Toleration and other essays/Epistle to the Romans

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Translation of L'Épître aux Romains (1768)

epistle to the romans

(Translated from the Italian of Count de

article I.

Illustrious Romans, it is not the Apostle Paul who has the honour of addressing you. It is not that worthy Jew who was born at Tarsus, according to the Acts of the Apostles, and at Giscala according to Jerome and other fathers; a dispute that has led some to believe that one may be born in two different places at the same time, just as there are among you certain bodies which are created by a few Latin words, and are found in a hundred thousand places at the same time.[1]

It is not the bald, hot-headed man, with long and broad nose, black eyebrows, thick and continuous, and broad shoulders and crooked legs,[2] who, having carried off the daughter of his master Gamaliel, and being subsequently dissatisfied with her, divorced her[3]; and, in pique, if we may believe contemporary Jewish writers, put himself at the head of the nascent body of the Christians.

It is not that St. Paul who, when he was a servant of Gamaliel, had the good Stephen, the patron of deacons and of those who are stoned, slain with stones, and who, while it was done, took care of the cloaks of the murderers—a fitting employment for a priest's valet. It is not he who fell from his horse, blinded in midday by a heavenly light, and to whom God said in the air, as he says every day to so many others: "Why persecutest thou me?" It is not he who wrote to the half-Jewish, half-Christian shopkeepers of Corinth: "Have we not power to eat and to drink . . . and to lead about a sister or a wife? Who goeth to war any time at his own charge?"[4] By those fine words the Reverend Father Menou, Jesuit and apostle of Lorraine, profited so well that they brought him, at Nancy, eighty thousand francs a year, a palace, and more than one handsome woman.

It is not he who wrote to the little flock in Thessalonica that the universe was about to be destroyed, and on that account it was not worth while keeping money about one. As Paul said: "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them."[5]

Observe, generous Romans, that St. Paul did but announce these pleasant things to the tailors and grocers of Thessalonica in virtue of the express prophecy of Luke (ch. xxi.), who had publicly—that is, to some fifteen or sixteen chosen souls among the people—averred that this generation would not pass away before the son of man came on the clouds with great power and glory. It is true, O Romans, that Jesus came not on the clouds with a great power; but at least the popes have had this great power, and thus are the prophecies fulfilled.

He who writes this epistle to the Romans is, again, not that St. Paul, half Jew, half Christian, who, having preached Jesus and announced the destruction of the Mosaic law, not only went to Judaise in the temple of Hershalaim, which he vulgar call Jerusalem, but, on the advice of his friend James, observed there certain rigorous practices which the Holy Inquisition now punishes with death.[6]

He who writes to you has been neither priest's valet, nor murderer, nor keeper of cloaks, nor apostate, nor maker of tents, nor buried in the depths of the sea, like Jonah, for twenty-four hours, nor caught up to the third heaven, like Elias, without learning what the third heaven is.

He who writes to you is more a citizen than this Saul Paul, who, it is said, boasted of being one, and assuredly was not. For Tarsus, if he came from there, was not made a Roman colony until the time of Caracalla [211-217 a.d.] ; and Giscala in Galilee, from which it is more probable that he came, since he was of the tribe of Benjamin, was certainly not a Roman town. Roman citizenship was not bestowed on Jews at Tarsus or anywhere else. The author of the Acts of the Apostles (xvi., 37) asserts that this Jew Paul and another Jew named Silas were arrested by the authorities in the town of Philippi in Macedonia (a town founded by the father of Alexander, near which the battle between Cassius and Brutus, on the one side, and Antony and Octavian, on the other, decided the fate of your empire). Paul and Silas were scourged for stirring up the populace, and Paul said to the officers: "They have beaten us, being Romans" (Acts xvi., 37). Commentators freely admit that Silas was not a Roman citizen. They do not say that the author of Acts lied, but they agree that what he says is untrue; and I am sorry for the Holy Spirit, who, no doubt, dictated the Acts of the Apostles.

Tn fine, he who now writes to the descendants of Marcellus, the Scipios, the Catos, Cicero, Titus, and the Antonines, is a Roman gentleman of an ancient and transplanted family, one who cherishes his venerable country, bemoans her condition, and has left his heart in her Capitol.

Romans, listen to your fellow-citizen; listen to Rome and your ancient valour.

L'Italico valor non è ancor morto.

article ii.

When I travelled among you, I wept to see the Zocolanti occupying that very Capitol to which Paulus Emilus led King Perseus, the descendant of Alexander, chained to his triumphal car; that temple to which the Scipios had brought the spoils of Carthage, and in which Pompey triumphed over Asia, Africa, and Europe. But even more bitter were my tears when I recalled the feast that Cæsar spread for our ancestors on twenty-two thousand tables, and when I compared the congiaria, that immense free distribution of corn, with the scanty and poor bread that you eat to-day, sold to you at so high a price by the apostolic chamber. Alas! you cannot even sow your soil without the permission of these apostles; and, indeed, what have you with which to sow it? There is not a citizen among you, save a few that live in the Trastevere quarter, who has a plough. Your God fed five thousand men, to say nothing of the women and children, with five loaves and two gudgeons, according to St. John; four thousand men, according to Matthew.[7] You, Romans, are made to swallow the gudgeon[8] without receiving any bread. The successors of Lucullus are reduced to the holy practice of fasting.

