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 seldom 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. My mother was a Jansenist, but she didn’t know she was. She had never been told Jansenism 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. 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, they loved 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 Botticelli

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.
Wikipedia is authoritative.

[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 and monks 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) literature.org 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

Voltaire: “L’Affaire Calas”


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François Marie Arouet, dit Voltaire, c. 1724-1721

François-Marie Arouet, dit Voltaire, c. 1724-1721, Nicolas de Largillière (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
Voltaire (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778)

“Those” are mainly members of the clergy of France, before it was nearly destroyed during the French Revolution. The Age of Enlightenment did not happen in France alone, but it was a time of liberation, rooted, among other texts, in René DescartesDiscourse on Method (1637). The reign of reason had begun.

Descartes: « Je pense, donc je suis » and the Tabula Rasa

We associate Descartes with the Cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”), his proof of his existence and, by extension, the existence of other human beings. The Je pense, donc je suis (The Discourse on the Method) is more easily understood if rewritten using the verb “to doubt.” If Descartes doubts, he is thinking, and if he is thinking, he is. By the way, the Discourse on Method, as it is usually referred to, was written in French. It was the first ever philosophical work written in the French language. However, his tabula rasa (cleared up table) sums up the Age of Enlightenment as it unfolded in 18th-century France. Built-in mental content was rejected.

The Age of Enlightenment did not happen in France alone. Voltaire was particularly impressed by England, where he was exiled and was inspired to write the Letters on England, first published in translation in England (London, 1733) and, one year later, in French (London, 1734). An unauthorized copy was published in France in 1734, and was censored. He escaped to Cirey-sur-Blaise, Madame du Châtelet‘s castle, which they refurbished. Madame du Châtelet, a mathematician and a physicist, was Voltaire’s companion until her premature death, at the age of 42, in 1749, which was before the Calas affair.

The Salons and Cafés

Brilliant men gathered in salons, a “key institution” (see Women’s Involvement in the French Salons) and French cafés. You will remember Madame de Geoffrin‘s salon, rue Saint-Honoré, and the Café Procope, the oldest café in Paris. Voltaire was an habitué, a regular, of salons and cafés, but he had to live away from Paris in order to escape  authorities who could have thrown him into the Bastille prison. Descartes chose to live in Holland, as reason was a tool feared by a repressive Church. As for Voltaire, having spent 11 months, maybe more, in the Bastille, he ended up living near the Swiss border.

Château de Ferney

Voltaire’s château de Ferney, Kassandra Kasparek (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Philosophe needs Two Dens

As I wrote in the post where I discussed the Letters on England (1734), Voltaire  (François-Marie Arouet; 21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778) was embastillé, thrown into the Bastille prison, because he had offended the Regent Louis-Philippe, duc d’Orléans. (See Voltaire: the Story begins.)

The lettre de cachet

At that time in the history of France, one could incarcerate a man without the benefit of a trial or the possibility for him to defend himself. One obtained a lettre de cachet, signed by the King or the Regent, countersigned by an official, and sealed: le cachet. In order to avoid imprisonment, Voltaire seldom resided in Paris. He claimed that philosophes (intellectuals) needed two dens or tanières, so they could flee easily from one to the other.

Voltaire expressed a philosophe‘s need for two lairs, deux tanières, in a letter he wrote to Madame Denis, his niece and companion.

« Rampant ainsi d’une tanière dans une autre, je me sauve des Rois…, car il faut toujours que les philosophes aient deux ou trois trous sous terre contre les chiens qui courent après eux. » (Voltaire, Lettre à madame Denis, 1745)

(“Thus crawling from one lair into another, I escape Kings…, for philosophes always need two or three holes underground against the dogs running after them.”)

Voltaire had transformed an inheritance into a fortune and could afford to own a château. He purchased Ferney, one hour away from Switzerland, where he bought a house, at Lausanne. After Madame du Châtelet’s death, to whose castle he had fled when the Lettres philosophiques were censored, Madame Denis, Voltaire’s niece, became his permanent companion.

Jean Calas

Jean Calas (19 March 1698, Lacabarède, Fr.—died 10 March 1762, in Toulouse) was a Huguenot (French Calvinist Protestant) merchant whose son, Marc-Antoine, committed suicide by hanging in his father’s cloth shop. His body was found on 14 October 1761. It appears Marc-Antoine planned to convert to Catholicism.

