Austerity in Quebec, cont’d


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Paul-Émile Borduas, early works (1927)

In my last post, Austerity in Quebec (12 April 2015), I listed four of the changes, listed below, that occurred during Quebec’s Quiet Revolution. I will expand on this subject but point to elements that were detrimental to the establishment of a welfare state, such as the fourth change and Canada’s language laws.

  • First, the province of Quebec was secularized. Quebec had been called the “priest-ridden” province.
  • Second, strong labour unions were formed.
  • Third, leaders all but promised a welfare state (l’État-providence).
  • Fourth, a terrorist group, the Quebec Liberation Front, was created within the separatist movement. It ceased to exist in 1970.

Precursors to the Quiet Revolution

Asbestos strike (la grève de l’amiante)
Refus global
Immigrants from Europe

I also mentioned a precursor to the Révolution tranquille (FR), the Asbestos strike (la grève de l’amiante) of 1949. However, a second precursor was Refus global (total refusal), a manifesto written by Paul-Émile Borduas and signed by a group of artists calling themselves the Automatistes. This document was released on 9 August 1948. It is presented in two earlier posts.

A third and very important agent of change was the arrival in Quebec of a large group of French-speaking immigrants and other European immigrants. Prominent figures were, for example, Guy Hoffman (7 April 1916 – 6 March 1986) and Ludmilla Chiriaeff, CC GOQ (10 January 1924 – 22 September 1996).

Le Théâtre du Nouveau Monde

Guy Hoffmann, a seasoned actor and director, arrived in Montreal in 1948. He joined Les Compagnons de Saint-Laurent, led by Émile Legault, c.s.c. (6 March 1986 – 28 August 1983) who founded the troupe in 1937. The troupe would grow into the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, (TNM), established in 1951.

Les Grands Ballets canadiens

As for ballerina Ludmilla Chiriaeff, born in Riga, Latvia, she brought ballet to Quebec  (see Les Grands Ballets, Wikipedia). Madame Chiriaeff arrived in Canada in 1952. Her company would become Les Grands Ballets canadiens. Both Guy Hoffmann and Ludmilla Chiriaeff settled in Montreal.

Radio-Canada and the National Film Board

Radio-Canada, the French-language counterpart of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), and the Office national du film (ONF), the National Film Board (NFB), became employers to French-speaking intellectuals and “personnalités”  (celebrities). During the fall and winter seasons, Radio-Canada showed televised series based on French-Canadian novels and most Sundays, a televised drama. On Saturday evening, everyone watched the hockey game. Quebecers were fans of the Canadiens.

Therefore, as Maurice Duplessis, “le Chef,” and members of the Union Nationale ruled from Quebec city, the Province of Quebec was changing. I remember my father’s “secret” suitcase he took to “secret” meetings.


Sea Gull, by Paul-Émile Borduas, 1956 (National Gallery of Canada)

The Révolution tranquille

The above takes us to a new list of events and circumstances that militated against l’État-providence, or the welfare state, and isolated Quebec.

  1. Front de Libération du Québec (“Separatism”)
  2. October Crisis of 1970
  3. Official Language Act of 1974 (Bill 22)
  4. Charter of the French Language of 1977 (Bill 101)
  5. Canada Act of 1982

Separatism and the Front de Libération du Quebec

By 1960, Québec was ready for its Révolution tranquille. It was a vibrant community, but a community that had its “patriotes” and, among them, terrorists.

Bombs in Mailboxes

During the 1960s, the Front de libération du Québec, the FLQ, detonated 95 bombs. Most were placed inside mailboxes. According to Wikipedia:

“It was responsible for over 160 violent incidents which killed eight people and injured many more, including the bombing of the Montreal Stock Exchange in 1969.” (See Front de libération du Québec, Wikipedia.)

The October Crisis

On 5 October 1970, the Front de Libération du Québec kidnapped James Richard Cross, a former British diplomat and a senior trade commissioner. On 10 October, the Quebec Liberation Front also kidnapped Pierre Laporte, Quebec’s Deputy Premier and Minister of Labour. Pierre Laporte was “executed” on 17 October 1970. His body was found in the trunk of Paul Rose‘s car. Paul Rose was the leader of the Quebec Sovereignty Movement. He was convicted of the kidnapping and killing of Pierre Laporte. Mr Cross CMG was released on 10 December 1970.

During the October Crisis, Robert Bourassa, the Premier of Quebec, and Jean Drapeau, the Mayor of Montreal, both requested help on the part of the Federal government, or Ottawa. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau declared the War Measures Act (Martial Law).

Language Legislation

Its language laws also militated against the establishment of a welfare state, l’État-providence. In 1974, five years after the Official Languages Act made Canada an officially bilingual country, the Quebec government passed its Official Languages, Act (1974), declaring Quebec a unilingual province. After René Lévesque‘s Parti québécois  was elected into power, Bill 22 was expanded into Bill 101: Charter of the French Language.

The preservation and growth of the French language is the chief and legitimate goal of Quebec’s language laws, but these laws may be offensive to persons who view themselves as Canadians first and then Quebecers. It seems perfectly acceptable to require that Immigrants to Quebec learn French and that their children enrol in French-language schools. Yet Canada remains a bilingual country and promotes French. Besides, Acadians are French-speaking Canadians who live outside Québec, as do many French-speaking Canadians. There is a French-language Canada outside Quebec. I will add that Quebec language laws are at times rather petty.


I should note in closing that Quebec did not sign the Canada Act of 1982, or the patriation of the Constitution. The act was signed after the first referendum on sovereignty which took place on 20 May 1980. The 1980 referendum did not provide the Quebec government with a clear mandate to modify its ties with the Federal government, which is problematical. That matter has yet to be resolved but must be resolved because the status of Quebec within Canada is currently ambiguous.

At any rate, a welfare state seems impossible at the moment. In order to establish l’État-providence, a government needs a large number of taxpayers, but Quebec seems to drive taxpayers away mostly through language laws. The Couillard government could have raised taxes, except that Quebecers pay taxes to both the Provincial and Federal government and are the only Canadians to do so. Obviously, a little austerity is the better path to follow, provided it does not take bread away from the table and does not deprive people of a roof.

In my opinion, the first order of business is signing the Canada Act of 1982.


Sources and Resources

Refus global (texte) FR
Refus global (text) EN

This post is somewhat incomplete. I am still feeling very weak. It’s time for spring to chase away winter. This was one of Quebec’s longest winters.

My best regards to all of you.♥ 

Félix Leclerc CC GOQ sings “Un soir de février”


Paul Rose (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

© Micheline Walker
15 April 2015
(revised on 16 April 2015)

Austerity in Quebec


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Demonstration in Montreal on 29 November 2014. Cutbacks had started. (Photo credit: lost)


Quebec Independence Flag (Photo credit: Google images)

This Year’s Budget: Cutbacks

On 29 March 2015, a friend and I attended a meeting of the Quebec Liberal Party. When we arrived, we had to be identified as legitimate guests. There were several police cars and police busses.

As we proceeded to the building where Sherbrooke members of the Quebec Liberal Party were meeting, we saw demonstrators kept at a ‘safe’ distance, if there is such a thing, by several policemen. This was not life as usual.

The problem was the following. Dr Philippe Couillard, Quebec’s Premier had trimmed down Quebec’s budget in order to pay the Province’s debt, and he would be visiting members of the Sherbrooke Parti Libéral du Québec (FR), the Quebec Liberal Party (EN), at the beginning of their meeting. Dr Couillard was not aware of the extent of the debt during his campaign. This matter has been resolved. On 29 March 2015, Dr Couillard stated that future candidates to the Premiership of Quebec would be aware of the province’s financial circumstances.

In short, cutbacks hurt, so people were demonstrating.



Protester displaying an anti Bill 78 sign on 22 May 2012 in Montreal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Student Strike: Bill 78

I would like to discuss the cutbacks and the population’s reaction in some detail. It is, for instance, a product of the Quiet Revolution (Révolution tranquille). However, this post cannot be exhaustive.

You may remember that, in 2012, Quebec students went “on strike.” For several decades they had paid the lowest tuition fees in Canada—they still do—but were facing an increase of “$325 per year over five years (or $1,625).” This was an increase of “75% over current rates.” (See: Bill 78.)

The 2012 student strike was disorderly. Several students were in fact prevented from completing their academic year on the date it was scheduled to end.

On 12 May 2012, Jean Charest’s government, Quebec’s Liberal Party, passed Bill 78, which, for instance, limited the extent to which students could protest. It had other provisions. However, students defied the bill.

On 20 May 2012, members of CLASSE (Coalition large de l’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante) voted to call for “continued protests and civil disobedience to oppose the new law, in addition to any increase in tuition.” (See: Bill 78, Wikipedia.)

Allow me to quote Wikipedia further:

“Student Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson for the student association CLASSE (Coalition large de l’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante), has urged the population to consider disobeying the law. Université de Montréal philosophy professor Daniel Weinstock has stated that the bill is a scare tactic to frighten students and student leaders.” (See: Bill 78.)

On 22 May 2012, 150,000 students protested in Montreal, defying the law. “After mass arrests on the nights of 22 and 23 May, daily protests where galvanized.”

Bill 78 was condemned by the Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission, the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse. But the Quebec Council of Employers supported the bill because students had not complied with earlier court orders. In short, reactions varied. (See: Bill 78, Wikipedia.)

The Parti Québécois’ Involvement

One may not agree with the law, but it is in one’s best interest to respect it. As for opposition parties, I believe there is a limit to which members and leaders should use students, very young students in particular, to further their political ambitions.

Pauline Marois, the leader of the Parti québécois, comforted striking students and was elected Premier of Quebec on 4 September 2012. She then “promptly repealed the punitive sections of Bill 78” and also repealed the increase in tuition fees. (See: Bill 78, Wikipedia.)

However, in February 2013, her government held a Summit on Education. This summit had to take place so tuition fees could be increased. Discussions led to an increase of 3% per year. By the time the summit took place, in February 2013, the students had been led to expect a tuition-free education. They were disappointed, but as Madame Marois stated:

The responsibility of the government is to decide, and I decided.


