Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

The Two Powers.

§ I.

Whoever holds both the sceptre and the censer has his hands completely occupied. If he governs a people possessed of common sense he may be considered as a very able man; but if his subjects have no more mind than children or savages, he may be compared to Bernier’s coachman, who was one day suddenly surprised by his master in one of the public places of Delhi, haranguing the populace, and distributing among them his quack medicines. “What! Lapierre,” says Bernier to him, “have you turned physician?” “Yes, sir,” replied the coachman; “like people, like doctor.”

The dairo of the Japanese, or the grand lama of Thibet, might make just the same remark. Even Numa Pompilius, with his Egeria, would have answered Bernier in the same manner. Melchizedek was probably in a similar situation, as well as the Anius whom Virgil introduces in the following two lines of the third book of his “Æneid”:

Rex Anius, rex idem hominum Phœbique sacerdos,

Vittis et sacra redimitus tempora lauro.

— Virgil.

Anius, the priest and king, with laurel crowned

His hoary locks with purple fillets bound.

— Dryden.

This charlatan Anius was merely king of the isle of Delos, a very paltry kingdom, which, next to those of Melchizedek and Yvetot, was one of the least considerable in the world; but the worship of Apollo had conferred on it a high reputation; a single saint is enough to raise any country into credit and consequence.

Three of the German electors are more powerful than Anius, and, like him, unite the rights of the mitre with those of the crown; although in subordination, at least apparently so, to the Roman emperor, who is no other than the emperor of Germany. But of all the countries in which the plenitude of ecclesiastical and the plenitude of royal claims combine to form the most full and complete power that can be imagined, modern Rome is the chief.

The pope is regarded in the Catholic part of Europe as the first of kings and the first of priests. It was the same in what was called “pagan” Rome; Julius Cæsar was at once chief pontiff, dictator, warrior, and conqueror; distinguished also both for eloquence and gallantry; in every respect the first of mankind; and with whom no modern, except in a dedication, could ever be compared.

The king of England, being the head also of the Church, possesses nearly the same dignities as the pope. The empress of Russia is likewise absolute mistress over her clergy, in the largest empire existing upon earth. The notion that two powers may exist, in opposition to each other, in the same state, is there regarded even by the clergy themselves as a chimera equally absurd and pernicious.

In this connection I cannot help introducing a letter which the empress of Russia, Catherine II., did me the honor to write to me at Mount Krapak, on Aug. 22, 1765, and which she permitted me to make use of as I might see occasion:

“The Capuchins who are tolerated at Moscow (for toleration is general throughout the Russian empire, and the Jesuits alone are not suffered to remain in it), having, in the course of the last winter, obstinately refused to inter a Frenchman who died suddenly, under a pretence that he had not received the sacraments, Abraham Chaumeix drew up a factum, or statement, against them, in order to prove to them that it was obligatory upon them to bury the dead. But neither this factum, nor two requisitions of the governor, could prevail on these fathers to obey. At last they were authoritatively told that they must either bury the Frenchman or remove beyond the frontiers. They actually removed accordingly; and I sent some Augustins from this place, who were somewhat more tractable, and who, perceiving that no trifling or delay would be permitted, did all that was desired on the occasion. Thus Abraham Chaumeix has in Russia become a reasonable man; he absolutely is an enemy to persecution; were he also to become a man of wit and intellect, he would make the most incredulous believe in miracles; but all the miracles in the world will not blot out the disgrace of having been the denouncer of the ‘Encyclopedia.’

“The subjects of the Church, having suffered many, and frequently tyrannical, grievances, which the frequent change of masters very considerably increased, towards the end of the reign of the empress Elizabeth, rose in actual rebellion; and at my accession to the throne there were more than a hundred thousand men in arms. This occasioned me, in 1762, to execute the project of changing entirely the administration of the property of the clergy, and to settle on them fixed revenues. Arsenius, bishop of Rostow, strenuously opposed this, urged on by some of his brother clergy, who did not feel it perfectly convenient to put themselves forward by name. He sent in two memorials, in which he attempted to establish the absurd principle of two powers. He had made the like attempt before, in the time of the empress Elizabeth, when he had been simply enjoined silence; but his insolence and folly redoubling, he was now tried by the metropolitan of Novgorod and the whole synod, condemned as a fanatic, found guilty of attempts contrary to the orthodox faith, as well as to the supreme power, deprived of his dignity and priesthood, and delivered over to the secular arm. I acted leniently towards him; and after reducing him to the situation of a monk, extended his punishment no farther.”

Such are the very words of the empress; and the inference from the whole case is that she well knows both how to support the Church and how to restrain it; that she respects humanity as well as religion; that she protects the laborer as well as the priest; and that all orders in the state ought both to admire and bless her.

I shall hope to be excused for the further indiscretion of transcribing here a passage contained in another of her letters, written on November 28, 1765:

“Toleration is established among us; it constitutes a law of the state; persecution is prohibited. We have indeed fanatics who, as they are not persecuted by others, burn themselves; but if those of other countries also did the same, no great harm could result; the world, in consequence of such a system, would have been more tranquil, and Calas would not have been racked to death.”

