Of Laws in Relation to the Establishment of Religion
and its External Polity
1. Of Religious Sentiments. The pious man and
the atheist always talk of religion; the one speaks of what he loves, and
the other of what he fears.
2. Of the Motives of Attachment to different
Religions. The different religions of the world do not give to those
who profess them equal motives of attachment; this depends greatly on the
manner in which they agree with the turn of thought and perceptions of
We are extremely addicted to idolatry, and yet have no great inclination
for the religion of idolaters; we are not very fond of spiritual ideas,
and yet are most attached to those religions which teach us to adore a
spiritual being. This proceeds from the satisfaction we find in ourselves
at having been so intelligent as to choose a religion which raises the
deity from that baseness in which he had been placed by others. We look
upon idolatry as the religion of an ignorant people, and the religion
which has a spiritual being for its object as that of the most enlightened
When with a doctrine that gives us the idea of a spiritual supreme being
we can still join those of a sensible nature and admit them into our
worship, we contract a greater attachment to religion; because those
motives which we have just mentioned are added to our natural inclinations
for the objects of sense. Thus the Catholics, who have more of this kind
of worship than the Protestants, are more attached to their religion than
the Protestants are to theirs, and more zealous for its propagation.
When the people of Ephesus were informed that the fathers of the council
had declared they might call the Virgin Mary the Mother of God, they were
transported with joy, they kissed the hands of the bishops, they embraced
their knees, and the whole city resounded with acclamations.1
When an intellectual religion superadds a choice made by the deity, and
a preference for those who profess it over those who do not, this greatly
attaches us to religion. The Mahometans would not be such good Mussulmans
if, on the one hand, there were not idolatrous nations who make them
imagine themselves the champions of the unity of God; and on the other
Christians, to make them believe that they are the objects of his
A religion burdened with many ceremonies2
attaches us to it more strongly than that which has a fewer number. We
have an extreme propensity to things in which we are continually employed:
witness the obstinate prejudices of the Mahometans and the Jews,3
and the readiness with which barbarous and savage nations change their
religion, who, as they are employed entirely in hunting or war, have but
few religious ceremonies.
Men are extremely inclined to the passions of hope and fear; a religion,
therefore, that had neither a heaven nor a hell could hardly please them.
This is proved by the ease with which foreign religions have been
established in Japan, and the zeal and fondness with which they were
In order to raise an attachment to religion it is necessary that it
should inculcate pure morals. Men who are knaves by retail are extremely
honest in the gross; they love morality. And were I not treating of so
grave a subject I should say that this appears remarkably evident in our
theatres: we are sure of pleasing the people by sentiments avowed by
morality; we are sure of shocking them by those it disapproves.
When external worship is attended with great magnificence, it flatters
our minds and strongly attaches us to religion. The riches of temples and
those of the clergy greatly affect us. Thus even the misery of the people
is a motive that renders them fond of a religion which has served as a
pretext to those who were the cause of their misery.
3. Of Temples. Almost all civilised nations
dwell in houses; hence naturally arose the idea of building a house for
God in which they might adore and seek him, amidst all their hopes and
And, indeed, nothing is more comfortable to mankind than a place in
which they may find the deity peculiarly present, and where they may
assemble together to confess their weakness and tell their griefs.
But this natural idea never occurred to any but such as cultivated the
land; those who have no houses for themselves were never known to build
This was the cause that made Jenghiz Khan discover such a prodigious
contempt for mosques.5 This prince
examined the Mahometans;6 he
approved of all their doctrines, except that of the necessity of going to
Mecca; he could not comprehend why God might not be everywhere adored. As
the Tartars did not dwell in houses, they could have no idea of temples.
