C. F. [Constantin Francois de] Volney
Part 5 out of 6
Jews expected, with the impatience of want and desire, this
victorious king and deliverer, who was to come and save the nation
of Moses, and restore the empire of David.
"On the other hand, the sacred and mythological traditions of
preceding times had spread through all Asia a dogma perfectly
analogous. The cry there was a great mediator, a final judge, a
future saviour, a king, god, conqueror and legislator, who was to
restore the golden age upon earth,* to deliver it from the dominion
of evil, and restore men to the empire of good, peace, and
happiness. The people seized and cherished these ideas with so
much the more avidity, as they found in them a consolation under
that deplorable state of suffering into which they had been plunged
by the devastations of successive conquests, and the barbarous
despotism of their governments. This conformity between the
oracles of different nations, and those of the prophets, excited
the attention of the Jews; and doubtless the prophets had the art
to compose their descriptions after the style and genius of the
sacred books employed in the Pagan mysteries. There was therefore
a general expectation in Judea of a great ambassador, a final
Saviour; when a singular circumstance determined the epoch of his
* This is the reason of the application of the many Pagan oracles
to Jesus, and particularly the fourth eclogue of Virgil, and the
Sybilline verses so celebrated among the ancients.
"It is found in the sacred books of the Persians and Chaldeans,
that the world, composed of a total revolution of twelve thousand,
was divided into two partial revolutions; one of which, the age and
reign of good, terminated in six thousand; the other, the age and
reign of evil, was to terminate in six thousand more.
"By these records, the first authors had understood the annual
revolution of the great celestial orb called the world, (a
revolution composed of twelve months or signs, divided each into a
thousand parts), and the two systematic periods, of winter and
summer, composed each of six thousand. These expressions, wholly
equivocal and badly explained, having received an absolute and
moral, instead of a physical and astrological sense, it happened
that the annual world was taken for the secular world, the thousand
of the zodiacal divisions, for a thousand of years; and supposing,
from the state of things, that they lived in the age of evil, they
inferred that it would end with the six thousand pretended years.*
* We have already seen this tradition current among the Tuscans; it
was disseminated through most nations, and shows us what we ought
to think of all the pretended creations and terminations of the
world, which are merely the beginnings and endings of astronomical
periods invented by astrologers. That of the year or solar
revolution, being the most simple and perceptible, served as a
model to the rest, and its comparison gave rise to the most
whimsical ideas. Of this description is the idea of the four ages
of the world among the Indians. Originally these four ages were
merely the four seasons; and as each season was under the supposed
influence of a planet, it bore the name of the metal appropriated
to that planet; thus spring was the age of the sun, or of gold;
summer the age of the moon, or of silver; autumn the age of Venus,
or of brass; and winter the age of Mars, or of iron. Afterwards
when astronomers invented the great year of 25 and 36 thousand
common years, which had for its object the bringing back all the
stars to one point of departure and a general conjunction, the
ambiguity of the terms introduced a similar ambiguity of ideas; and
the myriads of celestial signs and periods of duration which were
thus measured were easily converted into so many revolutions of the
sun. Thus the different periods of creation which have been so
great a source of difficulty and misapprehension to curious
enquirers, were in reality nothing more than hypothetical
calculations of astronomical periods. In the same manner the
creation of the world has been attributed to different seasons of
the year, just as these different seasons have served for the
fictitious period of these conjunctions; and of consequence has
been adopted by different nations for the commencement of an
ordinary year. Among the Egyptians this period fell upon the
summer solstice, which was the commencement of their year; and the
departure of the spheres, according to their conjectures, fell in
like manner upon the period when the sun enters cancer. Among the
Persians the year commenced at first in the spring, or when the sun
enters Aries; and from thence the first Christians were led to
suppose that God created the world in the spring: this opinion is
also favored by the book of Genesis; and it is farther remarkable,
that the world is not there said to be created by the God of Moses
(Yahouh), but by the Elohim or gods in the plural, that is by the
angels or genii, for so the word constantly means in the Hebrew
books. If we farther observe that the root of the word Elohim
signifies strong or powerful, and that the Egyptians called their
decans strong and powerful leaders, attributing to them the
creation of the world, we shall presently perceive that the book of
Genesis affirms neither more nor less than that the world was
created by the decans, by those very genii whom, according to
Sanchoniathon, Mercury excited against Saturn, and who were called
Elohim. It may be farther asked why the plural substantive Elohim
is made to agree with the singular verb bara (the Elohim creates).
The reason is that after the Babylonish captivity the unity of the
Supreme Being was the prevailing opinion of the Jews; it was
therefore thought proper to introduce a pious solecism in language,
which it is evident had no existence before Moses; thus in the
names of the children of Jacob many of them are compounded of a
plural verb, to which Elohim is the nominative case understood, as
Raouben (Reuben), they have looked upon me, and Samaonni (Simeon),
they have granted me my prayer; to wit, the Elohim. The reason of
this etymology is to be found in the religious creeds of the wives
of Jacob, whose gods were the taraphim of Laban, that is, the
angels of the Persians, and Egyptian decans.
"Now, according to calculations admitted by the Jews, they began to
reckon near six thousand years since the supposed creation of the
world.* This coincidence caused a fermentation in the public mind.
Nothing was thought of but the approaching end. They consulted the
hierophants and the mystical books, which differed as to the term;
the great mediator, the final judge, was expected and desired, to
put an end to so many calamities. This being was so much spoken
of, that some person finally was said to have seen him; and a first
rumor of this sort was sufficient to establish a general certainty.
Popular report became an established fact: the imaginary being was
realized; and all the circumstances of mythological tradition,
being assembled around this phantom, produced a regular history, of
which it was no longer permitted to doubt.
* According to the computation of the Seventy, the period elapsed
consisted of about 5,600 years, and this computation was
principally followed. It is well known how much, in the first ages
of the church, this opinion of the end of the world agitated the
minds of men. In the sequel, the general councils encouraged by
finding that the general conflagration did not come, pronounced the
expectation that prevailed heretical, and its believers were called
Millenarians; a circumstance curious enough, since it is evident
from the history of the gospels that Jesus Christ was a
Millenarian, and of consequence a heretic.
"These mythological traditions recounted that, in the beginning, a
woman and a man had by their fall introduced sin and misery into
the world. (Consult plate of the Astrological Heaven of the
"By this was denoted the astronomical fact, that the celestial
virgin and the herdsman (Bootes), by setting heliacally at the
autumnal equinox, delivered the world to the wintry constellations,
and seemed, on falling below the horizon, to introduce into the
world the genius of evil, Ahrimanes, represented by the
constellation of the Serpent.*
* "The Persians," says Chardin, "call the constellation of the
serpent Ophiucus, serpent of Eve: and this serpent Ophiucas or
Ophioneus plays a similar part in the theology of the Phoenicians,"
for Pherecydes, their disciple and the master of Pythagoras, said
"that Ophioneus Serpentinus had been chief of the rebels against
Jupiter." See Mars. Ficin. Apol. Socrat. p. m. 797, col. 2. I
shall add that ephah (with ain) signifies in Hebrew, serpent.
These traditions related that the woman had decoyed and seduced the
* In a physical sense to seduce, seducere, means only to attract,
to draw after us.
"And in fact, the virgin, setting first, seems to draw the herdsman
"That the woman tempted him by offering him fruit fair to the sight
and good to eat, which gave the knowledge of good and evil.
"And in fact, the Virgin holds in her hand a branch of fruit, which
she seems to offer to the Herdsman; and the branch, emblem of
autumn, placed in the picture of Mithra* between winter and summer,
seems to open the door and give knowledge, the key of good and
* See this picture in Hyde, page 111, edition of 1760.
That this couple had been driven from the celestial garden, and
that a cherub with a flaming sword had been placed at the gate to
"And in fact, when the virgin and the herdsman fall beneath the
horizon, Perseus rises on the other side;* and this Genius, with a
sword in his hand, seems to drive them from the summer heaven, the
garden and dominion of fruits and flowers.
* Rather the head of Medusa; that head of a woman once so
beautiful, which Perseus cut off and which beholds in his hand, is
only that of the virgin, whose head sinks below the horizon at the
very moment that Perseus rises; and the serpents which surround it
are Orphiucus and the Polar Dragon, who then occupy the zenith.
This shows us in what manner the ancients composed all their
figures and fables. They took such constellations as they found at
the same time on the circle of the horizon, and collecting the
different parts, they formed groups which served them as an almanac
in hieroglyphic characters. Such is the secret of all their
pictures, and the solution of all their mythological monsters. The
virgin is also Andromeda, delivered by Perseus from the whale that
pursues her (pro-sequitor).
That of this virgin should be born, spring up, an offspring, a
child, who should bruise the head of the serpent, and deliver the
world from sin.
"This denotes the son, which, at the moment of the winter solstice,
precisely when the Persian Magi drew the horoscope of the new year,
was placed on the bosom of the Virgin, rising heliacally in the
eastern horizon; on this account he was figured in their
astrological pictures under the form of a child suckled by a chaste
virgin,* and became afterwards, at the vernal equinox, the ram, or
the lamb, triumphant over the constellation of the Serpent, which
disappeared from the skies.
