Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


§ I.

The theologian knows perfectly that, according to St. Thomas, angels are corporeal with relation to God; that the soul receives its being in the body; and that man has a vegetative, sensitive, and intellectual soul; that the soul is all in all, and all in every part; that it is the efficient and formal cause of the body; that it is the greatest in nobleness of form; that the appetite is a passive power; that archangels are the medium between angels and principalities; that baptism regenerates of itself and by chance; that the catechism is not a sacrament, but sacramental; that certainty springs from the cause and subject; that concupiscence is the appetite of sensitive delectation; that conscience is an act and not a power.

The angel of the schools has written about four thousand fine pages in this style, and a shaven-crowned young man passes three years in filling his brain with this sublime knowledge; after which he receives the bonnet of a doctor of the Sorbonne, instead of going to Bedlam. If he is a man of quality, or the son of a rich man, or intriguing and fortunate, he becomes bishop, archbishop, cardinal, and pope.

If he is poor and without credit, he becomes the chaplain of one of these people; it is he who preaches for them, who reads St. Thomas and Scotus for them, who makes commandments for them, and who in a council decides for them.

The title of theologian is so great that the fathers of the Council of Trent give it to their cooks, “cuoco celeste, gran theologo.” Their science is the first of sciences, their condition the first of conditions, and themselves the first of men; such the empire of true doctrine; so much does reason govern mankind!

When a theologian has become — thanks to his arguments — either prince of the holy Roman Empire, archbishop of Toledo, or one of the seventy princes clothed in red, successors of the humble apostles, then the successors of Galen and Hippocrates are at his service. They were his equals when they studied in the same university; they had the same degrees, and received the same furred bonnet. Fortune changes all; and those who discovered the circulation of the blood, the lacteal veins, and the thoracic canal, are the servants of those who have learned what concomitant grace is, and have forgotten it.

§ II.

I knew a true theologian; he was master of the languages of the East, and was instructed as much as possible in the ancient rites of nations. The Brahmins, Chaldæans, Fire-worshippers, Sabeans, Syrians, and Egyptians, were as well known to him as the Jews; the several lessons of the Bible were familiar to him; and for thirty years he had tried to reconcile the gospels, and endeavored to make the fathers agree. He sought in what time precisely the creed attributed to the apostles was digested, and that which bears the name of Athanasius; how the sacraments were instituted one after the other; what was the difference between synaxis and mass; how the Christian Church was divided since its origin into different parties, and how the predominating society treated all the others as heretics. He sounded the depth of policy which always mixes with these quarrels; and he distinguished between policy and wisdom, between the pride which would subjugate minds and the desire of self-illumination, between zeal and fanaticism.

The difficulty of arranging in his head so many things, the nature of which is to be confounded, and of throwing a little light on so many clouds, often checked him; but as these researches were the duty of his profession, he gave himself up to them notwithstanding his distaste. He at length arrived at knowledge unknown to the greater part of his brethren: but the more learned he waxed, the more mistrustful he became of all that he knew. While he lived he was indulgent; and at his death, he confessed that he had spent his life uselessly.

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