Suicide was a crime, punishable by death if one survived, and the bodies of persons who had committed suicides were defiled. The family therefore claimed they had found their son dead hanged. They made the suicide look like a murder.

Our cast is:

  • Marc-Antoine Calas, the victim, who planned to convert to Catholicism;
  • Jean Calas, his father and a Protestant (called Huguenot in France) merchant;
  • Anne-Rose Babibel, Jean Calas’ wife and a Protestant;
  • Pierre Calas, Marc-Antoine’s brother, a convert to Catholicism;
  • Jeanne Viguière, a governess and servant;
  • Gaubert Lavaysse, a guest.
The Body is discovered

The Body is discovered (Photo credit: l’Affaire Calas)


L’Affaire Calas, Casimir Destrem (1879). Musée Paul-Dupuy, Toulouse (Photo credit: l’Affaire Calas)

The Story

  1. On the evening of 13 October 1761, Marc-Antoine left the dinner table and hanged himself in his father’s shop. His body was discovered the next day, 14 October;
  2. On 15 October 1761, the family and their guest were interrogated. At first, they lied, but were advised to tell the truth;
  3. They told the truth. Marc-Antoine had been found dead. He had studied Law, but had difficulty entering his profession. As noted above, he was planning to convert to Catholicism;
  4. On 18 November 1761, Toulouse magistrates concluded, rather summarily, that Marc-Antoine had been murdered by Jean Calas, Anne-Rose (mother), Pierre Calas (brother), Jeanne Viguière (governess, servant), and Gaubert Lavaysse, a guest;
  5. The accused appealed the decision to the Parlement de Toulouse
  6. On 9 March 1762, Jean Calas was tried and found guilty;
  7. On 10 March 1762 he was executed: he was broke to death on the wheel;
  8. On 18 March 1762, Pierre, Marc-Antoine’s brother, was banished, but the other suspects were acquitted.
Jean Calas, broke on the wheel

Jean Calas, broke on the wheel (Photo credit: l’Affaire Calas)

Enters Voltaire

Voltaire was informed of this event by Dominique Audibert, from Marseilles. He soon suspected an injustice. How could Jean Calas, aged 64, strangle his robust son alone? In fact, how could he lift his son’s body and hang him? Why was he the only person to be found guilty and “roué?” The monitoire or chefs d’accusation (the charges) did not make any sense. Besides, Jean Calas had claimed he was innocent until the very end.

For three months, Voltaire sought the truth: “cette vérité qui importe au genre humain,” (this truth which is important to humankind). By the middle of June, he was convinced that there had been a miscarriage of justice.

« Je suis persuadé plus que jamais de l’innocence des Calas et de la cruelle bonne foi du Parlement de Toulouse qui a rendu le jugement le plus inique sur les indices les plus trompeurs ». (21 juin 1762)
Read more: http://www.site-magister.com/afcal.htm#ixzz3Ti70UVCz

(“I am persuaded more than ever of the innocence of the Calas family and of the cruel good faith of the Parliament of Toulouse who ruled most inequitably on the most deceptive evidence.” [21 June 1762])

Voltaire sent for Pierre and Donat, Donat being Pierre’s brother. They were refugees in Switzerland. This too was puzzling. Why had Pierre been banished? A person is either guilty or innocent.

“The only person Voltaire would incriminate was the magistrate, called a Capitoul, David de Beaudrige, who had been hostile to the Calas from the very start and had neglected to conduct a thorough enquiry.”

« Il incriminera le seul David de Beaudrigue, ce Capitoul [magistrate] qui, d’emblée [from the very start], s’était montré hostile aux Calas et avait négligé son enquête[.] »

In 1762, Voltaire would write Mémoire pour Dame Anne-Rose Cabibel… , texte de l’avocat Élie de Beaumont (1762). (consulter le document)
Read more: http://www.site-magister.com/afcal.htm#ixzz3Ti6lHBGC


Libelle (Photo credit: l’Affaire Calas)


Jean Calas bidding Farewell to his Family, Daniel Chodowiecki (Photo credit: l’Affaire Calas)


The Mother, the two Daughters, with Jeanne Viguière, their good maid, the Son and his young friend Lavaysse, Engraving by Jean-Baptiste Delafosse from a drawing by Carmontelle (1765). (Photo credit: l’Affaire Calas)

Voltaire’s Approach

Long before the twentieth century, Voltaire knew the effectiveness of publicity. He wrote to everyone, to Frederick the Great of Prussia, to Catherine the Great of Russia, to Stanisław I Leszczyński, the King of Poland.

