Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


If a soldier, charged by the king of France with the honor of conferring the order of St. Louis upon another soldier, had not, when presenting the latter with the cross, the intention of making him a knight of that order, would the receiver of the badge be on that account the less a member of the order than if such intention had existed? Certainly not.

How was it, then, that many priests thought it necessary to be re-ordained after the death of the celebrated Lavardin, bishop of Mans? That singular prelate, who had instituted the order of “Good Fellows” — Des Coteaux — bethought himself on his deathbed of a singular trick, in the way of revenge, on a class of persons who had much annoyed him. He was well known as one of the most daring free-thinkers of the age of Louis XIV., and had been publicly upbraided with his infidel sentiments, by many of those on whom he had conferred orders of priesthood. It is natural at the approach of death, for a sensitive and apprehensive soul to revert to the religion of its early years. Decency alone would have required of the bishop, that at least at his death he should give an example of edification to the flock to which he had given so much scandal by his life. But he was so deeply exasperated against his clergy, as to declare, that not a single individual of those whom he had himself ordained was really and truly a priest; that all their acts in the capacity of priests were null and void; and that he never entertained the intention of conferring any sacrament.

Such reasoning seems certainly characteristic, and just such as might be expected from a drunken man; the priests of Mans might have replied to him, “It is not your intention that is of any consequence, but ours. We had an ardent and determined desire to be priests; we did all in our power to become such. We are perfectly ingenuous and sincere; if you are not so, that is nothing at all to us.” The maxim applicable to the occasion is, “quic quid accipitur ad modum recipientis accipitur,” and not “ad modum dantis.” “When our wine merchant has sold us a half a hogshead of wine, we drink it, although he might have a secret intention to hinder us from drinking it; we shall still be priests in spite of your testament.”

Those reasons were sound and satisfactory. However, the greater number of those who had been ordained by that bishop did not consider themselves as real and authorized priests, and subjected themselves to ordination a second time. Mascaron, a man of moderate talents, but of great celebrity as a preacher, persuaded them, both by his discourses and example, to have the ceremony repeated. The affair occasioned great scandal at Mans, and Paris, and Versailles; but like everything else was soon forgotten.

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