Your climate has never changed, whatever be said to the contrary. Who, then, has so greatly changed your soil, your fortunes, and your spirit? Whence comes it that the whole country from the gates of Rome to Ostia is inhabited only by reptiles? Why do we find that, from Montefiascone to Viterbo, and in the whole region through which the Appian Way still leads to Naples, a vast desert has replaced the smiling land that was once covered with palaces, gardens, harvests, and countless numbers of citizens? I sought the Forum Romanum of Trajan, that square once paved with reticulated marble, surrounded by a colonnaded peristyle and adorned with a hundred statues; and what I found was the Campo Vacino, the cattle-market, a market of lean and milkless cows. And I asked myself: Where are those two million Romans who once peopled this capital? I found that on the average only 3500 children are now born annually in Rome. Setting aside Jews, priests, and foreigners, Rome cannot have one hundred thousand inhabitants. I asked of them: Whose is this splendid building that I see, girt about with ruins? It belongs to the monks, they said. Here once was the house of Augustus; there Cicero dwelt, and there Pompey. On their ruins have arisen convents.

I wept, Romans; and I think highly enough of you to believe that you weep with me.

Article III.

It was explained to me that an aged priest, who has been appointed pope by other priests, cannot find either the time or the will to relieve your misery. He can think only of living. What interest should he take in Romans? He is himself rarely a Roman. What care should he take of an estate that will not pass to his children? Rome is not his patrimony, as it was that of the Cæsars. It is an ecclesiastical benefice; the papacy is a kind of commendatory abbey,[9] which each abbot ruins while he lives. The Cæsars had a real interest in seeing Rome flourish; the patricians, under the Republic, had an even greater interest. No dignities could be obtained unless the people were won with benefits, cajoled by the appearance of virtue, or fired by great victories. A pope shuts himself up with his money and his unleavened bread, and gives only his blessing to the people that was once known as "the People King."

Your misfortunes began with the transfer of the Empire of Rome to the bounds of Thrace. Constantine, chosen emperor by a few barbaric cohorts in distant England, triumphed over the Maxentius chosen by you. Maxentius was drowned in the Tiber in the rout, and left the Empire to his rival. But the conqueror went to hide himself on the shores of the Black Sea; he could not have done more if he had been beaten. Stained with debauch and crime, murderer of his father-in-law, brother-in-law, nephew, son, and wife, abhorred by the Romans, he abandoned the ancient religion under which they had conquered so many States, and cast himself into the arms of the Christians who had found the money to which he owed his crown.[10] He thus betrayed the Empire as soon as he obtained it, and, in transplanting to the Bosphorus the great tree that had sheltered Europe, Africa, and Asia Minor, he did fatal injury to its roots.

Your next misfortune was this ecclesiastical maxim, quoted in a celebrated French poem, "Le Lutrin," and very gravely true: "Ruin the world, if need be; it is the spirit of the Church." The Church fought the ancient religion of the Empire, and tore its own entrails in the struggle, dividing, with equal fury and imprudence, on a hundred incomprehensible questions of which none had ever heard before. The Christian sects, hounding each other with fire and sword for metaphysical chimæras and sophisms of the school, united to seize the spoils of the priesthood founded by Numa. They did not rest until they had destroyed the altar of Victory at Rome.

St. Ambrose, passing from the bar to the bishopric of Milan without being a deacon, and your Damasus, whom a schism made bishop of Rome, profited by this fatal success. They secured the destruction of the altar of Victory, which had been set up on the Capitol[11] nearly eight hundred years before—a monument of the courage of your ancestors, destined to maintain their valour in their descendants. The emblematic figure of Victory was no object of idolatry, like your statues of Antony of Padua (who "hears those whom God will not hear") , of Francis of Assisi (who is represented over the door of a church at Rheims with this inscription: "To Francis and Jesus, both crucified"), of St. Crepin, St. Barbe, and so many others; or like the blood of a score of saints (headed by your patron Januarius, whom the rest of the earth knows not) that is liquefied at Naples on certain days, or the prepuce and navel of Jesus, or the milk, and hair, and shift, and petticoat of his mother. These are idolatries, as disgusting as they are accredited. But this Victory, surmounting a globe, with outspread wings, a sword in hand, and head crowned with laurels, was merely the noble device of the Roman Empire, the symbol of virtue. Fanaticism robbed you of the pledge of your glory.

With what effrontery did these new enthusiasts dare to substitute their Rochs, and Fiacres, and Eustaces, and Ursulas, and Scholasticas for Neptune, the ruler of the seas; Mars, the god of war; and Juno, the ruler of the air, under the sovereignty of the great Zeus, the eternal Demiourgos, master of the elements, the gods, and men! A thousand times more idolatrous than your ancestors, these maniacs bade you worship the bones of the dead. These plagiarists of antiquity borrowed the lustral water of the Romans and Greeks, their procession, the confession that was made in the mysteries of Ceres and Isis, their incense, libations, hymns, and the very garments of their priests. They spoiled the old religion, and clad themselves in its vesture. Even to-day they bow down before the statues of unknown men, while they heap reproaches on a Pericles, a Solon, a Miltiades, a Cicero, a Scipio, or a Cato for bending the knee before these emblems of divinity.