He wrote anonymous pamphlets, libelles, as well as letters to Choiseul, the foreign minister, and Mme de Pompadour, Louis XV’s official mistress. He also sent Madame Calas to Paris where she met ministers and was introduced at Court. Moreover, he published a print by Daniel Chodowiecki showing Jean Calas bidding farewell to his grieving family.

  • On 1 March 1763, the Callas’ appeal was deemed admissible;
  • In November 1764, Voltaire published his Traité sur la Tolérance à l’occasion de la mort de Jean Calas (Treatise on Toleration, on the Death of Jean Calas.);
  • On 4 June, the old verdict was nullified by the Court of Cassation, and the family returned to jail briefly to hear the new sentence;
  • A famous engraving, from a drawing by Carmontelle, was sold in order to raise money for the family;
  • In February 1765, David de Beaudrigue, the magistrate, was removed from office;
  • On 9 March 1765, the Calas family was fully rehabilitated.

Read more: http://www.site-magister.com/afcal.htm#ixzz3Ti81O9JP


Voltaire surrounded himself with royals and other influential people. He won the sympathy of French Protestants and Protestants outside France, thus advancing the cause for religious tolerance. He also discredited the judiciary. When Voltaire worked on a case, he was extremely persistent.

Montesquieu published his Spirit of the Laws in 1748, bringing absolutism into disrepute; it seemed despotic. Voltaire proved that the execution of Jean Calas was an injustice. He showed the merciless treatment of Huguenots, French Protestants. He mobilized the whole of Europe, yet, he never left home.

However, Europe was inundated with letters, etc.

I should note in closing that Voltaire loved the theater, he enjoyed acting, wrote several plays. In short, to rehabilitate Calas, it seems he staged a huge drama. He even sent the grieving widow to Paris and to Court. Having prints engraved to move people or to get donations was brilliant. But this is where I must stop.

My best regards to all of you. ♥


Sources and Resources

The Age of Reason (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The Age of Reason (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

© Micheline Walker
8 March 2015


Today’s Post: 2 March 2015


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Voltaire at the residence of Frederick II in Potsdam, Prussia. Partial view of an engraving by Pierre Charles Baquoy, after N. A. Monsiau. (Caption and photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post published itself automatically on 2 March 2015. I had only written the beginning. To see the complete post, published today, 4 March 2015, please click on this title:

Voltaire: the Story begins… (2 March 2015)

Voltaire seated

Voltaire seated

Raif Badawi: a New Trial


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Ensaf Haidar, wife of blogger Raif Badawi, says she won’t stop fighting for his freedom. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Yesterday morning, I read the News in complete disbelief. How could they?

Raif Badawi had been accused of insulting Islam, but it is my understanding that he now stands accused of committing apostasy, or renouncing his faith. If he is found guilty, the sentence will be death by beheading. That is the law.

If apostasy there is and the Saudis find Raif guilty, the Saudis, not Raif, will have committed apostasy. In other words, Allah is not asking for the blood of an innocent man. Men are, and men can be merciless. That is their only might. God, however, is infinite mercy.

According to this morning’s paper, there was some effort to free Raif on the part of Ottawa, Canada’s federal government.

I doubt that there will be justice for Raif. Not now that he stands accused of apostasy. Yet, we must continue to hope and fight. Ensaf Haidar, Raif’s wife, is alive, and so are three small children. They need our support.

There have been miracles.

With my kindest regards to all of you. 

Sufi Music


© Micheline Walker
3 March 2015

Voltaire: the Story begins…


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Voltaire at the residence of Frederick II in Potsdam, Prussia. Partial view of an engraving by Pierre Charles Baquoy, after N. A. Monsiau. (Caption and photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Age of Enlightenment

Towering figures: Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau

Montesquieu (18 January 1689 – 10 February 1755), François-Marie Arouet (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778), who renamed himself Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778) are the three figures who dominate the Age of Enlightenment in France, the 18th century. They were its most prominent philosophes (intellectuals).

