François-Marie d’Arouet was a French writer, public activist, philosopher and humanitarian who pointed philosophy down a number of new paths, in which it responded to successfully. François-Marie was born in 1694, amidst the Enlightenment era, in which people were using their ability to reason rationally. His writings often reflected themes of religion, politics, science, history and philosophy, usually written with a unique satiric tone, in which he was famous for. Many of his works were published anonymously in pamphlets and essays, in order to avoid prosecution by the government, Catholic Church, and the aristocracy, all of which he was a forthright critic of. His writings allowed people to see a contrasting side of what they had known as true for so long.

His literary debut transpired in 1718 with the publishing of Oedipe, in which he declared his pen name, Voltaire, a name that held to the end of his days. His early works were a mixture of libertinism and deistic ideas, which he had been initially introduced to at the estate of Lord Bolingbroke, who was an English aristocrat and freethinker. Voltaire moved about in Bolingbroke’s circle of writers who experimented with the blending of writing with political criticism. John Locke was of greatest influence on him, and he retained knowledge of his literature throughout his career. He did not keep to this circle alone however, moving about other groups of intellectuals, even meeting Sir Isaac Newton’s sister. From her, he learned the myth of Newton’s apple theory. During this time, Voltaire’s encounters throughout England escalated him to an exceptionally knowledgeable student of English natural philosophy.

In 1734, Voltaire published Lettres philsophiques, which “…included letters on Bacon, Locke, Newton and the details of Newtonian natural philosophy…” (J.B. Locke). However, he had not gained permission from the royal censors before publishing it, therefore causing an unexplainable controversy throughout France, thus causing Voltaire to be a “…widely known intellectual outlaw” (Locke). His books were publicly burned and he consequently fled to Cirey with a companion and took up a new identity as a philosophical rebel and exiled writer. Following this, he began fighting from afar to establish the philosophies of Newton as modern truth. The ensuing controversies became known as the Newton Wars. By 1750, France’s perception had been converted to Enlightened Newtonianism, due to persistent figures like Voltaire.

Voltaire’s works of literature directly prompted a thirst for knowledge, understanding and truth to all who read his work. He was one of many who directed influenced the French Revolution because his work influenced people to begin asking, “Why?” His views on social and political reform worked as a voice of the people in public. In 1759 he purchased a chateau which acted as a safe-haven from police that were often after him for his writings. During these years, Voltaire bear witness to his philosophies unfolding throughout society. He used this notoriety to “…speak out on anything and everything—especially the Church—and he fought vigorously for religious tolerance, material prosperity, respect for the rights of all humans, and the abolition of torture and useless punishments” (Dennis J. Sporre).

Voltaire’s Enlightenment philosophy was a collection of orientations and intellectual stances, in which each category had a particular philosophy attached to it. These philosophies allowed people to easily understand the new knowledge that was arising at the time. The categories of his philosophy were: the notion of liberty, hedonistic morality, skepticism, empirical science and science without metaphysics. His philosophies were directly influential at the time, as these categories reflected issues that all people were facing. The Enlightenment era brought on an extreme amount of new reasoning, methods, and philosophies and Voltaire made sense of them all by writing in a way that everyone could understand.

To conclude, Voltaire played an important role in blossoming the Enlightenment period with his controversial philosophies and radical literature. His loathing of the abuse of human rights drove him to become a fearless writer. He believed everyone should be a skeptic of what they are told, in order to know the truth of the world. Voltaire’s writings helped bring the Enlightenment into an even greater period of knowledge and understanding. He fought vigorously to bring the world into a heightened period of learning and in doing so he earned himself a home in The Pantheon, as one of the greatest French public figures to have lived.

Works Cited and References

Sporre, Dennis J. The Creative Impulse: An Introduction to the Arts. New Jersey. Prentice Hall. 2009. Print.

Merriman, C. D.  “François-Marie d’Arouet Voltaire”. The Literature Network. Jalic Inc. 2008. Web. 27 March 2013.

Shank, J.B. “Voltaire”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta. 2009. Web. 27 March, 2013.

Rahn, Josh. The Enlightenment. The Literature Network. Jalic Inc. 2011. Web. 27 March, 2013.