Those people who have no temples have but a small attachment to their
own religion. This is the reason why the Tartars have in all times given
so great a toleration;7 why the
barbarous nations, who conquered the Roman empire did not hesitate a
moment to embrace Christianity; why the savages of America have so little
fondness for their own religion; why, since our missionaries have built
churches in Paraguay, the natives of that country have become so zealous
As the deity is the refuge of the unhappy, and none are more unhappy
than criminals, men have been naturally led to think temples an asylum for
those wretches. This idea appeared still more natural to the Greeks, where
murderers, chased from their city and the presence of men, seemed to have
no houses but the temples, nor other protectors than the gods.
At first these were only designed for involuntary homicides; but when
the people made them a sanctuary for those who had committed great crimes
they fell into a gross contradiction. If they had offended men, they had
much greater reason to believe they had offended the gods.
These asylums multiplied in Greece. The temples, says Tacitus,8
were filled with insolvent debtors and wicked slaves; the magistrate found
it difficult to exercise his office; the people protected the crimes of
men as the ceremonies of the gods; at length the senate was obliged to
retrench a great number of them.
The laws of Moses were perfectly wise. The man who involuntarily killed
another was innocent; but he was obliged to be taken away from before the
eyes of the relatives of the deceased. Moses therefore appointed an asylum
for such unfortunate people.9 The
perpetrators of great crimes deserved not a place of safety, and they had
none:10 the Jews had only a
portable tabernacle, which continually changed its place; this excluded
the idea of a sanctuary. It is true that they had afterwards a temple; but
the criminals who would resort thither from all parts might disturb the
divine service. If persons who had committed manslaughter had been driven
out of the country, as was customary among the Greeks, they had reason to
fear that they would worship strange gods. All these considerations made
them establish cities of safety, where they might stay till the death of
4. Of the Ministers of Religion. The first
men, says Porphyry,11 sacrificed
only vegetables. In a worship so simple, every one might be priest in his
The natural desire of pleasing the deity multiplied ceremonies. Hence it
followed, that men employed in agriculture became incapable of observing
them all and of filling up the number.
Particular places were consecrated to the gods; it then became necessary
that they should have ministers to take care of them; in the same manner
as every citizen took care of his house and domestic affairs. Hence the
people who have no priests are commonly barbarians; such were formerly the
Pedalians,12 and such are still the
Men consecrated to the deity ought to be honoured, especially among
people who have formed an idea of a personal purity necessary to approach
the places most agreeable to the gods, and for the performance of
The worship of the gods requiring a continual application, most nations
were led to consider the clergy as a separate body. Thus, among the
Egyptians, the Jews, and the Persians,14
they consecrated to the deity certain families who performed and
perpetuated the service. There have been even religions which have not
only estranged ecclesiastics from business, but have also taken away the
embarrassments of a family; and this is the practice of the principal
branch of Christianity.
I shall not here treat of the consequences of the law of celibacy: it is
evident that it may become hurtful in proportion as the body of the clergy
may be too numerous; and, in consequence of this, that of the laity too
By the nature of the human understanding we love in religion everything
which carries the idea of difficulty; as in point of morality we have a
speculative fondness for everything which bears the character of severity.
Celibacy has been most agreeable to those nations to whom it seemed least
adapted, and with whom it might be attended with the most fatal
consequences. In the southern countries of Europe, where, by the nature of
the climate, the law of celibacy is more difficult to observe, it has been
retained; in those of the north, where the passions are less lively, it
has been banished. Further, in countries where there are but few
inhabitants it has been admitted; in those that are vastly populous it has
been rejected. It is obvious that these reflections relate only to the too
great extension of celibacy, and not to celibacy itself.
5. Of the Bounds which the Laws ought to
prescribe to the Riches of the Clergy. As particular families may be
extinct, their wealth cannot be a perpetual inheritance. The clergy is a
family which cannot be extinct; wealth is therefore fixed to it for ever,
and cannot go out of it.
Particular families may increase; it is necessary then that their wealth
should also increase. The clergy is a family which ought not to increase;
their wealth ought then to be limited.