Labour Unions

It surprised me to see Madame Marois use the students to be elected Premier of Quebec. As a university teacher and Chair of my department, I took a dim view of teachers who involved students when denied a renewal of their contract, tenure, or a promotion.

With respect to the 2012 strike, it may have been legitimate for political figures to involve students. The context was different. Yet seeking support from individuals who are very young and advocate civil disobedience is unsavoury.

However, what truly astonished me was the Labour Unions’ involvement.

“A deal reached between Quebec Liberal Party representatives and student representatives was rejected by striking students on 10 May. The deal had been supported by student unions and major Quebec labor unions including the Quebec Federation of Labour, the Confédération des syndicats nationaux and by the Centrale des syndicats du Québec.” (See: Bill 78, Wikipedia.)

The Asbestos strike, 1949

I should not have been so surprised. Before the Quiet Revolution or Révolution tranquille, when Maurice Duplessis was Premier of Quebec, there was a violent strike. It may seem distant, but in the 1960s, people remembered. Maurice Duplessis, the leader of l’Union nationale and the Premier of Quebec from 1936 to 1939 and 1944 to 1959, was an opponent of trade unions:

“The strike which began on February 14, 1949 in Asbestos, Quebec, is one of those events that resonate beyond the immediate and define history. It was, as Pierre Trudeau later wrote, ‘a violent announcement that a new era had begun.’”[1]

The Asbestos strike of 1949 was repressed mercilessly and among sympathizers of the strikers was the Church and, especially, Montreal Archbishop Joseph Charbonneau (31 July 1892—19 November 1959).

“But even the conservative Church found itself in sympathy with the strikers and it raised most of the support for the destitute families. When the Archbishop of Montreal, Joseph Charbonneau, openly championed the strike, Duplessis had him exiled to Vancouver. In June Archbishop Roy stepped in to mediate the strike and an agreement was finally reached on July 1.”[2]

There is at least one other version of Monseigneur Charbonneau’s demise. According to this other version, Rome planned Monseigneur Charbonneau’s resignation. Be that as it may, Monseigneur Charbonneau resigned on 9 February 1950 and moved to Victoria, British Columbia, where he worked as hospital chaplain until his death in 1959.  “Archbishop Charbonneau has been seen as a precursor to the Quiet Revolution.”  (See: Joseph Charbonneau, Wikipedia.)

The asbestos strike brought a degree of prominence to other sympathizers: Jean MarchandGérard Pelletier, and a young Pierre Trudeau, who would be active in the 1960s. Pierre Trudeau would be Prime Minister of Canada from 1970 to 1979 and from 1980 to 1984

La Révolution tranquille, the Quiet Revolution

Several elements characterize the Révolution tranquille, but I will mention four:

  • First, the province of Quebec was secularized. Quebec had been called the “priest-ridden” province.
  • Second, strong labour unions were formed.
  • Third, leaders all but promised a welfare state (l’État-providence).
  • Fourth, a terrorist group, the Quebec Liberation Front, was created within the separatist movement. It ceased to exist in 1970.

The first element, secularization, was entirely predictable, but the second, the emergence of powerful unions was less easily foreseeable. The third and fourth, the possible emergence of a welfare state and the growth of a strong separatist movement reflect the enthusiasm of Quebecers who were no longer led by the Church and Maurice Duplessis. Although they were and are “maîtres chez soi,” masters in one’s own home, for many Québécois, boundaries are a condition of nationhood.

Separatism could therefore be foreseen, but it militated against the development of a welfare state as it could be perceived and was perceived as unfriendly by other citizens of Canada. A large number of Quebecers left Quebec to settle in a province or country that was perceivably more ‘stable’ than the province of Quebec. The actions, not to say the mere existence, of a terrorist branch among separatists, its Front de Libération du Québec, was harmful to Quebecers. Moreover, these were the 1960s: the war in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara and marijuana. 


On 24 March 2015, University of Sherbrooke students went on strike. A number of students obtained an injunction so they could finish their academic year undisturbed. Striking students defied the injunction and walked into the classrooms of students who had obtained an injunction. These students could have been cited for contempt of court which carries a penalty. They were not cited for contempt of court, but a few days later, students decided to end the strike.

Québec contre la grève étudiante et pour l’austérité (Quebec against the student strike and for austerity), Université du Québec à Montréal (Photo credit:

Université du Québec à Montréal faculty members call for a dialogue.

“What Charest wanted, Couillard is doing.”

It seems that “what Charest wanted, Couillard is doing.” Charest, the former leader of the Quebec Liberal Party, served as Premier during the student strike of 2012. He was defeated in the General Election of 4 September 2012.


Cutbacks always hurt. But in the case of Quebec, they hurt a great deal. Quebecers were promised a welfare state.

It would be my opinion that Quebecers have grown to believe they are entitled to a free education and other free services.

There is nothing wrong with entertaining such expectations, but a government cannot give the money it doesn’t have. Without a sufficient and varied number of taxpayers, a government is not in a position to offer free education. There were cutbacks in the new budget, but no increase in taxes. Quebecers now pay taxes to two governments, the federal government and the Quebec government.

I also suspect that Quebec’s reliance on the power of syndicates may have been  somewhat unrealistic. Workers need syndicates or professional associations. The Asbestos strike of 1949 is an example of the misery brought to workers who do not have a syndicate. Yet, if employees are to be provided with generous benefits, fewer working hours, lengthy leaves of absence (maternity leaves, etc.) and cushy pension plans, quantity re-enters the topic from every direction.

In other words, if the government of Quebec and the syndicates do not have a large purse, high wages and concomitant benefits cannot be extensive. Moreover, there may be fewer jobs. In Quebec universities, too many courses are taught by part-time  faculty members, the chargés de cours, some of whom have given themselves a syndicate. These part-time teachers often travel from university to university to earn a meagre living. Many leave Quebec.

I will end on a happy tone. Premier Couillard is going forward with the Plan Nord. Quebec is rich in natural resources. These must be further tapped, which happened in the 1960s. The Manicouagan réservoir is an immense source of electrical power. Premier Couillard has also announced a plan to stimulate small and medium-sized enterprises. (Sherbrooke visit; 29 March 2015.)


Sources and Resources

My regards to all of you. The delay is due to illness.♥

[1] James H. Marsh, “Asbestos Strike,” The Canadian Encyclopedia,

[2] Ibid.

Georges Dor sings: La Manic (1966)

Dr Philippe Couillard

Dr Philippe Couillard

© Micheline Walker
12 April 2015

The Marian Antiphonies


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Mater Dolorosa by Carlo Dolci (25 May 1616 – 17 January 1686) (Photo credit: Wikipedia) 

The Marian Antiphons

The Marian year has its seasons and each season has its antiphon. There are four antiphons, one for each Marian season. Antiphons, sometimes called antiphonies, are a call and response hymn. (See Posts on Marian Hymnology.)

Marian antiphonies are:

Last week, on Good Friday, the seasonal Marian antiphon became the Regina Cæli. It had been the Ave Regina Cælorum, which ends on Good Friday. Good Friday, or ‘holy’ Friday, is the day that commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus or Nazareth, also known as Christ, in whose name Christianity was founded.

As you may know, the growth of polyphony, music combining several voices, is linked to Sacred Music mainly. During the Middle Ages, the Church was the main patron of composers. Most composers therefore became Kappelmeisters. It was their profession.

However, composers such as Italian Luca Marenzio (18 October 1553 or 1554 – 22, August 1599) wrote madrigals, secular music. Marenzio worked for Italian aristocratic families: the Gonzaga, the Este, and the Medici. Madrigals became the leading genre during the Renaissance and could be called the secular birthplace of polyphony. The largely courtly madrigal was rooted in the medieval song or chanson. Trouvères (northern France), troubadours[1] (southern France), and Minnesingers (German-speaking lands) wrote and sang chansons.

Piazza San Marco (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Piazza San Marco, Venice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Renaissance

The Renaissance began with the collapse of the Byzantine Empire (Greek), or Eastern Roman EmpireConstantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks on 29 May 1453 and its Greek scholars fled to Italy. The Ottoman Empire’s Sultanate collapsed on 1 November 1922 and its Caliphate was abolished on 3 March 1924. (See The Last Crusades: the Ottoman Empire.) Constantinople became Istanbul in 1929 and is the largest city in Turkey. The arrival in Italy of Greek scholars escaping the Ottoman Turks would change western Europe profoundly. It ushered in a renaissance (rebirth).

San Marco, or St. Mark’s Basilica, reflects the influence of the Byzantine Empire, the empire that preceded the Ottoman Empire. (See Constantine the Great, Wikipedia.)[2] However, the Venetian School of music was founded by Adrian Willaert of the Franco-Flemish school. (See Venetian polychoral style, Wikipedia)

In 1527, Netherlandish composer Adrian Willaert (c. 1490 – 7 December 1562)travelled to Venice, where he had been appointed maestro di cappella at San Marco and taught music. At St. Mark’s Basilica, he had the best of facilities and remained its maestro di cappella until his death in 1552.

Music for Easter

Two years ago, I posted an article entitled Music for Easter (31 March 2013). That post featured the Regina Cæli, the Easter season’s antiphon. If you wish to listen to Michel Richard de Lalande‘s Regina Cæli, please click on Music for Easter. Music for Easter is a short post also featuring, as does this post, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi‘s (4 January 1710 – 16 March 1736) “Quando corpus morietur.” Pergolesi died at the age of 26, but had already composed several mature works. I love Pergolesi. His “Quando corpus morietur” is inspired music.

Giovanni Legrenzi

Giovanni Legrenzi[3] (baptized 12 August 1626 – 27 May 1690) was a 17th-century Italian composer. By the 17th century, western Europe had entered its Baroque period (1600 – 1750) and composers had started to write operas. However, Legrenzi was first employed as organist at Santa Maria Maggiore, in Bergamo, Italy. In the mid 1650’s, he was maestro di cappella at the Academy of the Holy Spirit in Ferrara. Later, he settled in Venice where he lived comfortably and was named maestro di cappella at San Marco, Venice’s splendid Basilica. In other words, the Church had remained an important employer of musicians.