There were other philosophes, such as the encyclopédistes, Denis Diderot (5 October 1713 – 31 July 1784) and Jean le Rond d’Alembert (16 November 1717 – 29 October 1783). Many are associated with la Querelle des bouffons (“Quarrel of the Comic Actors”), a paper war waged between 1752 and 1754 and opposing reason and sentiment. Others, I will not mention to avoid a truly lengthy post.

A Constitutional Monarchy

The philosophes, however, could not have envisaged the events of the French Revolution and, in particular, the death by guillotine of Louis XVI (23 August 1754 – 21 January 1793),  Marie-Antoinette (2 November 1755 – 16 October 1793), and Louis-Philippe II, Duke of Orleans (13 April 1747 – 6 November 1793), also known as Philippe Égalité. A revolution and a regicide, they could not have predicted.

The constitutional government held as a model, was England’s Constitutional Monarchy. A constitution limits the power of a monarch. Given his advocacy of a constitution, Montesquieu opposed absolute monarchy, which was France’s government. However, the word monarchy could include the concept of a constitution, spoken inaudibly.

Moreover, a constitutional monarchy remained the model until the early months of the French Revolution (1789 -1789) and, in particular, the Tennis Court Oath. On that day, 20 June 1789, members of the Third Estate were locked out of Estates-General. They took refuge in an indoor tennis court and all, with the exception of one delegate vowed “not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established.” The delegate who abstained wanted to vote in the presence of his king, Louis XVI.


Drawing by Jacques-Louis David of the Tennis Court Oath. In 1792, David became a deputy in the National Convention (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Letters Concerning the English: Background

The Regency: 1715 – 1723

After the death, in 1715, of Louis XIV, France had heirs to the throne: the illegitimate children of Louis XIV’s mistresses whom Louis had legitimized. However, the royal family quarrelled and it was decided that the next king would not be a légitimé. He would be the grandson of Louis XIV, the future Louis XV (15 February 1710 – 10 May 1774), but he was only five when the Sun King passed away. A regent (the Regency) would therefore rule France until 1723. He was Louis-Philippe, duc d’Orléans, the son of Philippe I, duc d’Orléans, Louis the XIV’s brother, known as Monsieur.

Voltaire thrown into the Bastille

Voltaire was a bit of a rebel as an adolescent. For instance, he would not attend law school, his father’s wish. He wanted to be a man of letters. He produced a few obnoxious verses on the Regent’s “incestuous” love life. Such audacity had a major impact on the remainder of Voltaire’s life. He would keep fleeing. Voltaire was thrown into the Bastille prison, in Paris, where he spent 11 months, or 18 months. Sources differ. He was imprisoned without the benefit of a trial or the opportunity to defend himself.

Justice would become his cause. Upon his release, he was sent on a retreat. The Duke de Béthune invited him to the château de Sully.

Voltaire would not have suffered this gratuitous imprisonment had he lived in England where there was a constitution and a bill of habeas corpus. England had its Magna Carta, its great charter or liberties since the 13th century.

In 1718, Voltaire feared being sent to the Bastille once again, but the Regent sent him to Sully. So, the plea for justice expressed in Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws (1748) would be Voltaire’s plea. It nearly summarizes his life, and England would be a source of inspiration.

The Lettre de cachet

The lettre de cachet was an infamy. It made it possible to incarcerate a man without the benefit of a trial and the possibility of his defending himself. The letter was signed by the king, or by his regent, countersigned by an official, sealed (le cachet) and then delivered. It was arbitrary, which fully explains why Montesquieu insisted that “[a] man is innocent until a jury finds him guilty.”

As we have seen, Voltaire had spent 11 to 18 months (sources differ) in the Bastille because of verses that had offended the Regent. He had a narrow escape in 1718. The Regent spared him the Bastille by sending him to Sully, the duc de Béthune’s castle. However, in 1726, after insulting the chevalier de Rohan-Chabot, Voltaire, who was at Sully, was beaten by men hired by the chevalier who had also obtained a lettre de cachet.

