Our Christ-worshipers blame and condemn the Pagans because they attribute Divinity to mortal men, and worship them as Gods after their death; they are right in doing this. But these Pagans did only what our Christ-worshipers still do in attributing Divinity to their Christ; doing which, they condemn themselves also, because they are in the same error as these Pagans, in that they worship a man who was mortal, and so very mortal that He died shamefully upon a cross.
It would be of no use for our Christ-worshipers to say that there was a great difference between their Jesus Christ and the Pagan Gods, under the pretense that their Christ was, as they claim, really God and man at the same time, while the Divinity was incarnated in Him, by means of which, the Divine nature found itself united personally, as they say, with human nature; these two natures would have made of Jesus Christ a true God and a true man; this is what never happened, they claim, in the Pagan Gods.
But it is easy to show the weakness of this reply; for, on the one hand, was it not as easy to the Pagans as to the Christians, to say that the Divinity was incarnated in the men whom they worshiped as Gods? On the other hand, if the Divinity wanted to incarnate and unite in the human nature of their Jesus Christ, how did they know that this Divinity would not wish to also incarnate and unite Himself personally to the human nature of those great men and those admirable women, who, by their virtue, by their good qualities, or by their noble actions, have excelled the generality of people, and made themselves worshiped as Gods and Goddesses? And if our Christ-worshipers do not wish to believe that Divinity ever incarnated in these great personages, why do they wish to persuade us that He was incarnated in their Jesus? Where is the proof? Their faith and their belief; but as the Pagans rely on the same proof, we conclude both to be equally in error.
But what is more ridiculous in Christianity than in Paganism, is that the Pagans have generally attributed Divinity but to great men, authors of arts and sciences, and who excelled in virtues useful to their country. But to whom do our God-Christ-worshipers attribute Divinity? To a nobody, to a vile and contemptible man, who had neither talent, science, nor ability; born of poor parents, and who, while He figured in the world, passed but for a monomaniac and a seditious fool, who was disdained, ridiculed, persecuted, whipped, and, finally, was hanged like most of those who desired to act the same part, when they had neither the courage nor skill. About that time there were several other impostors who claimed to be the true promised Messiah; amongst others a certain Judas, a Galilean, a Theodorus, a Barcon, and others who, under this vain pretext, abused the people, and tried to excite them, in order to win them, but they all perished.
Let us pass now to His discourses and to some of His actions, which are the most singular of this kind: "Repent," said He to the people, "for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand; believe these good tidings." And He went all over Galilee preaching this pretended approach of the kingdom of Heaven. As no one has seen the arrival of this kingdom of Heaven, it is evident that it was but imaginary. But let us see other predictions, the praise, and the description of this beautiful kingdom.
Behold what He said to the people:
The kingdom of Heaven is likened unto a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while he slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like unto treasure hidden in a field, the which, when a man has found, he hideth again, and for joy thereof goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all he had, and bought it. Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind; which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. It is like a grain of mustard-seed, which a man took and sowed in his field which, indeed, is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown it is the greatest among herbs, etc.
Is this a language worthy of a God? We will pass the same judgment upon Him if we examine. His actions more closely. Because, firstly, He is represented as running all over a country preaching the approach of a pretended kingdom; Secondly, As having been transported by the Devil upon a high mountain, from which He believed He saw all the kingdoms of the world; this could only happen to a visionist; for it is certain, there is no mountain upon the earth from which He could see even one entire kingdom, unless it was the little kingdom of Yvetot, which is in France; thus it was only in imagination that He saw all these kingdoms, and was transported upon this mountain, as well as upon the pinnacle of the temple. Thirdly, When He cured the deaf-mute, spoken of in St. Mark, it is said that He placed His fingers in the ears, spit, and touched his tongue, then casting His eyes up to Heaven, He sighed deeply, and said unto him: "Ephphatha!" Finally, let us read all that is related of Him, and we can judge whether there is anything in the world more ridiculous.
Having considered some of the silly things attributed to God by our Christ-worshipers, let us look a little further into their mysteries. They worship one God in three persons, or three persons in one God, and they attribute to themselves the power of forming Gods out of dough, and of making as many as they want. For, according to their principles, they have only to say four words over a certain quantity of wine or over these little images of paste, to make as many Gods of them as they desire. What folly! With all the pretended power of their Christ, they would not be able to make the smallest fly, and yet they claim the ability to produce millions of Gods. One must be struck by a strange blindness to maintain such pitiable things, and that upon such vain foundation as the equivocal words of a fanatic. Do not these blind theologians see that it means opening a wide door to all sorts of idolatries, to adore these paste images under the pretext that the priests have the power of consecrating them and changing them into Gods?