Nay, is there a single episode in the Old or the New Testament that has not been copied from the ancient mythologies of India, Chaldæa, Egypt, and Greece? Is not the sacrifice of Idomene the plain source of that of Jephtha? Is not the roe of Iphigenia the ram of Isaac? Do you not recognise Eurydice in Edith, the wife of Lot? Minerva and the winged horse Pegasus drew fountains from the rocks when they struck them; the same prodigy is ascribed to Moses. Bacchus had crossed the Red Sea drv-shod before he did, and he had caused the sun and moon to stand still before Joshua. We have the same legends, the same extravagances, on every side.

There is not a single miraculous action in the gospels that you will not find in much earlier writers. The goat Amalthæa had a horn of plenty long before it was said that Jesus had fed five thousand men, not to speak of the women, with two fishes. The daughters of Anius had changed water into wine and oil before there was any question of the marriage-feast of Cana. Athalide, Hippolytus, Alcestis, Pelops, and Heres had returned to life long before men spoke of the resurrection of Jesus; and Romulus was born of a vestal virgin more than seven hundred years before Jesus began to be regarded as virgin-born. Compare, and judge for yourselves.

Article iv.

When your altar of Victory had been destroyed, the barbarians came and finished the work of the priests. Rome became the prey and the sport of nations that it had so long ruled, if not repressed.

It is true that you still had consuls, a senate, municipal laws; but the popes have robbed you of what the Huns and Goths had left you.

It was in earlier times unheard of that a priest should set up royal rights in any city of the Empire. It is well known all over Europe, except in your chancellery, that, until the time of Gregory VII., your pope was but a metropolitan bishop, subject to the Greek, then the Frankish, emperors, and then to the house of Saxony; receiving investiture from them, compelled to send a profession of faith to the bishops of Ravenna and Milan, as we read expressly in your Diarium Romanum. His title of "patriach of the west" gave him much prestige, but no sovereign rights. A priest-king was a blasphemy in a religion of which the founder expressly says in the gospels: "There shall be no first and last among you." Weigh well, Romans, these other words that are put in the mouth of Jesus: "To sit on my right hand and on my left it is not mine to give, but for whom it is prepared of my father."[12] Know, moreover, that the Jews meant, and still mean, by "son of God" a just man. Inquire of the eight thousand Jews who sell old clothes, as they ever have done, in your city, and pay close attention to the following words: "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister. The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister."[13]

Do these clear and precise words mean that Boniface VIII. was bound to crush the Colonna family; that Alexander VI. was bound to poison so many Roman barons; or that the bishop of Rome received from God, in a time of anarchy, the duchy of Rome, Ferrara, Bologna, the March of Ancona, Castro, and Ronciglione, and all the country from Viterbo to Terracina, which have been wrested from their lawful owners? Think you, Romans, that Jesus was sent on earth by God solely for the Rezzonico?

Article v.

You will ask me by what means this strange revolution of all divine and human laws was brought about. I am about to tell you; and I defy the most zealous fanatic in whom there is still a spark of reason, and the most determined rogue who has still a trace of decency in his soul, to resist the force of the truth, if he reads this important inquiry with the attention it deserves.

It is certain and undoubted that the earliest societies of the Galilæans, afterwards called Christians, remained in obscurity, in the mud of the cities; and it is certain that, when these Christians began to write, they entrusted their books only to those who had been initiated into their mysteries. They were not even given to the catechumens, much less to partisans of the imperial religion. No Roman before the time of Trajan [98-117 a.d.] knew that the gospels existed; no Greek or Latin writer has ever quoted the word "gospel"; Plutarch, Lucian, Petronius, and Apuleius, who speak of everything, are entirely ignorant of the existence of gospels. This proof, with a hundred others, shows the absurdity of those authors who now hold, or pretend to hold, that the disciples of Jesus died for the truth of these gospels, of which the Romans did not hear a word during two hundred years. The half-Jew, half-Christian Galilæans, separated from the disciples of John, and from the Therapeuts, Essenians, Judaites, Herodians, Sadducees, and Pharisees, recruited their little flock among the lowest of the people, not, indeed, by means of books, but of speech, by catechising the women and girls (Acts xvi., 13 and 14) and children, and passing from town to town; in a word, like all other sects.

Tell me frankly, Romans, what your ancestors would have said if St. Paul, or Simon Barjona, or Matthias, or Matthew, or Luke, had appeared in the Senate and said : "Our God, Jesus, who passed as the son of a carpenter during life, was born in the year 752 from the foundation of Rome, under the governorship of Cyrenius (Luke ii., 2), in a Jewish village called Bethlehem, to which his father Joseph and his mother Mariah had gone to be included in the census which Augustus had ordered. This God was born in a stable, between an ox and an ass.[14] The angels came down from heaven and informed the peasants of his birth; a new star appeared in the heavens, and led to him three kings or wise men from the east, who brought him a tribute of incense, myrrh, and gold; but in spite of this gold he was poor throughout life. Herod, who was then dying, and whom you had made king, having learned that the new-born child was king of the Jews, had fourteen thousand new-born in- fants of the district put to death, to make sure that the king was included (Matthew ii., 16). However, one of our writers inspired by God says that the God-king child fled to Egypt; and another writer, equally inspired by God, says that the child remained at Bethlehem (Luke ii., 39). One of these sacred and infallible writers draws up a royal genealogy for him; another composes for him an entirely different royal genealogy. Jesus preaches to the peasants, and turns water into wine for them at a marriage feast. Jesus is taken by the devil up into a mountain. He drives out devils, and sends them into the body of two thousand pigs in Galilee, where there never were any pigs. He greatly insulted the magistrates, and the prætor Pontius had him executed. When he had been executed, he manifested his divinity. The earth trembled; the dead left their graves, and walked about in the city before the eyes of Pontius. There was an eclipse of the sun at midday, at a time of full moon, although that is impossible. He rose again secretly, went up to heaven, and sent down another god, who fell on the heads of his disciples in tongues of fire. May these same tongues fall on your heads, conscript fathers; become Christians."