Voltaire was exiled to England where he spent the following two years (sources differ), from 1726 to 1728. During his stay in England, he learned English, mingled with fine minds, met the King of England, and drew information and inspiration for his Lettres philosophiques (The Letters on England).


The Letters on England

The Letters Concerning the English (a translation, not by Voltaire) were first published in London, in 1733. A year later, the letters were published in the original French (London, 1734), but a French version was also published in France. The Letters were censored immediately. Prudence dictated that the 25 letters be entitled Lettres philosophiques, rather than Lettres anglaises or Lettres sur les Anglais, and that, henceforth, they be published abroad. As I wrote above, Voltaire kept fleeing. The complete text of both the English translation and a French edition may be read online:

The letters may be read at Lettres philosophiques pdf FR
or as Letters on England pdf EN

An ‘Enriched’ Summary

The Letters on the English are difficult to summarize as they consist in 25 short articles, letters, on various subjects. The topics are listed under Wikipedia’s entry on the Letters on the English. I would therefore invite you to supplement the quotations I have inserted below this summary and the quotations inserted below.

In the first seven Letters on England, Voltaire discusses religions or sects: the Quakers (1–4), the Anglicans (5), the Presbyterians (6), and the Socinians (7). Socinians are nontrinitarians. Socinians are Deists, as was Voltaire who also became a Freemason the year of his death. Deists believe in a single creator of the universe and reject the knowledge of religious authorities. They favour tolerance. (See Deism, Wikipedia.)

On the Quakers (Letter I), Voltaire quotes a Quaker who says that Quakers are not baptised:

  • “Friends [Quakers]…  swear not; Christ indeed was baptised by John, but He himself never baptised anyone. We are the disciples of Christ, not of John.” Friends are not circumcised.
  • They have no communion. “Only that spiritual one,” replied he, “of hearts.”
  • “We never swear, not even in a court of justice, being of opinion that the most holy name of God ought not to be  prostituted in the miserable contests betwixt man and man.”
  • “Quakers have no priests (Letter II): “Why should we abandon our babe to mercenary nurses, when we ourselves have milk enough for it?”

On the Church of England (Letter V)

  • “England is properly the country of sectarists. Multæ sunt mansiones in domo patris mei (in my Father’s house are many mansions). An Englishman, as one to whom liberty is natural, may go to heaven his own way.”
  • In this letter, we read that: “With regard to the morals of the English clergy, they are more regular than those of France[.]”
  • The ceremonies of the Church of England are at times too “Romish.”

On the Presbyterians (Letter VI)

Voltaire speaks of another Cato, the first being Cato the Younger (95 – 46 BCE), a Stoic:

“The latter [Voltaire’s Cato] affects a serious gait, puts on a sour look, wears a vastly broad-brimmed hat and a long cloak over a very short coat, preaches through the nose, and gives the name of the whore of Babylon to all churches where the ministers are so fortunate as to enjoy an annual revenue of five or six thousand pounds, and where the people are weak enough to suffer this, and to give them the titles of my lord, your lordship, or your eminence.”

“These gentlemen, who have also some churches in England, introduced there the mode of grave and severe exhortations.”

Of Parliament (Letter VIII)

Voltaire uses ancient Rome as a point of reference.

  • “But here follows a more essential difference between Rome and England, which gives the advantage entirely to the latter—viz., that the civil wars of Rome ended in slavery, and those of the English in liberty. The English are the only people upon earth who have been able to prescribe limits to the power of kings by resisting them; and who, by a series of struggles, have at last established that wise Government where the Prince is all-powerful to do good, and, at the same time, is restrained from committing evil; where the nobles are great without insolence, though there are no vassals; and where the people share in the Government without confusion.”

  • “The Romans never knew the dreadful folly of religious wars, an abomination reserved for devout preachers of patience and humility.”

  • “House of Lords and that of the Commons divide the legislative power under the king, but the Romans had no such balance.”

Of the Government (Letter IX) (taxes)

  • “Liberty in England sprang from the quarrels of tyrants. The barons forced King John and King Henry III to grant the famous Magna Charta, the chief design of which was indeed to make kings dependent on the Lords; but then the rest of the nation were a little favoured in it, in order that they might join on proper occasions with their pretended masters. This great Charter, which is considered as the sacred origin of the English liberties, shows in itself how little liberty was known.”
  • On the subject of taxes, Voltaire writes that: “When the Bill has passed the Lords and is signed by the king, then the whole nation pays, every man in proportion to his revenue or estate, not according to his title, which would be absurd.”
  • “No one is exempted in this country from paying certain taxes because he is a nobleman or a priest. All duties and taxes are settled by the House of Commons, whose power is greater than that of the Peers, though inferior to it in dignity.”

