Part 22

The Reformers

by Leibniz
  1. All theologians agree at least that no article of faith must imply contradiction or contravene proofs as exact as those of mathematics, where the opposite of the conclusion can be reduced ad absurdum, that is, to contradiction.

St. Athanasius with good reason made sport of the preposterous ideas of some writers of his time, who maintained that God had suffered without any suffering.

‘Passus est impassibiliter. O ludicram doctrinam aedificantem simul et demolientem!’ It follows thence that certain writers have been too ready to grant that the Holy Trinity is contrary to that great principle which states that two things which are the same as a third are also the same as each other: that is to say, if A is the same as B, and if C is the same as B, then A and C must also be the same as each other.

For this principle is a direct consequence of that of contradiction, and forms the basis of all logic; and if it ceases, we can no longer reason with certainty. Thus when one says that the Father is God, that the Son is God and that the Holy Spirit is God, and that [88]nevertheless there is only one God, although these three Persons differ from one another, one must consider that this word God has not the same sense at the beginning as at the end of this statement. Indeed it signifies now the Divine Substance and now a Person of the Godhead. In general, one must take care never to abandon the necessary and eternal truths for the sake of upholding Mysteries, lest the enemies of religion seize upon such an occasion for decrying both religion and Mysteries.

  1. The distinction which is generally drawn between that which is above reason and that which is against reason is tolerably in accord with the distinction which has just been made between the two kinds of necessity. For what is contrary to reason is contrary to the absolutely certain and inevitable truths; and what is above reason is in opposition only to what one is wont to experience or to understand. That is why I am surprised that there are people of intelligence who dispute this distinction, and that M. Bayle should be of this number. The distinction is assuredly very well founded. A truth is above reason when our mind (or even every created mind) cannot comprehend it. Such is, as it seems to me, the Holy Trinity; such are the miracles reserved for God alone, as for instance Creation; such is the choice of the order of the universe, which depends upon universal harmony, and upon the clear knowledge of an infinity of things at once. But a truth can never be contrary to reason, and once a dogma has been disputed and refuted by reason, instead of its being incomprehensible, one may say that nothing is easier to understand, nor more obvious, than its absurdity. For I observed at the beginning that by reason here I do not mean the opinions and discourses of men, nor even the habit they have formed of judging things according to the usual course of Nature, but rather the inviolable linking together of truths.

  2. I must come now to the great question which M. Bayle brought up recently, to wit, whether a truth, and especially a truth of faith, can prove to be subject to irrefutable objections. This excellent author appears to answer with a bold affirmative: he quotes theologians of repute in his party, and even in the Church of Rome, who appear to say the same as he affirms; and he cites philosophers who have believed that there are even philosophical truths whose champions cannot answer the objections that are brought up against them. He believes that the theological [89]doctrine of predestination is of this nature, and in philosophy that of the composition of the Continuum. These are, indeed, the two labyrinths which have ever exercised theologians and philosophers. Libertus Fromondus, a theologian of Louvain (a great friend of Jansenius, whose posthumous book entitled Augustinus he in fact published), who also wrote a book entitled explicitly Labyrinthus de Compositione Continui, experienced in full measure the difficulties inherent in both doctrines; and the renowned Ochino admirably presented what he calls ’the labyrinths of predestination’.

  3. But these writers have not denied the possibility of finding thread in the labyrinth; they have recognized the difficulty, but they have surely not turned difficulty into sheer impossibility. As for me, I confess that I cannot agree with those who maintain that a truth can admit of irrefutable objections: for is an objection anything but an argument whose conclusion contradicts our thesis? And is not an irrefutable argument a demonstration? And how can one know the certainty of demonstrations except by examining the argument in detail, the form and the matter, in order to see if the form is good, and then if each premiss is either admitted or proved by another argument of like force, until one is able to make do with admitted premisses alone? Now if there is such an objection against our thesis we must say that the falsity of this thesis is demonstrated, and that it is impossible for us to have reasons sufficient to prove it; otherwise two contradictories would be true at once. One must always yield to proofs, whether they be proposed in positive form or advanced in the shape of objections. And it is wrong and fruitless to try to weaken opponents’ proofs, under the pretext that they are only objections, since the opponent can play the same game and can reverse the denominations, exalting his arguments by naming them ‘proofs’ and sinking ours under the blighting title of ‘objections’.

  4. It is another question whether we are always obliged to examine the objections we may have to face, and to retain some doubt in respect of our own opinion, or what is called formido oppositi, until this examination has been made. I would venture to say no, for otherwise one would never attain to certainty and our conclusion would be always provisional. I believe that able geometricians will scarce be troubled by the objections of Joseph Scaliger against Archimedes, or by those of Mr. Hobbes against [90]Euclid; but that is because they have fully understood and are sure of the proofs. Nevertheless it is sometimes well to show oneself ready to examine certain objections. On the one hand it may serve to rescue people from their error, while on the other we ourselves may profit by it; for specious fallacies often contain some useful solution and bring about the removal of considerable difficulties. That is why I have always liked ingenious objections made against my own opinions, and I have never examined them without profit: witness those which M. Bayle formerly made against my System of Pre-established Harmony, not to mention those which M. Arnauld, M. l’Abbé Foucher and Father Lami, O.S.B., made to me on the same subject. But to return to the principal question, I conclude from reasons I have just set forth that when an objection is put forward against some truth, it is always possible to answer it satisfactorily.

  5. It may be also that M. Bayle does not mean ‘insoluble objections’ in the sense that I have just explained. I observe that he varies, at least in his expressions: for in his posthumous Reply to M. le Clerc he does not admit that one can bring demonstrations against the truths of faith. It appears therefore that he takes the objections to be insoluble only in respect of our present degree of enlightenment; and in this Reply, p. 35, he even does not despair of the possibility that one day a solution hitherto unknown may be found by someone. Concerning that more will be said later. I hold an opinion, however, that will perchance cause surprise, namely that this solution has been discovered entire, and is not even particularly difficult. Indeed a mediocre intelligence capable of sufficient care, and using correctly the rules of common logic, is in a position to answer the most embarrassing objection made against truth, when the objection is only taken from reason, and when it is claimed to be a ‘demonstration’. Whatever scorn the generality of moderns have to-day for the logic of Aristotle, one must acknowledge that it teaches infallible ways of resisting error in these conjunctures. For one has only to examine the argument according to the rules and it will always be possible to see whether it is lacking in form or whether there are premisses such as are not yet proved by a good argument.

  6. It is quite another matter when there is only a question of probabilities, for the art of judging from probable reasons is not yet well established; so that our logic in this connexion is still very [91]imperfect, and to this very day we have little beyond the art of judging from demonstrations. But this art is sufficient here: for when it is a question of opposing reason to an article of our faith, one is not disturbed by objections that only attain probability. Everyone agrees that appearances are against Mysteries, and that they are by no means probable when regarded only from the standpoint of reason; but it suffices that they have in them nothing of absurdity. Thus demonstrations are required if they are to be refuted.

  7. And doubtless we are so to understand it when Holy Scripture warns us that the wisdom of God is foolishness before men, and when St. Paul observed that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is foolishness unto the Greeks, as well as unto the Jews a stumbling-block. For, after all, one truth cannot contradict another, and the light of reason is no less a gift of God than that of revelation. Also it is a matter of no difficulty among theologians who are expert in their profession, that the motives of credibility justify, once for all, the authority of Holy Scripture before the tribunal of reason, so that reason in consequence gives way before it, as before a new light, and sacrifices thereto all its probabilities. It is more or less as if a new president sent by the prince must show his letters patent in the assembly where he is afterwards to preside. That is the tendency of sundry good books that we have on the truth of religion, such as those of Augustinus Steuchus, of Du Plessis-Mornay or of Grotius: for the true religion must needs have marks that the false religions have not, else would Zoroaster, Brahma, Somonacodom and Mahomet be as worthy of belief as Moses and Jesus Christ. Nevertheless divine faith itself, when it is kindled in the soul, is something more than an opinion, and depends not upon the occasions or the motives that have given it birth; it advances beyond the intellect, and takes possession of the will and of the heart, to make us act with zeal and joyfully as the law of God commands. Then we have no further need to think of reasons or to pause over the difficulties of argument which the mind may anticipate.

  8. Thus what we have just said of human reason, which is extolled and decried by turns, and often without rule or measure, may show our lack of exactitude and how much we are accessary to our own errors. Nothing would be so easy to terminate as these disputes on the rights of faith and of reason if men would make use [92]of the commonest rules of logic and reason with even a modicum of attention. Instead of that, they become involved in oblique and ambiguous phrases, which give them a fine field for declamation, to make the most of their wit and their learning. It would seem, indeed, that they have no wish to see the naked truth, peradventure because they fear that it may be more disagreeable than error: for they know not the beauty of the Author of all things, who is the source of truth.

  9. This negligence is a general defect of humanity, and one not to be laid to the charge of any particular person. Abundamus dulcibus vitiis, as Quintilian said of the style of Seneca, and we take pleasure in going astray. Exactitude incommodes us and rules we regard as puerilities. Thus it is that common logic (although it is more or less sufficient for the examination of arguments that tend towards certainty) is relegated to schoolboys; and there is not even a thought for a kind of logic which should determine the balance between probabilities, and would be so necessary in deliberations of importance. So true is it that our mistakes for the most part come from scorn or lack of the art of thinking: for nothing is more imperfect than our logic when we pass beyond necessary arguments. The most excellent philosophers of our time, such as the authors of The Art of Thinking, of The Search for Truth and of the Essay concerning Human Understanding, have been very far from indicating to us the true means fitted to assist the faculty whose business it is to make us weigh the probabilities of the true and the false: not to mention the art of discovery, in which success is still more difficult of attainment, and whereof we have nothing beyond very imperfect samples in mathematics.

  10. One thing which might have contributed most towards M. Bayle’s belief that the difficulties of reason in opposition to faith cannot be obviated is that he seems to demand that God be justified in some such manner as that commonly used for pleading the cause of a man accused before his judge. But he has not remembered that in the tribunals of men, which cannot always penetrate to the truth, one is often compelled to be guided by signs and probabilities, and above all by presumptions or prejudices; whereas it is agreed, as we have already observed, that Mysteries are not probable. For instance, M. Bayle will not have it that one can justify the goodness of God in the permission of sin, because probability would be against a man that should happen to be in [93]circumstances comparable in our eyes to this permission. God foresees that Eve will be deceived by the serpent if he places her in the circumstances wherein she later found herself; and nevertheless he placed her there. Now if a father or a guardian did the same in regard to his child or his ward, if a friend did so in regard to a young person whose behaviour was his concern, the judge would not be satisfied by the excuses of an advocate who said that the man only permitted the evil, without doing it or willing it: he would rather take this permission as a sign of ill intention, and would regard it as a sin of omission, which would render the one convicted thereof accessary in another’s sin of commission.

  11. But it must be borne in mind that when one has foreseen the evil and has not prevented it although it seems as if one could have done so with ease, and one has even done things that have facilitated it, it does not follow on that account necessarily that one is accessary thereto. It is only a very strong presumption, such as commonly replaces truth in human affairs, but which would be destroyed by an exact consideration of the facts, supposing we were capable of that in relation to God. For amongst lawyers that is called ‘presumption’ which must provisionally pass for truth in case the contrary is not proved; and it says more than ‘conjecture’, although the Dictionary of the Academy has not sifted the difference. Now there is every reason to conclude unquestionably that one would find through this consideration, if only it were attainable, that reasons most just, and stronger than those which appear contrary to them, have compelled the All-Wise to permit the evil, and even to do things which have facilitated it. Of this some instances will be given later.

  12. It is none too easy, I confess, for a father, a guardian, a friend to have such reasons in the case under consideration. Yet the thing is not absolutely impossible, and a skilled writer of fiction might perchance find an extraordinary case that would even justify a man in the circumstances I have just indicated. But in reference to God there is no need to suppose or to establish particular reasons such as may have induced him to permit the evil; general reasons suffice. One knows that he takes care of the whole universe, whereof all the parts are connected; and one must thence infer that he has had innumerable considerations whose result made him deem it inadvisable to prevent certain evils.

