Part 107


by Leibniz

Bayle’s 7 theological propositions

  1. At the beginning, I observed ’that God co-operates in moral evil, and in physical evil, and in each of them both morally and physically; and that man co-operates therein also morally and physically in a free and active way, becoming in consequence subject to blame and punishment'.

I have shown also that each point has its own difficulty; but the greatest of these lies in maintaining that God co-operates morally in moral evil, that is, in sin, without being the originator of the sin, and even without being accessary thereto.

  1. He does this by permitting it justly, and by directing it wisely towards the good, as I have shown in a manner that appears tolerably intelligible.

But as it is here principally that M. Bayle [183]undertakes to discomfit those who maintain that there is nothing in faith which cannot be harmonized with reason, it is also here especially I must show that my dogmas are fortified (to make use of his own allegory) with a rampart, even of reasons, which is able to resist the fire of his strongest batteries. He has ranged them against me in chapter 144 of his Reply to the Questions of a Provincial (vol. III, p. 812), where he includes the theological doctrine in seven propositions and opposes thereto nineteen philosophic maxims, like so many large cannon capable of breaching my rampart.

Let us begin with his theological propositions.

Proposition 1. God is eternal and necessary, infinitely good, holy, wise and powerful, possesses from all eternity a glory and a bliss that can never either increase or diminish.

This is no less philosophical than theological. To say that God possesses a ‘glory’ when he is alone, that depends upon the meaning of the term.

One may say, with some, that glory is the satisfaction one finds in being aware of one’s own perfections; and in this sense God possesses it always. But when glory signifies that others become aware of these perfections, one may say that God acquires it only when he reveals himself to intelligent creatures; even though it be true that God thereby gains no new good, and it is rather the rational creatures who thence derive advantage, when they apprehend aright the glory of God.

Proposition 2. ‘He resolved freely upon the production of creatures, and he chose from among an infinite number of possible beings those whom it pleased him to choose, to give them existence, and to compose the universe of them, while he left all the rest in nothingness.’

This proposition is also part of natural theology. Here he says the possible beings ‘whom it pleased him to choose’. For it must be borne in mind that when I say, ’that pleases me’, it is as though I were saying, ‘I find it good’.

Thus it is the ideal goodness of the object which pleases, and which makes me choose it among many others which do not please or which please less, that is to say, which contain less of that goodness which moves me. Now it is only the genuinely good that is capable of pleasing God: and consequently that which pleases God most, and which meets his choice, is the best.

Proposition 3: ‘Human nature having been among the Beings that he willed to produce, he created a man and a woman, and granted them amongst other favours free will, so that they had the power to obey him; but he threatened them with death if they should disobey the order that he gave them to abstain from a certain fruit.’

This proposition is in part revealed, and should be admitted without difficulty, provided that free will be understood properly, according to the explanation I have given.

Proposition 4: ‘They ate thereof nevertheless, and thenceforth they were condemned, they and all their posterity, to the miseries of this life, to temporal death and eternal damnation, and made subject to such a tendency to sin that they abandoned themselves thereto endlessly and without ceasing.’

There is reason to suppose that the forbidden action by itself entailed these evil results in accordance with a natural effect, and that it was for that very reason, and not by a purely arbitrary decree, that God had forbidden it: much as one forbids knives to children.

The famous Fludde or de Fluctibus, an Englishman, once wrote a book De Vita, Morte et Resurrectione under the name of R. Otreb, wherein he maintained that the fruit of the forbidden tree was a poison: but we cannot enter into this detail. It suffices that God forbade a harmful thing; one must not therefore suppose that God acted here simply in the character of a legislator who enacts a purely positive law, or of a judge who imposes and inflicts a punishment by an order of his will, without any connexion between the evil of guilt and the evil of punishment.

It is not necessary to suppose that God in justifiable annoyance deliberately put a corruption in the soul and the body of man, by an extraordinary action, in order to punish him: much as the Athenians gave hemlock-juice to their criminals. M. Bayle takes the matter thus: he speaks as if the original corruption had been put in the soul of the first man by an order and operation of God.