We have retained the regulations of the Levitical laws as to the
possessions of the clergy, except those relating to the bounds of these
possessions; indeed, among us we must ever be ignorant of the limit beyond
which any religious community can no longer be permitted to acquire.
These endless acquisitions appear to the people so unreasonable that he
who should speak in their defence would be regarded as an idiot.
The civil laws find sometimes many difficulties in altering established
abuses, because they are connected with things worthy of respect; in this
case an indirect proceeding would be a greater proof of the wisdom of the
legislator than another which struck directly at the thing itself. Instead
of prohibiting the acquisitions of the clergy, we should seek to give them
a distaste for them; to leave them the right and to take away the deed.
In some countries of Europe, a respect for the privileges of the
nobility has established in their favour a right of indemnity over
immovable goods acquired in mortmain. The interest of the prince has in
the same case made him exact a right of amortisation. In Castile, where no
such right prevails, the clergy have seized upon everything. In Aragon,
where there is some right of amortisation, they have obtained less; in
France, where this right and that of indemnity are established, they have
acquired less still; and it may be said that the prosperity of this
kingdom is in a great measure owing to the exercise of these two rights.
If possible, then, increase these rights, and put a stop to the mortmain.
Render the ancient and necessary patrimony of the clergy sacred and
inviolable, let it be fixed and eternal like that body itself, but let new
inheritances be out of their power.
Permit them to break the rule when the rule has become an abuse; suffer
the abuse when it enters into the rule.
They still remember in Rome a certain memorial sent thither on some
disputes with the clergy, in which was this maxim: "The clergy ought
to contribute to the expenses of the state, let the Old Testament say what
it will." They concluded from this passage that the author of this
memorial was better versed in the language of the tax-gatherers than in
that of religion.
6. Of Monasteries. The least degree of common
sense will let us see that bodies designed for a perpetual continuance
should not be allowed to sell their funds for life, nor to borrow for
life; unless we want them to be heirs to all those who have no relatives
and to those who do not choose to have any. These men play against the
people, but they hold the bank themselves.
7. Of the Luxury of Superstition. "Those
are guilty of impiety towards the gods," says Plato,15
"who deny their existence; or who, while they believe it, maintain
that they do not interfere with what is done below; or, in fine, who think
that they can easily appease them by sacrifices: three opinions equally
pernicious." Plato has here said all that the clearest light of
nature has ever been able to say in point of religion. The magnificence of
external worship has a principal connection with the institution of the
state. In good republics, they have curbed not only the luxury of vanity,
but even that of superstition. They have introduced frugal laws into
religion. Of this number are many of the laws of Solon; many of those of
Plato on funerals, adopted by Cicero; and, in fine, some of the laws of
Numa on sacrifices.16
Birds, says Cicero,17 and
paintings begun and finished in a day are gifts the most divine. We offer
common things, says a Spartan, that we may always have it in our power to
honour the gods.
The desire of man to pay his worship to the deity is very different from
the magnificence of this worship. Let us not offer our treasures to him if
we are not proud of showing that we esteem what he would have us despise.
"What must the gods think of the gifts of the impious," said
the admirable Plato, "when a good man would blush to receive presents
from a villain?"
Religion ought not, under the pretence of gifts, to draw from the people
what the necessity of the state has left them; but as Plato says,18
"The chaste and the pious ought to offer gifts which resemble
Nor is it proper for religion to encourage expensive funerals. What is
there more natural than to take away the difference of fortune in a
circumstance and in the very moment which equals all fortunes?
8. Of the Pontificate. When religion has many
ministers it is natural for them to have a chief and for a sovereign
pontiff to be established. In monarchies, where the several orders of the
state cannot be kept too distinct, and where all powers ought not to be
lodged in the same person, it is proper that the pontificate be distinct
from the empire. The same necessity is not to be met with in a despotic
government, the nature of which is to unite all the different powers in
the same person. But in this case it may happen that the prince may regard
religion as he does the laws themselves, as dependent on his own will. To
prevent this inconvenience, there ought to be monuments of religion, for
instance, sacred books which fix and establish it. The King of Persia is
the chief of the religion; but this religion is regulated by the Koran.
