Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


I will not call Diocletian a persecutor, for he protected the Christians for eighteen years; and if, during his latter days, he did not save them from the resentment of Galerius, he only furnished the example of a prince seduced, like many others, by intrigue and cabal, into a conduct unworthy of his character. I will still less give the name of persecutor to Trajan or Antonius. I should regard myself as uttering blasphemy.

What is a persecutor? He whose wounded pride and fanaticism irritate princes and magistrates into fury against innocent men, whose only crime is that of being of a different opinion. Impudent man! you have worshipped God; you have preached and practised virtue; you have served and assisted man; you have protected the orphan, have succored the poor; you have changed deserts, in which slaves dragged on a miserable existence, into fertile districts peopled with happy families; but I have discovered that you despise me, and have never read my controversial work. I will, therefore, seek the confessor of the prime minister, or the magistrate; I will show them, with outstretched neck and twisted mouth, that you hold an erroneous opinion in relation to the cells in which the Septuagint was studied; that you have even spoken disrespectfully for these ten years past of Tobit’s dog, which you assert to have been a spaniel, whilst I maintain that it was a greyhound. I will denounce you as the enemy of God and man! Such is the language of the persecutor; and if these words do not precisely issue from his lips, they are engraven on his heart with the graver of fanaticism steeped in the gall of envy.

It was thus that the Jesuit Letellier dared to persecute Cardinal de Noailles, and that Jurieu persecuted Bayle. When the persecution of the Protestants commenced in France, it was not Francis I., nor Henry II., nor Francis II., who sought out these unfortunate people, who hardened themselves against them with reflective bitterness, and who delivered them to the flames in the spirit of vengeance. Francis I. was too much engaged with the Duchess d’Étampes; Henry II., with his ancient Diana, and Francis II. was too much a child. Who, then, commenced these persecutions? Jealous priests, who enlisted in their service the prejudices of magistrates and the policy of ministers.

If these monarchs had not been deceived, if they had foreseen that these persecutions would produce half a century of civil war, and that the two parts of the nation would mutually exterminate each other, they would have extinguished with their tears the first piles which they allowed to be lighted. Oh, God of mercy! if any man can resemble that malignant being who is described as actually employed in the destruction of Your works, is it not the persecutor?

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