Source : https://historyandhumanities.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/voltaires-effect-in-defining-the-enlightenment-era/


In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, French bookbuyers are turning to one of their grands philosophes, Voltaire, for enlightenment and perhaps Enlightenment. Publisher Gallimard is printing an extra 10,000 copies of his Treatise on Tolerance, which was brandished by participants in the Paris rallies of 11 January. In the treatise, Voltaire argues in favour of toleration of religious belief, while reserving the right to argue strenuously against it, and denouncing religious fanaticism of all stripes. “Tolerance has never provoked a civil war; intolerance has covered the Earth in carnage.”

Voltaire was the pen name of François-Marie Arouet, born in 1694: philosopher, novelist, playwright, all-round troublemaker and virtuoso of equal-opportunity ridicule. Since the early 20th century, he has also been doomed to be misquoted by those using him as a weapon in the free-speech wars. He never actually wrote “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – this excellent formulation was, rather, the work of his English biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall (who also used a pseudonym: SG Tallentyre), who used it to describe his “attitude” in her 1906 biography, The Friends of Voltaire.

Noted in an earlier biography is another bon mot, which Voltaire probably did say, in response to the same affair. Hearing that a rival philosopher’s book had been condemned by the authorities to be burned in public, Voltaire quipped: “What a fuss about an omelette!” (A splendidly backhanded defence.) Meanwhile, the instruction “Écrasez l’infâme!” (“Crush what is infamous”), signed on many of his letters, became something of a personal slogan against clerical abuses.

He was, after all, no stranger to getting in trouble with the authorities himself, and he couldn’t help provoking them. The early publication of a satirical poem accusing the Duc d’Orléans of having sex with his own daughter led, not totally unpredictably, to a stint in the Bastille. But Voltaire was able to put incarceration to productive use: it was there that he adopted his nom de plume (or perhaps guerre) and wrote his first play, Oedipe, a riff on the Sophoclean tragedy.

His most famous work remains Candide, a fiction in which the young titular hero is initiated into the mysteries of philosophical optimism. This is a satire on the philosophical theories of the great mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who is immortally caricatured in its pages as one Professor Pangloss – hence our word “Panglossian”. All is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds, insists Pangloss. By the end of the book, however, Candide himself is not so sure – nor, most probably, are those now reading Voltaire for the first time.


Source: https://www.theguardian.com/books/shortcuts/2015/jan/18/beginners-guide-voltaire-philosopher-free-speech-tolerance


Examining Candide in the context of the greater scope of Western thought and movements, there is no doubt that the work is highly critical of many of the social institutions of the time. Still, while criticizing many of the societal aspects (religion, the class system and the detested monarchy in France) Candide is not free from the biases and “unenlightened” thoughts that the revolutionary movement in France was based upon. In a scholarly essay on Candide, one modern critic of Candide  argues that while, “the philosophes wanted to work through established forms, including the monarchy and even the Church” by doing so, there were not quite as revolutionary in their beliefs since they did not attempt to go outside of the system of oppression to draw their insights.

Although throughout Candide there are several scathing attacks, mostly through satire, irony and absurd characters, on the Church and his contemporary philosophy, there is nothing inherently revolutionary about it. It certainly makes for a provoking type of comedy, but there are few solutions offered other than living an austere life on a farm. The lack of truly “enlightened” ideas in practice in the novel is especially noticeable in his portrayal of women. For example, Stromberg goes on to note, “Voltaire, as well as Rousseau, thought it most unwise to educate the poor” and one can clearly see that Voltaire’s imagining of women in Candide is hardly enlightened. Even though Voltaire was known have verbally advocated the equal rights of women, this sentiment is not apparent in his fiction, especially considering the fact that the main female characters are prostitutes, women that marry for money, disease-spreaders, and most importantly victims. Overall, while Voltaire’s work was certainly inflammatory and critical of society, any potential revolutionary “value” lies only within the sense that it exposed weaknesses in the dominant societal structure.

In terms of religion, Candide explores the hypocrisy that was rampant in the Church. Consider for example, the inhumanity of the clergy, most notably the Inquisitor, in hanging and executing his fellow citizens over philosophical differences. Moreover, he orders the flogging of Candide for merely, “listening with an air of approval” thus proving himself somehow implicit in blasphemy. Church officials in Candide are depicted as being among the most sinful of all citizens; having mistresses, engaging in homosexual affairs, and operating as jewel thieves. Perhaps the most absurd example of hypocrisy in the Church hierarchy is the fact that the Pope has a daughter despite his vows of celibacy. While Voltaire is poking fun at the Church and its behavior and presents several of these satirical and ironic situations in Candide, there is an element of high comedy about such actions and one gets the sense that Stromberg, in stating that philosophes such as Voltaire were merely working through the system that they appeared to abhor as opposed to working against it in a more proactive way. The theme of revolutionary action or words versus idle philosophical speculation is another theme that is rampant throughout the text and is seen not only in Candide’s humorous accounts of Church hypocrisy, but of philosophy as well.