If the lowest official in the Senate had condescended to answer this discourse, he would have said: "You are weak-minded rogues, and ought to be put in the asylum for the insane. You lie when you say that your God was born in the year of Rome 752, under the governorship of Cyrenius, the proconsul of Syria. Cyrenius did not govern Syria until more than ten years afterwards, as our registers prove. Quintilius Varus was at that time proconsul of Syria.

"You lie when you say that Augustus ordered a census of 'all the world.' You must be very ignorant not to know that Augustus was master only of one tenth of the world. If by 'all the world ' you mean the Roman Empire, know that neither Augustus nor anybody else ever undertook such a census. Know that there was but one single enumeration of the citizens of Rome and its territory under Augustus, and that the number amounted to four million citizens; and unless your carpenter Joseph and his wife Mariah brought forth your God in a suburb of Rome, and this Jewish carpenter was a Roman citizen, he cannot possibly have been included.

"You are telling a ridiculous untruth with your three kings and new star, and the little massacred children, and the dead rising again and walking in the streets under the eyes of Pontius Pilate, who never wrote us a word about it, etc., etc.

"You are lying when you speak of an eclipse of the sun at a time of full moon. Our prætor Pontius Pilate would have written to us about it, and we, together with all the nations of the earth, would have witnessed this eclipse. Return to your work, you fanatical peasants, and thank the Senate that it has too much disdain to punish you."

Article vi.

It is clear that the first half-Jewish Christians took care not to address themselves to the Roman Senators, nor to any man of position or any one above the lowest level of the people. It is well known that they appealed only to the lowest class. To these they boasted of healing nervous diseases, epilepsy, and uterine convulsions, which ignorant folk, among the Romans as well as among the Jews, Egyptians, Greeks, and Syrians, regarded as the work of charms or diabolical possession. There must assuredly have been some cases of healing. Some were cured in the name of Esculapius, and we have since discovered at Rome a monument of a miracle of Esculapius, with the names of the witnesses. Others were healed in the name of Isis, or of the Syrian goddess; others in the name of Jesus, etc. The common people healed in one of these names believed in those who propagated it.

Article vii.

Thus the Christians made progress among the people by a device that invariably seduces ignorant folk. But they had a still more powerful means. They declaimed against the rich. They preached community of goods; in their secret meetings they enjoined their neophytes to give them the little money they had earned; and they quoted the alleged instance of Sapphira and Ananias (Acts v., 1-11). whom Simon Barjona, called Cephas, which means Peter, caused to die suddenly because they had kept a crown to themselves—the first and most detestable example of priestly covetousness.

But they would not have succeeded in extorting the money of their neophytes if they had not preached the doctrine of the cynic philosophers—the idea of voluntary poverty. Even this, however, was not enough to form a new flock. The end of the world had been long announced. You will find it in Epicurus and Lucretius, his chief disciple. Ovid had said, in the days of Augustus:

Esse quoque in fatis meminisceret adfore tempus,
Quo mare, quo tellus, correptaque regio coeli
Ardeat, et mundi moles operosa laboret.[15]

According to others, the world had been made by a fortuitous concourse of atoms, and would be destroyed by another fortuitous concourse, as we find in the poems of Lucretius.

This idea came originally from the Brahmans of India. Many Jews had adopted it by the time of Herod. It is formally stated in the gospel of Luke, as you have seen; it is in Paul's epistles; and it is in all those who are known as fathers of the Church. The world was about to be destroyed, it was thought; and the Christians announced a new Jerusalem, which was seen in the air by night.[16] The Jews talked of nothing but a new kingdom of heaven; it was the system of John the Baptist, who had introduced on the Jordan the ancient Hindoo practice of baptism in the Ganges. Baptism was practised by the Egyptians, and adopted by the Jews. This new kingdom of heaven, to which the poor alone would be admitted, was preached by Jesus and his followers. They threatened with eternal torment those who would not believe in the new heaven. This hell, invented by the first Zoroaster, became one of the chief points of Egyptian theology.[17] From the latter came the barque of Charon, Cerberus, the river Lethe, Tartarus, and the Furies. From Egypt the idea passed to Greece, and from there to the Romans; the Jews were unacquainted with it until the time when the Pharisees preached it, shortly before the reign of Herod. It was one of their contradictions to admit both hell and metempsychosis (transmigration of souls); but who would look for reasoning among the Jews? Their powers in that direction are confined to money matters. The Sadducees and Samaritans rejected the immortality of the soul, because it is not found anywhere in the Mosaic law.