Both Giovanni Legrenzi and Michel Richard de Lalande were active at the height of the Ottoman Empire, the period when turquerie was fashionable, but it should be noted that polyphonic music is entirely a product of the Graeco-Roman civilization.


Sources and Resources

Ave, Regína cælórum
Ave, Dómina Angelórum,
Sálve rádix, sálve, pórta,
Ex qua múndo lux est órta.
Gáude, Vírgo gloriósa,
Super ómnes speciósa ;
Vále, o valde decóra
Et pro nóbis Christum exóra.

Hail, Queen of the Heavens!
Hail, ruler of the angels!
Hail, root of Jesse! Hail, portal from whom light has shone to the world!
Hail, Virgin most glorious,
Beautiful above all!
Farewell, O most comely,
And pray to Christ for us.
(Courtesy of Notre-Dame de Paris)


Madonna by Raphael (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post was published mistakenly a few minutes after I started writing it. The “publish” button is next to the “save draft” button. This morning, I realized that my image of San Marco was missing. I decided to insert it, but pressed on the “draft”  button instead of the “pending review” button. The post is now dated 5 April 2015.

Wishing all to you a Happy Easter.♥

[1] Troubadours sang in langue d’oc and trouvères in langue d’oïl.

[2] Constantine I was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. He founded the Christian Church, as an institution, at the First Council of Nicaea (325 CE) and the Council of Nicaea and Constantinople, in 381 CE. The Nicene Creed dates back to these two councils.

[3] “Giovanni Legrenzi”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 04 avr.. 2015

Ave Regina Cælorum
Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor) and Marie-Nicole Lemieux (contralto)

Pergolesi’s Quando corpus morietur 

tumblr_mgsy17srBd1qipl8zo1_500© Micheline Walker
4 April 2015
(revised on 5 April 2015)

Mater Dolorosa (detail, ca. 1485) attributed to Simon Marmion (Photo credit:

Jesuits & Jansenists


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Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal

In 1656-1657, Blaise Pascal (Louis de Montalte) wrote his eighteen Provincial Letters in defense of the Jansenists of the abbey of Port-Royal-des-Champs, located near Paris, and Port-Royal abbey in Paris. Jansenism had been brought to France by Jean Duvergier de Hauranne (1581 – 1643), afterwards the abbot of Saint-Cyran-en-Brenne. Duvergier had studied theology in Leuven /Louvain where he met and befriended Cornelius Jansen (28 October 1585 – 6 May 1638), the father of Jansenism. During his stay in Louvain, Duvergier and Jansen opposed the Jesuits to protect Belgian theologian Michael Baius or Michel de Bay (1513 – 16 September 1589) whom Jesuits suspected had been influenced by Calvinism.

The Jesuits or Society of Jesus was founded in 1540. Jesuits were therefore a new order that could have helped curb the spread of Protestantism. (See « La Querelle entre jansénistes et jésuites », Jésuites de la province de France. FR) Changes were needed, but not to the point of using moral irresponsibility to benefit Roman Catholicism. Extremes are extremes.  

In 1653, Pope Innocent X issued the bull Cum Occasionum condemning as heretical five propositions contained in Cornelius Jansen’s Augustinus. The Augustinus, a long work that is considered the Jansenists’ “book,” was published posthumously in 1640. It should be noted, however, that the Augustinus was the work of Cornelius Jansen and that it was published several years after he and Jean Duvergier de Hauranne were students in Leuven, Holland. In fact, by 1640, the two friends had long been separated. Cornelius Jansen had spent a few years in France after he and Jean Duvergier graduated with a degree in theology from the University of Leuven. Moreover, as noted above, the book was published two years after Cornelius Jansen’s death. Cornelius Jansen died in an epidemic.

It should also be noted that, after serving as abbot of Saint-Cyran-en-Brenne, Jean Duvergier, known as Saint-Cyran, had settled at the abbey of Port-Royal-des-champs, Cistercian abbey. The Cistercian order was established in 1204 and its rule was more severe than the Rule of Benedict, precepts observed by Benedictine monks. In 1623, he had become the spiritual director of the nuns living and working at Port-Royal-des-champs, one of whom was the abbess Angélique Arnauld (8 September 1591 in Paris – 6 August 1661) who had also introduced certain reforms in her community. The Cistercians also owned the Port-Royal Abbey in Paris.

Les Petites Écoles de Port-Royal (1637 -1660)

Pascal as student and Educator

From 1637 until 1660, Cistercians operated a school at Port-Royal-des-Champs. Pascal had been a student at the Petites Écoles de Port-Royal, excellent schools because of the intellectual calibre of its teachers, messieurs, and its small classes. Jean Racine, the author of Phèdre (1778), had also studied at the Petites Écoles de Port-Royal. Later, Pascal himself would be an educator. He wrote a new method of teaching children to read.

As a former pupil of Port-Royal-des-Champs, Pascal, who sympathized with the Jansenists, defended the Port-Royal abbeys threatened by the bull Cum Occasionum. However, his motivation was, to a large extent, loyalty to his former teachers, the nuns of Port-Royal and to its messieurs or solitaires, teachers and men who retreated to one of the Port-Royal abbeys. More importantly, however, Pascal attacked the moral laxity of Jesuit casuistry.

However, in his Provincial Letters, Pascal did discuss the matter of grace, albeit briefly. According to the Jansenists, humans could not ensure their salvation. Jansenists believed in predestination. It had been and remains a Roman Catholic’s perception, that although humans are born stained with the original sin, baptism and grâce suffisante FR make it possible for them to be saved through good deeds, which is what I was taught. Jansenists differed. In order to be saved, humans had to be granted grâce efficace FR or efficacious grace and God chose those on whom he would bestow efficacious grace.

Saint Augustine and Pelagius

I suspect that initially St. Augustine, or Augustine or Hippo (13 November 354 – 28 August 430), believed humans could expiate the original sin, if granted grâce suffisante. French 17th-century Jansenists maintained, however, that grâce efficace or efficacious grace, was required to be saved. This was cause for despair as it negated free will.

The quarrel between Jansenists and Jesuits therefore echoed an earlier quarrel between St. Augustine and Pelagius (fl. c. 390 – 418). Pelagius had opposed predestination. In fact, according to Wikipedia’s entry on the Church Fathers, “early Church Fathers consistently [upheld] the freedom of human choice. They consistently upheld the freedom of human choice.” Initially, Augustine of Hippo may have  understood predestination as no more than foreknowledge. God as God knew how humans would live. This is what I was taught as a child. However, St. Augustine would grow to support predestination as a denial of free will, hence the title of Cornelius Jansen’s Augustinus, the Jansenists’ book.

Pascal’s Target: Casuistry

The Lettres provinciales did support the doctrines of Jansenism, but Pascal’s main target was the moral irresponsibility advocated by the Jesuits, or casuistry. Pascal also emphasized the Jesuit’s rejection of the teachings of the Church Fathers which, by extension, was a rejection of Roman Catholicism in its totality. This was not the intention of the Jesuits.

After speaking with a Jesuit, our naïve character, visits a neighbour who is known as an opponent of Jansenism, but who turns out to share the Jansenist’s view of grace and predestination.

“To ascertain the matter with certainty, I repaired to my neighbor, M. N-, doctor of Navarre, who, as you are aware, is one of the keenest opponents of the Jansenists, and, my curiosity having made me almost as keen as himself, I asked him if they would not formally decide at once that ‘grace is given to all men,’ and thus set the question at rest. But he gave me a sore rebuff and told me that that was not the point; that there were some of his party who held that grace was not given to all; that the examiners themselves had declared, in a full assembly of the Sorbonne, that that opinion was problematical; and that he himself held the same sentiment, which he confirmed by quoting to me what he called that celebrated passage of St. Augustine: ‘We know that grace is not given to all men.’” (Letter I/1)


In my post on Pascal’s Provincial Letters, I wrote that we would take a closer look at the methods used by Jesuit casuistry. We will. A few examples are needed, but what I would like to bring to the fore are:

  • the Jesuits’ rejection of the doctrines of the Church Fathers,
  • the fact that Jesuits tolerated duels and homicides, and
  • other precepts.
Conversion of Saint Augustine Fra Angelico (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Augustine of Hippo wrote that original sin is transmitted by concupiscence and enfeebles freedom of the will without destroying it. Sandro Botticelli (Caption and photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rejection of the Teachings of the Church Fathers

Provincial Letters pdf (complete text)

“We leave the fathers [Church Fathers],” resumed the monk, “to those who deal with positive divinity. As for us, who are the directors of conscience, we read very little of them and quote only the modern casuists.” (p. 40) (Letter VI/6)

“For example, three popes have decided that monks who are bound by a particular vow to a Lenten life cannot be absolved from it even though they should become bishops. And yet Diana avers that notwithstanding this decision they are absolved. ‘And how does he reconcile that?’ said I. By the most subtle of all the modern methods, and by the nicest possible application of probability,” replied the monk. (p. 44) (Letter VI/6)

Here the monk being interviewed by a naïve character invokes “probability” and lists modern authorities. The new authorities and proponents of casuistry are Luis de Molina, Antonio Escobar y Mendoza, Gabriel Vasquez and Leonardus Lessius. Also linked to casuistry were Étienne Bauny of France and Antonino Diana, an Italian. Numerous “authorities” are also named as one reads the 18 letters. (See Casuistry, Wikipedia.)

However, if our narrator or candid character refers to an authority, he is trivialized and disapproves:

“When Diana [Antonino Diana] quotes with approbation the sentiments of Vasquez, when he finds them probable, and ‘very convenient for rich people,’ as he says in the same place, he is no slanderer, no falsifier, and we hear no complaints of misrepresenting his author; whereas, when I cite the same sentiments of Vasquez, though without holding him up as a phoenix, I am a slanderer, a fabricator, a corrupter of his maxims.” (p. 109) (Letter XII/12)

More on Probabilisme

‘A person may do what he considers allowable according to a probable opinion, though the contrary may be the safer one. The opinion of a single grave doctor is all that is requisite.’ (p. 39) (Letter VI/6)

“Can you doubt it?” he replied, ‘We have bound them, sir, to absolve their penitents who act according to probable opinions, under the pain of mortal sin, to secure their compliance.’”

