Voltaire

(François Marie Arouet)

"Dogmas"

[from the Philosophical Dictionary. The PD first appeared in 1764 in Geneva. The article "Dogmas," however, first appeared in the third edition of the work, published in Amsterdam in 1765.]

On the 18th of February in the year 1763, the sun entering into the sign of the Fish, I was transported to Heaven, as all my friends know. It wasn't at all Mohammed's mare Borac that was my mount; nor was Elijah's flaming chariot my vehicle; I was carried neither by the elephant of Sammonocodom the Siamese, nor by the steed of St. George, patron of England, nor by St. Anthony's pig: I frankly confess I haven't the slightest idea how my voyage came about.

You'll find it easy to believe that I was blinded with astonishment; but what you won't believe is that I witnessed the judgment of all the dead. And who were the judges? They were, as you might have guessed, all those who had done well to mankind - Confucius, Solon, Socrates, Titus, the Antonines, Epictetus - all the great men who, having taught and practiced the virtues that God demands, seemed the only ones eligible to execute his decrees.

I won't bother saying what thrones they were seated upon, nor how many millions of celestial beings were prostrate before the Creator of all the worlds, nor what a crowd of inhabitants of these innumerable globes had been summoned before the judges. I will restrict myself here to giving an account of a few quite interesting little details by which I was particularly struck.

I noticed that each dead person who pleaded his case, and who paraded out his fine sentiments, had standing beside him all the witnesses of his deeds. For example, when the Cardinal of Lorraine bragged of having managed to get several of his opinions accepted by the Council of Trent, and, as the prize for his orthodoxy, demanded eternal life, there appeared around him in a trice twenty courtesans or ladies of the court, each bearing on her forehead the number of her rendez-vous with the cardinal. Also to be seen were those who had helped him lay the foundations of the League - all the accomplices in his perverse schemes came swarming around him.

Opposite the cardinal was Calvin, who boasted, in his crude dialect, of having given a few kicks to the papal idol, after others had pulled it down. "I wrote against painting and sculpture," he said, "I made it perfectly clear that good works are good for nothing, and I proved that it is diabolical to dance the minuet. Run the Cardinal of Lorraine out of here, and set me by the side of St. Paul."

As he spoke, one saw next to him a pile of burning logs. A horrible ghost, wearing a half-burned Spanish collar, came out from amidst the flames, with dismaying cry: "Monster," he shouted, "execrable monster, tremble! Recognize that Servetius whom you condemned to die by the most cruel of methods because he had disputed with you the manner in which three persons could share a single substance." At this, the judges ordained that the Cardinal of Lorraine be thrown into the abyss, but that Calvin be punished yet more severely.

I saw a prodigious crowd of dead who said, "I believed, I believed!"; but on their foreheads was written: "I did"; and they were condemned.

The Jesuit LeTellier appeared proudly, the bull Unigenitus in his hand. But at his side there arose of a sudden a heap of lettres de cachet. A Jansenist set them on fire: LeTellier was burned to the bones; and the Jansenist, who had conspired no less than the Jesuit, was thrown into the flames in turn.

I saw streaming in from right and left troups of fakirs, of talapoins, of bonzes, of monks in white, in black, in gray, who had all imagined that, to pay court to the Supreme Being, it was necessary to chant, to flog oneself, to walk around in full nude. I heard an awesome voice ask them, "What good have you done to your fellow man?" Upon this followed a dismal silence; none dared answer, and they were all led away to the mad-house of the universe - the hugest buildings you could ever imagine.

One cried out, "It is in the metamorphoses of Xaca that one must believe!" Another: "In those of Sammonocodum!" "Bacchus stopped the sun and the moon!" said this one. "The gods revived Pelops!" said that. "Here's the bull in Cœna Domini!" declared a newcomer. And the judges' baliff cried, "To the madhouse, to the madhouse!"

When all these proceedings were done, I heard promulgated the following decree: "ON BEHALF OF THE ETERNAL CREATOR, CONSERVATOR, REWARDER, PUNISHER, PARDONER, etc., be it known to all the inhabitants of the hundred thousand millions of billions of worlds it has pleased us to fashion, that we never judge said inhabitants according to their empty ideas, but solely according to their actions; for such is our justice."

I confess that this was the first time I had ever heard such a declaration: all those I have read on the little grain of sand where I was born ended with these words: "For such is our pleasure."

[Translation by Lyman Baker © 1997. Permission granted for non-commercial educational use; all other rights reserved.]


  Go to Voltaire's "Freedom of Thought" (likewise from the Philosophical Dictionary).

  Go to the introduction to Kant's "What Is Enlightenment?"

  Suggestions are welcome.  Please send your comments to lyman@ksu.edu .

      Translation copyright © 1997 by Lyman A. Baker

Permission is granted for non-commercial educational use; all other rights reserved.

  This page last updated 08 November 1999.