This was the great spring which the early Christians, all half-Jewish, relied upon to put the new machinery in action: community of goods, secret meals, hidden mysteries, gospels read to the initiated only, paradise for the poor, hell for the rich, and exorcisms by charlatans. Here, in strict truth, we have the first foundations of the Christian sect. If I deceive you—or, rather, if I deliberately deceive you—I pray the God of the universe, the God of all men, to wither the hand that writes this, to shatter with his lightning a head that is convinced of the existence of a good and just God, and to tear out from me a heart that worships him.

Article viii.

Let us now, Romans, consider the artifices, roguery, and forgery to which the Christians themselves have given the name of "pious frauds"; frauds that have cost you your liberty and your goods, and have brought down the conquerors of Europe to a most lamentable slavery. I again take God to witness that I will say no word that is not amply proved. If I wished to use all the arms of reason against fanaticism, all the piercing darts of truth against error, I should speak to you first of that prodigious number of contradictory gospels which your popes themselves now recognise to be false. They show, at least, that there were forgers among the first Christians. This, however, is very well known. I have to tell you of impostures that are not generally known, and are a thousand times more pernicious.

First Imposture

It is a very ancient superstition that the last words of the dying are prophetic, or are, at least, sacred maxims and venerable precepts. It was believed that the soul, about to dissolve the union with the body and already half united to the Deity, had a cloudless vision of the future and of truth. Following this prejudice, the Judæo-Christians forge, in the first century of the Church, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, written in Greek, to serve as a prediction or a preparation for the new kingdom of Jesus. In the testament of Reuben we find these words: "Adore his seed, for he will die for you, in wars visible and invisible, and he will be your king for ever." This prophecy is applied to Jesus, in the usual way of those who wrote fifty-four gospels in various places, and who nearly all endeavoured to find in Jewish writers, especially those who were called prophets, passages that could be twisted in favour of Jesus. They even added some that are clearly recognised as false. The author of the Testament of the Patriarchs is one of the most impudent and clumsy forgers that ever spoiled good parchment. His book was written in Alexandria, in the school of a certain Mark.

Second Chief Imposture

They forged letters from the king of Edessa to Jesus, and from Jesus to this supposed prince. There was no king at Edessa, which was a town under the Syrian governor; the petty prince of Edessa never had the title of king. Moreover, it is not said in any of the gospels that Jesus could write; and if he could, he would have left some proof of it to his disciples. Hence these letters are now declared by all scholars to be forgeries.

Third Chief Imposture
(which contains several)

They forged Acts of Pilate, letters of Pilate, and even a history of Pilate's wife. The letters of Pilate are especially interesting. Here is a fragment of one:

"It happened a short time ago, and I have verified it, that the Jews in their enw drew on themselves a cruel condemnation. Their God having promised that he would send his holy one to them from heaven to be their legitimate king, and that he should be born of a virgin, did indeed send him when I was procurator in Judæa. The leaders of the Jews denounced him to me as a magician. I believed it, and had him scourged, and handed him over to them; and they crucified him. They put guards about his tomb, but he rose again the third day."

To this forgery I may add that of the rescript of Tiberius to the Senate, to raise Jesus to the rank of the imperial gods, and the ridiculous letters of the philosopher Seneca to Paul, and of Paul to Seneca, written in barbaric Latin; also the letters of the Virgin Mary to St. Ignatius, and many other clumsy fictions of the same nature. I will not draw out this list of impostures. It would amaze you if I enumerated them one by one.

Fourth Imposture

The boldest, perhaps, and clumsiest of these forgeries is that of the prophecies attributed to the Sibyls, foretelling the incarnation, miracles, and death of Jesus, in acrostic verse. This piece of folly, unknown to the Romans, fed the belief of the catechumens. It circulated among us for eight centuries, and we still sing in one of our hymns[18] "teste David cum Sibylla" [witness David and the Sibyl].

You are astonished, no doubt, that this despicable comedy was maintained so long, and that men could be led with such a bridle as that. But as the Christians were plunged in the most stupid barbarism for fifteen hundred years, as books were very rare and theologians very astute, one could say anything at all to poor wretches who would believe anything at all.

Fifth Imposture

Illustrious and unfortunate Romans, before we come to the pernicious untruths which have cost you your liberty, your property, and your glory, and put you under the yoke of a priest; before I speak to you of the alleged pontificate of Simon Barjona, who is said to have been bishop of Rome for twenty-five years, you must be informed of the "Apostolic Constitutions," the first foundation of the hierarchy that crushes you to-day.

At the beginning of the second century there was no such thing as an episcopos ("overseer") or bishop, clothed with real dignity for life, unalterably attached to a certain see, and distinguished from other men by his clothes; bishops, in fact, dressed like ordinary laymen until the middle of the fifth century. The meeting was held in a chamber of some retired house. The minister was chosen by the initiated, and continued his work as long as they were satisfied. There were no altars, candles, or incense; the earliest fathers of the Church speak of altars and temples with a shudder.[19] They were content to make a collection and sup together. When the Christian society had grown, however, ambition set up an hierarchy. How did they go about it? The rogues who led the enthusiasts made them believe that they had discovered the apostolic constitutions written by St. John and St. Matthew: "quæ ego Matthæus et Joannes vobis tradidimus [which I, Matthew, and John have given you]."[20] In these Matthew is supposed to say (II., xxxvi.): "Be ye careful not to judge your bishop, for it is given to the priests alone to judge." Matthew and John say (II., xxxiv.): "As much as the soul is above the body, so much higher is the priesthood than royalty; consider your bishop as a king, an absolute master (dominum); give him your fruits, your works, your firstlings, your tithes, your savings, the first and tenth part of your wine, oil, and corn, etc." Again (II., xxx.): "Let the bishop be a god to you, and the deacon a prophet"; and (II., xxxviii.): "In the festivals let the deacon have a double portion, and the priest double that of the deacon; and if they be not at table, send the portions to them."

