show at St. Denis. Possibly those belonging to St. Denis served for the feet, and the others for the hands. It was necessary that those for the hands should be sufficiently large and strong to support all the weight of the body. However, the Jews must either have made use of more than four nails, or some of those which are shown to the faithful are not genuine. History relates that St. Helena threw one of them into the sea, to appease a furious tempest which assailed the ship in which she had embarked. Constantine made use of another, to make a bit for the bridle of his horse. One is shown entire at St. Denis in France; another also entire at the Holy Cross of Jerusalem at Rome. A very celebrated Roman author of our day asserts that the iron crown with which they crown the emperors in Italy was made out of one of these nails. We are shown at Rome and at Carpentras two bridle bits also made of these nails, not to mention more at other places. To be sure, several of them are discreet enough to say, that it is the head or point only of these nails which they exhibit.”

The missionary speaks in the same tone of all the relics. He observes in the same passage, that when the body of the first deacon, St. Stephen, was brought from Jerusalem to Rome, in 557, and placed in the tomb of the deacon of St. Lawrence: “St. Lawrence made way of himself to give the right hand to his predecessor; an action which procured him the name of the civil Spaniard.”

Upon this passage we venture only one reflection, which is, that if some philosopher had said as much, in the “Encyclopædia,” as the Dominican Labat, a crowd of Pantouillets, Nonnottes, Chiniacs, Chaumeix, and other knaves, would have exclaimed — Deist, atheist, and geometrician! According to circumstances things change their names.

Selon ce que l’on peut être

Les choses changent de nom.

Amphytrion, Prologue.

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