‘When the penitent, says Father Bauny,’ follows a probable opinion, the confessor is bound to absolve him, though his opinion should differ from that of his penitent.’” (p. 40) (Letter VI/6)


The justification of homicide is particularly surprising.

(naïve character, italics)

Be this as it may, however, it seems that, according to Sanchez, a man may freely slay (I do not say treacherously, but only insidiously and behind his back) a calumniator, for example, who prosecutes us at law?” (p. 56) (Letter VII/7)

 “Certainly he may,” returned the monk, “always, however, in the way of giving a right direction to the intention: you constantly forget the main point. Molina supports the same doctrine; and what is more, our learned brother Reginald maintains that we may despatch the false witnesses whom he summons against us. And, to crown the whole, according to our great and famous fathers Tanner and Emanuel Sa, it is lawful to kill both the false witnesses and the judge himself, if he has had any collusion with them. Here are Tanner’s very words: ‘Sotus and Lessius think that it is not lawful to kill the false witnesses and the magistrate who conspire together to put an innocent person to death; but Emanuel Sa and other authors with good reason impugn that sentiment, at least so far as the conscience is concerned.’ And he goes on to show that it is quite lawful to kill both the witnesses and the judge.” (p. 56) (Letter VII/7)

“And, in point of fact, is it not certain that the man who has received a buffet on the ear is held to be under disgrace, until he has wiped off the insult with the blood of his enemy?” (p. 56) (Letter VII/7)

“Nay,” he continued, “it is allowable to prevent a buffet, by killing him that meant to give it, if there be no other way to escape the insult. This opinion is quite common with our fathers. (p. 56) (Letter VII/7)

“But, father, may not one be allowed to kill for something still less? Might not a person so direct his intention as lawfully to kill another for telling a lie, for example?” (p. 58) (Letter VII/7)

“He may,” returned the monk; “and according to Father Baldelle, quoted by Escobar, ‘you may lawfully take the life of another for saying, “You have told a lie”; if there is no other way of shutting his mouth.’ The same thing may be done in the case of slanders. (p. 58) (Letter VII/7) 


(naïve character, italics)

“Lessius, among others, maintains that ‘it is lawful to steal, not only in a case of extreme necessity, but even where the necessity is grave, though not extreme.’”  (Letter VIII/8)

“For after all, now, is it not a violation of the law of charity, and of our duty to our neighbour, to deprive a man of his property in order to turn it to our own advantage? Such, at least, is the way I have been taught to think hitherto.” (Letter VIII/8)

“That will not always hold true,” replied the monk; “for our great Molina has taught us that ‘the rule of charity does not bind us to deprive ourselves of a profit, in order thereby to save our neighbour from a corresponding loss.’” (Letter VIII/8)

Homicide, again

In his letter XIII, Pascal repeats much of what he wrote in Letter VII/13. He fully realizes that he is repeating. As an educator, he emphasized the need to repeat, a need that is consistent with the modern theory of information. It is part of his “art de persuader,” the art of persuasion. One has to read Pascal’s Pensées, published posthumously, to grasp Pascal’s art de persuader.


There is so much to discuss, but a post is a post. However the book, Les Provinciales, is easy to read and short. The fate of Jansénisme resembles the fate of the Huguenots in France. Jansénisme was not a religion; it was a mere movement. But it was condemned by the papal bull Unigenitus, issued by Clement XI on 8 September 1713. Absolutism meant: one king, one language and one religion.

Pascal discusses numerous subjects, such as duels and usury, in his examination of the moral laxity of 17th-century French Jesuits.

In closing, I would like to point out that the quarrel between Jansenists and Jesuits in 17th-century France is one episode, just one, in the history of the Jesuits and that both Jesuit casuistry and Jansenism were condemned.

My best regards to all of you.♥


 Sources and Resources

Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor, sings “Ombra mai fu” (Serse) G. F. Händel

imagesE7I9M79Y© Micheline Walker
2 April 2015

Pascal, Jean Domat
French sanguine

Discussing Religions


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Constantius appoints Constantine as his successor by Peter Paul Rubens, 1622 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


If one is a Christian, one tends to write: “our” religion, or “our” Saviour, as Jesus is named. In all likelihood, a Muslim would also speak of his or her religion as “our” faith.

Many of my readers are Christians, even though some do not attend Mass every Sunday. However, many are not Christians. So I would like to make sure no one is offended by my writing “our” from time to time. I was brought up in Quebec when its French-speaking inhabitants were Catholics but had been influenced by Jansenism. (See Jansenism, Wikipedia.) My mother was a Jansenist, but she didn’t know she was. She had never been told Jansenism even existed and that it had been condemned as heretical.

As for my father, he was a liberal who taught us never to demean people who practiced other religions, spoke another language, dressed differently or belonged to a different race or ethnicity, etc. “Live and let live.” Despite her being a Jansenist sans le savoir (unknowingly), my mother’s teachings were my father’s teachings.

Pascal’s Provincial Letters (1656-1657) is a major work in French literature. It is a satire of Jesuit casuistry, but very well written. It served as a model to Voltaire. Both Jansenism (predestination) and casuistry (moral irresponsibility) were condemned by the Catholic Church. They were extremes.

In fact, as I stated in my last two posts, Pascal would not have defended Jansenism alone. In the Provincial Letters, he attacked the moral laxity advocated by Jesuits, the Society of Jesus, in 17th-century France, at a time when the Church had become very fragmented.

Henry VIII of England had broken with Rome, because Rome would not allow him to divorce Catherine of Aragon. During that period in history and until recently, aristocrats were married to other aristocrats and marriage arrangements were often made when the future spouses were very young. Occasionally, the spouses grew to love one another, but that was not the rule.

One could therefore doubt the validity of such marriages and one can understand why royals had mistresses who, in France, were at times “official” mistresses (maîtresse en titre). Louis XIV had an official mistress, Madame de Montespan (5 October 1640 – 27 May 1707), who lived at court and bore him several children.

It may have been judicious on the part of the Pope to annul Henry VIII’s marriage. It was an arrangement. Had a Jesuit been involved in this matter, I believe he would have advised the Pope that there had not been sufficient consent on the part of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon for the marriage to be valid.

Had Princess Diana been told that Prince Charles was not marrying her for love, I doubt that the wedding would have taken place.

At any rate, objectivity is my purpose. I may now return to Blaise Pascal’s Provincial Letters (1656-1657).

My kindest regards to all of you.♥

Rameau Les Tendres Plaintes – Grigory Sokolov, piano


Hands of God and Adam, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel (Wiki)

© Micheline Walker
28 March 2015

Pascal’s “Provincial Letters”


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Prefatory miniature from a moralised Bible of “God as architect of the world”, folio I verso, Paris ca. 1220–1230. Ink, tempera, and gold leaf on vellum 1′ 1½” × 8¼”. Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna 2554. God shapes the universe with the aid of a compass. Within the perfect circle already created are the spherical sun and moon and the unformed matter that will become the earth once God applies the same geometric principles to it. A view of the earth influenced by Ancient Greek Geometry and icons of the Eastern Orthodox Church. (Caption and photo credit: Wikipedia)


As I wrote on 24 March 2015, the Church is a human institution. However, Jesus of Nazareth, a historical figure, is considered by most Christians as the son of God. Jesus was a Jew who lived in Palestine, then occupied by Rome. He is a prophet in the Muslim world, but Christians usually think of him as the Son of God made flesh to redeem humankind. Most Christians believe in the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit. God is their redeemer. He took away the Original Sin.

The Human Condition

According to the Bible, we are mortals because Adam and Eve disobeyed God the Father, or the Trinity. They ate the forbidden fruit, which means that they made love. Their making love is the original sin and Christians are expected to atone for this sin. Christians therefore baptize newborns so they are absolved of the original sin. Baptism predates Christianity and, more importantly, Jesus is called the Saviour.

Jesus had many followers

During his short life, Jesus, the son of God, told parables that touched his followers who grew more and more numerous. After his death, they starting calling themselves Christians. In the image featured above, taken from an illuminated manuscript, a Bible moralisée, God the father is depicted as the architect of the world, literally. It is believed that we owe God (the Trinity) the creation of the world: Die Schöpfung, as in the title of Joseph Haydn‘s oratorio, composed in London, England.

The Heritage: Music, the Arts, Literature, etc.

Moreover, think of the cultural heritage: feasts, Christmas and Easter, a multitude of works of art, including Books of Hours, music, literature rooted in the Bible: thousands of works. Dante‘s (c. 1265–1321) Divine Comedy and John Milton‘s[i] (9 December 1608 – 8 November 1674) Paradise Lost are major representatives of texts emanating from the Bible.

Portrait of Dante by Sandro Botticello

Portrait of Dante by Sandro Botticello

A Revolution

Humble as he was, the son of a carpenter, Jesus started a revolution, one of the most important revolutions ever. Contrary to the Jewish Bible, the New Testament does not preach retaliation: the lex talionis (retaliate). Yet the New Testament is a continuation of the Old Testament from which Christians have borrowed extensively to tell the story of Man. Telling the story of Man is the purpose of texts such as the Bible and the Qur’an. They are aetiological texts.

Religions and Worshipping

Although Christ is not the founder of a Church, many among humans are Christians and go to church on Sundays. They practice a religion. It is normal to worship and gather with other worshippers. We are social beings, so we get together. As for  worshipping, it may bring serenity and hope where there is fear and despair. Voltaire stated that: “To believe in God is impossible; not to believe in Him is absurd.” (Brainy Quotes). Voltaire also said that if God did not exist, we would invent Him.