Can not the priests of the idols boast of having a similar ability?
Do they not see, also, that the same reasoning which demonstrates the vanity of the gods or idols of wood, of stone, etc., which the Pagans worshiped, shows exactly the same vanity of the Gods and idols of paste or of flour which our Christ-worshipers adore? By what right do they deride the falseness of the Pagan Gods? Is it not because they are but the work of human hands, mute and insensible images? And what kind of Gods are those which we preserve in boxes for fear of the mice?
What are these boasted resources of the Christ-worshipers? Their morality? It is the same as in all religions, but their cruel dogmas produced and taught persecution and trouble. Their miracles? But what people has not its own, and what wise men do not disdain these fables? Their prophecies? Have we not shown their falsity? Their morals? Are they not often infamous? The establishment of their religion? but did not fanaticism begin, and has not intrigue visibly sustained this edifice? The doctrine? but is it not the height of absurdity?
End Of The Abstract By Voltaire.
By translating into both the English and German languages Le Bon Sens, containing the Last Will and Testament of the French curate JEAN MESLIER, Miss Anna Knoop has performed a most useful and meritorious task, and in issuing a new edition of this work, it is but justice to her memory [Miss Knoop died Jan. 11, 1889.] to state that her translation has received the endorsement of our most competent critics.
In a letter dated Newburyport, Mass., Sep. 23, 1878, Mr. James Parton, the celebrated author, commends Miss Knoop for "translating Meslier's book so well," and says that:
"This work of the honest pastor is the most curious and the most powerful thing of the kind which the last century produced. . . . . Paine and Voltaire had reserves, but Jean Meslier had none. He keeps nothing back; and yet, after all, the wonder is not that there should have been one priest who left that testimony at his death, but that all priests do not. True, there is a great deal more to be said about religion, which I believe to be an eternal necessity of human nature, but no man has uttered the negative side of the matter with so much candor and completeness as Jean Meslier."
The value of the testimony of a catholic priest, who in his last moments recanted the errors of his faith and asked God's pardon for having taught the catholic religion, was fully appreciated by Voltaire, who highly commended this grand work of Meslier. He voluntarily made every effort to increase its circulation, and even complained to D' Alembert "that there were not as many copies in all Paris as he himself had dispersed throughout the mountains of Switzerland." [See Letter 504, Voltaire to D'Alembert] He earnestly entreats his associates to print and distribute in Paris an edition of at least four or five thousand copies, and at the suggestion of D'Alembert, made an abstract or abridgment of The Testament "so small as to cost no more than five pence, and thus to be fitted for the pocket and reading of every workman." [Letter 146, from D'Alembert.]
The Abbe Barruel claims in his Memoirs [See History of Jacobinism by the Abbe Barruel, 4 vols. 8 VO, translated by the Hon. Robert Clifford, F. R. S., and printed in London in 1798. The learned Abbe defines Jacobinism as "the error of every man who, judging of all things by the standard of his own reason, rejects in religious matters every authority that is not derived from the light of nature. It is the error of every man who denies the possibility of any mystery beyond the limits of his reason, of every one who, discarding revelation in defence of the pretended rights of Reason, Equality, and Liberty, seeks to subvert the whole fabric of the Christian religion." B. 4.] to detect in the writings of Voltaire and of the leading Encyclopedists, a conspiracy not only against the Altar but also against the Throne. He severely denounces the "Last Will of Jean Meslier,—that famous Curate of Etrepigni,—whose apostasy and blasphemies made so strong an impression on the minds of the populace," and he styles the plan of D'Alembert for circulating a few thousand copies of the Abstract of the Will, as a "base project against the doctrines of the Gospel." [Ibid, page 145] He even asserts his belief that:
"The Jacobins will one day declare that all men are free, that all men are equal; and as a consequence of this Equality and Liberty they will conclude that every man must be left to the light of reason. That every religion subjecting man's reason to mysteries, or to the authority of any revelation speaking in God's name, is a religion of constraint and slavery; that as such it should be annihilated in order to reestablish the indefeasible rights of Equality and Liberty as to the belief or disbelief of all that the reason of man approves or disapproves: and they will call this Equality and Liberty the reign of Reason and the empire of Philosophy." [History of Jacobinism, page 51.]
