Superphysics Superphysics
Chapter 4

Religious Ministers

by Montesquieu Icon
9 minutes  • 1718 words
Table of contents

THE first men, says Porphyry, sacrificed only vegetables. In a worship so simple, every one might be priest in his own family.

The natural desire of pleasing the Deity multiplied ceremonies. From 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*, and such are still the Wolgusky†.

Men consecrated to the Deity ought to be honoured, especially amongst 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 particular ceremonies.

The worship of the gods requiring a continual application, most nations were led to consider the clergy as a separate body. Thus, amongst the Egyptians, the Jews, and the Persians‡, 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; [189] and this is the practice of the principal branch of Christianity.

I shall not deal with the consequences of the law of celibacy. 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 small.

By the nature of the human understanding, we love in religion every thing which carries the idea of difficulty; as in point of morality we have a speculative fondness for every thing 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.

Chapter 5= Laws on Church Wealth

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 [190] 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, amongst 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 immoveable goods acquired in mortmain. The interest of the prince has in the same case made him exact a right of amortization= In Castile, where no such right prevails, the clergy have seized upon every thing. In Arragon, where there is some right of amortization, 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 fixt and eternal [191] like that body itself= but let new inheritances be out of their power.

Permit them to break the rule, when the rule is become an abuse; suffer the abuse, when it enters into the rule.

They still remember at Rome a certain memorial sent thither on some disputes with the clergy, in which was this maxim; “The clergy ought to contribute to the expences 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.

Chapter 6= 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 relations, and to those who do not chuse to have any. These men play against the people, but they hold the bank themselves.

Chapter 7= Superstition

“THOSE are guilty of impiety towards the gods, says Plato*, 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 [192] 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 constitution 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.

Birds, says Cicero, 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 shewing that we esteem what he would have us despite.

“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 necessities of the state have left them; but, as Plato† says, “The chaste and the pious ought to offer gifts, which resemble themselves.”

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?

Chapter 8= The Pope

WHEN religion has many ministers, it is natural for them to have a chief, and for a sovereign pontif 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 inconveniency, 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 pontif; but there are books in the hands of every body, to which he himself must conform. In vain a certain emperor attempted to abolish them= they triumphed over tyranny.

Chapter 9= Religious Tolerance

WE are here politicians, and not divines= but the divines themselves must allow, that there is a great difference between tolerating and approving a religion.

When the legislator has believed it a duty to permit the exercise of many religions, it is necessary that [194] he should inforce also a toleration amongst 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 a religion, but as a 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 amongst themselves. A citizen does not fulfil the laws by not disturbing the government; it is requisite that he should not trouble any citizen whomsoever.

Chapter 10= continued.

AS there are scarce 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*.

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 tolerated.

Any Comments? Post them below!