Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


The Anglican religion is predominant only in England and Ireland; Presbyterianism is the established religion of Scotland. This Presbyterianism is nothing more than pure Calvinism, such as once existed in France, and still exists at Geneva.

In comparison with a young and lively French bachelor in divinity, brawling during the morning in the schools of theology, and singing with the ladies in the evening, a Church-of-England divine is a Cato; but this Cato is himself a gallant in presence of the Scottish Presbyterians. The latter affect a solemn walk, a serious demeanor, a large hat, a long robe beneath a short one, and preach through the nose. All churches in which the ecclesiastics are so happy as to receive an annual income of fifty thousand livres, and to be addressed by the people as “my lord,” “your grace,” or “your eminence,” they denominate the whore of Babylon. These gentlemen have also several churches in England, where they maintain the same manners and gravity as in Scotland. It is to them chiefly that the English are indebted for the strict sanctification of Sunday throughout the three kingdoms. They are forbidden either to labor or to amuse themselves. No opera, no concert, no comedy, in London on a Sunday. Even cards are expressly forbidden; and there are only certain people of quality, who are deemed open souls, who play on that day. The rest of the nation attend sermons, taverns, and their small affairs of love.

Although Episcopacy and Presbyterianism predominate in Great Britain, all other opinions are welcome and live tolerably well together, although the various preachers reciprocally detest one another with nearly the same cordiality as a Jansenist damns a Jesuit.

Enter into the Royal Exchange of London, a place more respectable than many courts, in which deputies from all nations assemble for the advantage of mankind. There the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian bargain with one another as if they were of the same religion, and bestow the name of infidel on bankrupts only. There the Presbyterian gives credit to the Anabaptist, and the votary of the establishment accepts the promise of the Quaker. On the separation of these free and pacific assemblies, some visit the synagogue, others repair to the tavern. Here one proceeds to baptize his son in a great tub, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; there another deprives his boy of a small portion of his foreskin, and mutters over the child some Hebrew words which he cannot understand; a third kind hasten to their chapels to wait for the inspiration of the Lord with their hats on; and all are content.

Was there in London but one religion, despotism might be apprehended; if two only, they would seek to cut each other’s throats; but as there are at least thirty, they live together in peace and happiness.

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