Letter X is on Trade

In the above letters on England, Voltaire praises:

  • England’s religious pluralism (tolerance);
  • its balance between the monarchy and the parliament, i.e. a constitutional monarchy; and
  • its Magna Carta, the charter of liberties that has long protected the English.

The Letters on England continued

Voltaire goes on to praise inoculation which the English have accepted and which prevents smallpox: death or disfigurement. He praises Lord Bacon (Letter XII) and Mr Locke (Letter XIII).

“Philosophers will never form a religious sect, the reason of which is, their writings are not calculated for the vulgar, and they themselves are free from enthusiasm.” (XIII)

Voltaire admired not only England’s scientists and intellectuals, but also Descartes.

“Descartes was injuriously accused of being an atheist, the last refuge of religious scandal: and he who had employed all the sagacity and penetration of his genius, in searching for new proofs of the existence of a God, was suspected to believe there was no such Being.” (Letter XIV)

“The progress of Sir Isaac Newton’s life was quite different. He lived happy, and very much honoured in his native country, to the age of fourscore and five years. It was his peculiar felicity, not only to be born in a country of liberty, but in an age when all scholastic impertinences were banished from the world. Reason alone was cultivated, and mankind could only be his pupil, not his enemy.” (Letter XIV)

Descartes gave sight to the blind.” (Letter XIV)

[I have left out a few letters, devoted to great minds.]

In England merit is rewarded:

“Merit, indeed, meets in England with rewards of another kind, which redound more to the honour of the nation.” (Letter XXIII)

[I have left out a few letters.]

In the following letter, Voltaire discusses the English Royal Society (XXIV) and other learned societies. He praises the French Academy.

Letter XXV is devoted to Pascal who insists that man is “miserable.” It has been omitted from the English edition I used, but can be read in French. Lettres philosophiques pdf FR

Let me now summarize the letters I omitted using Britannica:

“A stay in England (1726–28) led to the Lettres philosophiques (1734; Letters on England), which—taking England as a polemical model of philosophical freedom, experimental use of reason, enlightened patronage of arts and science, and respect for the new merchant classes and their contribution to the nation’s economic well-being—offered a program for a whole civilization, as well as sharp satire of a despotic, authoritarian, and outdated France.”[1]


In the Letters Concerning the English, Voltaire expresses his admiration for a country where tolerance allows religious pluralism.

“Take a view of the Royal Exchange in London, a place more venerable than many courts of justice, where the representatives of all nations meet for the benefit of mankind. There the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian transact together, as though they all professed the same religion, and give the name of infidel to none but bankrupts. There the Presbyterian confides in the Anabaptist, and the Churchman depends on the Quaker’s word.” (Letter VI)

Religion is a crucial component of the Letters concerning the English, which led to censorship. Publication of his Lettres philosophiques forced him to go into hiding. He would otherwise have been imprisoned.

However, Voltaire admired French literature as well as many British authors. He is eclectic in his choice of authors and texts and shows a surprizing knowledge of both the literature of France and that of England. Would that merit be rewarded in France! Descartes was not given a pension. Fortunately, members of the Académie française were remunerated.


I have introduced the famous lettre de cachet as a biographical element. In Voltaire’s days, an individual could have another individual incarcerated by obtaining a lettre de cachet, signed by the king and sealed. Next, I would like to tell about Jean Calas. France had l’affaire Dreyfus, but it also had l’affaire Calas.

Candide, a novella and Voltaire’s jewel, will be introduced latter.

Sources and Resources: full texts

The letters may be read at Lettres philosophiques pdf FR
or as Letters on England pdf EN

This post published itself on its own on 2 March 2015.

Love to all of you.

[1] “French literature”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 03 mars. 2015

Robert Casadesus plays Jean-Philippe Rameau‘s Gavotte for piano


Voltaire seated
Voltaire seated

© Micheline Walker
3 March 2015



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