* Such was the picture of the Persian sphere, cited by Aben Ezra in
the Coelam Poeticum of Blaeu, p. 71. "The picture of the first
decan of the Virgin," says that writer. "represents a beautiful
virgin with flowing hair; sitting in a chair, with two ears of corn
in her hand, and suckling an infant, called Jesus by some nations,
and Christ in Greek."
In the library of the king of France is a manuscript in Arabic,
marked 1165, in which is a picture of the twelve signs; and that of
the Virgin represents a young woman with an infant by her side: the
whole scene indeed of the birth of Jesus is to be found in the
adjacent part of the heavens. The stable is the constellation of
the charioteer and the goat, formerly Capricorn: a constellation
called proesepe Jovis Heniochi, stable of Iou; and the word Iou is
found in the name Iou-seph (Joseph). At no great distance is the
ass of Typhon (the great she-bear), and the ox or bull, the ancient
attendants of the manger. Peter the porter, is Janus with his keys
and bald forehead: the twelve apostles are the genii of the twelve
months, etc. This Virgin has acted very different parts in the
various systems of mythology: she has been the Isis of the
Egyptians, who said of her in one of their inscriptions cited by
Julian, the fruit I have brought forth is the sun. The majority of
traits drawn by Plutarch apply to her, in the same manner as those
of Osiris apply to Bootes: also the seven principal stars of the
she-bear, called David's chariot, were called the chariot of Osiris
(See Kirker); and the crown that is situated behind, formed of ivy,
was called Chen-Osiris, the tree of Osiris. The Virgin has
likewise been Ceres, whose mysteries were the same with those of
Isis and Mithra; she has been the Diana of the Ephesians; the great
goddess of Syria, Cybele, drawn by lions; Minerva, the mother of
Bacchus; Astraea, a chaste virgin taken up into heaven at the end
of a golden age; Themis at whose feet is the balance that was put
in her hands; the Sybil of Virgil, who descends into hell, or sinks
below the hemisphere with a branch in her hand, etc.
That, in his infancy, this restorer of divine and celestial nature
would live abased, humble, obscure and indigent.
"And this, because the winter sun is abased below the horizon; and
that this first period of his four ages or seasons, is a time of
obscurity, scarcity, fasting, and want.
"That, being put to death by the wicked, he had risen gloriously;
that he had reascended from hell to heaven, where he would reign
"This is a sketch of the life of the sun; who, finishing his career
at the winter solstice, when Typhon and the rebel angels gain the
dominion, seems to be put to death by them; but who soon after is
born again, and rises* into the vault of heaven, where he reigns.
* Resurgere, to rise a second time, cannot signify to return to
life, but in a metaphorical sense; but we see continually mistakes
of this kind result from the ambiguous meaning of the words made
use of in ancient tradition.
"Finally, these traditions went so far as to mention even his
astrological and mythological names, and inform us that he was
called sometimes Chris, that is to say, preserver,* and from that,
ye Indians, you have made your god Chrish-en or Chrish-na; and, ye
Greek and Western Christians, your Chris-tos, son of Mary, is the
same; sometimes he is called Yes, by the union of three letters,
which by their numerical value form the number 608, one of the
solar periods.** And this, Europeans, is the name which, with the
Latin termination, is become your Yes-us or Jesus, the ancient and
cabalistic name attributed to young Bacchus, the clandestine son
(nocturnal) of the Virgin Minerva, who, in the history of his whole
life, and even of his death, brings to mind the history of the god
of the Christians, that is, of the star of day, of which they are
each of them the emblems."
* The Greeks used to express by X, or Spanish iota, the aspirated
ha of the Orientals, who said haris. In Hebrew heres signifies the
sun, but in Arabic the meaning of the radical word is, to guard, to
preserve, and of haris, guardian, preserver. It is the proper
epithet of Vichenou, which demonstrates at once the identity of the
Indian and Christian Trinities, and their common origin. It is
manifestly but one system, which divided into two branches, one
extending to the east, and the other to the west, assumed two
different forms: Its principal trunk is the Pythagorean system of
the soul of the world, or Iou-piter. The epithet piter, or father,
having been applied to the demi-ourgos of Plato, gave rise to an
ambiguity which caused an enquiry to be made respecting the son of
this father. In the opinion of the philosophers the son was
understanding, Nous and Logos, from which the Latins made their
Verbum. And thus we clearly perceive the origin of the eternal
father and of the Verbum his son, proceeding from him (Mens Ex Deo
nata, says Macrobius): the oenima or spiritus mundi, was the Holy
Ghost; and it is for this reason that Manes, Pasilides,
Valentinius, and other pretended heretics of the first ages, who
traced things to their source, said, that God the Father was the
supreme inaccessible light (that of the heaven, the primum mobile,
or the aplanes); the Son the secondary light resident in the sun,
and the Holy Ghost the atmosphere of the earth (See Beausob. vol.
II, p. 586): hence, among the Syrians, the representation of the
Holy Ghost by a dove, the bird of Venus Urania, that is of the air.
The Syrians (says Nigidius de Germaico) assert that a dove sat for
a certain number of days on the egg of a fish, and that from this
incubation Venus was born: Sextus Empiricus also observes (Inst.
Pyrrh. lib. 3, c. 23) that the Syrians abstain from eating doves;
which intimates to us a period commencing in the sign Pisces, in
the winter solstice. We may farther observe, that if Chris comes
from Harisch by a chin, it will signify artificer, an epithet
belonging to the sun. These variations, which must have
embarrassed the ancients, prove it to be the real type of Jesus, as
had been already remarked in the time of Tertullian. "Many, says
this writer, suppose with greater probability that the sun is our
God, and they refer us to the religion of the Persians." Apologet.
** See a curious ode to the sun, by Martianus Capella, translated
Here a great murmur having arisen among all the Christian groups,
the Lamas, the Mussulmans and the Indians called them to order, and
the orator went on to finish his discourse:
"You know at present," said he, "how the rest of this system was
composed in the chaos and anarchy of the three first centuries;
what a multitude of singular opinions divided the minds of men, and
armed them with an enthusiasm and a reciprocal obstinacy; because,
being equally founded on ancient tradition, they were equally
sacred. You know how the government, after three centuries, having
embraced one of these sects, made it the orthodox, that is to say,
the pre-dominant religion, to the exclusion of the rest; which,
being less in number, became heretics; you know how and by what
means of violence and seduction this religion was propagated,
extended, divided, and enfeebled; how, six hundred years after the
Christian innovation, another system was formed from it and from
that of the Jews; and how Mahomet found the means of composing a
political and theological empire at the expense of those of Moses
and the vicars of Jesus.
"Now, if you take a review of the whole history of the spirit of
all religion, you will see that in its origin it has had no other
author than the sensations and wants of man; that the idea of God
has had no other type and model than those of physical powers,
material beings, producing either good or evil, by impressions of
pleasure or pain on sensitive beings; that in the formation of all
these systems the spirit of religion has always followed the same
course, and been uniform in its proceedings; that in all of them
the dogma has never failed to represent, under the name of gods,
the operations of nature, and passions and prejudices of men; that
the moral of them all has had for its object the desire of
happiness and the aversion to pain; but that the people, and the
greater part of legislators, not knowing the route to be pursued,
have formed false, and therefore discordant, ideas of virtue and
vice of good and evil, that is to say, of what renders man happy or
miserable; that in every instance, the means and the causes of
propagating and establishing systems have exhibited the same scenes
of passion and the same events; everywhere disputes about words,
pretexts for zeal, revolutions and wars excited by the ambition of
princes, the knavery of apostles, the credulity of proselytes, the
ignorance of the vulgar, the exclusive cupidity and intolerant
arrogance of all. Indeed, you will see that the whole history of
the spirit of religion is only the history of the errors of the
human mind, which, placed in a world that it does not comprehend,
endeavors nevertheless to solve the enigma; and which, beholding
with astonishment this mysterious and visible prodigy, imagines
causes, supposes reasons, builds systems; then, finding one
defective, destroys it for another not less so; hates the error
that it abandons, misconceives the one that it embraces, rejects
the truth that it is seeking, composes chimeras of discordant
beings; and thus, while always dreaming of wisdom and happiness,
wanders blindly in a labyrinth of illusion and doubt."
ALL RELIGIONS HAVE THE SAME OBJECT.
Thus spoke the orator in the name of those men who had studied the
origin and succession of religious ideas.
The theologians of various systems, reasoning on this discourse:
"It is an impious representation," said some, whose tendency is
nothing less than to overturn all belief, to destroy subordination
in the minds of men, and annihilate our ministry and power." "It
is a romance," said others, "a tissue of conjectures, composed with
art, but without foundation." The moderate and prudent men added:
"Supposing all this to be true, why reveal these mysteries?
Doubtless our opinions are full of errors; but these errors are a
necessary restraint on the multitude. The world has gone thus for
two thousand years; why change it now?"