The Emperor of China is the sovereign pontiff; but there are books in the
hands of everybody to which he himself must conform. In vain a certain
emperor attempted to abolish them; they triumphed over tyranny.
9. Of Toleration in point of Religion. We are
here politicians, and not divines; but the divines themselves must allow,
that there is a great difference between tolerating and approving a
When the legislator has believed it a duty to permit the exercise of
many religions, it is necessary that he should enforce also a toleration
among these religions themselves. It is a principle that every religion
which is persecuted becomes itself persecuting; for as soon as by some
accidental turn it arises from persecution, it attacks the religion which
persecuted it; not as religion, but as tyranny.
It is necessary, then, that the laws require from the several religions,
not only that they shall not embroil the state, but that they shall not
raise disturbances among themselves. A citizen does not fulfil the laws by
not disturbing the government; it is requisite that he should not trouble
any citizen whomsoever.
10. The same Subject continued. As there are
scarcely any but persecuting religions that have an extraordinary zeal for
being established in other places (because a religion that can tolerate
others seldom thinks of its own propagation), it must therefore be a very
good civil law, when the state is already satisfied with the established
religion, not to suffer the establishment of another.19
This is then a fundamental principle of the political laws in regard to
religion; that when the state is at liberty to receive or to reject a new
religion it ought to be rejected; when it is received it ought to be
11. Of changing a Religion. A prince who
undertakes to destroy or to change the established religion of his kingdom
must greatly expose himself. If his government be despotic, he runs a much
greater risk of seeing a revolution arise from such a proceeding, than
from any tyranny whatsoever, and a revolution is not an uncommon thing in
such states. The reason of this is that a state cannot change its
religion, manners and customs in an instant, and with the same rapidity as
the prince publishes the ordinance which establishes a new religion.
Besides, the ancient religion is connected with the constitution of the
kingdom and the new one is not; the former agrees with the climate and
very often the new one is opposed to it. Moreover, the citizens become
disgusted with their laws, and look upon the government already
established with contempt; they conceive a jealousy against the two
religions, instead of a firm belief in one; in a word, these innovations
give to the state, at least for some time, both bad citizens and bad
12. Of penal Laws. Penal laws ought to be
avoided in respect to religion: they imprint fear, it is true; but as
religion has also penal laws which inspire the same passion, the one is
effaced by the other, and between these two different kinds of fear the
mind becomes hardened.
The threatenings of religion are so terrible, and its promises so great,
that when they actuate the mind, whatever efforts the magistrate may use
to oblige us to renounce it, he seems to leave us nothing when he deprives
us of the exercise of our religion, and to bereave us of nothing when we
are allowed to profess it.
It is not, therefore, by filling the soul with the idea of this great
object, by hastening her approach to that critical moment in which it
ought to be of the highest importance, that religion can be most
successfully attacked: a more certain way is to tempt her by favours, by
the conveniences of life, by hopes of fortune; not by that which revives,
but by that which extinguishes the sense of her duty; not by that which
shocks her, but by that which throws her into indifference at the time
when other passions actuate the mind, and those which religion inspires
are hushed into silence. As a general rule in changing a religion the
invitations should be much stronger than the penalties.
The temper of the human mind has appeared even in the nature of
punishments. If we take a survey of the persecutions in Japan,20
we shall find that they were more shocked at cruel torments than at long
sufferings, which rather weary than affright, which are the more difficult
to surmount, from their appearing less difficult.
In a word, history sufficiently informs us that penal laws have never
had any other effect than to destroy.