In many senses, it seems as though in Candide , Voltaire seeks a proactive solution to the problems in society. In the end, the group manages to alleviate their troubles by numbing their minds with hard labor, thus proving that perhaps Voltaire truly believes there is a way to work through the problems posed by society versus philosophy. Although the ending of Candide surely illustrates this idea, the novel has several interesting characters that demonstrate the uselessness of idle philosophy and in fact, may even suggest that there is some inherent damage done by his contemporary philosophy. For example, Pangloss, an adherent to his own brand of philosophy called “metaphysico-theologo-cosmolo-nigology” which advocates the belief that, as expressed in one of the important quotes from “Candide” by Voltaire, “This world is the best of all possible worlds” actually causes damage to others.

While the good Jacques is drowning (as a result of his own philosophical beliefs in altruistic behavior, no less) Pangloss attributes the event in typical nonsensical fashion to the fact that “the bay of Lisbon had been formed expressly for the Anabaptist to drown in” and acts with similar reluctance and self-absorption after the earthquake when Candide asks for assistance. In sum, far from being a treatise on the beneficial nature of philosophy in bringing about positive change, Voltaire is suggesting that philosophy is, in itself, useless and even damaging. While her presents a number of ways of looking at the world philosophically, none of them are ever proven right. Martin’s extreme cynicism is not the way, Pangloss’ blinding optimism isn’t either, therefore it seems that the only way for a true revolution to come about is if one turns off from philosophy completely. This seems like a strange message coming from an author who was one of the most recognized philosophes of his time, and thus it seems rather ironic that the ultimate message about philosophy and its use is so grim. Again, it would seem that most of Voltaire’s uses of philosophy are not aimed at gearing up the masses for a revolution, rather, they are just ironic statements on a society that is recognizable for those contemporary readers. It is also apparent in his discussion on philosophy that he is not creating something new or revolutionary, but is rather working on an old base—the same institutions of philosophy and religion that already exist.

While it is apparent that Voltaire is not visibly working toward any revolutionary sentiments in Candide and is merely pointing out flaws in society, it is interesting to note how ingrained the popular cultural notions of the Enlightenment are not even expressed in the text. The most noticeable case concerns his treatment of women in Candide. While there were many views espoused during the period of the French Revolution about the rights of women, it must be observed that even a progressive thinker like Voltaire did not always hold views aligned with such ideas. In fact, as Stromberg points out (see f.1) many of the philosophes were against the idea of revolution—they were so far set in the aristocratic cultural norms of the society to think outside of it—even if they were wont to criticize it. In thinking of Voltaire and many of those philosophes similar to him in thought, women were not always considered equals (aside from a few exceptions). It was suggested, “The state of their [women’s] natural weakness does not permit them to preeminence…”their very weakness generally gives them more lenity and moderation, qualifications fitter for good administration.” Such sentiments in essays such as this one seem to mask a deeper underside of the patriarchal attitudes of the day more than their polished way of setting apart a few exceptions of women leaders would readily demonstrate.

If Voltaire also held such views, why then do all the women in Candide show such weak and defenseless character traits? While on the one hand it seems as though it many be a progressive move to point out how women constantly run the risk of being subject to often violent male desire (as we see in the stories of rape, enslavement, and general submission on the part of women) it seems more the case that Voltaire considers them to be weak and ineffectual creatures—using sex to obtain their desires and serving as vessels of disease. Women are strangely represented in the novel since at once they seem like helpless victims yet also show remarkable strength. It seems however, that the “strength” that these women show might not be a statement on the internal powers of women, but rather that they have no choice than to adapt to a gruesome and misogynistic situation. The old woman, after telling her terrible life story, relates that she does not believe in self-pity—she was merely telling everyone to pass the time. Although there are many female victims in Candide, none of them seem at all aware of the travesties committed to them or their sex and moreover, they hold true to an abundance of stereotypes (gold-diggers, prostitutes, battered old women). In many respects, as far as feminism goes, this is a rather bleak novel especially because although it is heralded as a precursor to the revolutions, it lacks the true ideals of the Enlightenment’s assertions of equal rights for all.

