Pierre Bayle


French Philosopher, Author of the Historical and Critical Dictionary

Author Quotes

Reason is like a runner who doesn't know that the race is over, or, like Penelope, constantly undoing what it creates... It is better suited to pulling things down than to building them up, and better at discovering what things are not, than what they are.

We do not find, that, till the year 1553, the reformed, whether natives of France, or inhabitants, sang any other Psalms, than these fifty, excepting eight other Psalms, the translators of which are yet unknown; which eight Psalms, with the first thirty of Marot, were printed, in 1542, in Gothic, at Rome, by order of the Pope, by Theodore Drust, a German, his printer in ordinary, the fifteenth of February; as we read in the last leaf of the book, printed in 8vo., without name of place or printer. Jeremiah de Pours knew nothing of this edition, which, by the way, is the same with that of Strasburgh, 1545, except as to the number of Psalms. The other hundred, put into verse by Beza, appeared probably in 1553, since it was at that time, that being appended to the Catechism and Liturgy of Geneva, they excited the aversion of the Catholics, who, after the example of Francis I, on his death-bed, made no scruple to use the first fifty.

Revelation, far from contradicting this Maxim, confirms and recommends it powerfully: He therefore who makes use of this kind of Remedy towards those in Error, has done his duty; and if he has not bin able to convert Men by this means, he may safely wash his hands of them; he has acquitted himself in the sight of God of the Blood of these Men, and may commit the whole matter to him. Now if after all Arguments and Instructions, our Reason shou'd suggest an Expedient [i.e. method] which appear'd proper for recovering a Man from his Heresy, what must be done in this case? I answer, that if the Expedient be a thing in its own nature indifferent, and which if the worst came to the worst cou'd have no ill consequence he ought forthwith to try it.

Were reason in agreement with itself then it would indeed be regrettable that we find it so difficult to reconcile it with some of our articles of faith. But that is not the case. Reason is like a runner who dosen?t know the race is over?It is better suited to pulling things down than to building them up, and better at discovering what things are not, than what they are."

That If once it be suppos'd, that God has clearly and distinctly reveal'd a Law to Christians in general, obliging them to exterminate all false Religions by Fire and Sword; a Socinian, who lets the other Sects of Christianity live in quiet, who does not bestir himself to establish his own Religion, or perhaps favors those who are supplanting it, and establishing a different Sect with all their might, cannot be excus'd in his Conduct but upon one or other of the following reasons: Either because he believes the Law in question ought not to be understood in the strictness of the Letter, but has a mythical Meaning which all the World is not oblig'd to dive into; or because he thinks, that the Execution of this Law does not belong to him; or because he is not over-certain, that Socinianism is the true Doctrine; or last of all, because believing any Religion good enough, it's equal to him which is uppermost: he'l for his part look on and let things work, resolv'd to be a Prey to the Conqueror; or perhaps favors one side, tho very opposite to Socinianism, that he may enter the Lists with a better Grace, when this has got the day. These, in my opinion, are all the ways that can be thought on for disculpating a Socinian, who is tardy in propagating his own Religion, after God had reveal'd the suppos'd Law; and consequently he must be wholly inexcusable, or exceedingly criminal, if he maintain'd this Neutrality, or if he prejudic'd his own Sect, while persuaded, 1. That God enjoins propagating the Truth by Fire and Sword; 2. That Socinianism is the Truth.

