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.


WE do not know any religion without prayers, even the Jews had some, although there was not among them any public form, until the time when they sang canticles in their synagogues, which happened very late.

All men, in their desires and their fears, invoked the aid of a deity. Some philosophers, more respectful to the Supreme Being, and less condescending to human frailty, for all prayer desired only resignation. It is indeed what seems proper as between creature and creator. But philosophy is not made to govern the world; she rises above the common herd; she speaks a language that the crowd cannot understand. It would be suggesting to fishwives that they should study conic sections.

Even among the philosophers, I do not believe that anyone apart from Maximus of Tyre has treated of this matter; this is the substance of Maximus' ideas.

The Eternal has His intentions from all eternity. If prayer accords with His immutable wishes, it is quite useless to ask of Him what He has resolved to do. If one prays Him to do the contrary of what He has resolved, it is praying Him to be weak, frivolous, inconstant; it is believing that He is thus, it is to mock Him. Either you ask Him a just thing; in this case He must do it, and the thing will be done without your praying Him for it; entreating Him is even to distrust Him: or the thing is unjust, and then you outrage Him. You are worthy or unworthy of the grace you implore : if worthy, He knows it better than you; if unworthy, you commit a crime the more in asking for what you do not deserve.

In a word, we pray to Cod only because we have made Him in our own image. We treat Him like a pasha, like a sultan whom one may provoke and appease.

In short, all nations pray to God: wise men resign themselves and obey Him.

Let us pray with the people, and resign ourselves with the wise men.

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