Do not imagine that she writes in this style from a feeling of transient and vain enthusiasm, contradicted afterwards in her practice, nor even from a laudable desire of obtaining throughout Europe the suffrages and applause of those who think, and teach others the way to think. She lays down these principles as the basis of her government. She wrote with her own hand, in the “Council of Legislations,” the following words, which should be engraved on the gates of every city in the world:

“In a great empire, extending its sway over as many different nations as there are different creeds among mankind, the most pernicious fault would be intolerance.”

It is to be observed that she does not hesitate to put intolerance in the rank of faults — I had nearly said offences. Thus does an absolute empress, in the depths of the North, put an end to persecution and slavery — while in the South —.

Judge for yourself, sir, after this, whether there will be found a man in Europe who will not be ready to sign the eulogium you propose. Not only is this princess tolerant, but she is desirous that her neighbors should be so likewise. This is the first instance in which supreme power has been exercised in establishing liberty of conscience. It constitutes the grandest epoch with which I am acquainted in modern history.

The case of the ancient Persians forbidding the Carthaginians to offer human sacrifices is a somewhat similar instance. Would to God, that instead of the barbarians who formerly poured from the plains of Scythia, and the mountains of Imaus and Caucasus, towards the Alps and Pyrenees, carrying with them ravage and desolation, armies might be seen at the present day descending to subvert the tribunal of the Inquisition — a tribunal more horrible than even the sacrifices of human beings which constitute the eternal reproach of our forefathers.

In short, this superior genius wishes to convince her neighbors of what Europe is now beginning to comprehend, that metaphysical unintelligible opinions, which are the daughters of absurdity, are the mothers of discord; and that the Church, instead of saying: “I come to bring, not peace, but the sword,” should exclaim aloud: “I bring peace, and not the sword.” Accordingly the empress is unwilling to draw the sword against any but those who wish to crush the dissidents.

§ II.

Conversation Between the Reverend Father Bouvet, Missionary of the Company of Jesus, and the Emperor Camhi, in the Presence of Brother Attiret, a Jesuit; Extracted from the Private Memoirs of the Mission, in 1772.

father bouvet.

Yes, may it please your sacred majesty, as soon as you will have had the happiness of being baptized by me, which I hope will be the case, you will be relieved of one-half of the immense burden which now oppresses you. I have mentioned to you the fable of Atlas, who supported the heavens on his shoulders. Hercules relieved him and carried away the heavens. You are Atlas, and Hercules is the pope. There will be two powers in your empire. Our excellent Clement will be the first. Upon this plan you will enjoy the greatest of all advantages; those of being at leisure while you live, and of being saved when you die.

the emperor.

I am exceedingly obliged to my dear friend, the pope, for condescending to take so much trouble; but how will he be able to govern my empire at the distance of six thousand leagues?

father bouvet.

Nothing, may it please your Imperial Majesty, can be more easy. We are his vicars apostolic, and he is the vicar of God; you will therefore be governed by God Himself.

the emperor.

How delightful that will be! I am not, however, quite easy on the subject. Will your vice-god share the imperial revenues with myself? For all labor ought to be paid for.

father bouvet.

Our vice-god is so kind and good that in general he will not take, at most, more than a quarter, except in cases of disobedience. Our emoluments will not exceed fifty million ounces of pure silver, which is surely a trifling object in comparison with heavenly advantages.

the emperor.

Yes, it is certainly, as you say, giving them almost for nothing. I suppose your celebrated and benevolent city derives just about the same sum from each of my three neighbors — the Great Mogul, the Emperor of Japan, and the Empress of Russia; and also from the Persian and the Turkish empires?

father bouvet.

I cannot exactly say that is yet the case; but, with God’s help and our own, I have no doubt it will be so.

the emperor.

And how are you, who are the vicars apostolic, to be paid?

father bouvet.

We have no regular wages; but we are somewhat like the principal female character in a comedy written by one Count Caylus, a countryman of mine; all that I . . . . is for myself.

the emperor.

But pray inform me whether your Christian princes in Europe pay your Italian friend or patron in proportion to the assessment laid on me.

father bouvet.

No, they do not! One-half of Europe has separated from him and pays him nothing; and the other pays him no more than it is obliged to pay.

the emperor.

You told me some time since that he was sovereign of a very fine and fertile territory.

father bouvet.

Yes; but it produces very little to him; it lies mostly uncultivated.

the emperor.

Poor man! he does not know how to cultivate his own territory, and yet pretends to govern mine.

father bouvet.

Formerly, in one of our councils — that is, in one of our assemblies of priests, which was held in a city called Constance — our holy father caused a proposition to be made for a new tax for the support of his dignity. The assembly replied that any necessity for that would be perfectly precluded by his attending to the cultivation of his own lands. This, however, he took effectual care not to do. He preferred living on the produce of those who labor in other kingdoms. He appeared to think that this manner of living had an air of greater grandeur.

the emperor.

Well, go and tell him from me, that I not only make those about me labor, but that I also labor myself; and I doubt much whether it will be for him.

father bouvet.

Holy Virgin! I am absolutely taken for a fool!

the emperor.

Begone, this instant! I have been too indulgent.

brother attiret to father bouvet.

I was right, you see, when I told you that the emperor, with all his excellence of heart, had also more understanding than both of us together.

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