The results which the Abbe Barruel so clearly foresaw have at length been realized. The labors of the Jacobins have not been in vain, and the Revolution they incited has restored France to the government of the people!
"With ardent hope for the future," says President Carnot in his centennial address, May 5, 1889, "I greet in the palace of the monarchy the representatives of a nation that is now in complete possession of herself, that is mistress of her destinies, and that is in the full splendor and strength of liberty. The first thoughts on this solemn meeting turn to our fathers. The immortal generation of 1789, by dint of courage and many sacrifices, secured for us benefits which we must bequeath to our sons as a most precious inheritance. Never can our gratitude equal the grandeur of the services rendered by our fathers to France and to the human race. . . . The Revolution was based upon the rights of man. It created a new era in history and founded modern society."
This is literally true. The freethinkers of France have taught mankind the doctrines of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. They have taught the dignity of human reason, and the sacredness of human rights. They have broken the bondage of the altar, and severed the shackles of the throne; and it is to be regretted that at the centennial celebration held in this city on April 30th, 1889, the appointed orator [See the Centennial Address of the Hon. Chauncey M. Depew.] did not realize the grandeur of the occasion, and did not, like Carnot, pay a just tribute to our allies, the reformers of Europe, as well as to the fathers of the republic. But the people of America will remember what the politician has forgotten. They will remember the names and deeds of their foreign benefactors as well as of the American patriots of '76. When they recall the illustrious Europeans who fought for our liberties they will remember the name of Lafayette; when they think of the Declaration of Independence they will not forget the name of Thomas Jefferson; and when they speak of "the times that tried men's souls" they will recall with gratitude the name of Thomas Paine.
Although the ecclesiastical conclave at Rome claims the power of working miracles in defiance of Nature's laws, yet with or without miracles, they have never answered the simple arguments advanced by Jean Meslier; although they claim to hold the keys of Paradise, and bind on earth the souls that are to be bound in heaven, yet year by year their waning power refutes their senseless boast; although they boldly assert the dogma of popish infallibility, yet the loss of the temporal power once wielded by Rome, and the death of each succeeding pontiff, attest both the Pope's fallibility and the Pope's mortality. Indeed, the successor of St. Peter is but human—the sacred college at Rome is but mortal; and faith and dogma cannot forever resist the influence of light and knowledge. The power of Catholicism is surely declining throughout Europe; and if it has become aggressive in our American cities, is it not because the friends of freedom have forgotten the well-known axiom that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"?
New York, May 21, 1889.
PREFATORY NOTE BY THE TRANSLATOR
Some years ago a copy of John Meslier fell into my hands. I was struck with the simple truthfulness of his arguments, and the thought never left me of the happy change that would be produced all over the world when the religious prejudices should be dispelled, and when all the different nations and sects would unite and lend each other a friendly hand.
Since I had the opportunity of hearing the speeches and lectures of liberal men, it has seemed to me that the time has come for this work of John Meslier to be appreciated, and I concluded to translate it into the language of my adopted country, presuming that many would be happy to study it.
In this faith I offer it now to the public, and I hope that the name of John Meslier will be honored as one of the greatest benefactors of humanity.
PREFACE OF THE EDITOR OF THE FRENCH EDITION OF 1830.
It is said that truth is generally revealed by dying lips. When men full of health and enjoying all the pleasures of life, exert themselves without ceasing, to excite minds and to take advantage of their fanaticism by wearing the mask of religion, it will not be without interest or importance to know what other men, invested with the same ministry, have taught under the impulse of a conscience quickened by the approach of the final hour. Their confessions are more valuable because they carry with them the spirit of contrition. It is then that the truth, which is no longer obscured by narrow passions and sordid interests, presents itself in all its brilliancy, and imposes upon him who has kept it hidden during his life, the duty, and even the necessity, of unveiling it fully at his death. It is then that human speech, losing in a measure its terrestrial nature, becomes persuasive and convincing.