A murmur of disapprobation, which never fails to rise at every
innovation, now began to increase; when a numerous group of the
common classes of people, and of untaught men of all countries and
of every nation, without prophets, without doctors, and without
doctrine, advancing in the circle, drew the attention of the whole
assembly; and one of them, in the name of all, thus addressed the
"Mediators and arbiters of nations! the strange relations which
have occupied the present debate were unknown to us until this day.
Our understanding, confounded and amazed at so many statements,
some of them learned, others absurd and all incomprehensible,
remains in uncertainty and doubt. One only reflection has struck
us: on reviewing so many prodigious facts, so many contradictory
assertions, we ask ourselves: What are all these discussions to us?
What need have we of knowing what passed five or six thousand years
ago, in countries we never heard of, and among men who will ever be
unknown to us? True or false, what interest have we in knowing
whether the world has existed six thousand, or twenty-five thousand
years? Whether it was made of nothing, or of something; by itself,
or by a maker, who in his turn would require another maker? What!
we are not sure of what happens near us, and shall we answer for
what happens in the sun, in the moon, or in imaginary regions of
space? We have forgotten our own infancy, and shall we know the
infancy of the world? And who will attest what no one has seen?
who will certify what no man comprehends?
"Besides, what addition or diminution will it make to our
existence, to answer yes or no to all these chimeras? Hitherto
neither our fathers nor ourselves have had the least knowledge or
notion of them, and we do not perceive that we have had on this
account either more or less of the sun, more or less of
subsistence, more or less of good or of evil.
"If the knowledge of these things is so necessary, why have we
lived as well without it as those who have taken so much trouble
concerning it? If this knowledge is superfluous, why should we
burden ourselves with it to-day?"
Then addressing himself to the doctors and theologians:
"What!" said he, "is it necessary that we, poor and ignorant men,
whose every moment is scarcely sufficient for the cares of life,
and the labors of which you take the profit,--is it necessary for
us to learn the numberless histories that you have recounted, to
read the quantity of books that you have cited, and to study the
various languages in which they are composed! A thousand years of
life would not suffice--"
"It is not necessary," replied the doctors, "that you should
acquire all this science; we have it for you--"
"But even you," replied the simple men, "with all your science, you
are not agreed; of what advantage, then, is your science? Besides,
how can you answer for us? If the faith of one man is applicable
to many, what need have even you to believe? your fathers may have
believed for you; and this would be reasonable, since they have
seen for you.
"Farther, what is believing, if believing influences no action?
And what action is influenced by believing, for instance, that the
world is or is not eternal?"
"The latter would be offensive to God," said the doctors.
"How prove you that?" replied the simple men.
"In our books," answered the doctors.
"We do not understand them," returned the simple men.
"We understand them for you," said the doctors.
"That is the difficulty," replied the simple men. "By what right
do you constitute yourselves mediators between God and us?"
"By his orders," said the doctors.
"Where is the proof of these orders?" said the simple men.
"In our books," said the doctors.
"We understand them not," said the simple men; "and how came this
just God to give you this privilege over us? Why did this common
father oblige us to believe on a less degree of evidence than you?
He has spoken to you; be it so; he is infallible, and deceives you
not. But it is you who speak to us! And who shall assure us that
you are not in error yourselves, or that you will not lead us into
error? And if we should be deceived, how will that just God save
us contrary to law, or condemn us on a law which we have not
"He has given you the natural law," said the doctors.
"And what is the natural law?" replied the simple men. "If that
law is sufficient, why has he given any other? If it is not
sufficient, why did he make it imperfect?"
"His judgments are mysteries," said the doctors, "and his justice
is not like that of men."
"If his justice," replied the simple men, "is not like ours, by
what rule are we to judge of it? And, moreover, why all these
laws, and what is the object proposed by them?"
"To render you more happy," replied a doctor, "by rendering you
better and more virtuous. It is to teach man to enjoy his
benefits, and not injure his fellows, that God has manifested
himself by so many oracles and prodigies."
"In that case," said the simple men, "there is no necessity for so
many studies, nor of such a variety of arguments; only tell us
which is the religion that best answers the end which they all
Immediately, on this, every group, extolling its own morality above
that of all others, there arose among the different sects a new and
most violent dispute.
"It is we," said the Mussulmans, "who possess the most excellent
morals, who teach all the virtues useful to men and agreeable to
God. We profess justice, disinterestedness, resignation to
providence, charity to our brethren, alms-giving, and devotion; we
torment not the soul with superstitious fears; we live without
alarm, and die without remorse."
"How dare you speak of morals," answered the Christian priests,
"you, whose chief lived in licentiousness and preached impurity?
You, whose first precept is homicide and war? For this we appeal
to experience: for these twelve hundred years your fanatical zeal
has not ceased to spread commotion and carnage among the nations.
If Asia, so flourishing in former times, is now languishing in
barbarity and depopulation, it is in your doctrine that we find the
cause; in that doctrine, the enemy of all instruction, which
sanctifies ignorance, which consecrates the most absolute despotism
in the governors, imposes the most blind and passive obedience in
the people, that has stupefied the faculties of man, and brutalized
"It is not so with our sublime and celestial morals; it was they
which raised the world from its primitive barbarity, from the
senseless and cruel superstitions of idolatry, from human
sacrifices,* from the shameful orgies of pagan mysteries; they it
was that purified manners, proscribed incest and adultery, polished
savage nations, banished slavery, and introduced new and unknown
virtues, charity for men, their equality in the sight of God,
forgiveness and forgetfulness of injuries, the restraint of all the
passions, the contempt of worldly greatness, a life completely
spiritual and completely holy!"
* Read the cold declaration of Eusebius (Proep. Evang. lib. I, p.
11,), who pretends that, since the coming of Christ, there have
been neither wars, nor tyrants, nor cannibals, nor sodomites, nor
persons committing incest, nor savages destroying their parents,
etc. When we read these fathers of the church we are astonished at
their insincerity or infatuation.
"We admire," said the Mussulmans, "the ease with which you
reconcile that evangelical meekness, of which you are so
ostentatious, with the injuries and outrages with which you are
constantly galling your neighbors. When you criminate so severely
the great man whom we revere, we might fairly retort on the conduct
of him whom you adore; but we scorn such advantages, and confining
ourselves to the real object in question, we maintain that the
morals of your gospel have by no means that perfection which you
ascribe to them; it is not true that they have introduced into the
world new and unknown virtues: for example, the equality of men in
the sight of God,--that fraternity and that benevolence which
follow from it, were formal doctrines of the sect of the Hermatics
or Samaneans,* from whom you descend. As to the forgiveness of
injuries, the Pagans themselves had taught it; but in the extent
that you give it, far from being a virtue, it becomes an
immorality, a vice. Your so much boasted precept of turning one
cheek after the other, is not only contrary to every sentiment of
man, but is opposed to all ideas of justice. It emboldens the
wicked by impunity, debases the virtuous by servility, delivers up
the world to despotism and tyranny, and dissolves all society.
Such is the true spirit of your doctrines. Your gospels in their
precepts and their parables, never represent God but as a despot
without any rules of equity; a partial father treating a debauched
and prodigal son with more favor than his respectful and virtuous
children; a capricious master, who gives the same wages to workmen
who had wrought but one hour, as to those who had labored through
the whole day; one who prefers the last comers to the first. The
moral is everywhere misanthropic and antisocial; it disgusts men
with life and with society; and tends only to encourage hermitism
* The equality of mankind in a state of nature and in the eyes of
God was one of the principal tenets of the Samaneans, and they
appear to be the only ancients that entertained this opinion.
"As to the manner in which you have practised these morals, we
appeal in our turn to the testimony of facts. We ask whether it is
this evangelical meekness which has excited your interminable wars
between your sects, your atrocious persecutions of pretended
heretics, your crusades against Arianism, Manicheism,
Protestantism, without speaking of your crusades against us, and of
those sacrilegious associations, still subsisting, of men who take
an oath to continue them?* We ask you whether it be gospel charity
which has made you exterminate whole nations in America, to
annihilate the empires of Mexico and Peru; which makes you continue
to dispeople Africa and sell its inhabitants like cattle,
notwithstanding your abolition of slavery; which makes you ravage
India and usurp its dominions; and whether it be the same charity
which, for three centuries past, has led you to harrass the
habitations of the people of three continents, of whom the most
prudent, the Chinese and Japanese, were constrained to drive you
off, that they might escape your chains and recover their internal
* The oath taken by the knights of the Order of Malta, is to kill,
or make the Mahometans prisoners, for the glory of God.
Here the Bramins, the Rabbins, the Bonzes, the Chamans, the Priests
of the Molucca islands, and the coasts of Guinea, loading the
Christian doctors with reproaches: "Yes!" cried they, "these men
are robbers and hypocrites, who preach simplicity, to surprise
confidence; humility, to enslave with more ease; poverty, to
appropriate all riches to themselves. They promise another world,
the better to usurp the present; and while they speak to you of
tolerance and charity, they burn, in the name of God, the men who
do not worship him in their manner."