Moreover, think of the cultural heritage: feasts, Christmas and Easter, a multitude of works of art, including Books of Hours, music, literature rooted in the Bible: thousands of works. Dante‘s (c. 1265–1321) Divine Comedy and John Milton‘s[i] (9 December 1608 – 8 November 1674) Paradise Lost are major representatives of texts emanating from the Bible.

Jansenism, defended by Pascal, was condemned as was casuistry (used by Jesuits).

Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal (Photo credit, Wikipedia)

The Provincial Letters (1656 – 57)

We will now look at the divisions of the Lettres provinciales, the Provincial Letters. I will send examples and Related Articles in another post. My computer is too slow. I have to give it a rest. The Lettres provinciales contains two parts. From Chapters 1 to 10, it features a dialogue between a naïve polemicist and Jesuits. It then becomes a narrative.

1. Methods

  • Probabilisme

Pascal was an expert at calculating odds. He developed the probability theory with Pierre de Fermat.[2] Probabilism is a method Pascal would understand. It is probable that if one priest will not absolve a sin, another priest will. (Chapters 5 & 6)

  • Direction d’Intention: The Goal justifies the Means

This is Machiavellian. If the goal is a worthy cause, the means used to achieve this good are acceptable. The sin has been removed. (Chapters 7 & 8)

  • Dévotion aisée, ambiguity and restriction mentale

The Jesuit explains that it is easy to love God. First, pray to the Virgin Mary. Moreover, one can get out of trouble by being ambiguous (the distinction between grâce suffisante and grâce efficace is difficult to understand or ambiguous). Be ambiguous. As well, one can lie yet say the truth but giving part of an answer aloud and saying the rest to himself or herself. Question: Were you at her house yesterday? Answer: No, I was not at her house yesterday morning. (Chapter 9)

  • The Morality of Casuists

There is no for real penance for sins committed to be absolved. We need simply be contrite or regret our actions. (Chapter 10).

2. The Polemicist defends himself

Pascal (under his pseudonym) is accused of slander (calomnie) and deception  (imposture). (Chapters 10 & 11) Pascal’s character answers that he has to ridicule the errors of his adversaries and to generalize. (Chapter 12) The accusations he is subjected to confirm the casuists’ extreme permissibility, such as homicide, (Chapters 13 & 14) and slander (15 & 16).

3. Conclusion

Père Annat, a Jesuit and the confessor to the king of France, has been following the debate. Once again grace is discussed as are the five points in JanseniusAugustinus the Pope condemned. Pascal and Père Annat are both of the opinion that these points could be attacked but they agree that the Augustinus (1640) should not be looked upon as the work of Jansenius. In the Provinciales, Pascal is not attacking Jansenism as much as he is attacking casuistry.

In other words, it is unlikely that Pascal would not have defended his friends at Port-Royal on grounds other than the depraved conduct of casuists, which brings the matter to a close and makes him the winner if a winner there is. Casuistry went into disrepute. The death of his sister Jacqueline also brought an end to Pascal’s polemics (Chapters 17 & 18).


Pascal was a beautiful human being. Chateaubriand called him an “effrayant génie,”  (Génie du Christianisme; a frightening genius). T. S. Eliot described him as “a man of the world among ascetics, and an ascetic among men of the world.” (See Pascal, Wikipedia.) Pascal was humble, good and I detect a sense of humour. He discredited casuistry with extreme finesse. The beauty of the text is in the way it is written. Pascal weighs every word.

As you know, his father needed a calculator, so he quickly invented one. He then created public transportation: the carrosse à cinq sols FR, the fine-penny horse-drawn carriage. There were lines and a schedule. He and his dear friend the Duc de Roannez set up the system in 1661 and it worked for seventeen years. The service was discontinued temporarily but would return. Pascal died in 1662, aged 39.

Sources and Resources

Lettres provinciales, PDF (texte intégral) FR
Provincial Letters, PDF (complete text) EN


[1] Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

[2] The pioneer was Gerolamo Cardano, a 16th-century Italian mathematician

Die Schöpfung (The Creation), an excerpt

Port-Royal Abbey, Paris

Port-Royal Abbey, Paris (Wiki)

© Micheline Walker
27 March 2015

Jansenism: a Church Divided


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Michelangelo‘s painting of the sin of Adam and Eve from the Sistine Chapel ceiling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Pascal studying the cycloid, by Augustin Pajou, 1785, Louvre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jansenists and Jesuits

We will not look at Pascal’s Provincial Letters (1656-1657) yet, as we should examine the context in which Blaise Pascal attacked the Jesuits. There is a history to the debate at the center of which is free will. Jansenists believed in predestination, which was the negation of free will and which would be condemned under pain of excommunication. As for the Jesuits of 17th-century France, their practice of casuistry permitted the commission of horrendous sins, including homicide (Chapters 13, 14). Eventually, both Jansenism and casuistry would be considered unacceptable. However, the degree of moral irresponsibility casuistry allowed was so offensive that Pascal attempted to rescue his friends at Port-Royal-des-Champs, Jansenists, by attacking casuistry vehemently, but with finesse.

Casuistry and Machiavellianism

Luis de Molina
ruthlessness of families

Casuistry was developed by Spanish Jesuit Luis de Molina (1535-1600), the author of Divine Grace and Human Liberty (1588) and De liberi arbitrii (shortened title), works defending free willCasuistry made it possible to sin without sinning. One ‘method’ was direction d’intention. If one sinned but had good intentions, one had not sinned. Direction d’intention was Machiavellian, because the end justified the means. This is what Niccoló Machiavelli (3 May 1469 – 21 June 1527) teaches The Prince (Il Principe), 1532. (See Niccoló Machiavelli, Wikipedia.)

In an earlier post, I noted that Machiavelli lived in a jungle: the Medici family, whose members could have perished had it not been for their ruthlessness. (See House of Medici, Wikipedia). They ruled Florence when Italy was a group of city-states headed by powerful families: the House of Medici, the Gonzaga, the Este, the Sforza, etc. Moreover, the various families tried to have members named Pope so they could control the Church. In such a world, a prince had to be ruthless.


the rise of Protestantism and two rites (Western and Eastern)
jurisprudence (casuistry in Law)

The Cistercians nuns of Port-Royal-des-Champs Abbey and Port-Royal Abbey in Paris also lived in a jungle. Christianity was no longer unified. There were Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists, Huguenots (French Calvinists), etc. Moreover, Catholicism itself had long been divided into two rites: the Roman and the Orthodox rites. If the Roman Catholic Church were further fragmented, could Roman Catholicism survive? Hence casuistry.

Reforms  were needed, such as forbidding the sale of indulgences, allowing divorce in certain cases, not levying a heavy tithe on the very poor. Greater toleration of different faiths may also have contained the growth of Protestantism, but Jansenists themselves were far too stern. They believed in predestination, depriving Christians of a way a ensuring the salvation. The religious wars, ushered in by the Renaissance were pitiless.

However, saving Roman Catholicism did not require Casuistry, nor did it require the austerity (an extreme) of Jansenism. Casuistry was so relaxed a form of Catholicism that it allowed homicide. (Letters, Chapters 13 & 14.) Jesuit Casuistry in 17th-century France could forgive a large number of sins, if not most. There is an acceptable form of casuistry in the field of Law. Casuistry is often compared to jurisprudence, a study of cases.

According to Britannica, “Greek and Roman philosophers, Jewish rabbis, Christian preachers and teachers, and Islamic jurists (see also Sharīʿah) are among those who have used casuistry to solve real-life moral puzzles. The Roman orator and philosopher Cicero wrote the first known “case book” on situations in which duties seem to conflict.”[1] 

But as I wrote above, Jesuit casuistry was an extreme as was the notion of predestination.


The controversy between Jansenists and Jesuits did not center as much on “grâce suffisante” compared to “grâce efficace,” a theoretical debate, as it did on moral irresponsibility: casuistry! Whether or not grace was suffisante (sufficient) or efficace (efficacious) was unlikely to unleash so impassioned a rebuttal as Pascal’s eighteen 18 Provincial Letters.

Grâce suffisante (sufficient grace) is defined as follows:

“‘Grâce donnée généralement à tous les hommes, soumise de telle sorte au libre arbitre qu’il [free will] la rend efficace ou inefficace à son choix, sans aucun nouveau secours de Dieu.’” (Pascal, see Grâce suffisante, French Wikipedia.)

(Grace generally bestowed on every human, subjected to free will in such a way that free will chooses to make it effective or not, without new recourse from God.)

Grâce efficace” (efficacious grace) is defined as follows:

“Position théologique défendue par saint Augustin, et dont les Jansénistes se sont servis dans leur polémique contre les Jésuites. Selon sa definition, les hommes n’accèdent au salut [humans can be saved]ne peuvent gagner le Paradis que si Dieu leur a accordé la grâce [only if God has given them grace]. Seule cette grâce divine peut les soutenir dans la foi. Ce dogme, développé à l’origine par Augustin d’Hippone dans son débat des thèses du moine britannique Pélage, s’oppose à la thèse des Jésuites qui attribuaient au libre-arbitre et aux œuvres la prérogative du salut. (See Grâce efficace, French Wikipedia.)

These definitions are based on the belief that human beings are born guilty of the original sin and must expiate. That is the source of the problem. According to the first definition, which is not clear, man is given sufficient grace. But, according to the second definition, only God can grant enough grace to open the door to Paradise and God chooses whom he will save, which is predestination.

This dogma, predestination, was refuted by Augustine of Hippo in his early debates with British monk Pelagius (354 – 418)[2] who also opposed predestination. Pelagius believed that man could ensure his salvation through good deeds. Later, however, Augustine of Hippo grew to believe he needed grace to fight sin, especially original sin which he believed was “transmitted by concupiscence.” (See Caption, below.) Augustine was flesh and blood, or all-too human.


Augustine of Hippo wrote that original sin is transmitted by concupiscence and enfeebles freedom of the will without destroying it. Sandro Botticelli (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Augustine of Hippo: an Opponent of Pelagius

However, Augustine of Hippo became an opponent of Pelagius who was declared a heretic at one of the Councils of Carthage and whose doctrine, Pelagianism, was condemned. Pelagius is the author of De libero arbitrio (On Free Will; 416 CE).