  13. It should even be concluded that there must have been [94]great or rather invincible reasons which prompted the divine Wisdom to the permission of the evil that surprises us, from the mere fact that this permission has occurred: for nothing can come from God that is not altogether consistent with goodness, justice and holiness. Thus we can judge by the event (or a posteriori) that the permission was indispensable, although it be not possible for us to show this (a priori) by the detailed reasons that God can have had therefor; as it is not necessary either that we show this to justify him. M. Bayle himself aptly says concerning that (Reply to the Questions of a Provincial, vol. III, ch. 165, p. 1067): Sin made its way into the world; God therefore was able to permit it without detriment to his perfections; ab actu ad potentiam valet consequentia. In God this conclusion holds good: he did this, therefore he did it well. It is not, then, that we have no notion of justice in general fit to be applied also to God’s justice; nor is it that God’s justice has other rules than the justice known of men, but that the case in question is quite different from those which are common among men. Universal right is the same for God and for men; but the question of fact is quite different in their case and his.

  14. We may even assume or pretend (as I have already observed) that there is something similar among men to this circumstance in God’s actions. A man might give such great and strong proofs of his virtue and his holiness that all the most apparent reasons one could put forward against him to charge him with an alleged crime, for instance a larceny or murder, would deserve to be rejected as the calumnies of false witnesses or as an extraordinary play of chance which sometimes throws suspicion on the most innocent. Thus in a case where every other would run the risk of being condemned or put to the torture (according to the laws of the country), this man would be absolved by his judges unanimously. Now in this case, which indeed is rare, but which is not impossible, one might say in a sense (sano sensu) that there is a conflict between reason and faith, and that the rules of law are other in respect of this person than they are in respect of the remainder of mankind. But that, when explained, will signify only that appearances of reason here give way before the faith that is due to the word and the integrity of this great and holy man, and that he is privileged above other men; not indeed as if there were one law for others and another for him, nor as if one had no understanding of what justice is in relation to him. It is rather [95]because the rules of universal justice do not find here the application that they receive elsewhere, or because they favour him instead of accusing him, since there are in this personage qualities so admirable, that by virtue of a good logic of probabilities one should place more faith in his word than in that of many others.

  15. Since it is permitted here to imagine possible cases, may one not suppose this incomparable man to be the Adept or the Possessor of

’that blessed Stone

Able to enrich all earthly Kings alone’

and that he spends every day prodigious sums in order to feed and to rescue from distress countless numbers of poor men? Be there never so many witnesses or appearances of every kind tending to prove that this great benefactor of the human race has just committed some larceny, is it not true that the whole earth would make mock of the accusation, however specious it might be? Now God is infinitely above the goodness and the power of this man, and consequently there are no reasons at all, however apparent they be, that can hold good against faith, that is, against the assurance or the confidence in God wherewith we can and ought to say that God has done all things well. The objections are therefore not insoluble. They only involve prejudices and probabilities, which are, however, overthrown by reasons incomparably stronger. One must not say either that what we call justice is nothing in relation to God, that he is the absolute Master of all things even to the point of being able to condemn the innocent without violating his justice, or finally that justice is something arbitrary where he is concerned. Those are rash and dangerous expressions, whereunto some have been led astray to the discredit of the attributes of God. For if such were the case there would be no reason for praising his goodness and his justice: rather would it be as if the most wicked spirit, the Prince of evil genii, the evil principle of the Manichaeans, were the sole master of the universe, just as I observed before. What means would there be of distinguishing the true God from the false God of Zoroaster if all things depended upon the caprice of an arbitrary power and there were neither rule nor consideration for anything whatever?

  1. It is therefore more than evident that nothing compels us to commit ourselves to a doctrine so strange, since it suffices to say [96]that we have not enough knowledge of the facts when there is a question of answering probabilities which appear to throw doubt upon the justice and the goodness of God, and which would vanish away if the facts were well known to us. We need neither renounce reason in order to listen to faith nor blind ourselves in order to see clearly, as Queen Christine used to say: it is enough to reject ordinary appearances when they are contrary to Mysteries; and this is not contrary to reason, since even in natural things we are very often undeceived about appearances either by experience or by superior reasons. All that has been set down here in advance, only with the object of showing more plainly wherein the fault of the objections and the abuse of reason consists in the present case, where the claim is made that reason has greatest force against faith: we shall come afterwards to a more exact discussion of that which concerns the origin of evil and the permission of sin with its consequences.

  2. For now, it will be well to continue our examination of the important question of the use of reason in theology, and to make reflexions upon what M. Bayle has said thereon in divers passages of his works. As he paid particular attention in his Historical and Critical Dictionary to expounding the objections of the Manichaeans and those of the Pyrrhonians, and as this procedure had been criticized by some persons zealous for religion, he placed a dissertation at the end of the second edition of this Dictionary, which aimed at showing, by examples, by authorities and by reasons, the innocence and usefulness of his course of action. I am persuaded (as I have said above) that the specious objections one can urge against truth are very useful, and that they serve to confirm and to illumine it, giving opportunity to intelligent persons to find new openings or to turn the old to better account. But M. Bayle seeks therein a usefulness quite the reverse of this: it would be that of displaying the power of faith by showing that the truths it teaches cannot sustain the attacks of reason and that it nevertheless holds its own in the heart of the faithful. M. Nicole seems to call that ’the triumph of God’s authority over human reason’, in the words of his quoted by M. Bayle in the third volume of his Reply to the Questions of a Provincial (ch. 177, p. 120). But since reason is a gift of God, even as faith is, contention between them would cause God to contend against God; and if the objections of reason against any article of faith are insoluble, then it must be said that [97]this alleged article will be false and not revealed: this will be a chimera of the human mind, and the triumph of this faith will be capable of comparison with bonfires lighted after a defeat. Such is the doctrine of the damnation of unbaptized children, which M. Nicole would have us assume to be a consequence of original sin; such would be the eternal damnation of adults lacking the light that is necessary for the attainment of salvation.

  3. Yet everyone need not enter into theological discussions; and persons whose condition allows not of exact researches should be content with instruction on faith, without being disturbed by the objections; and if some exceeding great difficulty should happen to strike them, it is permitted to them to avert the mind from it, offering to God a sacrifice of their curiosity: for when one is assured of a truth one has no need to listen to the objections. As there are many people whose faith is rather small and shallow to withstand such dangerous tests, I think one must not present them with that which might be poisonous for them; or, if one cannot hide from them what is only too public, the antidote must be added to it; that is to say, one must try to add the answer to the objection, certainly not withhold it as unobtainable.

  4. The passages from the excellent theologians who speak of this triumph of faith can and should receive a meaning appropriate to the principles I have just affirmed. There appear in some objects of faith two great qualities capable of making it triumph over reason, the one is incomprehensibility, the other is the lack of probability. But one must beware of adding thereto the third quality whereof M. Bayle speaks, and of saying that what one believes is indefensible: for that would be to cause reason in its turn to triumph in a manner that would destroy faith. Incomprehensibility does not prevent us from believing even natural truths. For instance (as I have already pointed out) we do not comprehend the nature of odours and savours, and yet we are persuaded, by a kind of faith which we owe to the evidence of the senses, that these perceptible qualities are founded upon the nature of things and that they are not illusions.

  5. There are also things contrary to appearances, which we admit when they are sufficiently verified. There is a little romance of Spanish origin, whose title states that one must not always believe what one sees. What was there more specious than the lie of the false Martin Guerre, who was acknowledged as the true [98]Martin by the true Martin’s wife and relatives, and caused the judges and the relatives to waver for a long time even after the arrival of the other? Nevertheless the truth was known in the end. It is the same with faith. I have already observed that all one can oppose to the goodness and the justice of God is nothing but appearances, which would be strong against a man, but which are nullified when they are applied to God and when they are weighed against the proofs that assure us of the infinite perfection of his attributes. Thus faith triumphs over false reasons by means of sound and superior reasons that have made us embrace it; but it would not triumph if the contrary opinion had for it reasons as strong as or even stronger than those which form the foundation of faith, that is, if there were invincible and conclusive objections against faith.

  6. It is well also to observe here that what M. Bayle calls a ’triumph of faith’ is in part a triumph of demonstrative reason against apparent and deceptive reasons which are improperly set against the demonstrations. For it must be taken into consideration that the objections of the Manichaeans are hardly less contrary to natural theology than to revealed theology. And supposing one surrendered to them Holy Scripture, original sin, the grace of God in Jesus Christ, the pains of hell and the other articles of our religion, one would not even so be delivered from their objections: for one cannot deny that there is in the world physical evil (that is, suffering) and moral evil (that is, crime) and even that physical evil is not always distributed here on earth according to the proportion of moral evil, as it seems that justice demands. There remains, then, this question of natural theology, how a sole Principle, all-good, all-wise and all-powerful, has been able to admit evil, and especially to permit sin, and how it could resolve to make the wicked often happy and the good unhappy?

  7. Now we have no need of revealed faith to know that there is such a sole Principle of all things, entirely good and wise. Reason teaches us this by infallible proofs; and in consequence all the objections taken from the course of things, in which we observe imperfections, are only based on false appearances. For, if we were capable of understanding the universal harmony, we should see that what we are tempted to find fault with is connected with the plan most worthy of being chosen; in a word, we should see, and should not believe only, that what God has done is the best. I call [99]‘seeing’ here what one knows a priori by the causes; and ‘believing’ what one only judges by the effects, even though the one be as certainly known as the other. And one can apply here too the saying of St. Paul (2 Cor. v. 7), that we walk by faith and not by sight. For the infinite wisdom of God being known to us, we conclude that the evils we experience had to be permitted, and this we conclude from the effect or a posteriori, that is to say, because they exist. It is what M. Bayle acknowledges; and he ought to content himself with that, and not claim that one must put an end to the false appearances which are contrary thereto. It is as if one asked that there should be no more dreams or optical illusions.

  8. And it is not to be doubted that this faith and this confidence in God, who gives us insight into his infinite goodness and prepares us for his love, in spite of the appearances of harshness that may repel us, are an admirable exercise for the virtues of Christian theology, when the divine grace in Jesus Christ arouses these motions within us. That is what Luther aptly observed in opposition to Erasmus, saying that it is love in the highest degree to love him who to flesh and blood appears so unlovable, so harsh toward the unfortunate and so ready to condemn, and to condemn for evils in which he appears to be the cause or accessary, at least in the eyes of those who allow themselves to be dazzled by false reasons. One may therefore say that the triumph of true reason illumined by divine grace is at the same time the triumph of faith and love.

  9. M. Bayle appears to have taken the matter quite otherwise: he declares himself against reason, when he might have been content to censure its abuse. He quotes the words of Cotta in Cicero, where he goes so far as to say that if reason were a gift of the gods providence would be to blame for having given it, since it tends to our harm. M. Bayle also thinks that human reason is a source of destruction and not of edification (Historical and Critical Dictionary, p. 2026, col. 2), that it is a runner who knows not where to stop, and who, like another Penelope, herself destroys her own work.

Destruit, aedificat, mutat quadrata rotundis.

(Reply to the Questions of a Provincial, vol. III, p. 725). But he takes pains especially to pile up many authorities one upon the other, in order to show that theologians of all parties reject the use of reason just as he does, and that they call attention to such gleams of reason as oppose religion only that they may sacrifice them to [100]faith by a mere repudiation, answering nothing but the conclusion of the argument that is brought against them. He begins with the New Testament. Jesus Christ was content to say: ‘Follow Me’ (Luke v. 27; ix. 59). The Apostles said: ‘Believe, and thou shalt be saved’ (Acts xvi. 3). St. Paul acknowledges that his ‘doctrine is obscure’ (1 Cor. xiii. 12), that ‘one can comprehend nothing therein’ unless God impart a spiritual discernment, and without that it only passes for foolishness (1 Cor. ii. 14). He exhorts the faithful ’to beware of philosophy’ (Col. ii. 8) and to avoid disputations in that science, which had caused many persons to lose faith.

  1. As for the Fathers of the Church, M. Bayle refers us to the collection of passages from them against the use of philosophy and of reason which M. de Launoy made (De Varia Aristotelis Fortuna, cap. 2) and especially to the passages from St. Augustine collected by M. Arnauld (against Mallet), which state: that the judgements of God are inscrutable; that they are not any the less just for that they are unknown to us; that it is a deep abyss, which one cannot fathom without running the risk of falling down the precipice; that one cannot without temerity try to elucidate that which God willed to keep hidden; that his will cannot but be just; that many men, having tried to explain this incomprehensible depth, have fallen into vain imaginations and opinions full of error and bewilderment.