"Lying priests," retorted the missionaries, "it is you who abuse
the credulity of ignorant nations to subjugate them. It is you who
have made of your ministry an art of cheating and imposture; you
have converted religion into a traffic of cupidity and avarice.
You pretend to hold communications with spirits, and they give for
oracles nothing but your wills. You feign to read the stars, and
destiny decrees only your desires. You cause idols to speak, and
the gods are but the instruments of your passions. You have
invented sacrifices and libations, to collect for your own profit
the milk of flocks, and the flesh and fat of victims; and under the
cloak of piety you devour the offerings of the gods, who cannot
eat, and the substance of the people who are forced to labor."
"And you," replied the Bramins, the Bonzes, the Chamans, "you sell
to the credulous living, your vain prayers for the souls of the
dead. With your indulgences and your absolutions you have usurped
the power of God himself; and making a traffic of his favors and
pardons, you have put heaven at auction; and by your system of
expiations you have formed a tariff of crimes, which has perverted
* As long as it shall be possible to obtain purification from
crimes and exemption from punishment by means of money or other
frivolous practices; as long as kings and great men shall suppose
that building temples or instituting foundations, will absolve them
from the guilt of oppression and homicide; as long as individuals
shall imagine that they may rob and cheat, provided they observe
fast during Lent, go to confession, and receive extreme unction, it
is impossible there should exist in society any morality or virtue;
and it is from a deep conviction of truth, that a modern
philosopher has called the doctrine of expiations la verola des
"Add to this," said the Imans, "that these men have invented the
most insidious of all systems of wickedness,--the absurd and
impious obligation of recounting to them the most intimate secrets
of actions and of thoughts (confessions); so their insolent
curiosity has carried their inquisition even into the sanctuary of
the marriage bed,* and the inviolable recesses of the heart."
* Confession is a very ancient invention of the priests, who did
not fail to avail themselves of that means of governing. It was
practised in the Egyptian, Greek, Phrygian, Persian mysteries, etc.
Plutarch has transmitted us the remarkable answer of a Spartan whom
a priest wanted to confess. "Is it to you or to God I am to
confess?" "To God," answered the priest: "In that case," replied
the Spartan, "man, begone!" (Remarkable Savings of the
Lacedemonians.) The first Christians confessed their faults
publicly, like the Essenians. Afterwards, priests began to be
established, with power of absolution from the sin of idolatry. In
the time of Theodosius, a woman having publicly confessed an
intrigue with a deacon, bishop Necterius, and his successor
Chrysostom, granted communion without confession. It was not until
the seventh century that the abbots of convents exacted from monks
and nuns confession twice a year; and it was at a still later
period that bishops of Rome generalized it.
The Mussulmen, who suppose women to have no souls, are shocked at
the idea of confession; and say; How can an honest man think of
listening to the recital of the actions or the secret thoughts of a
woman? May we not also ask, on the other hand, how can an honest
woman consent to reveal them?
Thus by mutual reproaches the doctors of the different sects began
to reveal all the crimes of their ministry--all the vices of their
craft; and it was found that among all nations the spirit of the
priesthood, their system of conduct, their actions their morals,
were absolutely the same:
That they had everywhere formed secret associations and
corporations at enmity with the rest of society:*
* That we may understand the general feelings of priests respecting
the rest of mankind, whom they always call by the name of the
people, let us hear one of the doctors of the church. "The
people," says Bishop Synnesius, in Calvit. page 315, "are desirous
of being deceived, we cannot act otherwise respecting them. The
case was similar with the ancient priests of Egypt, and for this
reason they shut themselves up in their temples, and there composed
their mysteries, out of the reach of the eye of the people." And
forgetting what he has before just said, he adds: "for had the
people been in the secret they might have been offended at the
deception played upon them. In the mean time how is it possible to
conduct one's self otherwise with the people so long as they are
people? For my own part, to myself I shall always be a
philosopher, but in dealing with the mass of mankind, I shall be a
"A little jargon," says Geogory Nazianzen to St. Jerome (Hieron.
ad. Nep.) "is all that is necessary to impose on the people. The
less they comprehend, the more they admire. Our forefathers and
doctors of the church have often said, not what they thought, but
what circumstances and necessity dictated to them."
"We endeavor," says Sanchoniaton, "to excite admiration by means of
the marvellous." (Proep. Evang. lib. 3.)
Such was the conduct of all the priests of antiquity, and is still
that of the Bramins and Lamas who are the exact counterpart of the
Egyptian priests. Such was the practice of the Jesuits, who
marched with hasty strides in the same career. It is useless to
point out the whole depravity of such a doctrine. In general every
association which has mystery for its basis, or an oath of secrecy,
is a league of robbers against society, a league divided in its
very bosom into knaves and dupes, or in other words agents and
instruments. It is thus we ought to judge of those modern clubs,
which, under the name of Illuminatists, Martinists,
Cagliostronists, and Mesmerites, infest Europe. These societies
are the follies and deceptions of the ancient Cabalists, Magicians,
Orphies, etc., "who," says Plutarch, "led into errors of
considerable magnitude, not only individuals, but kings and
That they had everywhere attributed to themselves prerogatives and
immunities, by means of which they lived exempt from the burdens of
That they everywhere avoided the toils of the laborer, the dangers
of the soldier, and the disappointments of the merchant:
That they lived everywhere in celibacy, to shun even the cares of a
That, under the cloak of poverty, they found everywhere the secret
of procuring wealth and all sorts of enjoyments:
That under the name of mendicity they raised taxes to a greater
amount than princes:
That in the form of gifts and offerings they had established fixed
and certain revenues exempt from charges:
That under pretence of retirement and devotion they lived in
idleness and licentiousness:
That they had made a virtue of alms-giving, to live quietly on the
labors of others:
That they had invented the ceremonies of worship, as a means of
attracting the reverence of the people, while they were playing the
parts of gods, of whom they styled themselves the interpreters and
mediators, to assume all their powers; that, with this design, they
had (according to the degree of ignorance or information of their
people) assumed by turns the character of astrologers, drawers of
horoscopes, fortune-tellers, magicians,* necromancers, quacks,
physicians, courtiers, confessors of princes, always aiming at the
great object to govern for their own advantage:
* What is a magician, in the sense in which people understand the
word? A man who by words and gestures pretends to act on
supernatural beings, and compel them to descend at his call and
obey his orders. Such was the conduct of the ancient priests, and
such is still that of all priests in idolatrous nations; for which
reason we have given them the denomination of Magicians.
And when a Christian priest pretends to make God descend from
heaven, to fix him to a morsel of leaven, and render, by means of
this talisman, souls pure and in a state of grace, what is this but
a trick of magic? And where is the difference between a Chaman of
Tartary who invokes the Genii, or an Indian Bramin, who makes
Vichenou descend in a vessel of water to drive away evil spirits?
Yes, the identity of the spirit of priests in every age and country
is fully established! Every where it is the assumption of an
exclusive privilege, the pretended faculty of moving at will the
powers of nature; and this assumption is so direct a violation of
the right of equality, that whenever the people shall regain their
importance, they will forever abolish this sacrilegious kind of
nobility, which has been the type and parent stock of the other
species of nobility.
That sometimes they had exalted the power of kings and consecrated
their persons, to monopolize their favors, or participate their
That sometimes they had preached up the murder of tyrants
(reserving it to themselves to define tyranny), to avenge
themselves of their contempt or their disobedience:
And that they always stigmatised with impiety whatever crossed
their interests; that they hindered all public instruction, to
exercise the monopoly of science; that finally, at all times and in
all places, they had found the secret of living in peace in the
midst of the anarchy they created, in safety under the despotism
that they favored, in idleness amidst the industry they preached,
and in abundance while surrounded with scarcity; and all this by
carrying on the singular trade of selling words and gestures to
credulous people, who purchase them as commodities of the greatest
* A curious work would be the comparative history of the agnuses of
the pope and the pastils of the grand Lama. It would be worth
while to extend this idea to religions ceremonies in general, and
to confront column by column, the analogous or contrasting points
of faith and superstitious practices in all nations. There is one
more species of superstition which it would be equally salutary to
cure, blind veneration for the great; and for this purpose it would
be alone sufficient to write a minute detail of the private life of
kings and princes. No work could be so philosophical as this; and
accordingly we have seen what a general outcry was excited among
kings and the panders of kings, when the Anecdotes of the Court of
Berlin first appeared. What would be the alarm were the public put
in possession of the sequel of this work? Were the people fairly
acquainted with all the absurdities of this species of idol, they
would no longer be exposed to covet their specious pleasures of
which the plausible and hollow appearance disturbs their peace, and
hinders them from enjoying the much more solid happiness of their
Then the different nations, in a transport of fury, were going to
tear in pieces the men who had thus abused them; but the
legislator, arresting this movement of violence, addressed the
chiefs and doctors:
"What!" said he, "instructors of nations, is it thus that you have
And the terrified priests replied.
"O legislator! we are men. The people are so superstitious! they
have themselves encouraged these errors."*
* Consider in this view the Brabanters.
And the kings said:
"O legislator! the people are so servile and so ignorant! they
prostrated themselves before the yoke, which we scarcely dared to
* The inhabitants of Vienna, for example, who harnessed themselves
like cattle and drew the chariot of Leopold.