We know this fact of a celebrated preacher who in the beginning of the Revolution stood in the same pulpit which we are pleased to call the pulpit of truth, and with his hand upon his heart declared that till then he had taught only falsehood. He did more; he implored his parishioners to forgive him for the gross errors in which he had kept them, and congratulated them upon having at last arrived at a period when it was permitted to establish the empire of reason upon the ruins of prejudice. Times have changed very much, it is true; however, so long as the press shall be able to combat the fatal errors of religious fanaticism, and perhaps even to some extent prevent its violence, it will be the duty of every friend of humanity to reproduce continually the full retractions which opposed the sincerity and conscience of the dying to the bad faith and hypocritical avidity of the living. Guided by this intention, and ashamed to see the human race, in a land just freed from the yoke of prejudice, give birth to a disgraceful juggling which will terminate in dominating authority, and associate itself with the persecutions of which our incredulous or dissenting ancestors were the sad victims, we believe it useful to reprint the last lessons of a priest—an honest man—bequeathed to his fellow-citizens and to posterity. The service we render to Philosophy will be so much the greater when we can consider as immutable, perpetual, permanent, and ready to appear in the hour of need, the edition which we are preparing of "COMMON SENSE, BY THE PRIEST JEAN MESLIER, AND HIS DYING CONFESSION."
To do justice to these two works, to which we have added analytical notes, which will greatly facilitate our researches, we will limit ourselves by giving the imposing approbation of two philosophers of the eighteenth century—Voltaire and d'Alembert. They certainly understood much better the sublimity of evangelical morality, and spoke of it in a manner more worthy of its author, than did those who deified it to profit by its divinity, and who abused so cruelly the ignorance and barbarity of the first centuries, to establish, in the interest of their fortunes and power, so many base prejudices, so many puerile and superstitious practices.
Here is what Voltaire and d'Alembert thought of the curate Meslier and of his work. Their letters are presented here in order to excite curiosity and convince the judgment:
VOLTAIRE TO D'ALEMBERT.
FERNEY, February, 1762.
They have printed in Holland the Testament of Jean Meslier. I trembled with horror in reading it. The testimony of a priest, who, in dying, asks God's pardon for having taught Christianity, must be a great weight in the balance of Liberals. I will send you a copy of this Testament of the anti-Christ, because you desire to refute it. You have but to tell me by what manner it will reach you. It is written with great simplicity, which unfortunately resembles candor.
VOLTAIRE TO THE SAME.
FERNEY, February 25, 1762.
Meslier also has the wisdom of the serpent. He sets an example for you; the good grain was hidden in the chaff of his book. A good Swiss has made a faithful abstract and this abstract can do a great deal of good. What an answer to the insolent fanatics who treat philosophers like libertines. What an answer to you, wretches that you are, this testimony of a priest, who asks God's pardon for having been a Christian!
PARIS, March 31, 1762.
A misunderstanding has been the cause, my dear philosopher, that I received but a few days since the work of Jean Meslier, which you had sent almost a month ago. I waited till I received it to write to you. It seems to me that we could inscribe upon the tombstone of this curate: "Here lies a very honest priest, curate of a village in Champagne, who, in dying, asks God's pardon for having been a Christian, and who has proved by this, that ninety-nine sheep and one native of Champagne do not make a hundred beasts." I suspect that the abstract of his work is written by a Swiss, who understands French very well, though he affects to speak it badly. This is neat, earnest, and concise, and I bless the author of the abstract, whoever he may be. "It is of the Lord to cultivate the vine." After all, my dear philosopher, a little longer, and I do not know whether all these books will be necessary, and whether man will not have enough sense to comprehend by himself that three do not make one, and that bread is not God. The enemies of reason are playing a very foolish part at this moment, and I believe that we can say as in the song:
"To destroy all these people You should let them alone."
I do not know what will become of the religion of Christ, but its professors are in false garb. What Pascal, Nicole, and Arnaud could not do, there is an appearance that three or four absurd and ignorant fanatics will accomplish. The nation will give this vigorous blow within, while she is doing so little outside, and we will put in the abbreviated chronological pages of the year 1762: "This year France lost all its colonies and expelled the Jesuits." I know nothing but powder, which with so little apparent force, could produce such great results.
VOLTAIRE TO D'ALEMBERT.
DELICES, July 12, 1762.