You see, Romans, the origin of your custom of spreading your tables to give indigestion to your pontiffs. Would to God they had confined themselves to the sin of gluttony.

You will further observe with care, in regard to this imposture of the constitutions of the apostles, that it is an authentic monument of the dogmas of the second century, and that forgery at least does homage to truth in maintaining a complete silence about innovations that could not be foreseen—innovations with which you have been deluged century after century. You will find, in this second-century document, neither trinity, nor consubstantiality, nor transubstantiation, nor auricular confession. You will not find in it that the mother of Jesus was the mother of God, that Jesus had two natures and two wills, or that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the father and the son. All these singular ornaments of imagination, unknown to the religion of the gospels, have been added since to the crude structure which fanaticism and ignorance raised up in the first centuries.

You will assuredly find in it three persons, but not three persons in one God. Read with all the acuteness of your mind, the only treasure that your tyrants have left you, the common prayer which the Christians, by the mouth of their bishop, offered in their meetings in the second century:

"O all-powerful, unengendered, inaccessible God, the one true God, father of Christ thy only son, God of the paraclete, God of all, thou hast made the disciples of Christ doctors, etc."[21]

Here, clearly, is one sole God who commands Christ and the paraclete [Holy Ghost]. Judge for yourselves if that has any resemblance to the trinity and consubstantiality which were afterwards declared at Nicæa, in spite of the strong protest of eighteen bishops and two thousand priests.[22]

In another place (III., xvi.) the author of the Apostolic Constitutions, who is probably a bishop of the Christians at Rome, says expressly that the father is God above all.

That is the doctrine of Paul, finding expression so frequently in his epistles. "We have peace in God through Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans v., 1). "If through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many" (Romans v., 15). "We are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Romans viii., 17). "Receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God" (Romans xv., 7). "To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever" (Romans xvi., 27). "That the God of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom" (Ephesians i., 17).

Thus does the Jew-Christian Saul Paul always express himself, and thus is Jesus himself made to speak in the gospels. "My Father is greater than I" (John xiv., 28); that is to say, God can do what men cannot do. All the Jews said "my father" when they spoke of God.

The Lord's Prayer begins with the words "Our Father." Jesus said: "Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (Matthew xxiv., 36); and "That is not mine to give, but for whom it is prepared by my Father" (Matthew xx., 23). It is also verv remarkable that when Jesus awaited arrest, and sweated blood and water, he cried out: "Father, remove this cup from me" (Luke xxii., 42). No gospel has put into his mouth the blasphemy that he was God, or consubstantial with God.

You will ask me, Romans, why and how he was made into a God in the course of time? I will ask you in turn why and how Bacchus, Perseus, Hercules, and Romulus were made gods? In their case, moreover, the sacrilege did not go so far as to give them the title of supreme god and creator. This blasphemy was reserved for the Christian outgrowth of the Jewish sect.

Sixth Chief Imposture

I pass over the countless impostures of "The Travels of Simon Barjona" the "Gospel of Simon Barjona," his "Apocalypse," the "Apocalypse" of Cerinthus (ridiculously attributed to John), the epistles of Barnaby, the "Gospel of the Twelve Apostles," their liturgies, the "Canons of the Council of the Apostles," the "Apostles' Creed," the "Travels of Matthew," the "Travels of Thomas," and so many other vagaries that are now recognised to be the work of forgers, who passed them off under venerated Christian names.

I will not insist much on the romance of the alleged Pope St. Clement, who calls himself the first successor of St. Peter. I will note only that Simon Barjona and he met an old man, who complained of the unfaithfulness of his wife, who had lain with his servant. Clement asks how he learned it. "By my wife's horoscope," said the good man, "and from my brother, with whom she wished to lie, but he would not." From these words Clement recognised his father in the old man.[23] From Peter Clement learned that he was of the blood of the Cæsars. On such romances, Romans, was the papal power set up!

Seventh Chief Imposture

On the Supposed Pontificate of Simon Barjona,
Called Peter

Who was the first to say that Simon, the poor fisherman, came from Galilee to Rome, spoke Latin there (though he could not possibly know more than his native dialect), and in the end was pope of Rome for twenty-five years? It was a Syrian named Abdias, who lived about the end of the first century, and is said to have been bishop of Babylon (a good bishopric). He wrote in Syriac, and we have his work in a Latin translation by Julius the African. Listen well to what this intelligent writer says. He was an eye-witness, and his testimony is irrefragable.