While this essay has attempted to point out that perhaps Candide is not free from the biases inherent to those classes and groups Voltaire so harshly criticizes, this is not to say that there are not plenty of cases in which it would be possible to draw revolutionary ideas from. By taking an almost socialist stance at the end of the novel, there is the feeling that the only to progress is through direct action rather than idle philosophical speculation. Still however, there also remains the idea that Voltaire is perhaps not as progressive as he is said to be—especially since he was working from inside the system (one of Churches, aristocracy, and gender bias) to formulate his critiques. Despite this rather negative outlook on Candide as an inspiration for future revolutions, it is important to buffer such a statement with the admission that he created a new way of writing about society that was not to be matched for years to come. As one essay on Candide claims, “With the death of the old Bolsheviks, the Enlightenment passed into the hands of nonentities like Suard: it lost its fire and became a mere tranquil diffusion of light. A comfortable ascent toward progress.”


Stromberg, Roland. “The Philosophes and the French Revolution: Reflections on Some Recent Research,”Eighteenth-Century Studies 21: 321-339

Clinton, Katherine. “Femme et Philosophe: Enlightenment Origins of Feminism” Eighteenth-Century Studies. 8: 283-299

Darnton, Robert. “The High Enlightenment and the Low-Life of Literature.” Past and Present 51:81-115

Source : http://www.articlemyriad.com/candide-voltaire-context-enlightenment/

François-Marie Arouet, better known by his immortal pen name, Voltaire, was born on November 21, 1694, in Paris. In a literary career that stretched over 60 years, he wrote many influential poems, essays and books including “Candide” and “Letters Concerning the English Nation.” His surgical wit and provocative ideas on religion, liberty and ethics saw him both celebrated and scorned in the courts of Europe, and later helped cement his reputation as one of the foundational figures of the Enlightenment. On the anniversary of Voltaire’s birth, learn 10 things you may not know about one of the 18th century’s most quotable and controversial thinkers.

1. The origins of his famous pen name are unclear.

Voltaire had a strained relationship with his father, who discouraged his literary aspirations and tried to force him into a legal career. Possibly to show his rejection of his father’s values, he dropped his family name and adopted the nom de plume “Voltaire” upon completing his first play in 1718. Voltaire never explained the meaning of his pen name, so scholars can only speculate on its origins. The most popular theory maintains the name is an anagram of a certain Latinized spelling of “Arouet,” but others have claimed it was a reference to the name of a family chateau or a nod to the nickname “voluntaire” (volunteer), which Voltaire may have been given as a sarcastic reference to his stubbornness.

2. He was imprisoned in the Bastille for nearly a year.

Voltaire’s caustic wit first got him into trouble with the authorities in May 1716, when he was briefly exiled from Paris for composing poems mocking the French regent’s family. The young writer was unable to bite his tongue, however, and only a year later he was arrested and confined to the Bastille for writing scandalous verse implying the regent had an incestuous relationship with his daughter. Voltaire boasted that his cell gave him some quiet time to think, and he eventually did 11 months behind bars before winning a release. He later endured another short stint in the Bastille in April 1726, when he was arrested for planning to duel an aristocrat that had insulted and beaten him. To escape further jail time, he voluntarily exiled himself to England, where he remained for nearly three years.

3. He became hugely wealthy by exploiting a flaw in the French lottery.

In 1729, Voltaire teamed with mathematician Charles Marie de La Condamine and others to exploit a lucrative loophole in the French national lottery. The government shelled out massive prizes for the contest each month, but an error in calculation meant that the payouts were larger than the value of all the tickets in circulation. With this in mind, Voltaire, La Condamine and a syndicate of other gamblers were able to repeatedly corner the market and rake in massive winnings. The scheme left Voltaire with a windfall of nearly half a million francs, setting him up for life and allowing him to devote himself solely to his literary career.

4. He was an extraordinary prolific writer.

Voltaire wrote more than 50 plays, dozens of treatises on science, politics and philosophy, and several books of history on everything from the Russian Empire to the French Parliament. Along the way, he also managed to squeeze in heaps of verse and a voluminous correspondence amounting to some 20,000 letters to friends and contemporaries. Voltaire supposedly kept up his prodigious output by spending up to 18 hours a day writing or dictating to secretaries, often while still in bed. He may have also been fueled by heroic amounts of caffeine—according to some sources, he drank as many as 40 cups a day.

