Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Without inquiring whether scandal originally meant a stone which might occasion people to stumble and fall, or a quarrel, or a seduction, we consider it here merely in its present sense and acceptation. A scandal is a serious indecorum which is used generally in reference to the clergy. The tales of Fontaine are libertine or licentious; many passages of Sanchez, of Tambourin, and of Molina are scandalous.

A man is scandalous by his writings or by his conduct. The siege which the Augustins maintained against the patrol, at the time of the Fronde, was scandalous. The bankruptcy of the brother La Valette, of the Society of Jesuits, was more than scandalous. The lawsuit carried on by the reverend fathers of the order of the Capuchins of Paris, in 1764, was a most satisfactory and delightful scandal to thousands. For the edification of the reader, a word or two upon that subject in this place will not be ill employed.

These reverend fathers had been fighting in their convent; some of them had hidden their money, and others had stolen the concealed treasure. Up to this point the scandal was only particular, a stone against which only Capuchins could trip and tumble; but when the affair was brought before the parliament, the scandal became public.

It is stated in the pleadings in the cause, that the convent of the St. Honoré consumes twelve hundred pounds of bread a week, and meat and wood in proportion; and that there are four collecting friars, “quêteurs,” whose office it is, conformably to the term, to raise contributions in the city. What a frightful, dreadful scandal! Twelve hundred pounds of meat and bread per week for a few Capuchins, while so many artisans overwhelmed with old age, and so many respectable widows, are exposed to languish in want, and die in misery!

That the reverend father Dorotheus should have accumulated an income of three thousand livres a year at the expense of the convent, and consequently of the public, is not only an enormous scandal, but an absolute robbery, and a robbery committed upon the most needy class of citizens in Paris; for the poor are the persons who pay the tax imposed by the mendicant monks. The ignorance and weakness of the people make them imagine that they can never obtain heaven without parting with their absolute necessaries, from which these monks derive their superfluities.

This single brother, therefore, the chief of the convent, Dorotheus, to make up his income of a thousand crowns a year, must have extorted from the poor of Paris, no less a sum than twenty thousand crowns.

Consider, my good reader, that such cases are by no means rare, even in this eighteenth century of our era, which has produced useful books to expose abuses and enlighten minds; but, as I have before observed, the people never read. A single Capuchin, Recollet, or Carmelite is capable of doing more harm than the best books in the world will ever be able to do good.

I would venture to propose to those who are really humane and well-disposed, to employ throughout the capital a certain number of anti-Capuchins and anti-Recollets, to go about from house to house exhorting fathers and mothers to virtue, and to keep their money for the maintenance of their families, and the support of their old age; to love God with all their hearts, but to give none of their money to monks. Let us return, however, to the real meaning of the word “scandal.”

In the above-mentioned process on the subject of the Capuchin convent, Brother Gregory is accused of being the father of a child by Mademoiselle Brasdefer, and of having her afterwards married to Moutard, the shoe-maker. It is not stated whether Brother Gregory himself bestowed the nuptial benediction on his mistress and poor Moutard, together with the required dispensation. If he did so, the scandal is rendered as complete as possible; it includes fornication, robbery, adultery, and sacrilege. “Horresco referens.”

I say in the first place “fornication,” as Brother Gregory committed that offence with Magdalene Bras-defer, who was not at the time more than fifteen years of age.

I also say “robbery,” as he gave an apron and ribbons to Magdalene; and it is clear he must have robbed the convent in order to purchase them, and to pay for suppers, lodgings, and other expenses attending their intercourse.

I say “adultery,” as this depraved man continued his connection with Magdalene after she became Madame Moutard.

And I say “sacrilege,” as he was the confessor of Magdalene. And, if he himself performed the marriage ceremony for his mistress, judge what sort of man Brother Gregory must really have been.

One of our colleagues in this little collection of philosophic and encyclopædic questions is now engaged on a moral work, on the subject of scandal, against the opinion of Brother Patouillet. We hope it will not be long before it sees the light.

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