Simon Barjona Peter, having, he says, raised to life Tabitha, or Dorcas, the sempstress of the apostles, and having been put in prison by the orders of King Herod (though there was no King Herod at the time); and an angel having opened the doors of the prison for him (after the custom of angels), met, in Cæsarea, the other Simon, of Samaria, known as the Magician (Magus), who also performed miracles. They began to defy each other. Simon the Samaritan went off to the Emperor Nero at Rome. Simon Barjona followed him, and the emperor received them excellently. A cousin of the emperor had died, and it was a question which of them could restore him to life. The Samaritan has the honour of opening the ceremony. He calls upon God, and the dead man gives signs of life and shakes his head. Simon Peter calls on Jesus Christ, and tells the dead man to rise; forthwith he does rise, and embraces Peter. Then follows the well-known story of the two dogs. Then Abdias tells how Simon flew in the air, and his rival Simon Peter brought him down. Simon the Magician broke his legs, and Nero had Simon Peter crucified, head downwards, for breaking the legs of the other Simon.

This harlequinade was described, not only by Abdias, but by some one named Marcellus, and by a certain Hegesippus, whom Eusebius often quotes in his history. Pray notice, judicious Romans, how this Simon Peter may have reigned spiritually in your city for twenty-five years. He came to it under Nero, according to the earliest writers of the Church; he died under Nero; and Nero reigned only thirteen years.

Read the Acts of the Apostles. Is there any question therein of Peter going to Rome? Not the least mention. Do you not see that, when the fiction began that Peter was the first of the apostles, it was thought that the imperial city alone was worthy of him? See how clumsily you have been deluded in everything. Is it possible that the son of God, nay God himself, should have made use of a play on words, a ridiculous pun, to make Simon Barjona the head of his Church: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock [petra] I will build my Church." Had Barjona been called Pumpkin, Jesus might have said to him: "Thou art Pumpkin, and Pumpkin shall henceforward be the king of the fruits in my garden."[24]

For more than three hundred years the alleged successor of a Galilean peasant was unknown to Rome. Let us now see how the popes became your masters.

Eighth Imposture

No one who is acquainted with the history of the Greek and Latin Churches can be unaware that the metropolitan sees established their chief rights at the Council of Chalcedon, convoked in the year 451 by the order of the Emperor Marcian and of Pulcheria [his wife], and composed of six hundred and thirty bishops. The senators who presided in the emperor's name had on their right the patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem, on their left the patriarch of Constantinople and the deputies of the patriarch of Rome. It was in virtue of the canons of this Council that the episcopal sees shared the dignities of the cities in which they were situated. The bishops of the two imperial cities, Rome and Constantinople, were declared to be the first bishops, with equal prerogatives, by the celebrated twenty-eighth canon:

"The fathers have justly granted prerogatives to the see of ancient Rome, as to a reigning city, and the 150 bishops of the first Council of Constantinople, very dear to God, have for the same reason given the same privileges to the new Rome; they have rightly thought that this city, in which the Emperor and Senate reside, should be equal to it in all ecclesiastical matters."

The popes have always contested the authenticity of this canon; they have twisted and perverted its whole meaning. What did they do at length to evade this equality and gradually to destroy all the titles of subjection which placed them under the emperors like all other men? They forged the famous donation of Constantine, which has been for many centuries so strictly regarded as genuine that it was a mortal and unpardonable sin to doubt it, and whoever did so incurred the greater excommunication by the very fact of doubting.

A very pretty thing was this donation of Constantine to Bishop Sylvester.

"We," says the Emperor, "with all our satraps and the whole Roman people, have thought it good to give to the successors of St. Peter a greater power than that of our serene majesty." Do you not think, Romans, that the word "satrap" comes in very well there?

With equal authenticity, Constantine goes on, in this noble diploma, to say that he has put the Apostles Peter and Paul in large amber caskets; that he has built the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul; that he has given them vast domains in Judæa, Greece, Thrace, Asia, etc. (to maintain the luminary); that he has given to the pope his Lateran palace, with chamberlains and guards; and that, lastly, he gives him, as a pure donation for himself and his successors, the city of Rome, Italy, and all the western provinces; and all this is given to thank the Pope Sylvester for having cured him of leprosy, and having baptised him—though, in point of fact, he was baptised only on his death-bed, by Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia.

Never was there a document more ridiculous from one end to the other, yet more accredited in the ignorant ages in which Europe was so long detained after the fall of your empire.

Ninth Imposture

I pass over the thousand and one little daily impostures to come at once to the great fraud of the Decretals.

These false Decretals were spread everywhere in the time of Charlemagne. In these, Romans, the better to rob you of your liberty, the bishops are deprived of theirs; it is decreed that the bishop of Rome shall be their only judge. Certainly, if he is the sovereign of the bishops, he should soon be yours; and that is what happened. These false Decretals abolished the Councils, and even abolished your Senate, which became merely a court of justice, subject to the will of a priest. Here is the real source of the humiliation you have suffered. Your rights and privileges, so long maintained by your wisdom, could be wrested from you only by untruth. Only by lying to God and men did they succeed in making slaves of you; but they have never extinguished the love of liberty in your hearts. The greater the tyranny, the greater is that love. The sacred name of liberty is still heard in your conversations and gatherings, and in the very antechamber of the pope.

Article IX.

Cæsar was but your dictator; Augustus was content to be your general, consul, and tribune; Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero left you your elections, your prerogatives, and your dignities; even the barbarians respected them. You maintained your municipal government. Not by the authority of your bishop, Gregory III., but of your own decision, you offered the dignity of patrician to the great Charles Martel, master of his king, conqueror of the Saracens in the year 741 of our faulty vulgar era.