  2. The Schoolmen have spoken in like manner. M. Bayle quotes a beautiful passage from Cardinal Cajetan (Part I, Summ., qu. 22, art. 4) to this effect: ‘Our mind’, he says, ‘rests not upon the evidence of known truth but upon the impenetrable depth of hidden truth. And as St. Gregory says: He who believes touching the Divinity only that which he can gauge with his mind belittles the idea of God. Yet I do not surmise that it is necessary to deny any of the things which we know, or which we see as appertaining to the immutability, the actuality, the certainty, the universality, etc., of God: but I think that there is here some secret, either in regard to the relation which exists between God and the event, or in respect of what connects the event itself with his prevision. Thus, reflecting that the understanding of our soul is the eye of the owl, I find the soul’s repose only in ignorance. For it is better both for the Catholic Faith and for Philosophic Faith to confess our blindness, than to affirm as evident what does not afford our mind the contentment which self-evidence gives. I do not accuse of [101]presumption, on that account, all the learned men who stammeringly have endeavoured to suggest, as far as in them lay, the immobility and the sovereign and eternal efficacy of the understanding, of the will and of the power of God, through the infallibility of divine election and divine relation to all events. Nothing of all that interferes with my surmise that there is some depth which is hidden from us.’ This passage of Cajetan is all the more notable since he was an author competent to reach the heart of the matter.

  3. Luther’s book against Erasmus is full of vigorous comments hostile to those who desire to submit revealed truths to the tribunal of our reason. Calvin often speaks in the same tone, against the inquisitive daring of those who seek to penetrate into the counsels of God. He declares in his treatise on predestination that God had just causes for damning some men, but causes unknown to us. Finally M. Bayle quotes sundry modern writers who have spoken to the same effect (Reply to the Questions of a Provincial, ch. 161 et seq.).

  4. But all these expressions and innumerable others like them do not prove that the objections opposed to faith are so insoluble as M. Bayle supposes. It is true that the counsels of God are inscrutable, but there is no invincible objection which tends to the conclusion that they are unjust. What appears injustice on the part of God, and foolishness in our faith, only appears so. The famous passage of Tertullian (De Carne Christi), ‘mortuus est Dei filius, credibile est, quia ineptum est; et sepultus revixit, certum est, quia impossibile’, is a sally that can only be meant to concern appearances of absurdity. There are others like them in Luther’s book on Freewill in Bondage, as when he says (ch. 174): ‘Si placet tibi Deus indignos coronans, non debet displicere immeritos damnans.’ Which being reduced to more temperate phrasing, means: If you approve that God give eternal glory to those who are not better than the rest, you should not disapprove that he abandon those who are not worse than the rest. And to judge that he speaks only of appearances of injustice, one only has to weigh these words of the same author taken from the same book: ‘In all the rest’, he says, ‘we recognize in God a supreme majesty; there is only justice that we dare to question: and we will not believe provisionally [tantisper] that he is just, albeit he has promised us that the time shall come when his glory being revealed all men shall see clearly that he has been and that he is just.’


  1. It will be found also that when the Fathers entered into a discussion they did not simply reject reason. And, in disputations with the pagans, they endeavour usually to show how paganism is contrary to reason, and how the Christian religion has the better of it on that side also. Origen showed Celsus how reasonable Christianity is and why, notwithstanding, the majority of Christians should believe without examination. Celsus had jeered at the behaviour of Christians, ‘who, willing’, he said, ’neither to listen to your reasons nor to give you any for what they believe, are content to say to you: Examine not, only believe, or: Your faith will save you; and they hold this as a maxim, that the wisdom of the world is an evil.’

  2. Origen gives the answer of a wise man, and in conformity with the principles we have established in the matter. For reason, far from being contrary to Christianity, serves as a foundation for this religion, and will bring about its acceptance by those who can achieve the examination of it. But, as few people are capable of this, the heavenly gift of plain faith tending towards good suffices for men in general. ‘If it were possible’, he says, ‘for all men, neglecting the affairs of life, to apply themselves to study and meditation, one need seek no other way to make them accept the Christian religion. For, to say nothing likely to offend anyone’ (he insinuates that the pagan religion is absurd, but he will not say so explicitly), ’there will be found therein no less exactitude than elsewhere, whether in the discussion of its dogmas, or in the elucidation of the enigmatical expressions of its prophets, or in the interpretation of the parables of its gospels and of countless other things happening or ordained symbolically. But since neither the necessities of life nor the infirmities of men permit of this application to study, save for a very small number of persons, what means could one find more qualified to benefit everyone else in the world than those Jesus Christ wished to be used for the conversion of the nations? And I would fain ask with regard to the great number of those who believe, and who thereby have withdrawn themselves from the quagmire of vices wherein before they were plunged, which would be the better: to have thus changed one’s morals and reformed one’s life, believing without examination that there are punishments for sin and rewards for good actions; or to have waited for one’s conversion until one not only believed but had examined with care the foundations of these dogmas? It is certain [103]that, were this method to be followed, few indeed would reach that point whither they are led by their plain and simple faith, but the majority would remain in their corruption.’

  3. M. Bayle (in his explanation concerning the objections of the Manichaeans, placed at the end of the second edition of the Dictionary) takes those words where Origen points out that religion can stand the test of having her dogmas discussed, as if it were not meant in relation to philosophy, but only in relation to the accuracy wherewith the authority and the true meaning of Holy Scripture is established. But there is nothing to indicate this restriction. Origen wrote against a philosopher whom such a restriction would not have suited. And it appears that this Father wished to point out that among Christians there was no less exactitude than among the Stoics and some other philosophers, who established their doctrine as much by reason as by authorities, as, for example, Chrysippus did, who found his philosophy even in the symbols of pagan antiquity.

  4. Celsus brings up still another objection to the Christians, in the same place. ‘If they withdraw’, he says, ‘regularly into their “Examine not, only believe”, they must tell me at least what are the things they wish me to believe.’ Therein he is doubtless right, and that tells against those who would say that God is good and just, and who yet would maintain that we have no notion of goodness and of justice when we attribute these perfections to him. But one must not always demand what I call ‘adequate notions’, involving nothing that is not explained, since even perceptible qualities, like heat, light, sweetness, cannot give us such notions. Thus we agreed that Mysteries should receive an explanation, but this explanation is imperfect. It suffices for us to have some analogical understanding of a Mystery such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, to the end that in accepting them we pronounce not words altogether devoid of meaning: but it is not necessary that the explanation go as far as we would wish, that is, to the extent of comprehension and to the how.

  5. It appears strange therefore that M. Bayle rejects the tribunal of common notions (in the third volume of his Reply to the Questions of a Provincial, pp. 1062 and 1140) as if one should not consult the idea of goodness in answering the Manichaeans; whereas he had declared himself quite differently in his Dictionary. Of necessity there must be agreement upon the meaning of good [104]and bad, amongst those who are in dispute over the question whether there is only one principle, altogether good, or whether there are two, the one good and the other bad. We understand something by union when we are told of the union of one body with another or of a substance with its accident, of a subject with its adjunct, of the place with the moving body, of the act with the potency; we also mean something when we speak of the union of the soul with the body to make thereof one single person. For albeit I do not hold that the soul changes the laws of the body, or that the body changes the laws of the soul, and I have introduced the Pre-established Harmony to avoid this derangement, I nevertheless admit a true union between the soul and the body, which makes thereof a suppositum. This union belongs to the metaphysical, whereas a union of influence would belong to the physical. But when we speak of the union of the Word of God with human nature we should be content with an analogical knowledge, such as the comparison of the union of the soul with the body is capable of giving us. We should, moreover, be content to say that the Incarnation is the closest union that can exist between the Creator and the creature; and further we should not want to go.

  6. It is the same with the other Mysteries, where moderate minds will ever find an explanation sufficient for belief, but never such as would be necessary for understanding. A certain what it is (τι εστι) is enough for us, but the how (πως) is beyond us, and is not necessary for us. One may say concerning the explanations of Mysteries which are given out here and there, what the Queen of Sweden inscribed upon a medal concerning the crown she had abandoned, ‘Non mi bisogna, e non mi basta.’ Nor have we any need either (as I have already observed) to prove the Mysteries a priori, or to give a reason for them; it suffices us that the thing is thus (το ‛οτι) even though we know not the why (το διοτι), which God has reserved for himself. These lines, written on that theme by Joseph Scaliger, are beautiful and renowned:

Ne curiosus quaere causas omnium,

Quaecumque libris vis Prophetarum indidit

Afflata caelo, plena veraci Deo:

Nec operta sacri supparo silentii

Irrumpere aude, sed pudenter praeteri.

[105] Nescire velle, quae Magister optimus

Docere non vult, erudita inscitia est.

M. Bayle, who quotes them (Reply to the Questions of a Provincial, vol. III, p. 1055), holds the likely opinion that Scaliger made them upon the disputes between Arminius and Gomarus. I think M. Bayle repeated them from memory, for he put sacrata instead of afflata. But it is apparently the printer’s fault that prudenter stands in place of pudenter (that is, modestly) which the metre requires.

  1. Nothing can be more judicious than the warning these lines contain; and M. Bayle is right in saying (p. 729) that those who claim that the behaviour of God with respect to sin and the consequences of sin contains nothing but what they can account for, deliver themselves up to the mercy of their adversary. But he is not right in combining here two very different things, ’to account for a thing’, and ’to uphold it against objections’; as he does when he presently adds: ‘They are obliged to follow him [their adversary] everywhere whither he shall wish to lead them, and it would be to retire ignominiously and ask for quarter, if they were to admit that our intelligence is too weak to remove completely all the objections advanced by a philosopher.’

  2. It seems here that, according to M. Bayle, ‘accounting for’ comes short of ‘answering objections’, since he threatens one who should undertake the first with the resulting obligation to pass on to the second. But it is quite the opposite: he who maintains a thesis (the respondens) is not bound to account for it, but he is bound to meet the objections of an opponent. A defendant in law is not bound (as a general rule) to prove his right or to produce his title to possession; but he is obliged to reply to the arguments of the plaintiff. I have marvelled many times that a writer so precise and so shrewd as M. Bayle so often here confuses things where so much difference exists as between these three acts of reason: to comprehend, to prove, and to answer objections; as if when it is a question of the use of reason in theology one term were as good as another. Thus he says in his posthumous Conversations, p. 73: ‘There is no principle which M. Bayle has more often inculcated than this, that the incomprehensibility of a dogma and the insolubility of the objections that oppose it provide no legitimate reason for rejecting it.’ This is true as regards the incomprehensibility, but it is not the same with the insolubility. And it is indeed [106]just as if one said that an invincible reason against a thesis was not a legitimate reason for rejecting it. For what other legitimate reason for rejecting an opinion can one find, if an invincible opposing argument is not such an one? And what means shall one have thereafter of demonstrating the falsity, and even the absurdity, of any opinion?

  3. It is well to observe also that he who proves a thing a priori accounts for it through the efficient cause; and whosoever can thus account for it in a precise and adequate manner is also in a position to comprehend the thing. Therefore it was that the Scholastic theologians had already censured Raymond Lully for having undertaken to demonstrate the Trinity by philosophy. This so-called demonstration is to be found in his Works; and Bartholomaeus Keckermann, a writer renowned in the Reformed party, having made an attempt of just the same kind upon the same Mystery, has been no less censured for it by some modern theologians. Therefore censure will fall upon those who shall wish to account for this Mystery and make it comprehensible, but praise will be given to those who shall toil to uphold it against the objections of adversaries.

  4. I have said already that theologians usually distinguish between what is above reason and what is against reason. They place above reason that which one cannot comprehend and which one cannot account for. But against reason will be all opinion that is opposed by invincible reasons, or the contrary of which can be proved in a precise and sound manner. They avow, therefore, that the Mysteries are above reason, but they do not admit that they are contrary to it. The English author of a book which is ingenious, but has met with disapproval, entitled Christianity not Mysterious, wished to combat this distinction; but it does not seem to me that he has at all weakened it. M. Bayle also is not quite satisfied with this accepted distinction. This is what he says on the matter (vol. III of the Reply to the Questions of a Provincial, ch. 158). Firstly (p. 998) he distinguishes, together with M. Saurin, between these two theses: the one, all the dogmas of Christianity are in conformity with reason; the other, human reason knows that they are in conformity with reason. He affirms the first and denies the second. I am of the same opinion, if in saying ’that a dogma conforms to reason’ one means that it is possible to account for it or to explain its how by reason; for God could doubtless do so, and we cannot. But I think that one [107]must affirm both theses if by ‘knowing that a dogma conforms to reason’ one means that we can demonstrate, if need be, that there is no contradiction between this dogma and reason, repudiating the objections of those who maintain that this dogma is an absurdity.

