Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary
The Philosophical Dictionary
Selected and Translated by H.I. Woolf
New York: Knopf, 1924

Scanned by the Hanover College Department of History in 1995.
Proofread and pages added by Jonathan Perry, March 2001.


WHY should one lock up a man or a woman who walked stark naked in the street? and why is no one shocked by absolutely nude statues, by pictures of the Madonna and of Jesus that may be seen in some churches?

It is probable that the human species lived long without being clothed.

People unacquainted with clothing have been found in more than one island and in the American continent.

The more civilized hide the organs of generation with leaves, woven rushes, feathers.

Whence comes this form of modesty? Is it the instinct for lighting desires by hiding what it gives pleasure to discover?

Is it really true that among slightly more civilized nations, such as the Jews and half-Jews, there have been entire sects who would not worship God save by stripping themselyes of all their clothes? Such were, it is said, the Adamites and the Abelians. They gathered quite naked to sing the praises of God: St. Epiphanius and St. Augustine say so. It is true that they were not contemporary, and that they were very far from these people's country. But at all events this madness is possible: it is not even more extraordinary, more mad than a hundred other madnesses which have been round the world one after the other.

We have said elsewhere that to-day even the Mohammedans still have saints who are madmen, and who go naked like monkeys. It is very possible that some fanatics thought it was better to present themselves to the Deity in the state in which He formed them, than in the disguise invented by man. It is possible that they showed everything out of piety. There are so few well-made persons of both sexes, that nakedness might have inspired chastity, or rather disgust, instead of increasing desire.

It is said particularly that the Abelians renounced marriage. If there were any fine lads and pretty lasses among them, they were at least comparable to St. Adhelme and to blessed Robert d'Arbrisselle, who slept with the prettiest persons, that their continence might triumph all the more.

But I avow that it would have been very comic to see a hundred Helens and Parises singing anthems, giving each other the kiss of peace, and making agapae.

All of which shows that there is no singularity, no extravagance, no superstition which has not passed through the heads of mankind. Happy the day when these superstitions do not trouble society and make of it a scene of disorder, hatred and fury! It is better without doubt to pray God stark naked, than to stain His altars and the public places with human blood.

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