Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Ernest Renan, aka Joseph Ernest Renan

French Philosopher and Writer, Expert of Middle East Ancient Languages and Civilizations

"The highest goal of mankind is the liberty of the individual."

"All the great things of humanity have been accomplished in the name of absolute principles."

"In morals, truth is but little prized when it is a mere sentiment, and only attains its full value when realized in the world as fact. "

"Man makes holy what he believes, as he makes beautiful what he loves"

"Religion is not a popular error; it is a great instinctive truth, sensed by the people, expressed by the people."

"Our opinions become fixed at the point where we stop thinking. "

"The simplest schoolboy is now familiar with truths for which Archimedes would have sacrificed his life. "

"No idea can succeed except at the expense of sacrifice; no one ever escapes without enduring strain from the struggle of life. "

"God, if there is a God, take my soul, if I have a soul."

"A grain of sand leads to the fall of a mountain when the moment has come for the mountain to fall. "

"I ask you, what is human life? Is it not a maimed happiness - care and weariness, weariness and care, with the baseless expectation, the strange cozenage of a brighter tomorrow? "

"No theologian could ever be a historian. History is essentially disinterested. The historian has only one concern: art and truth, which are inseparable... whereas the theologian has something else at stake - his dogma."

"The liberty of the individual is a necessary postulate of human progress."

"To conceive the good, in fact, is not sufficient; it must be made to succeed among men. To accomplish this, less pure paths must be followed."

"As a rule, all heroism is due to a lack of reflection, and thus it is necessary to maintain a mass of imbeciles. If they once understand themselves the ruling men will be lost. "

"A nation is a body of people who have done great things together."

"All the gospels, in my judgment, date back to the first century, and are substantially by the authors to whom they are attributed."

"As soon as sacrifice becomes a duty and necessity to mankind. I see no limit to the horizon which opens before him."

"Blessed are the blind, for they know not enough to ask why."

"Communism is in conflict with human nature."

"He whom God has touched will always be a being apart: he is, whatever he may do, a stranger among men; he is marked by a sign."

"I can die when I wish to: that is my elixir of life."

"Jealousy is the foundation of equality, but not of liberty ; putting man constantly on his guard against the encroachments of his neighbors. It prevents affability between different classes. There is no society without affection, without tradition, without respect, without mutual amenity."

"Let us remember that sorrow alone is the creator of great things."

"Let us pardon him his hope of a vain apocalypse, and of a second coming in great triumph upon the clouds of heaven. Perhaps these were the errors of others rather than his own; and if it be true that he himself shared the general illusion, what matters it, since his dream rendered him strong against death, and sustained him in a struggle to which he might otherwise have been unequal?"

"Man makes holy what he believes."

"Never has anyone been less a priest than Jesus, never a greater enemy of forms, which stifle religion under the pretext of protecting it. By this we are all his disciples and his successors; by this he has laid the eternal foundation-stone of true religion; and if religion is essential to humanity, he has by this deserved the Divine rank the world has accorded him."

"O Lord, if there is a Lord, save my soul, if I have a soul."

"To be free in an age like ours, one must be in a position of authority. That in itself would be enough to make me ambitious."

"To have common glories in the past, a common will in the present; to have done great things together; to wish to do greater; these are the essential conditions which make up a people."

"The man who obeys is nearly always better than the man who commands."

"The greatest men of a nation are those it puts to death."

"What is human life? Is it not a maimed happiness—care and weariness, weariness and care, with the baseless expectation...of a brighter tomorrow?"

"When people complain of life, it is almost always because they have asked impossible things of it."

"You may take great comfort from the fact that suffering inwardly for the sake of truth proves abundantly that one loves it and marks one out as being of the elect."

"The first founder of Christianity was Isaiah. By introducing into the Jewish world the concept of ethical religion, of justice, and of the relative importance of sacrifices, he antedated Jesus by more than seven centuries."