  5. M. Bayle explains himself here in a manner not at all convincing. He acknowledges fully that our Mysteries are in accordance with the supreme and universal reason that is in the divine understanding, or with reason in general; yet he denies that they are in accordance with that part of reason which man employs to judge things. But this portion of reason which we possess is a gift of God, and consists in the natural light that has remained with us in the midst of corruption; thus it is in accordance with the whole, and it differs from that which is in God only as a drop of water differs from the ocean or rather as the finite from the infinite. Therefore Mysteries may transcend it, but they cannot be contrary to it. One cannot be contrary to one part without being contrary to the whole. That which contradicts a proposition of Euclid is contrary to the Elements of Euclid. That which in us is contrary to the Mysteries is not reason nor is it the natural light or the linking together of truths; it is corruption, or error, or prejudice, or darkness.

  6. Bayle (p. 1002) is not satisfied with the opinion of Josua Stegman and of M. Turretin, Protestant theologians who teach that the Mysteries are contrary only to corrupt reason.

He asks, mockingly, whether by right reason is meant perchance that of an orthodox theologian and by corrupt reason that of an heretic; and he urges the objection that the evidence of the Mystery of the Trinity was no greater in the soul of Luther than in the soul of Socinius.

But as Descartes has well observed, good sense is distributed to all. Thus, one must believe that both the orthodox and heretics are endowed therewith. Right reason is a linking together of truths, corrupt reason is mixed with prejudices and passions.

In order to discriminate between the two, one need but proceed in good order, admit no thesis without proof, and admit no proof unless it be in proper form, according to the commonest rules of logic. One needs neither any other criterion nor other arbitrator in questions of reason. It is only through lack of this consideration that a handle has been given to the sceptics, and that even in theology François Véron and some others, who [108]exacerbated the dispute with the Protestants, even to the point of dishonesty, plunged headlong into scepticism in order to prove the necessity of accepting an infallible external judge. Their course meets with no approval from the most expert, even in their own party: Calixtus and Daillé derided it as it deserved, and Bellarmine argued quite otherwise.

  1. Now let us come to what M. Bayle says (p. 999) on the distinction we are concerned with. ‘It seems to me’, he says, ’that an ambiguity has crept into the celebrated distinction drawn between things that are above reason and things that are against reason. The Mysteries of the Gospel are above reason, so it is usually said, but they are not contrary to reason. I think that the same sense is not given to the word reason in the first part of this axiom as in the second: by the first is understood rather the reason of man, or reason in concreto and by the second reason in general, or reason in abstracto. For supposing that it is understood always as reason in general or the supreme reason, the universal reason that is in God, it is equally true that the Mysteries of the Gospels are not above reason and that they are not against reason. But if in both parts of the axiom human reason is meant, I do not clearly see the soundness of the distinction: for the most orthodox confess that we know not how our Mysteries can conform to the maxims of philosophy. It seems to us, therefore, that they are not in conformity with our reason. Now that which appears to us not to be in conformity with our reason appears contrary to our reason, just as that which appears to us not in conformity with truth appears contrary to truth. Thus why should not one say, equally, that the Mysteries are against our feeble reason, and that they are above our feeble reason?’ I answer, as I have done already, that ‘reason’ here is the linking together of the truths that we know by the light of nature, and in this sense the axiom is true and without any ambiguity. The Mysteries transcend our reason, since they contain truths that are not comprised in this sequence; but they are not contrary to our reason, and they do not contradict any of the truths whereto this sequence can lead us. Accordingly there is no question here of the universal reason that is in God, but of our reason. As for the question whether we know the Mysteries to conform with our reason, I answer that at least we never know of any non-conformity or any opposition between the Mysteries and reason. Moreover, we can always abolish such alleged [109]opposition, and so, if this can be called reconciling or harmonizing faith with reason, or recognizing the conformity between them, it must be said that we can recognize this conformity and this harmony. But if the conformity consists in a reasonable explanation of the how, we cannot recognize it.

  2. M. Bayle makes one more ingenious objection, which he draws from the example of the sense of sight. ‘When a square tower’, he says, ‘from a distance appears to us round, our eyes testify very clearly not only that they perceive nothing square in this tower, but also that they discover there a round shape, incompatible with the square shape. One may therefore say that the truth which is the square shape is not only above, but even against, the witness of our feeble sight.’ It must be admitted that this observation is correct, and although it be true that the appearance of roundness comes simply from the effacement of the angles, which distance causes to disappear, it is true, notwithstanding, that the round and the square are opposites. Therefore my answer to this objection is that the representation of the senses, even when they do all that in them lies, is often contrary to the truth; but it is not the same with the faculty of reasoning, when it does its duty, since a strictly reasoned argument is nothing but a linking together of truths. And as for the sense of sight in particular, it is well to consider that there are yet other false appearances which come not from the ‘feebleness of our eyes’ nor from the loss of visibility brought about by distance, but from the very nature of vision, however perfect it be. It is thus, for instance, that the circle seen sideways is changed into that kind of oval which among geometricians is known as an ellipse, and sometimes even into a parabola or a hyperbola, or actually into a straight line, witness the ring of Saturn.

  3. The external senses, properly speaking, do not deceive us. It is our inner sense which often makes us go too fast. That occurs also in brute beasts, as when a dog barks at his reflexion in the mirror: for beasts have consecutions of perception which resemble reasoning, and which occur also in the inner sense of men, when their actions have only an empirical quality. But beasts do nothing which compels us to believe that they have what deserves to be properly called a reasoning sense, as I have shown elsewhere. Now when the understanding uses and follows the false decision of the inner sense (as when the famous Galileo thought that Saturn had [110]two handles) it is deceived by the judgement it makes upon the effect of appearances, and it infers from them more than they imply. For the appearances of the senses do not promise us absolutely the truth of things, any more than dreams do. It is we who deceive ourselves by the use we make of them, that is, by our consecutions. Indeed we allow ourselves to be deluded by probable arguments, and we are inclined to think that phenomena such as we have found linked together often are so always. Thus, as it happens usually that that which appears without angles has none, we readily believe it to be always thus. Such an error is pardonable, and sometimes inevitable, when it is necessary to act promptly and choose that which appearances recommend; but when we have the leisure and the time to collect our thoughts, we are in fault if we take for certain that which is not so. It is therefore true that appearances are often contrary to truth, but our reasoning never is when it proceeds strictly in accordance with the rules of the art of reasoning. If by reason one meant generally the faculty of reasoning whether well or ill, I confess that it might deceive us, and does indeed deceive us, and the appearances of our understanding are often as deceptive as those of the senses: but here it is a question of the linking together of truths and of objections in due form, and in this sense it is impossible for reason to deceive us.

  4. Thus it may be seen from all I have just said that M. Bayle carries too far the being above reason, as if it included the insoluble nature of objections: for according to him (Reply to the Questions of a Provincial, vol. III, ch. 130, p. 651) ‘once a dogma is above reason, philosophy can neither explain it nor comprehend it, nor meet the difficulties that are urged against it’. I agree with regard to comprehension, but I have already shown that the Mysteries receive a necessary verbal explanation, to the end that the terms employed be not sine mente soni, words signifying nothing. I have shown also that it is necessary for one to be capable of answering the objections, and that otherwise one must needs reject the thesis.

  5. He adduces the authority of theologians, who appear to recognize the insoluble nature of the objections against the Mysteries. Luther is one of the chief of these; but I have already replied, in § 12, to the passage where he seems to say that philosophy contradicts theology. There is another passage (De Servo Arbitrio, ch. 246) where he says that the apparent injustice of [111]God is proved by arguments taken from the adversity of good people and the prosperity of the wicked, an argument irresistible both for all reason and for natural intelligence (‘Argumentis talibus traducta, quibus nulla ratio aut lumen naturae potest resistere’). But soon afterwards he shows that he means it only of those who know nothing of the life to come, since he adds that an expression in the Gospel dissipates this difficulty, teaching us that there is another life, where that which has not been punished and rewarded in this life shall receive its due. The objection is then far from being insuperable, and even without the aid of the Gospel one could bethink oneself of this answer. There is also quoted (Reply, vol. III, p. 652) a passage from Martin Chemnitz, criticized by Vedelius and defended by Johann Musaeus, where this famous theologian seems to say clearly that there are truths in the word of God which are not only above reason but also against reason. But this passage must be taken as referring only to the principles of reason that are in accordance with the order of Nature, as Musaeus also interprets it.

  6. Bayle finds some authorities who are more favourable to him, the great Descartes being one of the chief.

Descartes says positively (Part I of his Principles, art. 41) ’that we shall have not the slightest trouble in ridding ourselves of the difficulty’ (which one may have in harmonizing the freedom of our will with the order of the eternal providence of God) ‘if we observe that our thought is finite, and that the Knowledge and the Omnipotence of God, whereby he has not only known from all eternity all that which is or which can be, but also has willed it, is infinite.

We have therefore quite enough intelligence to recognize clearly and distinctly that this knowledge and this power are in God; but we have not enough so to comprehend their scope that we can know how they leave the actions of men entirely free and undetermined.

Yet the Power and the Knowledge of God must not prevent us from believing that we have a free will; for we should be wrong to doubt of that whereof we are inwardly conscious, and which we know by experience to be within us, simply because we do not comprehend some other thing which we know to be incomprehensible in its nature.’

  1. I find this passage from Descartes as strange.

He sees no way of reconciling the 2 dogmas. He puts the whole human race, and even all rational creatures, in the same case.

Yet could he have been unaware that there is no possibility of an insuperable objection against truth?

For such an objection could only be a necessary linking together of other truths whose result would be contrary to the truth that one maintains; and consequently there would be contradiction between the truths, which would be an utter absurdity.

Moreover, albeit our mind is finite and cannot comprehend the infinite, of the infinite nevertheless it has proofs whose strength or weakness it comprehends; why then should it not have the same comprehension in regard to the objections? And since the power and the wisdom of God are infinite and comprehend everything, there is no pretext for doubting their scope.

Further, Descartes demands a freedom which is not needed, by his insistence that the actions of the will of man are altogether undetermined, a thing which never happens.

Finally, Bayle himself maintains that this experience or this inward sense of our independence, upon which M. Descartes founds the proof of our freedom, does not prove it: for from the fact that we are not conscious of the causes whereon we depend, it does not follow, according to M. Bayle, that we are independent. But that is something we will speak of in its proper place.

  1. Descartes confesses also, in a passage of his Principles, that it is impossible to find an answer to the difficulties on the division of matter to infinity, which he nevertheless recognizes as actual.

Arriaga and other Schoolmen make the same confession.

But if they took the trouble to give to the objections the form these ought to have, they would see that there are faults in the reasoning, and sometimes false assumptions which cause confusion. Here is an example. A man of parts one day brought up to me an objection in the following form: Let the straight line BA be cut in two equal parts at the point C, and the part CA at the point D, and the part DA at the point E, and so on to infinity; all the halves, BC, CD, DE, etc., together make the whole BA; therefore there must be a last half, since the straight line BA finishes at A. But this last half is absurd: for since it is a line, it will be possible again to cut it in two. Therefore division to infinity cannot be admitted. But I pointed out to him that one is not justified in the inference that there must be a last half, although there be a last point A, for this last point belongs to all [113]the halves of its side. And my friend acknowledged it himself when he endeavoured to prove this deduction by a formal argument; on the contrary, just because the division goes on to infinity, there is no last half. And although the straight line AB be finite, it does not follow that the process of dividing it has any final end. The same confusion arises with the series of numbers going on to infinity. One imagines a final end, a number that is infinite, or infinitely small; but that is all simple fiction. Every number is finite and specific; every line is so likewise, and the infinite or infinitely small signify only magnitudes that one may take as great or as small as one wishes, to show that an error is smaller than that which has been specified, that is to say, that there is no error; or else by the infinitely small is meant the state of a magnitude at its vanishing point or its beginning, conceived after the pattern of magnitudes already actualized.

