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 VI


The greatest benefit we owe to The New Testament is that it has revealed to us the immortality of the soul. It is in vain, therefore, that this fellow Warburton tried to cloud over this important truth, by continually representing in his legation of Moses that "the ancient Jews knew nothing of this necessary dogma, and that the Sadducees did not admit it in the time of our Lord Jesus."

He interprets in his own way the very words that have been put into Jesus Christ's mouth: " . . . have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living " (St. Matt. xxii. 31, 32). He gives to the parable of the wicked rich man a sense contrary to that of all the Churches. Sherlock, Bishop of London, and twenty other scholars refuted him. English philosophers even reproached him with the scandal of an Anglican bishop manifesting an opinion so contrary to the Anglican Church; and after that, this man takes it into his head to treat these persons as impious: like the character of Arlequin in the comedy of the Devaliseur de maisons, who, after throwing the furniture out of the window, sees a man carrying some of it off, and cries with all his might '' Stop thief! "

One should bless the revelation of the immortality of the soul, and of rewards and punishments after death, all the more that mankind's Vain philosophy has always been sceptical of it. The great Caesar did not believe in it at all, he made himself quite clear in full senate when, in order to stop Catalina being put to death, he represented that death left man without sensation, that everything died with him; and nobody refuted this view.

The Roman Empire was divided between two principal sects that of Epicurus which asserted that deity was useless to the world, and that the soul perished with the body: and that of the Stoics who regarded the soul as part of the Deity, which after death was joined again to its origin, to the great everything from which it emanated. Thus, whether one believed the soul mortal, or whether one believed it immortal, all the sects were agreed in laughing at pains and punishments after death.

We still have a hundred monuments of this belief of the Romans. It is by virtue of this opinion graved profoundly in their hearts, that so many simple Roman citizens killed themselves without the least scruple; they did not wait for a tyrant to hand them over to the executioners.

The most virtuous men even, and those most persuaded of the existence of a God, hoped for no reward, and feared no punishment. Clement, who later was Pope and saint, began by himself doubting what the early Christians said of another life, and consulted St. Peter at Caesarea. We are far from believing that St. Clement wrote the history that is attributed to him; but this history makes evident the need the human race had of a precise revelation. All that can surprise us is that so repressive and salutary a doctrine has left a prey to so many horrible crimes men who have so little time to live, and who see themselves squeezed between two eternities.

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