It appears to me that the Testament of Jean Meslier has a great effect; all those who read it are convinced; this man discusses and proves. He speaks in the moment of death, at the moment when even liars tell the truth fully. This is the strongest of all arguments. Jean Meslier is to convert the world. Why is his gospel in so few hands? How lukewarm you are at Paris! You hide your tight under a bushel!
PARIS, July 31, 1762.
You reproach us with lukewarmness, but I believe I have told you already that the fear of the fagot is very cooling. You would like us to print the Testament of Jean Meslier and distribute four or five thousand copies. The infamous fanaticism, for infamous it is, would lose little or nothing, and we should be treated as fools by those whom we would have converted. Man is so little enlightened to-day only because we had the precaution or the good fortune to enlighten him little by little. If the sun should appear all of a sudden in a cave, the inhabitants would perceive only the harm it would do their eyes. The excess of light would result only in blinding them.
D'ALEMBERT TO VOLTAIRE.
PARIS, July 9, 1764.
Apropos, they have lent me that work attributed to St. Evremont, and which is said to be by Dumarsais, of which you spoke to me some time ago; it is good, but the Testament of Meslier is still better!
VOLTAIRE TO D'ALEMBERT.
FERNEY, July 16, 1764.
The Testament of Meslier ought to be in the pocket of all honest men; a good priest, full of candor, who asks God's pardon for deceiving himself, must enlighten those who deceive themselves.
VOLTAIRE TO THE COUNT D'ARGENTAL.
AUX DELICES, February 6, 1762.
But no little bird told me of the infernal book of that curate, Jean Meslier; a very important work to the angels of darkness. An excellent catechism for Beelzebub. Know that this book is very rare; it is a treasure!
VOLTAIRE TO THE SAME.
AUX DEUCES, May 31, 1762.
It is just that I should send you a copy of the second edition of Meslier. In the first edition they forgot the preface, which is very strange. You have wise friends who would not be sorry to have this book in their secret cabinet. It is excellent to form youthful minds. The book, which was sold in manuscript form for eight Louis-d'or, is illegible. This little abstract is very edifying. Let us thank the good souls who give it gratuitously, and let us pray God to extend His benedictions upon this useful reading.
VOLTAIRE TO D'AMILAVILLE.
AUX DEUCES, February 8, 1762.
My brother shall have a Meslier soon as I shall have received the order; it would seem that my brother has not the facts. Fifteen to twenty years ago the manuscript of this work sold for eight Louis-d'or; it was a very large quarto. There are more than a hundred copies in Paris. Brother Thiriot understands the facts. It is not known who made the abstract, but it is taken wholly, word for word, from the original. There are still many persons who have seen the curate Meslier. It would be very useful to make a new edition of this little work in Paris; it can be done easily in three or four days.
VOLTAIRE TO THE SAME.
FERNEY, December 6, 1762.
But I believe there will never be another impression of the little book of Meslier. Think of the weight of the testimony of one dying, of a priest, of a good man.
VOLTAIRE TO THE SAME.
FERNEY, July 6, 1764.
Three hundred Mesliers distributed in a province have caused many conversions. Ah, if I was assisted!
VOLTAIRE TO THE SAME.
FERNEY, September 29, 1764.
There are too few Mesliers and too many swindlers.
VOLTAIRE TO THE SAME.
AUX DELICES, October 8, 1764.
Names injure the cause; they awaken prejudice. Only the name of Jean Meslier can do good, because the repentance of a good priest in the hour of death must make a great impression. This Meslier should be in the hands of all the world.
VOLTAIRE TO MADAM DE FLORIAN.
AUX DELICES, May 20, 1762.
My dear niece, it is very sad to be so far from you. Read and read again Jean Meslier; he is a good curate.
VOLTAIRE TO THE MARQUIS D'ARGENCE.
March 2, 1763.
I have found a Testament of Jean Meslier, which I send you. The simplicity of this man, the purity of his manners, the pardon which he asks of God, and the authenticity of his book, must produce a great effect. I will send you as many copies as you want of the Testament of this good curate.
VOLTAIRE TO HELVETIUS.
AUX DEUCES, May 1, 1763.
They have sent me the two abstracts of Jean Meslier. It is true that it is written in the style of a carriage-horse, but it is well suited to the street. And what testimony! that of a priest who asks pardon in dying, for having taught absurd and horrible things! What an answer to the platitudes of fanatics who have the audacity to assert that philosophy is but the fruit of libertinage!