  1. It will, however, be well to consider the argument that M. Bayle puts forward to show that one cannot refute the objections which reason opposes to the Mysteries. It is in his comment on the Manichaeans (p. 3140 of the second edition of his Dictionary). ‘It is enough for me’, he says, ’that it be unanimously acknowledged that the Mysteries of the Gospel are above reason. For thence comes the necessary conclusion that it is impossible to settle the difficulties raised by the philosophers, and in consequence that a dispute where only the light of Nature is followed will always end unfavourably for the theologians, and that they will see themselves forced to give way and to take refuge in the canon of the supernatural light.’ I am surprised that M. Bayle speaks in such general terms, since he has acknowledged himself that the light of Nature is against the Manichaeans, and for the oneness of the Principle, and that the goodness of God is proved incontrovertibly by reason. Yet this is how he continues:

  2. ‘It is evident that reason can never attain to that which is above it. Now if it could supply answers to the objections which are opposed to the dogma of the Trinity and that of hypostatic union, it would attain to those two Mysteries, it would have them in subjection and submit them to the strictest examination by comparison with its first principles, or with the aphorisms that spring from common notions, and proceed until finally it had drawn the conclusion that they are in accordance with natural light. It would therefore do what exceeds its powers, it would soar [114]above its confines, and that is a formal contradiction. One must therefore say that it cannot provide answers to its own objections, and that thus they remain victorious, so long as one does not have recourse to the authority of God and to the necessity of subjugating one’s understanding to the obedience of faith.’ I do not find that there is any force in this reasoning. We can attain to that which is above us not by penetrating it but by maintaining it; as we can attain to the sky by sight, and not by touch. Nor is it necessary that, in order to answer the objections which are made against the Mysteries, one should have them in subjection to oneself, and submit them to examination by comparison with the first principles that spring from common notions. For if he who answers the objections had to go so far, he who proposes the objections needs must do it first. It is the part of the objection to open up the subject, and it is enough for him who answers to say Yes or No. He is not obliged to counter with a distinction: it will do, in case of need, if he denies the universality of some proposition in the objection or criticizes its form, and one may do both these things without penetrating beyond the objection. When someone offers me a proof which he maintains is invincible, I can keep silence while I compel him merely to prove in due form all the enunciations that he brings forward, and such as appear to me in the slightest degree doubtful. For the purpose of doubting only, I need not at all probe to the heart of the matter; on the contrary, the more ignorant I am the more shall I be justified in doubting. M. Bayle continues thus:

  3. ‘Let us endeavour to clarify that. If some doctrines are above reason they are beyond its reach, it cannot attain to them; if it cannot attain to them, it cannot comprehend them.’ (He could have begun here with the ‘comprehend’, saying that reason cannot comprehend that which is above it.) ‘If it cannot comprehend them, it can find in them no idea’ (Non valet consequentia: for, to ‘comprehend’ something, it is not enough that one have some ideas thereof; one must have all the ideas of everything that goes to make it up, and all these ideas must be clear, distinct, adequate. There are a thousand objects in Nature in which we understand something, but which we do not therefore necessarily comprehend. We have some ideas on the rays of light, we demonstrate upon them up to a certain point; but there ever remains something which makes us confess that we do not yet comprehend the whole [115]nature of light.) ’nor any principle such as may give rise to a solution;’ (Why should not evident principles be found mingled with obscure and confused knowledge?) ‘and consequently the objections that reason has made will remain unanswered;’ (By no means; the difficulty is rather on the side of the opposer. It is for him to seek an evident principle such as may give rise to some objection; and the more obscure the subject, the more trouble he will have in finding such a principle. Moreover, when he has found it he will have still more trouble in demonstrating an opposition between the principle and the Mystery: for, if it happened that the Mystery was evidently contrary to an evident principle, it would not be an obscure Mystery, it would be a manifest absurdity.) ‘or what is the same thing, answer will be made with some distinction as obscure as the very thesis that will have been attacked.’ (One can do without distinctions, if need be, by denying either some premiss or some conclusion; and when one is doubtful of the meaning of some term used by the opposer one may demand of him its definition. Thus the defender has no need to incommode himself when it is a question of answering an adversary who claims that he is offering us an invincible proof. But even supposing that the defender, perchance being kindly disposed, or for the sake of brevity, or because he feels himself strong enough, should himself vouchsafe to show the ambiguity concealed in the objection, and to remove it by making some distinction, this distinction need not of necessity lead to anything clearer than the first thesis, since the defender is not obliged to elucidate the Mystery itself.)

  4. ‘Now it is certain’, so M. Bayle continues, ’that an objection which is founded on distinct notions remains equally victorious, whether you give to it no answer, or you make an answer where none can comprehend anything. Can the contest be equal between a man who alleges in objection to you that which you and he very clearly conceive, and you, who can only defend yourself by answers wherein neither of you understands anything?’ (It is not enough that the objection be founded on quite distinct notions, it is necessary also that one apply it in contradiction of the thesis. And when I answer someone by denying some premiss, in order to compel him to prove it, or some conclusion, to compel him to put it in good form, it cannot be said that I answer nothing or that I answer nothing intelligible. For as it is the doubtful [116]premiss of the adversary that I deny, my denial will be as intelligible as his affirmation. Finally, when I am so obliging as to explain myself by means of some distinction, it suffices that the terms I employ have some meaning, as in the Mystery itself. Thus something in my answer will be comprehended: but one need not of necessity comprehend all that it involves; otherwise one would comprehend the Mystery also.)

  5. M. Bayle continues thus: ‘Every philosophical dispute assumes that the disputant parties agree on certain definitions’ (This would be desirable, but usually it is only in the dispute itself that one reaches such a point, if the necessity arises.) ‘and that they admit the rules of Syllogisms, and the signs for the recognition of bad arguments. After that everything lies in the investigation as to whether a thesis conforms mediately or immediately to the principles one is agreed upon’ (which is done by means of the syllogisms of him who makes objections); ‘whether the premisses of a proof (advanced by the opposer) ‘are true; whether the conclusion is properly drawn; whether a four-term Syllogism has been employed; whether some aphorism of the chapter de oppositis or de sophisticis elenchis, etc., has not been violated.’ (It is enough, putting it briefly, to deny some premiss or some conclusion, or finally to explain or get explained some ambiguous term.) ‘One comes off victorious either by showing that the subject of dispute has no connexion with the principles which had been agreed upon’ (that is to say, by showing that the objection proves nothing, and then the defender wins the case), ‘or by reducing the defender to absurdity’ (when all the premisses and all the conclusions are well proved). ‘Now one can reduce him to that point either by showing him that the conclusions of his thesis are “yes” and “no” at once, or by constraining him to say only intelligible things in answer.’ (This last embarrassment he can always avoid, because he has no need to advance new theses.) ‘The aim in disputes of this kind is to throw light upon obscurities and to arrive at self-evidence.’ (It is the aim of the opposer, for he wishes to demonstrate that the Mystery is false; but this cannot here be the aim of the defender, for in admitting Mystery he agrees that one cannot demonstrate it.) ‘This leads to the opinion that during the course of the proceedings victory sides more or less with the defender or with the opposer, according to whether there is more or less clarity in the propositions of the one than in the [117]propositions of the other.’ (That is speaking as if the defender and the opposer were equally unprotected; but the defender is like a besieged commander, covered by his defence works, and it is for the attacker to destroy them. The defender has no need here of self-evidence, and he seeks it not: but it is for the opposer to find it against him, and to break through with his batteries in order that the defender may be no longer protected.)

  6. ‘Finally, it is judged that victory goes against him whose answers are such that one comprehends nothing in them,’ (It is a very equivocal sign of victory: for then one must needs ask the audience if they comprehend anything in what has been said, and often their opinions would be divided. The order of formal disputes is to proceed by arguments in due form and to answer them by denying or making a distinction.) ‘and who confesses that they are incomprehensible.’ (It is permitted to him who maintains the truth of a Mystery to confess that this mystery is incomprehensible; and if this confession were sufficient for declaring him vanquished there would be no need of objection. It will be possible for a truth to be incomprehensible, but never so far as to justify the statement that one comprehends nothing at all therein. It would be in that case what the ancient Schools called Scindapsus or Blityri (Clem. Alex., Stromateis, 8), that is, words devoid of meaning.) ‘He is condemned thenceforth by the rules for awarding victory; and even when he cannot be pursued in the mist wherewith he has covered himself, and which forms a kind of abyss between him and his antagonists, he is believed to be utterly defeated, and is compared to an army which, having lost the battle, steals away from the pursuit of the victor only under cover of night.’ (Matching allegory with allegory, I will say that the defender is not vanquished so long as he remains protected by his entrenchments; and if he risks some sortie beyond his need, it is permitted to him to withdraw within his fort, without being open to blame for that.)

  7. I was especially at pains to analyse this long passage where M. Bayle has put down his strongest and most skilfully reasoned statements in support of his opinion: and I hope that I have shown clearly how this excellent man has been misled. That happens all too easily to the ablest and shrewdest persons when they give free rein to their wit without exercising the patience necessary for delving down to the very foundations of their systems. The details [118]we have entered into here will serve as answer to some other arguments upon the subject which are dispersed through the works of M. Bayle, as for instance when he says in his Reply to the Questions of a Provincial (vol. III, ch. 133, p. 685): ‘To prove that one has brought reason and religion into harmony one must show not only that one has philosophic maxims favourable to our faith, but also that the particular maxims cast up against us as not being consistent with our Catechism are in reality consistent with it in a clearly conceived way.’ I do not see that one has need of all that, unless one aspire to press reasoning as far as the how of the Mystery. When one is content to uphold its truth, without attempting to render it comprehensible, one has no need to resort to philosophic maxims, general or particular, for the proof; and when another brings up some philosophic maxims against us, it is not for us to prove clearly and distinctly that these maxims are consistent with our dogma, but it is for our opponent to prove that they are contrary thereto.

  8. M. Bayle continues thus in the same passage: ‘For this result we need an answer as clearly evident as the objection.’ I have already shown that it is obtained when one denies the premisses, but that for the rest it is not necessary for him who maintains the truth of the Mystery always to advance evident propositions, since the principal thesis concerning the Mystery itself is not evident. He adds further: ‘If we must make reply and rejoinder, we must never rest in our positions, nor claim that we have accomplished our design, so long as our opponent shall make answer with things as evident as our reasons can be.’ But it is not for the defender to adduce reasons; it is enough for him to answer those of his opponent.

  9. Finally the author draws the conclusion: ‘If it were claimed that, on making an evident objection, a man has to be satisfied with an answer which we can only state as a thing possible though incomprehensible to us, that would be unfair.’ He repeats this in the posthumous Dialogues, against M. Jacquelot, p. 69. I am not of this opinion. If the objection were completely evident, it would triumph, and the thesis would be overthrown. But when the objection is only founded on appearances or on instances of the most frequent occurrence, and when he who makes it desires to draw from it a universal and certain conclusion, he who upholds the Mystery may answer with the instance of a bare possibility. [119]For such an instance suffices to show that what one wished to infer from the premisses, is neither certain nor general; and it suffices for him who upholds the Mystery to maintain that it is possible, without having to maintain that it is probable. For, as I have often said, it is agreed that the Mysteries are against appearances. He who upholds the Mystery need not even adduce such an instance; and should he adduce it, it were indeed a work of supererogation, or else an instrument of greater confusion to the adversary.

  10. There are passages of M. Bayle in the posthumous reply that he made to M. Jacquelot which seem to me still worthy of scrutiny. ‘M. Bayle’ (according to pp. 36, 37) ‘constantly asserts in his Dictionary, whenever the subject allows, that our reason is more capable of refuting and destroying than of proving and building; that there is scarcely any philosophical or theological matter in respect of which it does not create great difficulties. Thus’, he says, ‘if one desired to follow it in a disputatious spirit, as far as it can go, one would often be reduced to a state of troublesome perplexity; and in fine, there are doctrines certainly true, which it disputes with insoluble objections.’ I think that what is said here in reproach of reason is to its advantage. When it overthrows some thesis, it builds up the opposing thesis. And when it seems to be overthrowing the two opposing theses at the same time, it is then that it promises us something profound, provided that we follow it as far as it can go, not in a disputatious spirit but with an ardent desire to search out and discover the truth, which will always be recompensed with a great measure of success.