Pascal’s main target was Spanish nobleman and Jesuit Antonio Escobar y Mendoza (1589 – July 4, 1669) who was the author of Summula casuum conscientiae (1627) and some eighty other books. Ten years after the death of Antonio Escobar, in 1679, his books were condemned by Pope Innocent XI.

As for Pascal’s letters, they were destroyed immediately by order of King Louis XIV. Later in the 17th century, Jansenism would be condemned by the Church in the apostolic constitution Unigenitus Dei Filius, promulgated by Pope Clement XI in 1713. The nuns of Port-Royal-des-Champs where forcibly evicted in 1709 and sent to other convents. The buildings of Port-Royal-des-Champs Abbey were razed that same year.

Port-Royal Abbey, in Paris, was not destroyed, but it was used for various purposes and was dechristianized during the French Revolution. Casuistry, which Pascal had discredited, was condemned.

Yet, if there was a winner, it was Pascal. His Lettres provinciales (1658-1659) dealt a fatal blow to casuistry and constitute a literary masterpiece, condemned by Louis XIV.

The Church is a human institution founded in the name of Christ during the First Council of Nicaea (325 CE). Its founder is converted Roman Emperor Constantine I. (See Constantine the Great, Wikipedia) Constantine I settled in Constantinople, the former Byzantium and future Istanbul (1929).


Pascal’s Lettres provinciales were seemingly written to a person living outside Paris, in one of the French provinces: Normandy, Bretagne, etc. For protection, Pascal used the pseudonym Louis de Montalte. But Jansenism did not disappear quickly. Quebec was a mostly Jansenist province of Canada until the 1960s. Catholics were pious and feared God.

Pascal’s Letters are still read. They are a masterful satire, a model to Voltaire’s CandideCasuistry was also ridiculed by Molière and La Fontaine. In Molière’s Tartuffe (1664 – 1669), Tartuffe, who feigns devotion, tries to seduce Elmire saying that he knows how take sin away. (See Casuistry, or how to sin without sinning.) Molière rewrote Tartuffe twice before it was considered acceptable.

We looked at the Lettres provinciales mainly as a biting satire of casuistry, which it is. However, as we have seen, Pascal’s work has other dimensions. Humans are born guilty of the original sin and must be baptized promptly and, according to Jansenism, despite a virtuous life, they will not be saved, unless God has chosen to save them.

The Church being a human institution founded in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, it may be important to consider that Jesus told such parables as the Prodigal Son and the Woman Caught in Adultery. He preached forgiveness and unconditional love. It may also be very useful to remember that Jesus of Nazareth has been called our Saviour and our Redeemer.

Finally, despite circumstances,

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

– Alexander PopeAn Essay on Man


Detail from The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Sources and Resources 

Provincial Letters, complete text, Internet Archive EN
Lettres provinciales, texte intégral, Ebooks gratuits.pdf FR
Tartuffe.pdf, complete text EN
Tartuffe, complete text, Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg EN
Tartuffe.pdf, texte intégral, FR


[1] “casuistry”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 21 mars. 2015

[2] “Pelagius”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 21 mars. 2015

Marin Marais: Le Badinage


Sandro Botticelli (Wiki)

© Micheline Walker
24 March 2015

Pascal and Leibniz: Details


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Baise Pascal, Versailles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Portrait of Blaise Pascal made by François II Quesnel for Gérard Edelinck in 1691 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Blaise Pascal and Gottfried Leibniz

Voltaire‘s Candide was a satire of Leibnizmetaphysics, but not a criticism of Leibniz himself or all of his theories (1 July 1646 – 14 November 1716). Gottfried Leibniz, who lived in Leipzig, was a great mathematician, inventor, logician and diplomat. He believed in God and assumed that God was good, hence his “best of all possible worlds.” It was a noble thought, but nearly three centuries later, we remain very short of good.

Sufficient reason[1]

The word “sufficient” reminded me of Pascal (19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662: aged 39) who, despite illness, chronic pain, and his rather short life, contributed so much to the world of ideas and to science. While I was writing my posts on Candide, a monument to humankind, I was puzzled by Leibniz’s use of the word “sufficient.”

I remembered telling my students that after Étienne Pascal, Blaise Pascal’s father, lost his wife, he left Clermont-Ferrand, where Blaise was born and settled in Paris, where he often had guests who were prominent scientists.

Given that his son Blaise could not travel, due to ill health, whenever a scientist was in Paris, Étienne tried to introduce him to his son who was a child prodigy. In fact, the work done by Pierre de Fermat (17 August 1601 or 1607 – 12 January 1665) and Pascal into the calculus of probabilities laid “important groundwork” for Leibniz‘ formulation of the calculus. (See Leibniz, Wikipedia.)

At this point, allow me a slight digression.

The Calculator

As scientists, both Pascal and Leibniz invented calculators.

Blaise Pascal’s father was a tax farmer, the name given tax collectors during the ancien régime. This was a position one could purchase as was the case with many positions in 17th– and-18th-century France. Louis XIV was forever in need of money to pay for Versailles and finance his wars. Selling positions was yet another avenue allowing Louis to replenish France’s empty vaults.

As tax collector, Pascal’s father needed a calculator, so his son Blaise invented the Pascaline, an ancestor to our calculators and to computer science. It was a helpful machine and there are a few Pascalines left for everyone to see.

But Leibniz also invented a calculator, his Leibniz’s WheelUnder Wikipedia’s entry on calculators, the reader is told that Leibniz’s calculator was never “fully operational.”

Schickard [mostly] and Pascal were followed by Gottfried Leibniz who spent forty years designing a four-operation mechanical calculator, inventing in the process his Leibniz wheel, but who couldn’t design a fully operational machine.”

However, the Leibniz’ wheel entry tells a different story.

“Invented by Leibniz in 1673, it was used for three centuries until the advent of the electronic calculator in the mid-1970s.”

I wouldn’t dare refute that statement as we may be looking at two slightly different machines (“inventing in the process”). But I will point out that theabacus,” wasa calculating tool that was in use centuries before the adoption of the written modern numeral system and is still widely used by merchants, traders and clerks in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.” (See Abacus, Wikipedia.) It “was known to have been used by Sumerians and Egyptians before 2000 BCE.” I should think that humans have always had some sort of calculator. (See Calculator, Wikipedia.)

Let us return to the word ‘Sufficient’

Pascal may have provided an element to Leibniz’s vocabulary: the word “sufficient,” as in “sufficient reason.” This no one can prove, but it is either ‘probable’ or quite a coincidence. I should note that Pascal did not support fully the use of reason to arrive at scientific truths, in which he differed from Leibniz, at least initially. For Pascal reason, or “l’esprit de géométrie,” was the other half of “l’esprit de finesse,” a form of instinct or intuition (le cœur),[2] from which emanates the seminal idea that leads to an important discovery or further knowledge. Beautiful melodies are mostly inspired.

Cornelius Jansen, Évêque d’Ypres


Pascal was a Jansenist. Jansenism is neither a religion nor a sect; it is a concept within Catholicism that would later be condemned as heretical.[3] Jansenists believed in predestination, which meant that although one lived a virtuous life, virtue could not lead to salvation. Those who believed in God and lived a virtuous manner had been granted sufficient (suffisante) grace, but only efficacious (efficace) grace ensured one’s salvation. Therefore, however good a person could be, salvation was an arbitrary gift. It could not be attained, except by the chosen ones.


Port-Royal-des-Champs Abbey (destroyed by fire) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sufficient and Efficacious Grace

In other words, according to the Jansenists, who lived at Port-Royal-des-Champs and Port-Royal Abbey, in Paris, were friends of Pascal, there were two forms of grace: la grâce suffisante (sufficient grace) and la grâce efficace FR (efficacious grace), only one of which, la grâce efficace could ensure salvation and God, if He existed, which Pascal set out to prove in his unfinished Pensées (Thoughts), selected those who would be saved.

To complicate matters, Jesuits, also attacked by Voltaire, had devised a system that allowed people to sin without sinning. (See RELATED ARTICLES.) Nothing could excuse casuistry and it was injurious to all who lived a good life. In 1646, Pascal became a Jansenist and, a few years later, in 1656-67, when Jansenism was first condemned, he wrote his Provincial letters, 18 letters and a possible 19th, the masterpiece that inspired Voltaire’s Candide.

Cornelius Jansen‘s (28 October 1585 – 6 May 1638) is the founder of Jansenism, as his name suggests. His Augustinus (1640) was published posthumously in Louvain/ Leuven, Belgium and sparked a controversy.

I will not enter into details. Suffice it to repeat that one could not be saved even if one had led a virtuous life. Such thinking is extremely pessimistic, but given Jesuit Casuistry (la casuistique), the faithful defended the monks of the Port-Royal-des-Champs abbey, one of whom was Pascal. The issues raised by Jansenism were:

  • Pelagianism (man can save himself; but not according to the Augustinus);
  • the Original Sin (we are born guilty and are therefore in need of salvation);
  • the Divine Grace.

Divine Grace

The Oxford English Dictionary provides the following description of grace: “Grace in Christianity is the free and unmerited favour of God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowing of blessings.”

The Following are quotations from Wikipedia

In Islam, according toDr. Umar Al-Ashqar, dean of the Faculty of Islamic Law at Zarqa Private University in Zarqa, Jordan: ‘Paradise is something of immense value; a person cannot earn it by virtue of his deeds alone, but by the Grace and Mercy of Allah.’

This stance is supported by hadith: according to Abu Huraira, prophet Muhammad once said that ‘None amongst you can get into Paradise by virtue of his deeds alone … not even I, but that Allah should wrap me in his grace and mercy.’”

In Hinduism, “one Hindu philosopher, Madhvacharya, held that grace was not a gift from God, but rather must be earned.”