13. A most humble Remonstrance to the Inquisitors
of Spain and Portugal. A Jewess of ten years of age, who was burned at
Lisbon at the last auto-da-fé, gave occasion to the following
little piece, the most idle, I believe, that ever was written. When we
attempt to prove things so evident we are sure never to convince.
The author declares, that though a Jew he has a respect for the
Christian religion; and that he should be glad to take away from the
princes who are not Christians, a plausible pretence for persecuting this
"You complain," says he to the Inquisitors, "that the
Emperor of Japan caused all the Christians in his dominions to be burned
by a slow fire. But he will answer, we treat you who do not believe like
us, as you yourselves treat those who do not believe like you; you can
only complain of your weakness, which has hindered you from exterminating
us, and which has enabled us to exterminate you.
"But it must be confessed that you are much more cruel than this
emperor. You put us to death who believe only what you believe, because we
do not believe all that you believe. We follow a religion which you
yourselves know to have been formerly dear to God. We think that God loves
it still, and you think that he loves it no more: and because you judge
thus, you make those suffer by sword and fire who hold an error so
pardonable as to believe that God still loves what he once loved.21
"If you are cruel to us, you are much more so to our children; you
cause them to be burned because they follow the inspirations given them by
those whom the law of nature and the laws of all nations teach them to
regard as gods.
"You deprive yourselves of the advantage you have over the
Mahometans, with respect to the manner in which their religion was
established. When they boast of the number of their believers, you tell
them that they have obtained them by violence, and that they have extended
their religion by the sword; why then do you establish yours by fire?
"When you would bring us over to you, we object to a source from
which you glory to have descended. You reply to us, that though your
religion is new, it is divine; and you prove it from its growing amidst
the persecutions of Pagans, and when watered by the blood of your martyrs;
but at present you play the part of the Diocletians, and make us take
"We conjure you, not by the mighty God whom both you and we serve,
but by that Christ, who, you tell us, took upon him a human form, to
propose himself as an example for you to follow; we conjure you to behave
to us as he himself would behave were he upon earth. You would have us
become Christians, and you will not be so yourselves.
"But if you will not be Christians, be at least men; treat us as
you would, if having only the weak light of justice which nature bestows,
you had not a religion to conduct, and a revelation to enlighten you.
"If heaven has had so great a love for you as to make you see the
truth, you have received a singular favour; but is it for children who
have received the inheritance of their father, to hate those who have not?
"If you have this truth, hide it not from us by the manner in which
you propose it. The characteristic of truth is its triumph over hearts and
minds, and not that impotency which you confess when you would force us to
receive it by tortures.
"If you were wise, you would not put us to death for no other
reason than because we are unwilling to deceive you. If your Christ is the
son of God, we hope he will reward us for being so unwilling to profane
his mysteries; and we believe that the God whom both you and we serve will
not punish us for having suffered death for a religion which he formerly
gave us, only because we believe that he still continues to give it.
"You live in an age in which the light of nature shines more
brightly than it has ever done; in which philosophy has enlightened human
understanding; in which the morality of your gospel has been better known;
in which the respective rights of mankind with regard to each other and
the empire which one conscience has over another are best understood. If
you do not therefore shake off your ancient prejudices, which, whilst
unregarded, mingle with your passions, it must be confessed that you are
incorrigible, incapable of any degree of light or instruction; and a
nation must be very unhappy that gives authority to such men.
"Would you have us frankly tell you our thoughts? You consider us
rather as your enemies than as the enemies of your religion; for if you
loved your religion you would not suffer it to be corrupted by such gross
"It is necessary that we should warn you of one thing; that is, if
any one in times to come shall dare to assert that in the age in which we
live, the people of Europe were civilised, you will be cited to prove that
they were barbarians; and the idea they will have of you will be such as
will dishonour your age and spread hatred over all your contemporaries."