5. Many of his most famous works were banned.

Since his writing denigrated everything from organized religion to the justice system, Voltaire ran up against frequent censorship from the French government. A good portion of his work was suppressed, and the authorities even ordered certain books to be burned by the state executioner. To combat the censors, Voltaire had much of his output printed abroad, and he published under a veil of assumed names and pseudonyms. His famous novella “Candide” was originally attributed to a “Dr. Ralph,” and he actively tried to distance himself from it for several years after both the government and the church condemned it. Despite his best attempts to remain anonymous, Voltaire lived in almost constant fear of arrest. He was forced to flee to the French countryside after his “Letters Concerning the English Nation” was released in 1734, and he went on to spend the majority of his later life in unofficial exile in Switzerland.

6. He helped popularize the famous tale about Sir Isaac Newton and the apple.

Though the two never met in person, Voltaire was an enthusiastic acolyte of the English physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton. Upon receiving a copy of Newton’s “Principia Mathematica,” he claimed he knelt down before it in reverence, “as was only right.” Voltaire played a key role in popularizing Newton’s ideas, and he offered one of the first accounts of how the famed scientist developed his theories on gravity. In his 1727 “Essay on Epic Poetry,” Voltaire wrote that Newton “had the first thought of his System of Gravitation, upon seeing an apple falling from a tree.” Voltaire wasn’t the original source for the story of the “Eureka!” moment, as has often been claimed, but his account was instrumental in making it a fabled part of Newton’s biography.

7. He had a brief career as a spy for the French government.

Voltaire struck up a lively correspondence with Frederick the Great in the late 1730s, and he later made several journeys to meet the Prussian monarch in person. Before one of these visits in 1743, Voltaire concocted an ill-advised scheme to use his new position to repair his reputation with the French court. After hatching a deal to serve as a government informant, he wrote several letters to the French giving inside dope on Frederick’s foreign policy and finances. Voltaire proved a lousy spy, however, and his plan quickly fell apart after Frederick grew suspicious of his motives. The two nevertheless remained close friends—some have even claimed they were lovers—and Voltaire later moved to Prussia in 1750 to take a permanent position in the Frederick’s court. Their relationship finally soured in 1752, after Voltaire made a series of scathing attacks on the head of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Frederick responded by lambasting Voltaire, and ordered that a satirical pamphlet he had written be publically burned. Voltaire left the court for good in 1753, supposedly telling a friend, “I was enthusiastic about [Frederick] for 16 years, but he has cured me of this long illness.”

8. He never married or fathered children.

While Voltaire technically died a bachelor, his personal life was a revolving door of mistresses, paramours and long-term lovers. He carried out a famous 16-year affair with the brilliant—and very married—author and scientist Émilie du Châtelet, and later had a committed, though secretive, partnership with his own niece, Marie-Louise Mignot. The two lived as a married couple from the early 1750s until his death, and they even adopted a child in 1760, when they took in a destitute young woman named Marie- Françoise Corneille. Voltaire later paid the dowry for Corneille’s marriage, and often referred to Mignot and himself as her “parents.”

9. He set up a successful watchmaking business in his old age.

While living in Ferney, Switzerland, in the 1770s, Voltaire joined with a group of Swiss horologists in starting a watchmaking business at his estate. With the septuagenarian Voltaire acting as manager and financier, the endeavor soon grew into a village-wide industry, and Ferney watches came to rival some of the best in Europe. “Our watches are very well made,” he once wrote to the French ambassador to the Vatican, “very handsome, very good and cheap.” Voltaire saw the enterprise as a way to prop up the Ferney economy, and he used his vast network of upper class contacts to find prospective buyers. Among others, he eventually succeeded in peddling his wares to the likes of Catherine the Great of Russia and King Louis XV of France.

10. He continued causing controversy even in death.

Voltaire died in Paris in 1778, just a few months after returning to the city for the first time in 28 years to oversee the production of one of his plays. Over the last few days of his life, Catholic Church officials repeatedly visited Voltaire—a lifelong deist who was often critical of organized religion—in the hope of persuading him to retract his opinions and make a deathbed confession. The great writer was unmoved, and supposedly brushed off the priests by saying, “let me die in peace.” His refusal meant that he was officially denied a Christian burial, but his friends and family managed to arrange a secret internment in the Champagne region of France before the order became official.

Source : http://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-should-know-about-voltaire

French playwright, satirist, and philosopher Voltaire (given name: Francois Marie Arouet, 1694-1778) wrote at a time when a corrupt state church and totalitarian government exercised brutal control over nearly every aspect of French life. Among other causes, Voltaire wrote to free his fellow Frenchmen from the early 18th-century church’s doctrine of “the divine right of kings” – the notion that the monarchy was ordained of God and therefore resisting injustice was a sin.