  11. M. Bayle continues: ’that one must then ridicule these objections, recognizing the narrow bounds of the human mind.’ And I think, on the other hand, that one must recognize the signs of the force of the human mind, which causes it to penetrate into the heart of things. These are new openings and, as it were, rays of the dawn which promises us a greater light: I mean in philosophical subjects or those of natural theology. But when these objections are made against revealed faith it is enough that one be able to repel them, provided that one do so in a submissive and zealous spirit, with intent to sustain and exalt the glory of God. And when we succeed in respect of his justice, we shall likewise be impressed by his greatness and charmed by his goodness, which will show themselves through the clouds of a seeming reason that is [120]deceived by outward appearances, in proportion as the mind is elevated by true reason to that which to us is invisible, but none the less sure.

  12. ‘Thus’ (to continue with M. Bayle) ‘reason will be compelled to lay down its arms, and to subjugate itself to the obedience of the faith, which it can and ought to do, in virtue of some of its most incontestable maxims. Thus also in renouncing some of its other maxims it acts nevertheless in accordance with that which it is, that is to say, in reason.’ But one must know ’that such maxims of reason as must be renounced in this case are only those which make us judge by appearances or according to the ordinary course of things.’ This reason enjoins upon us even in philosophical subjects, when there are invincible proofs to the contrary. It is thus that, being made confident by demonstrations of the goodness and the justice of God, we disregard the appearances of harshness and injustice which we see in this small portion of his Kingdom that is exposed to our gaze. Hitherto we have been illumined by the light of Nature and by that of grace, but not yet by that of glory. Here on earth we see apparent injustice, and we believe and even know the truth of the hidden justice of God; but we shall see that justice when at last the Sun of Justice shall show himself as he is.

  13. It is certain that M. Bayle can only be understood as meaning those ostensible maxims which must give way before the eternal verities; for he acknowledges that reason is not in reality contrary to faith. In these posthumous Dialogues he complains (p. 73, against M. Jacquelot) of being accused of the belief that our Mysteries are in reality against reason, and (p. 9, against M. le Clerc) of the assertion made that he who acknowledges that a doctrine is exposed to irrefutable objections acknowledges also by a necessary consequence the falsity of this doctrine. Nevertheless one would be justified in the assertion if the irrefutability were more than an outward appearance.

  14. It may be, therefore, that having long contended thus against M. Bayle on the matter of the use of reason I shall find after all that his opinions were not fundamentally so remote from mine as his expressions, which have provided matter for our considerations, have led one to believe. It is true that frequently he appears to deny absolutely that one can ever answer the objections of reason against faith, and that he asserts the necessity of comprehending, in order to achieve such an end, how the Mystery comes [121]to be or exists. Yet there are passages where he becomes milder, and contents himself with saying that the answers to these objections are unknown to him. Here is a very precise passage, taken from the excursus on the Manichaeans, which is found at the end of the second edition of his Dictionary: ‘For the greater satisfaction of the most punctilious readers, I desire to declare here’ (he says, p. 3148) ’that wherever the statement is to be met with in my Dictionary that such and such arguments are irrefutable I do not wish it to be taken that they are so in actuality. I mean naught else than that they appear to me irrefutable. That is of no consequence: each one will be able to imagine, if he pleases, that if I deem thus of a matter it is owing to my lack of acumen.’ I do not imagine such a thing; his great acumen is too well known to me: but I think that, after having applied his whole mind to magnifying the objections, he had not enough attention left over for the purpose of answering them.

  15. M. Bayle confesses, moreover, in his posthumous work against M. le Clerc, that the objections against faith have not the force of proofs. It is therefore ad hominem only, or rather ad homines, that is, in relation to the existing state of the human race, that he deems these objections irrefutable and the subject unexplainable. There is even a passage where he implies that he despairs not of the possibility that the answer or the explanation may be found, and even in our time. For here is what he says in his posthumous Reply to M. le Clerc (p. 35): ‘M. Bayle dared to hope that his toil would put on their mettle some of those great men of genius who create new systems, and that they could discover a solution hitherto unknown.’ It seems that by this ‘solution’ he means such an explanation of Mystery as would penetrate to the how: but that is not necessary for replying to the objections.

  16. Many have undertaken to render this how comprehensible, and to prove the possibility of Mysteries. A certain writer named Thomas Bonartes Nordtanus Anglus, in his Concordia Scientiae cum Fide, claimed to do so. This work seemed to me ingenious and learned, but crabbed and involved, and it even contains indefensible opinions. I learned from the Apologia Cyriacorum of the Dominican Father Vincent Baron that that book was censured in Rome, that the author was a Jesuit, and that he suffered for having published it. The Reverend Father des Bosses, who now teaches Theology in the Jesuit College of Hildesheim, and who has [122]combined rare erudition with great acumen, which he displays in philosophy and theology, has informed me that the real name of Bonartes was Thomas Barton, and that after leaving the Society he retired to Ireland, where the manner of his death brought about a favourable verdict on his last opinions. I pity the men of talent who bring trouble upon themselves by their toil and their zeal. Something of like nature happened in time past to Pierre Abelard, to Gilbert de la Porree, to John Wyclif, and in our day to the Englishman Thomas Albius, as well as to some others who plunged too far into the explanation of the Mysteries.

  17. St. Augustine, however (as well as M. Bayle), does not despair of the possibility that the desired solution may be found upon earth; but this Father believes it to be reserved for some holy man illumined by a peculiar grace: ‘Est aliqua causa fortassis occultior, quae melioribus sanctioribusque reservatur, illius gratia potius quam meritis illorum’ (in De Genesi ad Literam, lib. 11, c. 4). Luther reserves the knowledge of the Mystery of Election for the academy of heaven (lib. De Servo Arbitrio, c. 174): ‘Illic [Deus] gratiam et misericordiam spargit in indignos, his iram et severitatem spargit in immeritos; utrobique nimius et iniquus apud homines, sed justus et verax apud se ipsum. Nam quomodo hoc justum sit ut indignos coronet, incomprehensibile est modo, videbimus autem, cum illuc venerimus, ubi jam non credetur, sed revelata facie videbitur. Ita quomodo hoc justum sit, ut immeritos damnet, incomprehensibile est modo, creditur tamen, donec revelabitur filius hominis.’ It is to be hoped that M. Bayle now finds himself surrounded by that light which is lacking to us here below, since there is reason to suppose that he was not lacking in good will.


Candidus insueti miratur limen Olympi,

Sub pedibusque videt nubes et sidera Daphnis.


…Illic postquam se lumine vero

Implevit, stellasque vagas miratur et astra

Fixa polis, vidit quanta sub nocte jaceret

Nostra dies.




  1. Having so settled the rights of faith and of reason as rather to place reason at the service of faith than in opposition to it, we shall see how they exercise these rights to support and harmonize what the light of nature and the light of revelation teach us of God and of man in relation to evil. The difficulties are distinguishable into two classes. The one kind springs from man’s freedom, which appears incompatible with the divine nature; and nevertheless freedom is deemed necessary, in order that man may be deemed guilty and open to punishment. The other kind concerns the conduct of God, and seems to make him participate too much in the existence of evil, even though man be free and participate also therein. And this conduct appears contrary to the goodness, the holiness and the justice of God, since God co-operates in evil as well physical as moral, and co-operates in each of them both morally and physically; and since it seems that these evils are manifested in the order of nature as well as in that of grace, and in the future and eternal life as well as, nay, more than, in this transitory life.

  2. To present these difficulties in brief, it must be observed that freedom is opposed, to all appearance, by determination or certainty of any kind whatever; and nevertheless the common dogma of our philosophers states that the truth of contingent futurities is [124]determined. The foreknowledge of God renders all the future certain and determined, but his providence and his foreordinance, whereon foreknowledge itself appears founded, do much more: for God is not as a man, able to look upon events with unconcern and to suspend his judgement, since nothing exists save as a result of the decrees of his will and through the action of his power. And even though one leave out of account the co-operation of God, all is perfectly connected in the order of things, since nothing can come to pass unless there be a cause so disposed as to produce the effect, this taking place no less in voluntary than in all other actions. According to which it appears that man is compelled to do the good and evil that he does, and in consequence that he deserves therefor neither recompense nor chastisement: thus is the morality of actions destroyed and all justice, divine and human, shaken.

  3. But even though one should grant to man this freedom wherewith he arrays himself to his own hurt, the conduct of God could not but provide matter for a criticism supported by the presumptuous ignorance of men, who would wish to exculpate themselves wholly or in part at the expense of God. It is objected that all the reality and what is termed the substance of the act in sin itself is a production of God, since all creatures and all their actions derive from him that reality they have. Whence one could infer not only that he is the physical cause of sin, but also that he is its moral cause, since he acts with perfect freedom and does nothing without a complete knowledge of the thing and the consequences that it may have. Nor is it enough to say that God has made for himself a law to co-operate with the wills or resolutions of man, whether we express ourselves in terms of the common opinion or in terms of the system of occasional causes. Not only will it be found strange that he should have made such a law for himself, of whose results he was not ignorant, but the principal difficulty is that it seems the evil will itself cannot exist without co-operation, and even without some predetermination, on his part, which contributes towards begetting this will in man or in some other rational creature. For an action is not, for being evil, the less dependent on God. Whence one will come at last to the conclusion that God does all, the good and the evil, indifferently; unless one pretend with the Manichaeans that there are two principles, the one good and the other evil. Moreover, according to the general [125]opinion of theologians and philosophers, conservation being a perpetual creation, it will be said that man is perpetually created corrupt and erring. There are, furthermore, modern Cartesians who claim that God is the sole agent, of whom created beings are only the purely passive organs; and M. Bayle builds not a little upon that idea.

  4. But even granting that God should co-operate in actions only with a general co-operation, or even not at all, at least in those that are bad, it suffices, so it is said, to inculpate him and to render him the moral cause that nothing comes to pass without his permission. To say nothing of the fall of the angels, he knows all that which will come to pass, if, having created man, he places him in such and such circumstances; and he places him there notwithstanding. Man is exposed to a temptation to which it is known that he will succumb, thereby causing an infinitude of frightful evils, by which the whole human race will be infected and brought as it were into a necessity of sinning, a state which is named ‘original sin’. Thus the world will be brought into a strange confusion, by this means death and diseases being introduced, with a thousand other misfortunes and miseries that in general afflict the good and the bad; wickedness will even hold sway and virtue will be oppressed on earth, so that it will scarce appear that a providence governs affairs. But it is much worse when one considers the life to come, since but a small number of men will be saved and since all the rest will perish eternally. Furthermore these men destined for salvation will have been withdrawn from the corrupt mass through an unreasoning election, whether it be said that God in choosing them has had regard to their future actions, to their faith or to their works, or one claim that he has been pleased to give them these good qualities and these actions because he has predestined them to salvation. For though it be said in the most lenient system that God wished to save all men, and though in the other systems commonly accepted it be granted, that he has made his Son take human nature upon him to expiate their sins, so that all they who shall believe in him with a lively and final faith shall be saved, it still remains true that this lively faith is a gift of God; that we are dead to all good works; that even our will itself must be aroused by a prevenient grace, and that God gives us the power to will and to do. And whether that be done through a grace efficacious of itself, that is to say, through a divine inward motion [126]which wholly determines our will to the good that it does; or whether there be only a sufficient grace, but such as does not fail to attain its end, and to become efficacious in the inward and outward circumstances wherein the man is and has been placed by God: one must return to the same conclusion that God is the final reason of salvation, of grace, of faith and of election in Jesus Christ. And be the election the cause or the result of God’s design to give faith, it still remains true that he gives faith or salvation to whom he pleases, without any discernible reason for his choice, which falls upon but few men.

  5. So it is a terrible judgement that God, giving his only Son for the whole human race and being the sole author and master of the salvation of men, yet saves so few of them and abandons all others to the devil his enemy, who torments them eternally and makes them curse their Creator, though they have all been created to diffuse and show forth his goodness, his justice and his other perfections. And this outcome inspires all the more horror, as the sole cause why all these men are wretched to all eternity is God’s having exposed their parents to a temptation that he knew they would not resist; as this sin is inherent and imputed to men before their will has participated in it; as this hereditary vice impels their will to commit actual sins; and as countless men, in childhood or maturity, that have never heard or have not heard enough of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, die before receiving the necessary succour for their withdrawal from this abyss of sin. These men too are condemned to be for ever rebellious against God and plunged in the most horrible miseries, with the wickedest of all creatures, though in essence they have not been more wicked than others, and several among them have perchance been less guilty than some of that little number of elect, who were saved by a grace without reason, and who thereby enjoy an eternal felicity which they had not deserved. Such in brief are the difficulties touched upon by sundry persons; but M. Bayle was one who insisted on them the most, as will appear subsequently when we examine his passages. I think that now I have recorded the main essence of these difficulties: but I have deemed it fitting to refrain from some expressions and exaggerations which might have caused offence, while not rendering the objections any stronger.