Then the legislator, turning to the people--"People!" said he,
"remember what you have just heard; they are two indelible truths.
Yes, you yourselves cause the evils of which you complain;
yourselves encourage the tyrants, by a base adulation of their
power, by an imprudent admiration of their false beneficence, by
servility in obedience, by licentiousness in liberty, and by a
credulous reception of every imposition. On whom shall you wreak
vengeance for the faults committed by your own ignorance and
And the people, struck with confusion, remained in mournful
SOLUTION OF THE PROBLEM OF CONTRADICTIONS.
The legislator then resumed his discourse: "O nations!" said he,
"we have heard the discussion of your opinions. The different
sentiments which divide you have given rise to many reflections,
and furnished several questions which we shall propose to you to
"First, considering the diversity and opposition of the creeds to
which you are attached, we ask on what motives you found your
persuasion? Is it from a deliberate choice that you follow the
standard of one prophet rather than another? Before adopting this
doctrine, rather than that, did you first compare? did you
carefully examine them? Or have you received them only from the
chance of birth, from the empire of education and habit? Are you
not born Christians on the borders of the Tiber, Mussulmans on
those of the Euphrates, Idolaters on the Indus, just as you are
born fair in cold climates, and sable under the scorching sun of
Africa? And if your opinions are the effect of your fortuitous
position on the earth, of consanguinity, of imitation, how is it
that such a hazard should be a ground of conviction, an argument of
"Secondly, when we reflect on the mutual proscriptions and
arbitrary intolerance of your pretensions, we are frightened at the
consequences that flow from your own principles. Nations! who
reciprocally devote each other to the bolts of heavenly wrath,
suppose that the universal Being, whom you revere, should this
moment descend from heaven on this multitude; and, clothed with all
his power, should sit on this throne to judge you; suppose that he
should say to you: Mortals! it is your own justice that I am going
to exercise upon you. Yes, of all the religious systems that
divide you, one alone shall this day be preferred; all the others,
all this multitude of standards, of nations, of prophets, shall be
condemned to eternal destruction. This is not enough: among the
particular sects of the chosen system, one only can be favored; all
the others must be condemned: neither is this enough;--from this
little remnant of a group I must exclude all those who have not
fulfilled the conditions enjoined by its precepts. O men! to what
a small number of elect have you limited your race! to what a
penury of beneficence do you reduce the immensity of my goodness!
to what a solitude of beholders do you condemn my greatness and my
"But," said the legislator rising, no matter you have willed it so.
Nations! here is an urn in which all your names are placed: one
only is a prize: approach, and draw this tremendous lottery!" And
the nations, seized with terror cried: "No, no; we are all
brothers, all equal; we cannot condemn each other."
"Then," said the legislator, resuming his seat: "O men! who dispute
on so many subjects, lend an attentive ear to one problem which you
exhibit, and which you ought to decide yourselves."
And the people, giving great attention, he lifted an arm towards
heaven, and, pointing to the sun, said:
"Nations, does that sun, which enlightens you, appear square or
"No," answered they with one voice, "it is round."
Then, taking the golden balance that was on the altar:
"This gold," said the legislator, "that you handle every day, is it
heavier than the same volume of copper?"
"Yes,' answered all the people, "gold is heavier than Copper."
Then, taking the sword:
"Is this iron," said the legislator, "softer than lead?"
"No," said the people.
"Is sugar sweet, and gall bitter?"
"Do you love pleasure and hate pain?"
"Thus, then, you are agreed in these points, and many others of the
"Now, tell us, is there a cavern in the centre of the earth, or
inhabitants in the moon?"
This question caused a universal murmur. Every one answered
differently--some yes, others no; one said it was probable, another
said it was an idle and ridiculous question; some, that it was
worth knowing. And the discord was universal.
After some time the legislator, having obtained silence, said:
"Explain to us, O Nations! this problem: we have put to you several
questions which you have answered with one voice, without
distinction of race or of sect: white men, black men, followers of
Mahomet and of Moses, worshippers of Boudha and of Jesus, all have
returned the same answer. We then proposed another question, and
you have all disagreed! Why this unanimity in one case, and this
discordance in the other?"
And the group of simple men and savages answered and said: "The
reason of this is plain. In the first case we see and feel the
objects, and we speak from sensation; in the second, they are
beyond the reach of our senses--we speak of them only from
"You have resolved the problem," said the legislator; "and your own
consent has established this first truth:
"That whenever objects can be examined and judged of by your
senses, you are agreed in opinion; and that you only differ when
the objects are absent and beyond your reach.
"From this first truth flows another equally clear and worthy of
notice. Since you agree on things which you know with certainty,
it follows that you disagree only on those which you know not with
certainty, and about which you are not sure; that is to say, you
dispute, you quarrel, you fight, for that which is uncertain, that
of which you doubt. O men! is this wisdom?
"Is it not, then, demonstrated that truth is not the object of your
contests? that it is not her cause which you defend, but that of
your affections, and your prejudices? that it is not the object, as
it really is in itself, that you would verify, but the object as
you would have it; that is to say, it is not the evidence of the
thing that you would enforce, but your own personal opinion, your
particular manner of seeing and judging? It is a power that you
wish to exercise, an interest that you wish to satisfy, a
prerogative that you arrogate to yourself; it is a contest of
vanity. Now, as each of you, on comparing himself to every other,
finds himself his equal and his fellow, he resists by a feeling of
the same right. And your disputes, your combats, your intolerance,
are the effect of this right which you deny each other, and of the
intimate conviction of your equality.
"Now, the only means of establishing harmony is to return to
nature, and to take for a guide and regulator the order of things
which she has founded; and then your accord will prove this other
"That real beings have in themselves an identical, constant and
uniform mode of existence; and that there is in your organs a like
mode of being affected by them.
"But at the same time, by reason of the mobility of these organs as
subject to your will, you may conceive different affections, and
find yourselves in different relations with the same objects; so
that you are to them like a mirror, capable of reflecting them
truly as they are, or of distorting and disfiguring them.
"Hence it follows, that whenever you perceive objects as they are,
you agree among yourselves, and with the objects; and this
similitude between your sensations and their manner of existence,
is what constitutes their truth with respect to you; and, on the
contrary, whenever you differ in opinion, your disagreement is a
proof that you do not represent them such as they are,--that you
"Hence, also, it follows, that the causes of your disagreement
exist not in the objects themselves, but in your minds, in your
manner of perceiving or judging.
"To establish, therefore, a uniformity of opinion, it is necessary
first to establish the certainty, completely verified, that the
portraits which the mind forms are perfectly like the originals;
that it reflects the objects correctly as they exist. Now, this
result cannot be obtained but in those cases where the objects can
be brought to the test, and submitted to the examination of the
senses. Everything which cannot be brought to this trial is, for
that reason alone, impossible to be determined; there exists no
rule, no term of comparison, no means of certainty, respecting it.
"From this we conclude, that, to live in harmony and peace, we must
agree never to decide on such subjects, and to attach to them no
importance; in a word, we must trace a line of distinction between
those that are capable of verification, and those that are not; and
separate by an inviolable barrier the world of fantastical beings
from the world of realities; that is to say, all civil effect must
be taken away from theological and religious opinions.
"This, O ye people of the earth! is the object proposed by a great
nation freed from her fetters and her prejudices; this is the work
which, under her eye and by her orders, we had undertaken, when
your kings and your priests came to interrupt it. O kings and
priests! you may suspend, yet for a while, the solemn publication
of the laws of nature; but it is no longer in your power to
annihilate or to subvert them."
A general shout then arose from every part of the assembly; and the
nations universally, and with one voice, testified their assent to
the proposals of the delegates: "Resume," said they, "your holy and
sublime labors, and bring them to perfection. Investigate the laws
which nature, for our guidance, has implanted in our breasts, and
collect from them an authentic and immutable code; nor let this
code be any longer for one family only, but for us all without
exception. Be the legislators of the whole human race, as you are
the interpreters of nature herself. Show us the line of partition
between the world of chimeras and that of realities; and teach us,
after so many religions of error and delusion, the religion of
evidence and truth!
Then the delegates, having resumed their enquiries into the
physical and constituent attributes of man, and examined the
motives and affections which govern him in his individual and
social state, unfolded in these words the laws on which nature
herself has founded his happiness.
THE LAW OF NATURE.
OF THE LAW OF NATURE.
Q. What is the law of nature?
A. It is the constant and regular order of events, by which God
governs the universe; an order which his wisdom presents to the
senses and reason of men, as an equal and common rule for their
actions, to guide them, without distinction of country or sect,
towards perfection and happiness.
Q. Give a clear definition of the word law.
A. The word law, taken literary, signifies lecture,* because
originally, ordinances and regulations were the lectures,
preferably to all others, made to the people, in order that they
might observe them, and not incur the penalties attached to their
infraction: whence follows the original custom explaining the true
The definition of law is, "An order or prohibition to act with the
express clause of a penalty attached to the infraction, or of a
recompense attached to the observance of that order."