14. Why the Christian Religion is so odious in
Japan. We have already mentioned the perverse temper of the people of
Japan.22 The magistrates considered
the firmness which Christianity inspires, when they attempted to make the
people renounce their faith, as in itself most dangerous; they fancied
that it increased their obstinacy. The law of Japan punishes severely the
least disobedience. The people were ordered to renounce the Christian
religion; they did not renounce it; this was disobedience; the magistrates
punished this crime; and the continuance in disobedience seemed to deserve
Punishments among the Japanese are considered as the revenge of an
insult done to the prince; the songs of triumph sung by our martyrs
appeared as an outrage against him: the title of martyr provoked the
magistrates; in their opinion it signified rebel; they did all in their
power to prevent their obtaining it. Then it was that their minds were
exasperated, and a horrid struggle was seen between the tribunals that
condemned and the accused who suffered; between the civil laws and those
15. Of the Propagation of Religion. All the
people of the East, except the Mahometans, believe all religions in
themselves indifferent. They fear the establishment of another religion no
otherwise than as a change in government. Among the Japanese, where there
are many sects, and where the state has had for so long a time an
ecclesiastical superior, they never dispute on religion.23
It is the same with the people of Siam.24
The Calmucks25 do more; they make
it a point of conscience to tolerate every species of religion; at Calicut
it is a maxim of the state that every religion is good.26
But it does not follow hence, that a religion brought from a far distant
country, and quite different in climate, laws, manners, and customs, will
have all the success to which its holiness might entitle it. This is more
particularly true in great despotic empires: here strangers are tolerated
at first, because there is no attention given to what does not seem to
strike at the authority of the prince. As they are extremely ignorant, a
European may render himself agreeable by the knowledge he communicates:
this is very well in the beginning. But as soon as he has any success,
when disputes arise and when men who have some interest become informed of
it, as their empire, by its very nature, above all things requires
tranquillity, and as the least disturbance may overturn it, they proscribe
the new religion and those who preach, it: disputes between the preachers
breaking out, they begin to entertain a distaste for a religion on which
even those who propose it are not agreed.
1. St. Cyril's Letter.
2. This does not contradict what I
have said in the last chapter of the preceding book: I here speak of the
motives of attachment of religion, and there of the means of rendering it
3. This has been remarked over all
the world. See, as to the Turks, the Missions of the Levant; the Collection
of Voyages that Contributed to the Establishment of the East India
Company, iii, part I, p. 201 on the Moors of Batavia; and Father Labat
on the Mahometan Negroes, &c.
4. The Christian and the Indian
religions: these have a hell and a paradise, which the religion of Sintos
5. Entering the mosque of Bochara, he
took the Koran, and threw it under his horse's feet. — History of
the Tartars, part III, p. 273.
6. Ibid., p. 342.
7. This disposition of mind has been
communicated to the Japanese, who, as it may be easily proved, derive
their origin from the Tartars.
8. Annals, iii. 60.
9. Numb., 35, 14.
10. Ibid., 16, ff.
11. De Abstinentia animal,
ii, § 5.
12. Lilius Giraldus, p. 726.
13. A people of Siberia. See the
account given by Mr. Everard Ysbrant Ides, in the Collection of
Travels to the North, viii.
14. Mr. Hyde.
15. Laws, x.
16. Rogum vino ne respergito —
Law of the Twelve Tables.
17. Cicero derives these appropriate
words from Plato, Laws, xii. — ED.
18. Laws, iv.
19. I do not mean to speak in this
chapter of the Christian religion; for, as I have elsewhere observed, the
Christian religion is our chief blessing. See the end of the preceding
chapter, and the Defence of the Spirit of Laws, part II.
20. In the Collection of Voyages
that Contributed to the Establishment of the East India Company, v,
part 1, p. 192.
21. The source of the blindness of
the Jews is their not perceiving that the economy of the Gospel is in the
order of the decrees of God and that it is in this light a consequence of
23. See Kempfer.
24. Forbin, Memoirs.
25. History of the Tartars,
26. Pirard, Travels, 27.
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