Pascal’s Wager: Le Pari fatal

Neither Jansenists nor Muslims can earn salvation. They cannot erase the original sin. Consequently, they may despair. Existentialism claims the opposite. Humankind makes itself, which cannot be entirely the case. Yet, quite astonishingly, Voltaire was an early existentialist. He stated that “[m]an [was] free at the moment he wishe[d] to be.”  

As for Pascal, he lived virtuously wagering that he was among the chosen ones. The text of the Wager is in Sources and Resources, below.

However, the wager can be summarized. According to Pascal, we cannot know whether or not God exists. For him, God existed. He was a man of faith. But had he not been a man of faith, he would nevertheless have wagered that God existed. By doing so, one has everything to gain and nothing to lose. 

The Theory of Probability and the Pari fatal

Here we sense that Pascal and his friends, the duc de Roannez FR but mainly Pierre de Fermat contributed in the development the theory of probability. It is possible to calculate the odds. The following quotation is in French, but the wager can be summarized. One has nothing to lose by wagering that God exists and everything to lose by not waging He exists. (See The Wager.)

« Vous avez deux choses à perdre : le vrai et le bien, et deux choses à engager : votre raison et votre volonté, votre connaissance et votre béatitude ; et votre nature a deux choses à fuir : l’erreur et la misère. Votre raison n’est pas plus blessée, en choisissant l’un que l’autre, puisqu’il faut nécessairement choisir. Voilà un point vidé. Mais votre béatitude ? Pesons le gain et la perte, en prenant croix que Dieu est. Estimons ces deux cas : si vous gagnez, vous gagnez tout ; si vous perdez, vous ne perdez rien. Gagez donc qu’il est, sans hésiter. » 

“if you win, you win everything; if you lose, you do not lose anything. So bet that God is, without hesitating.”


In a world where Jesuits could take sin away from sinners, it is understandable that Christians in France should have chosen to defend Jansenism. Casuistry allowed kings and aristocrats to have a mistress without remorse. If one’s intentions were good, one could kill, rape and pillage. Pascal therefore took the defense of Jansenism and the priests of Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Cistercian nuns and monks. They avoided sins, were truly devout, and lived according to their vows.

Voltaire was not a Jansenist, but he believed in God. Many humans believe in God because they see orchids, the amaryllis, dawn, and glorious sunsets. The birth of a child seems a miracle. However, Jansenism did not give anyone the chance to go to heaven and imperiled happiness. Humans must atone. Therefore, happiness during this brief lifetime could point to eternal damnation.

Leibniz visited with Antoine Arnauld, who succeeded Jean Duvergier de Hauranne as abbot of the Port-Royal-des-Champs abbey. As a diplomat, Leibniz was invited to Paris in 1672. (See Leibniz 1666-1674.) Leibniz had visited France earlier but, in 1672, he met with Antoine Arnauld, the superior at Port-Royal des Champs.

The “sufficient” of “sufficient reason” may well be related to the “sufficient” of “sufficient grace.” But more importantly, neither concept support the likelihood of a “best of all possible worlds.”


Sources and Resources

(My computer was hacked and has not been fully repaired. So this post is not altogether complete. I must discuss free will, Les Provinciales [the syle], original sin, etc. Les Provinciales were published under a pseudonym: Louis de Montalte.)

My best regards to everyone.

Marin Marais: Sonnerie de Ste Geneviève


© Micheline Walker
19 March 2015

Voltaire’s Candide, Part 2


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Tafelrunde in Sanssouci (Voltaire to the left, purple, next to Casanova, red lapels), Adolph von Menzel, 1850 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Quotations From Candide

“It is demonstrable,” said he [Dr Pangloss], “that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end. Observe, that the nose has been formed to bear spectacles—thus we have spectacles.” (1)

“The bayonet was also a sufficient reason for the death of several thousands.” (3)

“The Best of all Possible Worlds”

Click on the following link. It leads to a video that sums up Candide.

According to Dr Pangloss, a follower of Leibniz, humans live in “the best of all possible worlds,” (see The Best of all Possible Worlds, Wikipedia), where everything is made for an end and all effects have a cause. There is therefore “sufficient reason” for everything that happens, so “nothing happens by pure chance.” (See Sufficient Reason.)

According to Leibniz’ Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l’homme et l’origine du mal (Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil), published in 1710:

“nothing ever comes to pass without there being a cause or at least a reason determining it, that is, something to give an a priori reason why it is existent rather than non-existent, and in this wise rather than in any other. This great principle holds for all events, and a contrary instance will never be supplied: and although more often than not we are insufficiently acquainted with these determinant reasons, we perceive nevertheless that there are such.” (Theodicy, p. 148.) (See Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, Wikipedia.)

Theodicy is Gutenberg.pdf
Theodicy is Gutenberg [EBook #17147]

According to Britannica:

“Best of all possible worlds, in the philosophy of the 17th–18th-century philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the present world of monads (infinitesimal psychophysical entities) coordinated in preestablished harmony. Among all possible worlds that God could have created, his actual choice of one over the others required a “sufficient reason,” which, for Leibniz, was the fact that this world was the “best”—despite the existence of evident evils, for any other “possible world” would have had evils of its own sort of even greater magnitude. Had it lacked a sufficient reason to explain its existence (and implicitly its contingency), the world for Leibniz would have existed of necessity. Voltaire’s Candide (1759) was a satirical rejection of Leibniz’s optimistic view of the world.”[1]



Illustrations by Adrien Moreau (Photo credit: Internet Archives)

The Plot

The plot of Candide retells John Milton‘s Paradise Lost. Candide is kicked out of the castle of the Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, a “terrestrial paradise” (beginning of chapter 2), because he has kissed Cunégonde, the Baron’s daughter. Candide is the illegitimate son of the Baron’s sister and is therefore considered inferior to Cunégonde. Later, in Uruguay and in Constantinople, the Baron’s son will express the same view. 

After he leaves the Baron’s castle, Candide is drafted into the Bulgarian army. It seems to be in Holland. Candida is flogged by the Bulgarians and would be put to death, were it not for the Bulgar King’s last-minute intervention. Candide is not worth killing.

The Anabaptist

There is no end to Candide’s trials and tribulations. He does, however, meet an Anabaptist, one who baptizes again, who looks after him, houses him and becomes his teacher. We are in Holland. Dr Pangloss surfaces and all three, Candide, the Anabaptist and Dr Pangloss, leave for Lisbon and arrive just in time for the earthquake and tsunami. (See 1577 Lisbon earthquake, Wikipedia.) The Anabaptist is drowned by a bad sailor. Virtue doesn’t pay.

In fact, everything goes amiss. Candide is wounded but Dr Pangloss remains the philosopher that he is. The Bulgar King would not have found him worth killing. 

“This concussion of the earth is no new thing,” answered Pangloss. “The city of Lima, in America, experienced the same convulsions last year; the same cause, the same effects; there is certainly a train of sulphur underground from Lima to Lisbon.”
“Nothing more probable,” said Candide; “but for the love of God a little oil and wine.” (5)


Dr Pangloss is the victim of an Inquisition‘s auto-da-fé (an act of faith) Candide is whipped. During an auto-da-féhumans were burned alive. However, Dr Pangloss is hanged because it is raining.

The Inquisition is, of course, an instance of fanaticism. However, contrary to other philosophes, Voltaire believed in God. In 1778, the year of his death, he was initiated into Freemasonry, a fraternity, at the Paris Lodge calledLes Neuf Sœurs” (the Nine Muses). Benjamin Franklin accompanied him.


In Lisbon, Candide is found by Cunégonde who asks an Old Woman to fetch him. I have not found a reference to Freemasonry in Candide. Freemasons were active abolitionists as were Quakers and Cunégonde is a sex-slave, usually the worst possible fate. She belongs to a Jew and an Inquisitor and is unlikely to be staving off their advances, as she claims. She is not free to do so.

At this point in the novel, Cunégonde and the Old Woman tell their stories. Candide has an outer-frame, or story, i.e. Candide’s search for his beloved Cunégonde. But it also has inner-stories. We learn that the Old Woman lost a buttock when starving Turks spared the life of captured women by slicing up one buttock and eating it. In Candide, women are raped, disembowelled, mutilated, and sometimes quartered. The Baroness is quartered.


Voltaire shows no mercy towards organized religions. They are human institutions and fallible. Even his ‘innocent’ Candide kills three men: the Jew, the Inquisitor and the Baron’s son, a Jesuit, SJ. He must therefore flee, just as Voltaire fled to avoid being imprisoned.

When, at long last, Candide finds Cunégonde, she is in Constantinople, the birth place of Christianity, conquered by Ottoman Turks in 1453, but she has become ugly. This is not the best of all possible worlds. The world is as described by Martin, the philosopher Candide meets in Suriname and befriends. They cross the Atlantic together and Martin spends his time negating Dr Pangloss’ belief that this is the best of possible worlds. In fact, this is an ugly world and Candide’s dream does not come true, at least not entirely.

Candide, who became very rich in El Dorado, still has enough money to buy back enslaved characters and to purchase a little farm. In the end, however, several characters reappear: Pangloss and the Baron’s son have not died. Moreover, Paquette, the Baroness’ suivante, and Friar Giroflée suddenly join the group in Constantinople. Ever the dramatist, Voltaire is playing with his characters.

These resurrections are both puzzling and reassuring. They are somewhat surreal. Candide will marry Cunégonde, despite her brother’s objections. Although the Baron’s son escaped death and has nothing left, he still thinks his sister is superior to Candide and opposes their marriage. He hasn’t grasped the notion of equality.

Candide contains reassuring instances of loyalty. Cacambo, Candide’s valet, remains loyal to his master. There are redeeming factors.

Leibniz is proven (mostly) wrong

Leibniz is proven mostly wrong, but our characters have learned that they should stay put and cultivate their garden. That is the best humans can do in a world shaken by natural disasters and inhabited by intolerant individuals who persecute and kill one another in the name of a religion.

The Dervish and the Old Man

At the end of the novel, our characters go and visit a dervish, the best dervish in Turkey, who tells that it does not matter that the world is an evil world.