* From the Latin word lex, lectio. Alcoran likewise signifies
lecture and is only a literal translation of the word law.
Q. Do such orders exist in nature?
Q. What does the word nature signify?
A. The word nature bears three different significations.
1. It signifies the universe, the material world: in this first
sense we say the beauties of nature, the riches of nature, that is
to say, the objects in the heavens and on the earth exposed to our
2. It signifies the power that animates, that moves the universe,
considering it as a distinct being, such as the soul is to the
body; in this second sense we say, "The intentions of nature, the
incomprehensible secrets of nature."
3. It signifies the partial operations of that power on each
being, or on each class of beings; and in this third sense we say,
"The nature of man is an enigma; every being acts according to its
Wherefore, as the actions of each being, or of each species of
beings, are subjected to constant and general rules, which cannot
be infringed without interrupting and troubling the general or
particular order, those rules of action and of motion are called
natural laws, or laws of nature.
Q. Give me examples of those laws.
A. It is a law of nature, that the sun illuminates successively
the surface of the terrestrial globe;--that its presence causes
both light and heat;--that heat acting upon water, produces
vapors;--that those vapors rising in clouds into the regions of the
air, dissolve into rain or snow, and renew incessantly the waters
of fountains and rivers.
It is a law of nature, that water flows downwards; that it
endeavors to find its level; that it is heavier than air; that all
bodies tend towards the earth; that flame ascends towards the
heavens;--that it disorganizes vegetables and animals; that air is
essential to the life of certain animals; that, in certain
circumstances, water suffocates and kills them; that certain juices
of plants, certain minerals attack their organs, and destroy their
life, and so on in a multitude of other instances.
Wherefore, as all those and similar facts are immutable, constant,
and regular, so many real orders result from them for man to
conform himself to, with the express clause of punishment attending
the infraction of them, or of welfare attending their observance.
So that if man pretends to see clear in darkness, if he goes in
contradiction to the course of the seasons, or the action of the
elements; if he pretends to remain under water without being
drowned, to touch fire without burning himself, to deprive himself
of air without being suffocated, to swallow poison without
destroying himself, he receives from each of those infractions of
the laws of nature a corporeal punishment proportionate to his
fault; but if on the contrary, he observes and practises each of
those laws according to the regular and exact relations they have
to him he preserves his existence, and renders it as happy as it
can be: and as the only and common end of all those laws,
considered relatively to mankind, is to preserve, and render them
happy, it has been agreed upon to reduce the idea to one simple
expression, and to call them collectively the law of nature.
CHARACTERS OF THE LAW OF NATURE.
Q. What are the characters of the law of nature?
A. There can be assigned ten principal ones.
Q. Which is the first?
A. To be inherent to the existence of things, and, consequently,
primitive and anterior to every other law: so that all those which
man has received, are only imitations of it, and their perfection
is ascertained by the resemblance they bear to this primordial
Q. Which is the second?
A. To be derived immediately from God, and presented by him to
each man, whereas all other laws are presented to us by men, who
may be either deceived or deceivers.
Q. Which is the third?
A. To be common to all times, and to all countries, that is to
say, one and universal.
Q. Is no other law universal?
A. No: for no other is agreeable or applicable to all the people
of the earth; they are all local and accidental, originating from
circumstances of places and of persons; so that if such a man had
not existed, or such an event happened, such a law would never have
Q. Which is the fourth character?
A. To be uniform and invariable.
Q. Is no other law uniform and invariable?
A. No: for what is good and virtue according to one, is evil and
vice according to another; and what one and the same law approves
of at one time, it often condemns at another.
Q. Which is the fifth character?
A. To be evident and palpable, because it consists entirely of
facts incessantly present to the senses, and to demonstration.
Q. Are not other laws evident?
A. No: for they are founded on past and doubtful facts, on
equivocal and suspicious testimonies, and on proofs inaccessible to
Q. Which is the sixth character?
A. To be reasonable, because its precepts and entire doctrine are
conformable to reason, and to the human understanding.
Q. Is no other law reasonable?
A. No: for all are in contradiction to the reason and the
understanding of men, and tyrannically impose on him a blind and
Q. Which is the seventh character?
A. To be just, because in that law, the penalties are
proportionate to the infractions.
Q. Are not other laws just?
A. No: for they often exceed bounds, either in rewarding deserts,
or in punishing delinquencies, and consider as meritorious or
criminal, null or indifferent actions.
Q. Which is the eighth character?
A. To be pacific and tolerant, because in the law of nature, all
men being brothers and equal in rights, it recommends to them only
peace and toleration, even for errors.
Q. Are not other laws pacific?
A. No: for all preach dissension, discord, and war, and divide
mankind by exclusive pretensions of truth and domination.
Q. Which is the ninth character?
A. To be equally beneficent to all men, in teaching them the true
means of becoming better and happier.
Q. Are not other laws beneficent likewise?
A. No: for none of them teach the real means of attaining
happiness; all are confined to pernicious or futile practices; and
this is evident from facts, since after so many laws, so many
religions, so many legislators and prophets, men are still as
unhappy and ignorant, as they were six thousand years ago.
Q. Which is the last character of the law of nature?
A. That it is alone sufficient to render men happier and better,
because it comprises all that is good and useful in other laws,
either civil or religious, that is to say, it constitutes
essentially the moral part of them; so that if other laws were
divested of it, they would be reduced to chimerical and imaginary
opinions devoid of any practical utility.
Q. Recapitulate all those characters.
A. We have said that the law of nature is,
1. Primitive; 6. Reasonable;
2. Immediate; 7. Just;
3. Universal; 8. Pacific;
4. Invariable; 9. Beneficent: and
5. Evident; 10. Alone sufficient.
And such is the power of all these attributes of perfection and
truth, that when in their disputes the theologians can agree upon
no article of belief, they recur to the law of nature, the neglect
of which, say they, forced God to send from time to time prophets
to proclaim new laws; as if God enacted laws for particular
circumstances, as men do; especially when the first subsists in
such force, that we may assert it to have been at all times and in
all countries the rule of conscience for every man of sense or
Q. If, as you say, it emanates immediately from God, does it teach
A. Yes, most positively: for, to any man whatever, who observes
with reflection the astonishing spectacle of the universe, the more
he meditates on the properties and attributes of each being, on the
admirable order and harmony of their motions, the more it is
demonstrated that there exists a supreme agent, a universal and
identic mover, designated by the appellation of God; and so true it
is that the law of nature suffices to elevate him to the knowledge
of God, that all which men have pretended to know by supernatural
means, has constantly turned out ridiculous and absurd, and that
they have ever been obliged to recur to the immutable conceptions
of natural reason.
Q. Then it is not true that the followers of the law of nature are
A. No; it is not true; on the contrary, they entertain stronger
and nobler ideas of the Divinity than most other men; for they do
not sully him with the foul ingredients of all the weaknesses and
passions entailed on humanity.
Q. What worship do they pay to him?
A. A worship wholly of action; the practice and observance of all
the rules which the supreme wisdom has imposed on the motion of
each being; eternal and unalterable rules, by which it maintains
the order and harmony of the universe, and which, in their
relations to man, constitute the law of nature.
Q. Was the law of nature known before this period:
A. It has been at all times spoken of: most legislators pretend to
adopt it as the basis of their laws; but they only quote some of
its precepts, and have only vague ideas of its totality.
A. Because, though simple in its basis, it forms in its
developements and consequences, a complicated whole which requires
an extensive knowledge of facts, joined to all the sagacity of
Q. Does not instinct alone teach the law of nature?
A. No; for by instinct is meant nothing more than that blind
sentiment by which we are actuated indiscriminately towards
everything that flatters the senses.
Q. Why, then, is it said that the law of nature is engraved in the
hearts of all men.
A. It is said for two reasons: first, because it has been
remarked, that there are acts and sentiments common to all men, and
this proceeds from their common organization; secondly, because the
first philosophers believed that men were born with ideas already
formed, which is now demonstrated to be erroneous.
Q. Philosophers, then, are fallible?
A. Yes, sometimes.
Q. Why so?
A. First, because they are men; secondly, because the ignorant
call all those who reason, right or wrong, philosophers; thirdly,
because those who reason on many subjects, and who are the first to
reason on them, are liable to be deceived.
Q. If the law of nature be not written, must it not become
arbitrary and ideal?
A. No: because it consists entirely in facts, the demonstration of
which can be incessantly renewed to the senses, and constitutes a
science as accurate and precise as geometry and mathematics; and it
is because the law of nature forms an exact science, that men, born
ignorant and living inattentive and heedless, have had hitherto
only a superficial knowledge of it.
PRINCIPLES OF THE LAW OF NATURE RELATING TO MAN.
Q. Explain the principles of the law of nature with relation to
A. They are simple; all of them are comprised in one fundamental
and single precept.
Q. What is that precept?
A. It is self-preservation.
Q. Is not happiness also a precept of the law of nature?
A. Yes: but as happiness is an accidental state, resulting only
from the development of man's faculties and his social system, it
is not the immediate and direct object of nature; it is in some
measure, a superfluity annexed to the necessary and fundamental
object of preservation.