  6. Let us now turn the medal and let us also point out what can be said in answer to those objections; and here a course of [127]explanation through fuller dissertation will be necessary: for many difficulties can be opened up in few words, but for their discussion one must dilate upon them. Our end is to banish from men the false ideas that represent God to them as an absolute prince employing a despotic power, unfitted to be loved and unworthy of being loved. These notions are the more evil in relation to God inasmuch as the essence of piety is not only to fear him but also to love him above all things: and that cannot come about unless there be knowledge of his perfections capable of arousing the love which he deserves, and which makes the felicity of those that love him. Feeling ourselves animated by a zeal such as cannot fail to please him, we have cause to hope that he will enlighten us, and that he will himself aid us in the execution of a project undertaken for his glory and for the good of men. A cause so good gives confidence: if there are plausible appearances against us there are proofs on our side, and I would dare to say to an adversary:

Aspice, quam mage sit nostrum penetrabile telum.

  1. God is the first reason of things: for such things as are bounded, as all that which we see and experience, are contingent and have nothing in them to render their existence necessary, it being plain that time, space and matter, united and uniform in themselves and indifferent to everything, might have received entirely other motions and shapes, and in another order. Therefore one must seek the reason for the existence of the world, which is the whole assemblage of contingent things, and seek it in the substance which carries with it the reason for its existence, and which in consequence is necessary and eternal. Moreover, this cause must be intelligent: for this existing world being contingent and an infinity of other worlds being equally possible, and holding, so to say, equal claim to existence with it, the cause of the world must needs have had regard or reference to all these possible worlds in order to fix upon one of them. This regard or relation of an existent substance to simple possibilities can be nothing other than the understanding which has the ideas of them, while to fix upon one of them can be nothing other than the act of the will which chooses. It is the power of this substance that renders its will efficacious. Power relates to being, wisdom or understanding to truth, and will to good. And this intelligent cause ought to be infinite in all ways, and absolutely perfect in power, in wisdom and in goodness, since it [128]relates to all that which is possible. Furthermore, since all is connected together, there is no ground for admitting more than one. Its understanding is the source of essences, and its will is the origin of existences. There in few words is the proof of one only God with his perfections, and through him of the origin of things.

  2. Now this supreme wisdom, united to a goodness that is no less infinite, cannot but have chosen the best. For as a lesser evil is a kind of good, even so a lesser good is a kind of evil if it stands in the way of a greater good; and there would be something to correct in the actions of God if it were possible to do better. As in mathematics, when there is no maximum nor minimum, in short nothing distinguished, everything is done equally, or when that is not possible nothing at all is done: so it may be said likewise in respect of perfect wisdom, which is no less orderly than mathematics, that if there were not the best (optimum) among all possible worlds, God would not have produced any. I call ‘World’ the whole succession and the whole agglomeration of all existent things, lest it be said that several worlds could have existed in different times and different places. For they must needs be reckoned all together as one world or, if you will, as one Universe. And even though one should fill all times and all places, it still remains true that one might have filled them in innumerable ways, and that there is an infinitude of possible worlds among which God must needs have chosen the best, since he does nothing without acting in accordance with supreme reason.

  3. Some adversary not being able to answer this argument will perchance answer the conclusion by a counter-argument, saying that the world could have been without sin and without sufferings; but I deny that then it would have been better. For it must be known that all things are connected in each one of the possible worlds: the universe, whatever it may be, is all of one piece, like an ocean: the least movement extends its effect there to any distance whatsoever, even though this effect become less perceptible in proportion to the distance. Therein God has ordered all things beforehand once for all, having foreseen prayers, good and bad actions, and all the rest; and each thing as an idea has contributed, before its existence, to the resolution that has been made upon the existence of all things; so that nothing can be changed in the universe (any more than in a number) save its essence or, if you will, save its numerical individuality. Thus, if the smallest evil [129]that comes to pass in the world were missing in it, it would no longer be this world; which, with nothing omitted and all allowance made, was found the best by the Creator who chose it.

  4. It is true that one may imagine possible worlds without sin and without unhappiness, and one could make some like Utopian or Sevarambian romances: but these same worlds again would be very inferior to ours in goodness. I cannot show you this in detail. For can I know and can I present infinities to you and compare them together? But you must judge with me ab effectu, since God has chosen this world as it is. We know, moreover, that often an evil brings forth a good whereto one would not have attained without that evil. Often indeed two evils have made one great good:

Et si fata volunt, bina venena juvant.

Even so two liquids sometimes produce a solid, witness the spirit of wine and spirit of urine mixed by Van Helmont; or so do two cold and dark bodies produce a great fire, witness an acid solution and an aromatic oil combined by Herr Hoffmann. A general makes sometimes a fortunate mistake which brings about the winning of a great battle; and do they not sing on the eve of Easter, in the churches of the Roman rite:

O certe necessarium Adae peccatum, quod Christi morte deletum est!

O felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem!

  1. The illustrious prelates of the Gallican church who wrote to Pope Innocent XII against Cardinal Sfondrati’s book on predestination, being of the principles of St. Augustine, have said things well fitted to elucidate this great point. The cardinal appears to prefer even to the Kingdom of Heaven the state of children dying without baptism, because sin is the greatest of evils, and they have died innocent of all actual sin. More will be said of that below. The prelates have observed that this opinion is ill founded. The apostle, they say (Rom. iii. 8), is right to disapprove of the doing of evil that good may come, but one cannot disapprove that God, through his exceeding power, derive from the permitting of sins greater goods than such as occurred before the sins. It is not that we ought to take pleasure in sin, God forbid! but that we believe the same apostle when he says (Rom. v. 20) [130]that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; and we remember that we have gained Jesus Christ himself by reason of sin. Thus we see that the opinion of these prelates tends to maintain that a sequence of things where sin enters in may have been and has been, in effect, better than another sequence without sin.

  2. Use has ever been made of comparisons taken from the pleasures of the senses when these are mingled with that which borders on pain, to prove that there is something of like nature in intellectual pleasures. A little acid, sharpness or bitterness is often more pleasing than sugar; shadows enhance colours; and even a dissonance in the right place gives relief to harmony. We wish to be terrified by rope-dancers on the point of falling and we wish that tragedies shall well-nigh cause us to weep. Do men relish health enough, or thank God enough for it, without having ever been sick? And is it not most often necessary that a little evil render the good more discernible, that is to say, greater?

  3. But it will be said that evils are great and many in number in comparison with the good: that is erroneous. It is only want of attention that diminishes our good, and this attention must be given to us through some admixture of evils. If we were usually sick and seldom in good health, we should be wonderfully sensible of that great good and we should be less sensible of our evils. But is it not better, notwithstanding, that health should be usual and sickness the exception? Let us then by our reflexion supply what is lacking in our perception, in order to make the good of health more discernible. Had we not the knowledge of the life to come, I believe there would be few persons who, being at the point of death, were not content to take up life again, on condition of passing through the same amount of good and evil, provided always that it were not the same kind: one would be content with variety, without requiring a better condition than that wherein one had been.

  4. When one considers also the fragility of the human body, one looks in wonder at the wisdom and the goodness of the Author of Nature, who has made the body so enduring and its condition so tolerable. That has often made me say that I am not astonished men are sometimes sick, but that I am astonished they are sick so little and not always. This also ought to make us the more esteem the divine contrivance of the mechanism of animals, whose Author [131]has made machines so fragile and so subject to corruption and yet so capable of maintaining themselves: for it is Nature which cures us rather than medicine. Now this very fragility is a consequence of the nature of things, unless we are to will that this kind of creature, reasoning and clothed in flesh and bones, be not in the world. But that, to all appearance, would be a defect which some philosophers of old would have called vacuum formarum, a gap in the order of species.

  5. Those whose humour it is to be well satisfied with Nature and with fortune and not to complain about them, even though they should not be the best endowed, appear to me preferable to the other sort; for besides that these complaints are ill founded, it is in effect murmuring against the orders of providence. One must not readily be among the malcontents in the State where one is, and one must not be so at all in the city of God, wherein one can only wrongfully be of their number. The books of human misery, such as that of Pope Innocent III, to me seem not of the most serviceable: evils are doubled by being given an attention that ought to be averted from them, to be turned towards the good which by far preponderates. Even less do I approve books such as that of Abbé Esprit, On the Falsity of Human Virtues, of which we have lately been given a summary: for such a book serves to turn everything wrong side out, and cause men to be such as it represents them.

  6. It must be confessed, however, that there are disorders in this life, which appear especially in the prosperity of sundry evil men and in the misfortune of many good people. There is a German proverb which even grants the advantage to the evil ones, as if they were commonly the most fortunate:

Je krümmer Holz, je bessre Krücke:

Je ärger Schalck, je grösser Glücke.

And it were to be desired that this saying of Horace should be true in our eyes:

Raro antecedentem scelestum

Deseruit pede poena claudo.

Yet it often comes to pass also, though this perchance not the most often,


That in the world’s eyes Heaven is justified,

and that one may say with Claudian:

Abstulit hunc tandem Rufini poena tumultum,

Absolvitque deos…

  1. But even though that should not happen here, the remedy is all prepared in the other life: religion and reason itself teach us that, and we must not murmur against a respite which the supreme wisdom has thought fit to grant to men for repentance. Yet there objections multiply on another side, when one considers salvation and damnation: for it appears strange that, even in the great future of eternity, evil should have the advantage over good, under the supreme authority of him who is the sovereign good, since there will be many that are called and few that are chosen or are saved. It is true that one sees from some lines of Prudentius (Hymn. ante Somnum),

Idem tamen benignus

Ultor retundit iram,

Paucosque non piorum

Patitur perire in aevum,

that divers men believed in his time that the number of those wicked enough to be damned would be very small. To some indeed it seems that men believed at that time in a sphere between Hell and Paradise; that this same Prudentius speaks as if he were satisfied with this sphere; that St. Gregory of Nyssa also inclines in that direction, and that St. Jerome leans towards the opinion according whereunto all Christians would finally be taken into grace. A saying of St. Paul which he himself gives out as mysterious, stating that all Israel will be saved, has provided much food for reflexion. Sundry pious persons, learned also, but daring, have revived the opinion of Origen, who maintains that good will predominate in due time, in all and everywhere, and that all rational creatures, even the bad angels, will become at last holy and blessed. The book of the eternal Gospel, published lately in German and supported by a great and learned work entitled ‘Αποκαταστασις παντων, has caused much stir over this great paradox. M. le Clerc also has ingeniously pleaded the cause of the Origenists, but without declaring himself for them.


  1. There is a man of wit who, pushing my principle of harmony even to arbitrary suppositions that I in no wise approve, has created for himself a theology well-nigh astronomical. He believes that the present confusion in this world below began when the Presiding Angel of the globe of the earth, which was still a sun (that is, a star that was fixed and luminous of itself) committed a sin with some lesser angels of his department, perhaps rising inopportunely against an angel of a greater sun; that simultaneously, by the Pre-established Harmony of the Realms of Nature and of Grace, and consequently by natural causes occurring at the appointed time, our globe was covered with stains, rendered opaque and driven from its place; which has made it become a wandering star or planet, that is, a Satellite of another sun, and even perhaps of that one whose superiority its angel refused to recognize; and that therein consists the fall of Lucifer. Now the chief of the bad angels, who in Holy Scripture is named the prince, and even the god of this world, being, with the angels of his train, envious of that rational animal which walks on the surface of this globe, and which God has set up there perhaps to compensate himself for their fall, strives to render it accessary in their crimes and a participator in their misfortunes. Whereupon Jesus Christ came to save men. He is the eternal Son of God, even as he is his only Son; but (according to some ancient Christians, and according to the author of this hypothesis) having taken upon him at first, from the beginning of things, the most excellent nature among created beings, to bring them all to perfection, he set himself amongst them: and this is the second filiation, whereby he is the first-born of all creatures. This is he whom the Cabalists called Adam Kadmon. Haply he had planted his tabernacle in that great sun which illumines us; but he came at last into this globe where we are, he was born of the Virgin, and took human nature upon him to save mankind from the hands of their enemy and his. And when the time of judgement shall draw near, when the present face of our globe shall be about to perish, he will return to it in visible form, thence to withdraw the good, transplanting them, it may be, into the sun, and to punish here the wicked with the demons that have allured them; then the globe of the earth will begin to burn and will be perhaps a comet. This fire will last for aeons upon aeons. The tail of the comet is intended by the smoke which will rise incessantly, according to the Apocalypse, and this fire will be [134]hell, or the second death whereof Holy Scripture speaks. But at last hell will render up its dead, death itself will be destroyed; reason and peace will begin to hold sway again in the spirits that had been perverted; they will be sensible of their error, they will adore their Creator, and will even begin to love him all the more for seeing the greatness of the abyss whence they emerge. Simultaneously (by virtue of the harmonic parallelism of the Realms of Nature and of Grace) this long and great conflagration will have purged the earth’s globe of its stains. It will become again a sun; its Presiding Angel will resume his place with the angels of his train; humans that were damned shall be with them numbered amongst the good angels; this chief of our globe shall render homage to the Messiah, chief of created beings. The glory of this angel reconciled shall be greater than it was before his fall.