It is that which calls forth his objection (Reply to the Questions of a Provincial, vol. III, ch. 178, p. 1218) ’that reason would not commend the monarch who, in order to chastise a rebel, condemned him and his descendants to have a tendency towards rebellion’. But this chastisement happens naturally to the wicked, without any ordinance of a legislator, and they become addicted to evil. If drunkards begot children inclined to the same vice, by a natural consequence of what takes place in bodies, that would be a punishment of their progenitors, [185]but it would not be a penalty of law. There is something comparable to this in the consequences of the first man’s sin. For the contemplation of divine wisdom leads us to believe that the realm of nature serves that of grace; and that God as an Architect has done all in a manner befitting God considered as a Monarch. We do not sufficiently know the nature of the forbidden fruit, or that of the action, or its effects, to judge of the details of this matter: nevertheless we must do God justice so far as to believe that it comprised something other than what painters depict for us.

Proposition 5: ‘It has pleased him by his infinite mercy to deliver a very few men from this condemnation; and, leaving them exposed during this life to the corruption of sin and misery, he has given them aids which enable them to obtain the never-ending bliss of paradise.’

Many in the past have doubted, as I have already observed, whether the number of the damned is so great as is generally supposed; and it appears that they believed in the existence of some intermediate state between eternal damnation and perfect bliss. But we have no need of these opinions, and it is enough to keep to the ideas accepted in the Church. In this connexion it is well to observe that this proposition of M. Bayle’s is conceived in accordance with the principles of sufficient grace, given to all men, and sufficing them provided that they have good will. Although M. Bayle holds the opposite opinion, he wished (as he states in the margin) to avoid the terms that would not agree with a system of decrees subsequent to the prevision of contingent events.

Proposition 6: ‘He foresaw from eternity all that which should happen, he ordered all things and placed them each one in its own place, and he guides and controls them continually, according to his pleasure.’

‘Thus nothing is done without his permission or against his will, and he can prevent, as seems good to him, as much and as often as seems good to him, all that does not please him, and in consequence sin, which is the thing in the world that most offends him and that he most detests; and he can produce in each human soul all the thoughts that he approves.’ This thesis is also purely philosophic, that is, recognizable by the light of natural reason. It is opportune also, as one has dwelt in thesis II on that which pleases, to dwell here upon that which seems good, that is, upon that which God finds good to do. He can avoid or put away as ‘seems good to him’ all ’that does not please him’.

Nevertheless it must be borne in mind that some objects of his aversion, such as [186]certain evils, and especially sin, which his antecedent will repelled, could only have been rejected by his consequent or decretory will, in so far as it was prompted by the rule of the best, which the All-wise must choose after having taken all into account. When one says ’that sin offends God most, and that he detests it most’, these are human ways of speaking. God cannot, properly speaking, be offended, that is, injured, disturbed, disquieted or angered; and he detests nothing of that which exists, in the sense that to detest something is to look upon it with abomination and in a way that causes us disgust, that greatly pains and distresses us; for God cannot suffer either vexation, or grief or discomfort; he is always altogether content and at ease. Yet these expressions in their true sense are justified. The supreme goodness of God causes his antecedent will to repel all evil, but moral evil more than any other: it only admits evil at all for irresistible superior reasons, and with great correctives which repair its ill effects to good advantage. It is true also that God could produce in each human soul all the thoughts that he approves: but this would be to act by miracles, more than his most perfectly conceived plan admits.

Proposition 7: ‘He offers grace to people that he knows are destined not to accept it, and so destined by this refusal to make themselves more criminal than they would be if he had not offered them that grace’

‘he assures them that it is his ardent wish that they accept it, and he does not give them the grace which he knows they would accept.’’

These people become more criminal through their refusal than if one had offered them nothing, and that God knows this. Yet it is better to permit their crime than to act in a way which would render God himself blameworthy, and provide the criminals with some justification for the complaint that it was not possible for them to do better, even though they had or might have wished it. God desires that they receive such grace from him as they are fit to receive, and that they accept it; and he desires to give them in particular that grace whose acceptance by them he foresees: but it is always by a will antecedent, detached or particular, which cannot always be carried out in the general plan of things. This thesis also is among the number of those which philosophy establishes no less than revelation, like three others of the seven that we have just stated here, the third, fourth and fifth being the only ones where revelation is necessary.


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