Q. How does nature order man to preserve himself?
A. By two powerful and involuntary sensations, which it has
attached, as two guides, two guardian Geniuses to all his actions:
the one a sensation of pain, by which it admonishes him of, and
deters him from, everything that tends to destroy him; the other, a
sensation of pleasure, by which it attracts and carries him towards
everything that tends to his preservation and the development of
Q. Pleasure, then, is not an evil, a sin, as casuists pretend?
A. No, only inasmuch as it tends to destroy life and health which,
by the avowal of those same casuists, we derive from God himself.
Q. Is pleasure the principal object of our existence, as some
philosophers have asserted?
A. No; not more than pain; pleasure is an incitement to live as
pain is a repulsion from death.
Q. How do you prove this assertion?
A. By two palpable facts: One, that pleasure, when taken
immoderately, leads to destruction; for instance, a man who abuses
the pleasure of eating or drinking, attacks his health, and injures
his life. The other, that pain sometimes leads to self-
preservation; for instance, a man who permits a mortified member to
be cut off, suffers pain in order not to perish totally.
Q. But does not even this prove that our sensations can deceive us
respecting the end of our preservation?
A. Yes; they can momentarily.
Q. How do our sensations deceive us?
A. In two ways: by ignorance, and by passion.
Q. When do they deceive us by ignorance?
A. When we act without knowing the action and effect of objects on
our senses: for example, when a man touches nettles without knowing
their stinging quality, or when he swallows opium without knowing
its soporiferous effects.
Q. When do they deceive us by passion?
A. When, conscious of the pernicious action of objects, we abandon
ourselves, nevertheless, to the impetuosity of our desires and
appetites: for example, when a man who knows that wine intoxicates,
does nevertheless drink it to excess.
Q. What is the result?
A. That the ignorance in which we are born, and the unbridled
appetites to which we abandon ourselves, are contrary to our
preservation; that, therefore, the instruction of our minds and the
moderation of our passions are two obligations, two laws, which
spring directly from the first law of preservation.
Q. But being born ignorant, is not ignorance a law of nature?
A. No more than to remain in the naked and feeble state of
infancy. Far from being a law of nature, ignorance is an obstacle
to the practice of all its laws. It is the real original sin.
Q. Why, then, have there been moralists who have looked upon it as
a virtue and perfection?
A. Because, from a strange or perverted disposition, they
confounded the abuse of knowledge with knowledge itself; as if,
because men abuse the power of speech, their tongues should be cut
out; as if perfection and virtue consisted in the nullity, and not
in the proper development of our faculties.
Q. Instruction, then, is indispensable to man's existence?
A. Yes, so indispensable, that without it he is every instant
assailed and wounded by all that surrounds him; for if he does not
know the effects of fire, he burns himself; those of water he
drowns himself; those of opium, he poisons himself; if, in the
savage state, he does not know the wiles of animals, and the art of
seizing game, he perishes through hunger; if in the social state,
he does not know the course of the seasons, he can neither
cultivate the ground, nor procure nourishment; and so on, of all
his actions, respecting all his wants.
Q. But can man individually acquire this knowledge necessary to
his existence, and to the development of his faculties?
A. No; not without the assistance of his fellow men, and by living
Q. But is not society to man a state against nature?
A. No: it is on the contrary a necessity, a law that nature
imposed on him by the very act of his organization; for, first,
nature has so constituted man, that he cannot see his species of
another sex without feeling emotions and an attraction which induce
him to live in a family, which is already a state of society;
secondly, by endowing him with sensibility, she organized him so
that the sensations of others reflect within him, and excite
reciprocal sentiments of pleasure and of grief, which are
attractions, and indissoluble ties of society; thirdly, and
finally, the state of society, founded on the wants of man, is only
a further means of fulfilling the law of preservation: and to
pretend that this state is out of nature, because it is more
perfect, is the same as to say, that a bitter and wild fruit of the
forest, is no longer the production of nature, when rendered sweet
and delicious by cultivation in our gardens.
Q. Why, then, have philosophers called the savage state the state
A. Because, as I have told you, the vulgar have often given the
name of philosophers to whimsical geniuses, who, from moroseness,
from wounded vanity, or from a disgust to the vices of society,
have conceived chimerical ideas of the savage state, in
contradiction with their own system of a perfect man.
Q. What is the true meaning of the word philosopher?
A. The word philosopher signifies a lover of wisdom; and as wisdom
consists in the practice of the laws of nature, the true
philosopher is he who knows those laws, and conforms the whole
tenor of his conduct to them.
Q. What is man in the savage state?
A. A brutal, ignorant animal, a wicked and ferocious beast.
Q. Is he happy in that state?
A. No; for he only feels momentary sensations, which are
habitually of violent wants which he cannot satisfy, since he is
ignorant by nature, and weak by being isolated from his race.
Q. Is he free?
A. No; he is the most abject slave that exists; for his life
depends on everything that surrounds him: he is not free to eat
when hungry, to rest when tired, to warm himself when cold; he is
every instant in danger of perishing; wherefore nature offers but
fortuitous examples of such beings; and we see that all the efforts
of the human species, since its origin, sorely tends to emerge from
that violent state by the pressing necessity of self-preservation.
Q. But does not this necessity of preservation engender in
individuals egotism, that is to say self-love? and is not egotism
contrary to the social state?
A. No; for if by egotism you mean a propensity to hurt our
neighbor, it is no longer self-love, but the hatred of others.
Self-love, taken in its true sense, not only is not contrary to
society, but is its firmest support, by the necessity we lie under
of not injuring others, lest in return they should injure us.
Thus mans preservation, and the unfolding of his faculties,
directed towards this end, teach the true law of nature in the
production of the human being; and it is from this essential
principle that are derived, are referred, and in its scale are
weighed, all ideas of good and evil, of vice and virtue, of just
and unjust, of truth or error, of lawful or forbidden, on which is
founded the morality of individual, or of social man.
BASIS OF MORALITY; OF GOOD, OF EVIL, OF SIN, OF CRIME, OF VICE AND
Q. What is good, according to the law of nature?
A. It is everything that tends to preserve and perfect man.
Q. What is evil?
A. That which tends to man's destruction or deterioration.
Q. What is meant by physical good and evil, and by moral good and
A. By the word physical is understood, whatever acts immediately
on the body. Health is a physical good; and sickness a physical
evil. By moral, is meant what acts by consequences more or less
remote. Calumny is a moral evil; a fair reputation is a moral
good, because both one and the other occasion towards us, on the
part of other men, dispositions and habitudes,* which are useful or
hurtful to our preservation, and which attack or favor our means of
* It is from this word habitudes, (reiterated actions,) in Latin
mores, that the word moral, and all its family, are derived.
Q. Everything that tends to preserve, or to produce is therefore a
A. Yes; and it is for that reason that certain legislators have
classed among the works agreeable to the divinity, the cultivation
of a field and the fecundity of a woman.
Q. Whatever tends to cause death is, therefore, an evil?
A. Yes; and it is for that reason some legislators have extended
the idea of evil and of sin even to the killing of animals.
Q. The murdering of a man is, therefore, a crime in the law of
A. Yes, and the greatest that can be committed; for every other
evil can be repaired, but murder alone is irreparable.
Q. What is a sin in the law of nature?
A. Whatever tends to disturb the order established by nature for
the preservation and perfection of man and of society.
Q. Can intention be a merit or a crime?
A. No, for it is only an idea void of reality: but it is a
commencement of sin and evil, by the impulse it gives to action.
Q. What is virtue according to the law of nature?
A. It is the practice of actions useful to the individual and to
Q. What is meant by the word individual?
A. It means a man considered separately from every other.
Q. What is vice according to the law of nature?
A. It is the practice of actions prejudicial to the individual and
Q. Have not virtue and vice an object purely spiritual and
abstracted from the senses?
A. No; it is always to a physical end that they finally relate,
and that end is always to destroy or preserve the body.
Q. Have vice and virtue degrees of strength and intensity?
A. Yes: according to the importance of the faculties, which they
attack or which they favor; and according to the number of persons
in whom those faculties are favored or injured.
Q. Give me some examples?
A. The action of saving a man's life is more virtuous than that of
saving his property; the action of saving the lives of ten men,
than that of saving only the life of one, and an action useful to
the whole human race is more virtuous than an action that is only
useful to one single nation.
Q. How does the law of nature prescribe the practice of good and
virtue, and forbid that of evil and vice?
A. By the advantages resulting from the practice of good and
virtue for the preservation of our body, and by the losses which
result to our existence from the practice of evil and vice.
Q. Its precepts are then in action?
A. Yes: they are action itself, considered in its present effect
and in its future consequences.
Q. How do you divide the virtues?
A. We divide them in three classes, first, individual virtues, as
relative to man alone; secondly, domestic virtues, as relative to a
family; thirdly, social virtues, as relative to society.
OF INDIVIDUAL VIRTUES.