Zeno wrote a book against the Mathematics. We are informed of this by Proclus, who adds that Possidonius refuted it. Huetius having told us that Epicurus rejected geometry, and the other parts of the Mathematics, because he believed, that they, being founded on false principles, could not be true, adds, that Zeno attacked them another way. This was by alleging that in order to render them certain, some things should have been added to their principles which were not joined to them. Mathematics are the most evident and certain of all human sciences, and yet they have met with opposers. If Zeno had been a great metaphysician, and followed different principles from those of Epicurus, he might have composed a book not very easy to be refuted, and cut out more work for the geometricians than they imagine. All sciences have their weak side; nor are the mathematics free from that defect. Indeed very few people are able to oppose them well, because to succeed in this engagement it is requisite not only to be a good philosopher, but also a very profound mathematician. But those endued with the latter quality are so ravished with the certainty and evidence of their inquiries, that they never think of examining whether there be any illusion in them, or whether the first foundation be well established. They rarely think of suspecting any deficiency in them, although it is very certain, that several disputes prevail amongst the most famous mathematicians. They refute one another, and answers and replies multiply among them as well as among other learned men. We observe this among the moderns, and it is certain that the ancients were not more unanimous. It is a proof that there are in this road several dark paths, and that a man may wander and lose the track of truth. This must of necessity be the lot of one side or the other, since one affirms what the other denies. It may be urged that this is the fault of the artificer, but not of the art, and that all these disputes proceed from some mathematicians mistaking that for a demonstration which is not so; but that very thing shews that there are some obscurities in this science. Besides, the same thing may be urged, with respect to the disputes of other learned men. It may be said, that if they closely followed the rules of logic, they would avoid the wrong consequences, and false assertions which mislead them. Nevertheless we must confess that there are many philosophical subjects, concerning which the best logicians are incapable of coming to a certainty, by reason of the want of evidence in the object; but the object of the Mathematics is free from this inconvenience. Be it so; yet there is in this object a very great and irreparable defect; for it is a mere chimera which cannot possibly exist. Mathematical points, and consequently the lines and surfaces, globes and axes, of the geometricians are fictions which never can have a being: they are therefore inferior to those of the poets; for the latter commonly contain nothing that is impossible, but have at least probability and possibility.

The books written against father Maimbourg's " History of Calvinism," contain so full an account of his genius and conduct, it is not necessary to dwell upon his character here; but as those who have refuted him have said nothing of a certain sermon, which furnished a writer of Port Royal with a merry tale, I will briefly allude to it. It is in a preface before the defence of the Mons translation of the New Testament, of the Cologne edition, 1668, which was not reprinted in the Geneva edition, of all the pieces which concern this translation. Hence it comes to pass that this story is but little known. It will not therefore be impertinent to insert it here, as the author of the preface tells it.

The doing a thing which we call evil, from the Dictates of Conscience, tho in reality erroneous, renders this Action much less evil, than another Action of the nature of those which we call good, done against the Dictate of Conscience suppos'd to be truly inform'd. From all these Principles I may reasonably conclude, that the first and most indispensable of all our Obligations, is that of never acting against the Instincts of Conscience; and that every Action done against the Lights of Conscience is essentially evil: So that as the Law of loving God can never be dispens'd with, because the hating God is an Act essentially evil; so the Law of never violating the Lights of our Conscience is such as God himself can never dispense with; for asmuch as this were in reality indulging us in the Contempt or Hatred of himself, Acts intrinsically and in their own nature criminal. There is therefore an eternal and immutable Law, obliging Man, upon pain of incurring the Guilt of the most heinous mortal Sin that can be committed, never to do anything in violation and in despite of Conscience.

The first murder originated in the first religious dispute.

The first thing therefore a Heretick shou'd be desir'd to do, is, to search after Truth, and not opinionatively pretend he has found it. But if he answer, that he has searched as much as possible, that all his Inquirys have ended, in making him see more and more, that the Truth is on his own side; and shou'd he watch day and night, that he never shou'd believe any other thing, but what's already firmly ingrafted in his Soul, to be the reveal'd Truth; 'twere ridiculous telling him to beware following the Lights of his Conscience, and think of Conversion.

Isaac de Benserade was one of the finest French wits of the seventeenth century. He made himself known to the court by his verses, and had the good fortune to please Cardinal Richelieu, and Cardinal Mazarine; which was the means of making his fortune. I insert the following passage from a scarce book, entitled, " Arliquiniania."

The history of Aaron, high-priest of the Jews, and brother of Moses, is so fully related in the Pentateuch, and in the dictionaries of Moreri and Simon, that I may be excused from making an article of it in this place. I shall only observe, that his weakness in complying with the superstitious request of the Israelites, in the matter of the golden calf, has occasioned a great variety of fabulous notions. About the beginning of the seventeenth century, one Monceau or Moncaeius published an Apology for Aaron, which was condemned by the inquisition at Rome, as had been foretold to the author by the Jesuit Cornelius a Lapide. In that Apology it is supposed that Aaron designed to represent the very same form which Moses exhibited sometime after, namely, a cherub; but that the Hebrews fell down and worshipped it, contrary to his intention. An effectual confutation of this notion was published in the year 1609, by one of the doctors of the Sorbonne, who was a canon of the church of Amiens.

