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.

Soul V


Warburton, editor and commentator of Shakespeare and Bishop of Gloucester making use of English freedom, and abuse of the custom of hurling insults at one's adversaries, has composed four volumes to prove that the immortality of the soul was never announced in the Pentateuch, and to conclude from this same proof that Moses' mission is divine. Here is the precis of his book, which he himself gives, pages 7 and 8 of the first volume.

" I. The doctrine of a life to come, of rewards and punishments after death, is necessary to all civil society.

" 2. The whole human race (and this is where he is mistaken), and especially the wisest and most learned nations of antiquity, concurred in believing and teaching this doctrine.

" 3. It cannot be found in any passage of the law of Moses; therefore the law of Moses is of divine origin. Which I am going to prove by the two following syllogisms:

First Syllogism

" Every religion, every society that has not the immortality of the soul for its basis, can be maintained only by an extraordinary providence; the Jewish religion had not the immortality of the soul for basis; therefore the Jewish religion was maintained by an extraordinary providence.

Second Syllogism

" All the ancient legislators have said that a religion which did not teach the immortality of the soul could not be maintained but by an extraordinary providence; Moses founded a religion which is not founded on the immortality of the soul; therefore Moses believed his religion maintained by an extraordinary providence."

What is much more extraordinary is this assertion of Warburton's, which he has put in big letters at the beginning of his book. He has often been reproached with the extreme rashness and bad faith with which he dares to say that all the ancient legislators believed that a religion which is not founded on pains and recompenses after death, can be maintained only by an extraordinary providence; not one of them ever said it. He does not undertake even to give any example in his huge book stuffed with a vast number of quotations, all of which are foreign to his subject. He has buried himself beneath a pile of Greek and Latin authors, ancient and modern, for fear one might see through him on the other side of a horrible multitude of envelopes. When criticism finally probed to the bottom, he was resurrected from among all these dead men in order to load all his adversaries with insults.

It is true that towards the end of his fourth volume, after having walked through a hundred labyrinths, and having fought with everybody he met on the road, he comes at last to his great question which he had left there. He lays all the blame on the Book of Job which passes among scholars for an Arab work, and he tries to prove that Job did not believe in the immortality of the soul. Later he explains in his own way all the texts of Holy Writ by which people have tried to combat this opinion.

All one can say about it is that, if he was right, it was not for a bishop to be right in such a way. He should have felt that one might draw dangerous inferences; but everything in this world is a mass of contradiction. This man, who became accuser and persecutor, was not made bishop by a minister of state's patronage until immediately after he had written his book.

At Salamanca, Coimbre or Rome, he would have been obliged to recant and to ask pardon. In England he became a peer of the realm with an income of a hundred thousand livres; it was enotigh to modify his methods.

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