Q. Which are the individual virtues?
A. There are five principal ones, to wit: first, science, which
comprises prudence and wisdom; secondly, temperance, comprising
sobriety and chastity; thirdly, courage, or strength of body and
mind; fourthly, activity, that is to say, love of labor and
employment of time; fifthly, and finally, cleanliness, or purity of
body, as well in dress as in habitation.
Q. How does the law of nature prescribe science?
A. Because the man acquainted with the causes and effects of
things attends in a careful and sure manner to his preservation,
and to the development of his faculties. Science is to him the eye
and the light, which enable him to discern clearly and accurately
all the objects with which he is conversant, and hence by an
enlightened man is meant a learned and well-informed man. With
science and instruction a man never wants for resources and means
of subsistence; and upon this principle a philosopher, who had been
shipwrecked, said to his companions, that were inconsolable for the
loss of their wealth: "For my part, I carry all my wealth within
Q. Which is the vice contrary to science?
A. It is ignorance.
Q. How does the law of nature forbid ignorance?
A. By the grievous detriments resulting from it to our existence;
for the ignorant man who knows neither causes nor effects, commits
every instant errors most pernicious to himself and to others; he
resembles a blind man groping his way at random, and who, at every
step, jostles or is jostled by every one he meets.
Q. What difference is there between an ignorant and a silly man?
A. The same difference as between him who frankly avows his
blindness and the blind man who pretends to sight; silliness is the
reality of ignorance, to which is superadded the vanity of
Q. Are ignorance and silliness common?
A. Yes, very common; they are the usual and general distempers of
mankind: more than three thousand years ago the wisest of men said:
"The number of fools is infinite;" and the world has not changed.
Q. What is the reason of it?
A. Because much labor and time are necessary to acquire
instruction, and because men, born ignorant and indolent, find it
more convenient to remain blind, and pretend to see clear.
Q. What difference is there between a learned and a wise man?
A. The learned knows, and the wise man practices.
Q. What is prudence?
A. It is the anticipated perception, the foresight of the effects
and consequences of every action; by means of which foresight, man
avoids the dangers which threaten him, while he seizes on and
creates opportunities favorable to him: he thereby provides for his
present and future safety in a certain and secure manner, whereas
the imprudent man, who calculates neither his steps nor his
conduct, nor efforts, nor resistance, falls every instant into
difficulties and dangers, which sooner or later impair his
faculties and destroy his existence.
Q. When the Gospel says, "Happy are the poor of spirit," does it
mean the ignorant and imprudent?
A. No; for, at the same time that it recommends the simplicity of
doves, it adds the prudent cunning of serpents. By simplicity of
mind is meant uprightness, and the precept of the Gospel is that of
Q. What is temperance?
A. It is a regular use of our faculties, which makes us never
exceed in our sensations the end of nature to preserve us; it is
the moderation of the passions.
Q. Which is the vice contrary to temperance?
A. The disorder of the passions, the avidity of all kind of
enjoyments, in a word, cupidity.
Q. Which are the principal branches of temperance?
A. Sobriety, and continence or chastity.
Q. How does the law of nature prescribe sobriety?
A. By its powerful influence over our health. The sober man
digests with comfort; he is not overpowered by the weight of
aliments; his ideas are clear and easy; he fulfills all his
functions properly; he conducts his business with intelligence; his
old age is exempt from infirmity; he does not spend his money in
remedies, and he enjoys, in mirth and gladness, the wealth which
chance and his own prudence have procured him. Thus, from one
virtue alone, generous nature derives innumerable recompenses.
Q. How does it prohibit gluttony?
A. By the numerous evils that are attached to it. The glutton,
oppressed with aliments, digests with anxiety; his head, troubled
by the fumes of indigestion, is incapable of conceiving clear and
distinct ideas; he abandons himself with violence to the disorderly
impulse of lust and anger, which impair his health; his body
becomes bloated, heavy, and unfit for labor; he endures painful and
expensive distempers; he seldom lives to be old; and his age is
replete with infirmities and sorrow.
Q. Should abstinence and fasting be considered as virtuous
A. Yes, when one has eaten too much; for then abstinence and
fasting are simple and efficacious remedies; but when the body is
in want of aliment, to refuse it any, and let it suffer from hunger
or thirst, is delirium and a real sin against the law of nature.
Q. How is drunkenness considered in the law of nature?
A. As a most vile and pernicious vice. The drunkard, deprived of
the sense and reason given us by God, profanes the donations of the
divinity: he debases himself to the condition of brutes; unable
even to guide his steps, he staggers and falls as if he were
epileptic; he hurts and even risks killing himself; his debility in
this state exposes him to the ridicule and contempt of every person
that sees him; he makes in his drunkenness, prejudicial and ruinous
bargains, and injures his fortune; he makes use of opprobrious
language, which creates him enemies and repentance; he fills his
house with trouble and sorrow, and ends by a premature death or by
a cacochymical old age.
Q. Does the law of nature interdict absolutely the use of wine?
A. No; it only forbids the abuse; but as the transition from the
use to the abuse is easy and prompt among the generality of men,
perhaps the legislators, who have proscribed the use of wine, have
rendered a service to humanity.
Q. Does the law of nature forbid the use of certain kinds of meat,
or of certain vegetables, on particular days, during certain
A. No; it absolutely forbids only whatever is injurious to health;
its precepts, in this respect, vary according to persons, and even
constitute a very delicate and important science for the quality,
the quantity, and the combination of aliments have the greatest
influence, not only over the momentary affections of the soul, but
even over its habitual disposition. A man is not the same when
fasting as after a meal, even if he were sober. A glass of
spirituous liquor, or a dish of coffee, gives degrees of vivacity,
of mobility, of disposition to anger, sadness, or gaiety; such a
meat, because it lies heavy on the stomach, engenders moroseness
and melancholy; such another, because it facilitates digestion,
creates sprightliness, and an inclination to oblige and to love.
The use of vegetables, because they have little nourishment,
enfeebles the body, and gives a disposition to repose, indolence,
and ease; the use of meat, because it is full of nourishment, and
of spirituous liquors, because they stimulate the nerves, creates
vivacity, uneasiness, and audacity. Now from those habitudes of
aliment result habits of constitution and of the organs, which form
afterwards different kinds of temperaments, each of which is
distinguished by a peculiar characteristic. And it is for this
reason that, in hot countries especially, legislators have made
laws respecting regimen or food. The ancients were taught by long
experience that the dietetic science constituted a considerable
part of morality; among the Egyptians, the ancient Persians, and
even among the Greeks, at the Areopagus, important affairs were
examined fasting; and it has been remarked that, among those
people, where public affairs were discussed during the heat of
meals, and the fumes of digestion, deliberations were hasty and
violent, and the results of them frequently unreasonable, and
productive of turbulence and confusion.
Q. Does the law of nature prescribe continence?
A. Yes: because a moderate use of the most lively of pleasures is
not only useful, but indispensable, to the support of strength and
health: and because a simple calculation proves that, for some
minutes of privation, you increase the number of your days, both in
vigor of body and of mind.
Q. How does it forbid libertinism?
A. By the numerous evils which result from it to the physical and
the moral existence. He who carries it to an excess enervates and
pines away; he can no longer attend to study or labor; he contracts
idle and expensive habits, which destroy his means of existence,
his public consideration, and his credit; his intrigues occasion
continual embarrassment, cares, quarrels and lawsuits, without
mentioning the grievous deep-rooted distempers, and the loss of his
strength by an inward and slow poison; the stupid dullness of his
mind, by the exhaustion of the nervous system; and, in fine, a
premature and infirm old age.
Q. Does the law of nature look on that absolute chastity so
recommended in monastical institutions, as a virtue?
A. No: for that chastity is of no use either to the society that
witnesses, or the individual who practises it; it is even
prejudicial to both. First, it injures society by depriving it of
population, which is one of its principal sources of wealth and
power; and as bachelors confine all their views and affections to
the term of their lives, they have in general an egotism
unfavorable to the interests of society.
In the second place, it injures the individuals who practise it,
because it deprives them of a number of affections and relations
which are the springs of most domestic and social virtues; and
besides, it often happens, from circumstances of age, regimen, or
temperament, that absolute continence injures the constitution and
causes severe diseases, because it is contrary to the physical laws
on which nature has founded the system of the reproduction of
beings; and they who recommend so strongly chastity, even supposing
them to be sincere, are in contradiction with their own doctrine,
which consecrates the law of nature by the well known commandment:
increase and multiply.
Q. Why is chastity considered a greater virtue in women than in
A. Because a want of chastity in women is attended with
inconveniences much more serious and dangerous for them and for
society; for, without taking into account the pains and diseases
they have in common with men, they are further exposed to all the
disadvantages and perils that precede, attend, and follow child-
birth. When pregnant contrary to law, they become an object of
public scandal and contempt, and spend the remainder of their lives
in bitterness and misery. Moreover, all the expense of maintaining
and educating their fatherless children falls on them: which
expense impoverishes them, and is every way prejudicial to their
physical and moral existence. In this situation, deprived of the
freshness and health that constitute their charm, carrying with
them an extraneous and expensive burden, they are less prized by
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