Inque Deos iterum factorum lege receptus

Aureus aeternum noster regnabit Apollo.

The vision seemed to me pleasing, and worthy of a follower of Origen: but we have no need of such hypothesis or fictions, where Wit plays a greater part than Revelation, and which even Reason cannot turn to account. For it does not appear that there is one principal place in the known universe deserving in preference to the rest to be the seat of the eldest of created beings; and the sun of our system at least is not it.

  1. Holding then to the established doctrine that the number of men damned eternally will be incomparably greater than that of the saved, we must say that the evil could not but seem to be almost as nothing in comparison with the good, when one contemplates the true vastness of the city of God. Coelius Secundus Curio wrote a little book, De Amplitudine Regni Coelestis, which was reprinted not long since; but he is indeed far from having apprehended the compass of the kingdom of heaven. The ancients had puny ideas on the works of God, and St. Augustine, for want of knowing modern discoveries, was at a loss when there was question of explaining the prevalence of evil. It seemed to the ancients that there was only one earth inhabited, and even of that men held the antipodes in dread: the remainder of the world was, according to them, a few shining globes and a few crystalline spheres. To-day, whatever bounds are given or not given to the universe, it must be acknowledged that there is an infinite number of globes, as great [135]as and greater than ours, which have as much right as it to hold rational inhabitants, though it follows not at all that they are human. It is only one planet, that is to say one of the six principal satellites of our sun; and as all fixed stars are suns also, we see how small a thing our earth is in relation to visible things, since it is only an appendix of one amongst them. It may be that all suns are peopled only by blessed creatures, and nothing constrains us to think that many are damned, for few instances or few samples suffice to show the advantage which good extracts from evil. Moreover, since there is no reason for the belief that there are stars everywhere, is it not possible that there may be a great space beyond the region of the stars? Whether it be the Empyrean Heaven, or not, this immense space encircling all this region may in any case be filled with happiness and glory. It can be imagined as like the Ocean, whither flow the rivers of all blessed creatures, when they shall have reached their perfection in the system of the stars. What will become of the consideration of our globe and its inhabitants? Will it not be something incomparably less than a physical point, since our earth is as a point in comparison with the distance of some fixed stars? Thus since the proportion of that part of the universe which we know is almost lost in nothingness compared with that which is unknown, and which we yet have cause to assume, and since all the evils that may be raised in objection before us are in this near nothingness, haply it may be that all evils are almost nothingness in comparison with the good things which are in the universe.

  2. But it is necessary also to meet the more speculative and metaphysical difficulties which have been mentioned, and which concern the cause of evil. The question is asked first of all, whence does evil come? Si Deus est, unde malum? Si non est, unde bonum? The ancients attributed the cause of evil to matter, which they believed uncreate and independent of God: but we, who derive all being from God, where shall we find the source of evil? The answer is, that it must be sought in the ideal nature of the creature, in so far as this nature is contained in the eternal verities which are in the understanding of God, independently of his will. For we must consider that there is an original imperfection in the creature before sin, because the creature is limited in its essence; whence ensues that it cannot know all, and that it can deceive itself and commit other errors. Plato said in Timaeus that the world originated in Understanding [136]united to Necessity. Others have united God and Nature. This can be given a reasonable meaning. God will be the Understanding; and the Necessity, that is, the essential nature of things, will be the object of the understanding, in so far as this object consists in the eternal verities. But this object is inward and abides in the divine understanding. And therein is found not only the primitive form of good, but also the origin of evil: the Region of the Eternal Verities must be substituted for matter when we are concerned with seeking out the source of things.

This region is the ideal cause of evil (as it were) as well as of good: but, properly speaking, the formal character of evil has no efficient cause, for it consists in privation, as we shall see, namely, in that which the efficient cause does not bring about. That is why the Schoolmen are wont to call the cause of evil deficient.

  1. Evil may be taken metaphysically, physically and morally. Metaphysical evil consists in mere imperfection, physical evil in suffering, and moral evil in sin. Now although physical evil and moral evil be not necessary, it is enough that by virtue of the eternal verities they be possible. And as this vast Region of Verities contains all possibilities it is necessary that there be an infinitude of possible worlds, that evil enter into divers of them, and that even the best of all contain a measure thereof. Thus has God been induced to permit evil.

  2. But someone will say to me: why speak you to us of ‘permitting’? Is it not God that doeth the evil and that willeth it? Here it will be necessary to explain what ‘permission’ is, so that it may be seen how this term is not employed without reason. But before that one must explain the nature of will, which has its own degrees. Taking it in the general sense, one may say that will consists in the inclination to do something in proportion to the good it contains. This will is called antecedent when it is detached, and considers each good separately in the capacity of a good. In this sense it may be said that God tends to all good, as good, ad perfectionem simpliciter simplicem, to speak like the Schoolmen, and that by an antecedent will. He is earnestly disposed to sanctify and to save all men, to exclude sin, and to prevent damnation. It may even be said that this will is efficacious of itself (per se), that is, in such sort that the effect would ensue if there were not some stronger reason to prevent it: for this will does not pass into final exercise (ad summum conatum), else it would never fail to produce its [137]full effect, God being the master of all things. Success entire and infallible belongs only to the consequent will, as it is called. This it is which is complete; and in regard to it this rule obtains, that one never fails to do what one wills, when one has the power. Now this consequent will, final and decisive, results from the conflict of all the antecedent wills, of those which tend towards good, even as of those which repel evil; and from the concurrence of all these particular wills comes the total will. So in mechanics compound movement results from all the tendencies that concur in one and the same moving body, and satisfies each one equally, in so far as it is possible to do all at one time. It is as if the moving body took equal account of these tendencies, as I once showed in one of the Paris Journals (7 Sept. 1693), when giving the general law of the compositions of movement. In this sense also it may be said that the antecedent will is efficacious in a sense and even effective with success.

  3. Thence it follows that God wills antecedently the good and consequently the best. And as for evil, God wills moral evil not at all, and physical evil or suffering he does not will absolutely. Thus it is that there is no absolute predestination to damnation; and one may say of physical evil, that God wills it often as a penalty owing to guilt, and often also as a means to an end, that is, to prevent greater evils or to obtain greater good. The penalty serves also for amendment and example. Evil often serves to make us savour good the more; sometimes too it contributes to a greater perfection in him who suffers it, as the seed that one sows is subject to a kind of corruption before it can germinate: this is a beautiful similitude, which Jesus Christ himself used.

  4. Concerning sin or moral evil, although it happens very often that it may serve as a means of obtaining good or of preventing another evil, it is not this that renders it a sufficient object of the divine will or a legitimate object of a created will. It must only be admitted or permitted in so far as it is considered to be a certain consequence of an indispensable duty: as for instance if a man who was determined not to permit another’s sin were to fail of his own duty, or as if an officer on guard at an important post were to leave it, especially in time of danger, in order to prevent a quarrel in the town between two soldiers of the garrison who wanted to kill each other.

  5. The rule which states, non esse facienda mala, ut eveniant bona, and which even forbids the permission of a moral evil with the end [138]of obtaining a physical good, far from being violated, is here proved, and its source and its reason are demonstrated. One will not approve the action of a queen who, under the pretext of saving the State, commits or even permits a crime. The crime is certain and the evil for the State is open to question. Moreover, this manner of giving sanction to crimes, if it were accepted, would be worse than a disruption of some one country, which is liable enough to happen in any case, and would perchance happen all the more by reason of such means chosen to prevent it. But in relation to God nothing is open to question, nothing can be opposed to the rule of the best, which suffers neither exception nor dispensation. It is in this sense that God permits sin: for he would fail in what he owes to himself, in what he owes to his wisdom, his goodness, his perfection, if he followed not the grand result of all his tendencies to good, and if he chose not that which is absolutely the best, notwithstanding the evil of guilt, which is involved therein by the supreme necessity of the eternal verities. Hence the conclusion that God wills all good in himself antecedently, that he wills the best consequently as an end, that he wills what is indifferent, and physical evil, sometimes as a means, but that he will only permit moral evil as the sine quo non or as a hypothetical necessity which connects it with the best. Therefore the consequent will of God, which has sin for its object, is only permissive.

  6. It is again well to consider that moral evil is an evil so great only because it is a source of physical evils, a source existing in one of the most powerful of creatures, who is also most capable of causing those evils. For an evil will is in its department what the evil principle of the Manichaeans would be in the universe; and reason, which is an image of the Divinity, provides for evil souls great means of causing much evil. One single Caligula, one Nero, has caused more evil than an earthquake. An evil man takes pleasure in causing suffering and destruction, and for that there are only too many opportunities. But God being inclined to produce as much good as possible, and having all the knowledge and all the power necessary for that, it is impossible that in him there be fault, or guilt, or sin; and when he permits sin, it is wisdom, it is virtue.

  7. It is indeed beyond question that we must refrain from preventing the sin of others when we cannot prevent their sin without sinning ourselves. But someone will perhaps bring up the [139]objection that it is God himself who acts and who effects all that is real in the sin of the creature. This objection leads us to consider the physical co-operation of God with the creature, after we have examined the moral co-operation, which was the more perplexing. Some have believed, with the celebrated Durand de Saint-Pourçain and Cardinal Aureolus, the famous Schoolman, that the co-operation of God with the creature (I mean the physical cooperation) is only general and mediate, and that God creates substances and gives them the force they need; and that thereafter he leaves them to themselves, and does naught but conserve them, without aiding them in their actions. This opinion has been refuted by the greater number of Scholastic theologians, and it appears that in the past it met with disapproval in the writings of Pelagius. Nevertheless a Capuchin named Louis Pereir of Dole, about the year 1630, wrote a book expressly to revive it, at least in relation to free actions. Some moderns incline thereto, and M. Bernier supports it in a little book on freedom and freewill. But one cannot say in relation to God what ’to conserve’ is, without reverting to the general opinion. Also it must be taken into account that the action of God in conserving should have some reference to that which is conserved, according to what it is and to the state wherein it is; thus his action cannot be general or indeterminate. These generalities are abstractions not to be found in the truth of individual things, and the conservation of a man standing is different from the conservation of a man seated. This would not be so if conservation consisted only in the act of preventing and warding off some foreign cause which could destroy that which one wishes to conserve; as often happens when men conserve something. But apart from the fact that we are obliged ourselves sometimes to maintain that which we conserve, we must bear in mind that conservation by God consists in the perpetual immediate influence which the dependence of creatures demands. This dependence attaches not only to the substance but also to the action, and one can perhaps not explain it better than by saying, with theologians and philosophers in general, that it is a continued creation.

  8. The objection will be made that God therefore now creates man a sinner, he that in the beginning created him innocent. But here it must be said, with regard to the moral aspect, that God being supremely wise cannot fail to observe certain laws, and to [140]act according to the rules, as well physical as moral, that wisdom has made him choose. And the same reason that has made him create man innocent, but liable to fall, makes him re-create man when he falls; for God’s knowledge causes the future to be for him as the present, and prevents him from rescinding the resolutions made.

  9. As for physical co-operation, here one must consider the truth which has made already so much stir in the Schools since St. Augustine declared it, that evil is a privation of being, whereas the action of God tends to the positive. This answer is accounted a quibble, and even something chimerical in the minds of many people. But here is an instance somewhat similar, which will serve to disabuse them.


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