“In the neighborhood lived a famous dervish who passed for the best philosopher in Turkey; they went to consult him: Pangloss, who was their spokesman, addressed him thus: “Master, we come to entreat you to tell us why so strange an animal as man has been formed?”
“Why do you trouble your head about it?” said the dervish; “is it any business of yours?”
“But, Reverend Father,” said Candide, “there is a horrible deal of evil on the earth.”
“What signifies it,” said the dervish, “whether there is evil or good? When His Highness sends a ship to Egypt does he trouble his head whether the rats in the vessel are at their ease or not?”
“What must then be done?” said Pangloss.
‘Be silent,’ answered the dervish.”
“I flattered myself,” replied Pangloss, “to have reasoned a little
with you on the causes and effects, on the best of possible worlds, the
origin of evil, the nature of the soul, and a pre–established harmony.”
At these words the dervish shut the door in their faces.
(Candide, p. 95 – 96)

They meet an old man on their way home and asked about a mufti who has been killed and other victims. The old man knows nothing about these events. He invites the group and he and his children serve them delicacies. They enjoy the moment and reflect that the old man is in a better situation than the six deposed and dispossessed monarchs Candide and Martin met in Venice.

The old man is a source of inspiration. Candide and his companions decide simply to cultivate their garden.


Voltaire’s Candide, part 1 (12 March 2015)

Sources and Resources
Candide: Internet archives FR
Candide pdf  EN
is Gutenberg.pdf
Theodicy is Gutenberg [EBook #17147]
Œuvres philosophiques de Leibniz (BnF) FR
Œuvres philosophiques de Leibniz (BnF) FR

The Story

Voltaire’s Candide, part 1 (12 March 2015)

The Cast

Cunégonde (the woman Candide loves)
The Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh (Cunégonde’s father)
Candide (the illegitimate son of the Baron’s sister)
Dr Pangloss (Candide’s mentor: who believes this is “the best of all possible worlds”)
Cacambo (Candide’s loyal servant, a zanni of the commedia dell’arte)
The Old Lady
Martin (the Old Philosopher, the opposite of Pangloss)
Paquette (suivante to the Baroness)
Giroflée (a friar)

With kind regards to everyone 
“best of all possible worlds”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 14 mars. 2015

images© Micheline Walker
15 March 2015

Voltaire’s Candide, Part 1


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Tafelrunde in Sanssouci (Voltaire to the left, purple, next to Casanova, red lapels), Adolph von Menzel, 1850 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Voltaire the celebrity, but…

A favourite guest of celebrities
Wit, his chief quality

Voltaire lived in a castle, le château de Ferney and befriended Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, and other royals and dignitaries. For instance, in the above image, he is at Sanssouci  [literally “without worry”], a castle owned by Friedrich der Große who was an admirer of François-Marie Arouet, known as Voltaire. The artist is Adolph von Menzel (8 December 1815 – 9 February 1905). However, do not expect an example of this decorum in Voltaire’s Candide.

His indomitable wit and his pen were Voltaire’s chief weapons. He rarely went unnoticed. The French call this présence. However, he was forever running to escape the Bastille. 

From lair to lair: “traduit de l’Allemand”

Next to Voltaire, at the round table (Taflerunde) is Casanova, the Chevalier de Seingalt (pronounced Saint-Galle) (2 April 1725 – 4 June 1798), the famous Venitian womanizer, but a person who lived among princes and wrote the history of his life, L’Histoire de ma vie (See Casanova, Wikipedia.)

Voltaire published his Candide under a pseudonym, that of Mr. le Docteur Ralph, and claimed the novella had been translated from German, “traduit de l’Allemand.” The frontispiece (cover) of the first edition of Candide, published in 1759, is the work of Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune. Voltaire was protecting himself.


At Café Procope: at rear, from left to right: Condorcet, La Harpe, Voltaire (with his arm raised) and Diderot. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Background: Lazarillo de Tormes

a picaresque novel
a pícaro
Lazarillo de Tormes (1554)
a Bildungsroman

Voltaire’s Candide is a novella consisting of thirty (30) chapters and published in 1759. It has been described as a picaresque novel. The word picaresque is derived from a Spanish novella entitled La Vida de un pícaro (The Life of a Rogue; short title) or La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades (The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of his Fortunes and Adversities), by Lazarillo de Tormes (1554). In picaresque novels, characters move from place to place.

The novel is also considered a Bildungsroman or a coming of age novel. In this regard, Voltaire’s Candide resembles Henry Fielding‘s Tom Jones (The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling), 1749. Henri Fielding’s Tom Jones is characterized by obliqueness because Tom, a “foundling,”[1] has no lineage, which gives him a degree of anonymity and impunity. As a Bildungsroman, Voltaire’s Candide has also been associated with Laurence Sterne‘s Tristram Shandy (a Bildungsroman), 1759 – 1767 (9 volumes).

As an oblique novel, Candide has affinities with Montesquieu’s  Persian Letters (Lettres persanes) (1721). Montesquieu’s Usbek and Rica, his two Persians, are foreigners and may therefore say anything with impunity. Tom Jones is an “illegitimate” son and a foreigner of sorts. Moreover, Candide invites comparison with Blaise Pascal‘s Lettres provinciales (1656-1567). (See Lettres provinciales, Wikipedia.) Both works feature naïve characters.


Candide, ou l’Optimisme, 1759

key sentences

Candide is Voltaire’s answer to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz‘ optimism. It has a second title: Candide, ou l’Optimisme. Key sentences and concepts are:

Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes. (All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.)
Il faut cultiver son jardin. (One must cultivate one’s garden.)
There is a cause for each effect.

The Cast

Cunégonde (the woman Candide loves)
The Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh (Cunégonde’s father)
Candide (the illegitimate son of the Baron’s sister)
Dr Pangloss (Candide’s mentor: who believes this is “the best of all possible worlds”)
Cacambo (Candide’s loyal servant, a zanni of the commedia dell’arte
The Old Lady
Martin (the Old Philosopher)
Paquette (suivante to the Baroness)
Giroflée (a friar)


The Story

We are in Westphalia. Candide, the illegitimate son of the Baron Thunder-ten-tronchk’s sister, is kicked out of Paradise when he kisses Cunégonde, the Baron’s daughter. (1)

Candide leaves and is made prisoner by Bulgarian soldiers who flog him and are about to execute him when the Bulgar King arrives and saves Candide whom, he says, is not worth hanging. (2)

In Holland, Candide meets an Anabaptist who looks after him, provides him with a shelter and becomes his teacher. (3) Dr Pangloss, Candide’s mentor at the Baron’s, appears unexpectedly. He caught smallpox and is pockmarked. He tells Candide that everyone has been killed, including Cunégonde. (4)

They leave for Lisbon but are shipwrecked during an earthquake and a tsunami (the 1755 Lisbon earthquake). A sailor lets the Anabaptist drown. Candide is wounded but he and Dr Pangloss survive. (5)

In Lisbon, Dr Pangloss is hanged by the Inquisition and Candide, spanked. (6) Cunégonde watches the auto-da-fé (act-of-faith) and recognizes Candide. An old woman is sent to fetch Candide. (7) Cunégonde is owned by a Jew and an Inquisitor, (8) but staves off their advances, she says. Candide kills both men. (9)

They flee to Buenos Aires. (10) The old woman, the daughter of a pope and a princess, tells how she lost one of her buttocks. (11-12). In Buenos Aires, the Governor falls in love with Cunégonde. (13) Candide and Cacambo continue to flee the Inquisition and arrive in Paraguay where they find Cunégonde’s brother, a Colonel, who has not died. (14) The Colonel will not let Cunégonde marry Candide who belongs to an inferior class. Candide kills him. (15)

Candide and Cacambo carry on but are captured by Oreillons and nearly eaten. They are spared because they are enemies of the Jesuits. A river propels them into El Dorado or Paradise. In El Dorado, there is no religion, just Deism, but they leave. Sheep, laden with treasures, guide them above mountains. They think they will be able to take Cunégonde back. (17 – 18) On their way to Suriname, they lose their sheep and much of their riches (jewels, etc.). However, Cacambo is sent to buy Cunégonde back while Candide and Martin, a poor philosopher, sail for Venice (19).

During the trip across the sea, Martin tells his philosophy. It is diametrically opposed to that of Dr Pangloss. (20 -21) They stop in Paris where Candide falls prey to various crooks, cheat on Cunégonde and gets in trouble. He has to flee. (22)  As they, Candide and Martin, pass England, they see an admiral who is being executed because he lost a battle. (23)

In Venice, they find no sign of Cunégonde and the old woman, but meet Paquette, the baroness’ suivante, and Giroflée, a friar. (24) They also visit with a man who claims to be happy, the Pococurante.(25) It’s Carnival time in Venice. While they are having dinner with six dethroned and impoverished monarchs, Cacambo surfaces. (26)

Cunégonde is a slave in Constantinople and has grown ugly. Among the galley slaves in the boat taking them to Constantinople, Candide, Martin and Cacambo recognize Pangloss and the son of the Baron. They have not died. They are bought back. (27) Pangloss tells how the Inquisitors failed to kill him. Similarly, the young Baron was unskillfully killed by Candide and is still alive. (28) Candide buys Cunégonde back and is repulsed.

He will marry her nevertheless, despite the young Baron’s objections. (29) They buy a piece of land and start cultivating their garden. Paquette and friar Giroflée also  reappear.  All will cultivate the garden. (30)

Sources and Resources

Candide (Wikipedia)
Candide (summary) EN
Candide (incomplete text) Internet Archives EN
Candide (incomplete text) Gutenberg [EBook #19942] EN
Candide (complete text) EN
Candide (complete text) Internet Archives FR
Candide (complete text) Ebooks gratuits FR
Candide Google Books
Candide (résumé) FR
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm (1 July 1646 – 14 November 1716), Wikipedia

[1] French cinematographer François Truffaut produced L’Enfant sauvage, about a feral child (The Wild Child).

Leonard Berstein conducts his Candide Overture (1956)


© Micheline Walker
12 March 2015


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