It is a common opinion, that Abraham sucked in the poison of idolatry with his milk; and that his father Terah made statues, and taught that they must be worshipped as Gods. Some Jews have asserted, that Abraham exercised Terah's trade himself for a considerable time, that is to say, that he made idols and sold them. Others say, that the impiety which reigned in those countries being the worship of the sun and the stars, Abraham lived a long time in that idolatry, from which he converted himself by the reflections he made on the nature of the planets. He admired their motions, their beauty and order; but he observed also imperfections in them; and from all this he concluded, that there was a Being superior to the whole frame of the world, an author and a director of the universe.

The Indian Bramins have very odd opinions about non-entity, and their morality has a great affinity with the visions of our Quietists. They assert " that the world is but an illusion, a dream, a deceit, and that bodies, to exist truly, must cease to be in themselves, and be confounded with nothingness, which by its simplicity makes the perfection of all beings."

It is certain that Josephus, without owning that the patriarch was for some time infected with idolatry, maintains that, by his wisdom and by the consideration of the universe, he ascertained the unity and the providence of God; and that he was the first that durst oppose the popular error concerning it. He found an opposition strong enough to make him resolve to forsake his country; which was perhaps the first time that anybody exposed himself to banishment from religious zeal. If so, Abraham would be, in relation to that kind of punishment, under the law of nature, what St Stephen was, in regard of capital punishment, under the law of grace. He would be the Patriarch of the Refugees, as well as the Father of the Faithful. I do not see how it can be denied that his father was an idolater, seeing that the Holy Scripture assures us of it, calling him by his name; but all that can thence be inferred is, that Abraham before the age of discretion was of his father's religion.

The Theological advantages of Descartes's opinion concerning beasts being mere automata, do not stop there. They diffuse themselves over many important principles, which cannot be sufficiently maintained, if beasts be allowed to have a sensitive soul. Mr. Locke has declared himself to be against those who will not allow reason to brutes. The following words will show you wherein he places the difference between men and beasts. "This I think I may be positive in, that the power of abstracting is not at all in them, and that the having of general ideas is that which puts a perfect distinction betwixt man and brutes; and is an excellency, which the faculties of brutes do by no means attain to. For it is evident, we observe no footsteps in them of making use of general signs, for universal ideas; from which we have reason to imagine, that they have not the faculty of abstracting, or making general ideas, since they have no use of words or any other general signs. And, therefore, I think we may suppose, that it is in this that the species of brutes are discriminated from men; and it is that proper difference wherein they are wholly separated, and which, at last, widens to so vast a distance.

It is most certain that there's no arguing from the Liberty of wholesome Reproof, for a Right of inflicting such Punishments as the Emperor's Laws ordain'd. Reproofs are allowable between Friends and Enemys; and therefore any one may make use of them, when he thinks he has a proper occasion: but Robbery and all the ways of Violence are of another strain; it is not lawful to make use of these either with Friends or Enemys, either directly or indirectly. We can neither take away our Neighbor's Goods by our own Authority, nor prompt others to do it, nor approve those that do; much less may we drive him from his House, and Home, and Country, or procure his Expulsion by the power of others. And therefore how allowable soever it may be in us to thwart and rudely to oppose the unlawful Pleasures of our Friends, it does not from hence follow that we ought to importune the Prince to deprive them of their Property, to imprison or banish them; and shou'd the Prince do this, we are in conscience oblig'd to look on it as a tyrannical Abuse of that Power with which God has entrusted him. For here in fine is the result upon this case: If the confiscating any private Party's Goods were a tyrannical Invasion, supposing him Orthodox in his Principles; and if it becomes a most-righteous Action from hence only, that he happens not to be so, it follows that the same Action of a Sin becomes a Vertue from this single Circumstance, that it's perform'd for the Interest of Religion, which plainly overthrows all Morality and natural Religion, as I think I have fully demonstrated. . . .

The victory of the Mediator consisted in leading men into the paths of truth and virtue; that of the devil in seducing them into the road of error and vice. So that in order to know whether moral good equals moral evil among men, we need only compare the victories of the devil with those of Jesus Christ. Now in history we find but very few triumphs of Jesus Christ: "Apparent rari nantes in gurgite vasto;" and we everywhere meet with the triumphs of the devil. The war between these two parties is a continual, or almost continual train of successes on the devil's side; and if the rebellious party made annals of their exploits, there is not one day in the year but it would be there marked with some ample subject for bonfires, songs of triumph, and such other signs of victory. The annalist would have no occasion for hyperboles and flattery to shew the superiority of that faction. Sacredhistory, in fact, tells us of but one good man in Adam's family, and reduces to one good man the family of that good man, and so on in the other generations to Noah, in whose family we find three sons whom God saved from the deluge with their father, mother, and wives. Thus at the end of sixteen hundred and fifty-six years, all mankind, except one family of eight persons, were so deeply engaged in the interest of the devil, that the enormity of their crimes rendered it necessary to extirpate them. The deluge, that terrible monument of the justice of God, is a lofty monument of the devil's victories; and so much the more as that general punishment did not deprive him of his prey; the souls of those who perished in the deluge went to hell.