Believe not that it was the Bishop Leo III. who made Charlemagne emperor; it is an absurd romance of the secretary Eginhard, a vile flatterer of the popes, who had won him. By what right and in what way could a subject bishop make an emperor? Emperors were created only by the people, or by the armies that took the place of the people.

It was you, people of Rome, who used your rights ; you who would no longer depend on a Greek emperor, who gave you no aid; you who appointed Charlemagne, or he would have been a usurper. The annalists of the time agree that all was arranged by Carolo and your leading officers, as is, indeed, most probable. Your bishop's only share in its was to conduct an empty ceremony and receive rich presents. The only authority he had in your city was that of the prestige attaching to his mitre, his clergy, and his ability.

But while you gave yourselves to Charlemagne, you retained the election of your officers. The police was in your hands; you kept possession of the mole of Adrian, so absurdly called in later times the Castello Sant' Angelo; and you were not wholly enslaved until your bishops seized that fortress.

They made their way step by step to that supreme greatness, so expressly forbidden them by him whom they call their God, and of whom they dare to call themselves the vicars. They had never any jurisdiction in Rome under the Othos. Excommunication and intrigue were their sole arms; and even when, in an age of anarchy, they became the real sovereigns, they never dared to assume the title. I defy the astutest of those fabricators of titles who abound in your court to find a single one in which the pope is described as prince by the grace of God. A strange princedom, when one fears to avow it!

The imperial cities of Germany, which have bishops, are free; and you, Romans, are not. The archbishop of Cologne has not even the right to sleep in that city; and your pope will hardly allow you to sleep in your own. The sultan of the Turks is far less despotic at Constantinople than the pope has become at Rome.

You perish miserably in the shade of superb colonnades. Your noble and faded paintings, and your dozen gems of ancient sculpture, bring you neither a good dinner nor a good bed. The opulence is for your masters: the indigence is for you. The lot of a slave among the ancient Romans was a hundred times better than yours. He might acquire a large fortune; you are born serfs, you die serfs, and the only oil you have is that of the Last Anointing. Slaves in body and in soul, your tyrants do not even allow you to read, in your own tongue, the book on which they say your religion is founded.

Awake, Romans, at the call of liberty, truth, and nature. The cry rings over Europe. You must hear it. Break the chains that bind your generous hands—the chains forged by tyranny in the den of imposture.

  1. A shaft at the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. —J. M.
  2. See the Acts of St. Thecla, written in the first century by a disciple of St. Paul, and recognised as authentic by Tertullian, St. Cyprian, St. Gregory of Nazianzum, St. Ambrose, etc.
  3. Spurious Acts of the Apostle xxi.
  4. 1 Corinthians ix., 4, 5, and 7.
  5. Thessalonians iv., 16 and 17.
  6. Acts xxi.
  7. Matthew gives five thousand men and five loaves in chapter xiv., and four thousand men and five loaves in chapter xv. Apparently, they are two different miracles, which makes in all nine thousand men and at least nine thousand women. If you add nine thousand children, the total number of diners amounts to twenty-seven thousand—which is considerable.
  8. A pun of which the point is lost in English. The French phrase, to make a man "swallow the gudgeon," means to "gull" a man. Voltaire turns the "two little fishes" of the gospel into gudgeons to accommodate his joke. — J. M.
  9. In France, an abbey of which the "abbot" was a kind of absentee landlord. He lived at Paris, with the title and revenue, and left the work to a sub-abbot.—J. M.
  10. The indictment is too severe. The later years of Constantine were marked by silly extravagance, but not debauch. The execution of his father-in-law was justified. His (partial) acceptance of Christianity was earlier than Voltaire supposes, and there is no serious ground for suggesting large payments of money. But it is now beyond question that he put his brother-in-law (Licinius) to death treacherously, had his wife, son, and nephew murdered, and greatly degenerated in later life.—J. M.
  11. No; in the Senate.—J. M.
  12. Matthew xx., 23.
  13. Matthew xx., 26 and 27.
  14. All Christians believe that Jesus was born in a stable, between an ox and an ass. There is, however, no mention of this in the gospels. It was imagined by Justin, and is mentioned by Lactantius, or at least the author of a bad Latin poem on the passions, which is attributed to Lactantius.
  15. A time by fate appointed was to come,
    When sea, and earth, and all the realm of heaven
    Should flame, and ruin seize the world's great mass.
    J. M.
  16. See Revelation, Justin, and Tertullian.
  17. In Voltaire's time, naturally, the relative priority of Indian, Egyptian, Babylonian, and Persian civilisations was quite unknown, and his idea of their relations to each other cannot hold to-day.—J. M.
  18. The famous "Dies iræ," sung in Catholic funeral services to-day in England.—J. M.
  19. Justin and Tertullian.
  20. Apostolic Constitutions, Bk. II., ch. lvii.
  21. Apostolic Constitutions, VIII., vi.
  22. See the History of the Church of Constantinople and Alexandria, in the Bodleian Library
  23. Recognitions of St. Clement, Bk. IX., Nos. 32-35.
  24. The pun is lost to readers of the English Bible. In French, as in Syro-Chaldaic and Greek and (approximately) Latin, "Peter" and "rock" are the same word. We have it in "salt-petre." — J. M.