It is pure illusion to think that an opinion that passes down from century to century, from generation to generation, may not be entirely false.

The writer who drew up the Index to Delechamp?s Athen‘us, who says that Euripides lost in one day his wife, two sons, and a daughter, and refers us to p. 61, that Euripides going to Icaria wrote an epigram on a disaster that happened at a peasant?s house, where a woman with her two sons and a daughter died by eating of mushrooms. Judge from this instance what hazards those run who rely on Index-makers.

It is thus tolerance that is the source of peace, and intolerance that is the source of disorder and squabbling.

There is no less invention in aptly applying a thought found in a book, than in being the first author of the thought.

Mahometan Holy One. Some accounts say that Fatima, daughter of Mahomet, and wife of Ali, is the great saint they worship with so much devotion at Com, but most travelers think otherwise. Herbert, in his Persian Travels, having said that the mosque at Com is magnificent, adds, that " the devotion they have for this place has enriched it with many great presents brought to the sepulchre of Fatima, the wife of Mortis Ali, and daughter of Mahomet, the great prophet of all the Mussulmen, who is buried here. The building of the mosque is round, and made after the Epirotic manner. The tomb of the pretended saint is raised twelve feet from the ground, and is covered with white velvet: you go up to it by steps of solid silver." Some say, the saint at Com is the daughter of Ali and Fatima. This appears in Figueroa's narrative; " they informed me," says he, " that at Com there was a famous mosque, dedicated to the memory of a great saint named Leila, grand-daughter of Mahomet, and the daughter of Ali and Fatima." The Sieur Bespier advances a conjecture which is very probable: " the name of Leila," says he, " is commonly given to the great ladies of Africa, and it is also the title of honor which they give there to the Blessed Virgin, mother of our Lord Jesus, for whom the Mahometans have a great deal of respect and veneration, as well as for her son." He cites Diego de Torres, who assures us, " that they call the Holy Virgin, Leila Mariam, which signifies the Lady Mary; and that all the daughters of the cheriff took the title of Leila, and he names them all four; viz. Leila Mariam, Leila Aya, Leila Fatima, and Leila Lu." After this, Bespier adds, that he is " inclined to think that Leila was not the proper name of the saint mentioned by Figueroa, but only the title of honor preceding it, and that she had another name which Figueroa has omitted, or was not informed of. The inhabitants of Com, who held that maid for a saint, were content with calling her Leila, or The Lady, by way of excellence: much after the same manner as most Christians now call the Virgin Mary Our Lady."

This production is a proof of the disorderly intrigues of its author with the fair sex, and of the troubles with which they were attended. It is an invective against women, and the author wrote it When he was angry with a widow whom he loved, who had jilted him. I observe indeed, that generally speaking, no writers so much slander the fair sex, as those who have most frequently loved and idolized them. Women therefore, ought to mind their slanders very little, being proofs of their dominion?the murmurs of a slave, who feels the weight of his chains, or who being freed, perceives the marks of his servitude remaining on his body.

Persuaded, as I always was, that the literal Sense of the Words, Compel them to come in, is indefensible, impious, and absurd; I did not doubt St. Augustine's defending it weakly enough, but never cou'd imagine that he'd have help'd it out with so much fallacious Reasoning. Nor did I perceive this, till I was actually in confuting him; and I'm now more sensible than ever, that one's struck with the false glare of a Paralogism [i.e. fallacy] when he reads over a Book only for an Amusement, infinitely more than when he sits down with a design to consider and answer it. I have a hundred times admir'd, while I was writing the third Part of my Commentary, how a Man cou'd have so much Wit as St. Augustine, and yet reason so wretchedly; but I'm come at last to this, that nothing is more rare than a Justness of Judgment, and a sound logical Head. Every Age produces uncommon Genius's, bright and pregnant Wits, who have a rapid Imagination, who express themselves with a deal of Eloquence, and have inexhaustible Sources for maintaining what they please: This was exactly St. Augustine's Character.

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French Philosopher, Author of the Historical and Critical Dictionary