Unlike Luther, who first attempted to reform the church, or the Anabaptists, who started their own, Voltaire reasoned that the best way to break the corrupt church’s hold on people’s hearts and minds was to make his fellow citizens doubt the core doctrines of the church, and therefore its divine authority.

Voltaire’s attacks on the monarchy, on the state church, as well as on contemporary philosophers who promoted acquiescence to the status quo, were diabolically clever and effective.  They influenced Thomas Paine and other American revolutionaries, helped lead to the brutal French revolution, and have influenced many writers and students since.

To thinking Christians, Voltaire’s work is of interest largely because, long after his death, Voltaire’s arguments against core Christian doctrines influenced another kind of revolution – within several mainstream Christian denominations, people influenced by Voltaire’s ideas (though often filtered through other writers) have decided that those core Christian doctrines are expendable “stumbling blocks” that are actually keeping people away from the teachings of Jesus.

But before we focus on that, let’s learn just a bit more about Voltaire.  One thing that made him so effective was his ability to come at things “sideways,” getting his ideas past the censors, at the same time he planted seeds of doubt throughout his culture.

Voltaire’s Unique Approach to Banned Subjects – Under almost constant censorship, Voltaire often presented his most “dangerous” ideas by pretending he was writing about someone else. He would start an essay with something to the effect of “You won’t believe what such and such a group has the audacity to say.” Then he would spell out his own ideas about religion or politics in great detail, only to end with a very weak “rebuttal” such as: “Fortunately we in France have the Church to explain that such ideas are only foolishness and may safely be ignored.”

As an example, in Voltaire’s article supposedly denouncing anti-trinitarians (in Dictionnaire Philosophique), he provides a list of arguments against the doctrine of the Trinity.  (They center, by the way, on the doctrine being hard to understand and not being explicitly spelled out in the New Testament). Most of those arguments preceded Voltaire, and would not rock the faith of anyone who knew the Bible and something about church history. Voltaire ends the article by saying, that, (fortunately) the (church) councils had settled the subject. However, many people without convictions or motivation to evaluate Voltaire’s claims for themselves have come away from such summaries convinced that Voltaire has made a compelling case against a core Christian doctrine

Voltaire and the Divinity of Christ – In an essay that supposedly attacks those who renounce the divinity of Christ, Voltaire suggests a “history” of how Jesus came to be considered divine by the church, supposedly over a period of centuries. Again, many of the ideas in the following passage originated before Voltaire, but few people expressed them as well.

” , , , Christians spent three whole centuries in constructing little by little the apotheosis [raising to the status of a god] of Jesus. . . . At first . . . Jesus was regarded merely as a man inspired by God, then as a creature more perfect than the others. Some time after he was given a place above the angels, as says Saint Paul. Every day added to his stature. He became an emanation of God manifested in time. That was not enough: he was held to be born before time itself. Finally he was made God, consubstantial with God.

Voltaire’s chronology ignores the fact that virtually all first- and second-century Christian writings and creeds universally accepted the divinity of Jesus.  The great church councils of later centuries were not convened, as some insist, to establish Jesus’ divinity, but largely to refute an upstart third-century movement to discredit it.

To scholars serious about their faith and willing to check out the facts, Voltaire’s claims that the doctrine of the divinity of Christ evolved over three centuries should be of historical interest only.  But scores of readers who could not be bothered to investigate Voltaire’s claims have simply acquiesced, surrendering this doctrine of Jesus’ own teaching without a shot, as it were. Unfortunately, quite a few of those young men advanced to the pulpit, and even to seminary chairs, where they could disseminate their lack of faith to the next generation under the apparent authority of their own church leadership.

Quoting Voltaire – Voltaire was convincing, prolific, and wickedly funny. Some Christians like to point out that Voltaire enjoyed skewering atheists almost as much as he enjoyed skewering Christians. But before quoting the fellow to prove some sort of “Christian” point, Christians should remember that much of Voltaire’s writing was tongue-in-cheek, and that quoting him out of context could backfire among people who actually take the time to look up the quote.

Voltaire and Twain – American authors often compare Voltaire to Mark Twain, which is a fair comparison if one keeps in mind that Voltaire was first, and was far more vitriolic than Twain (Of course, with church censorship, exile, and imprisonment, Voltaire had more to be bitter about than Twain). To Twain’s credit, he exceeds Voltaire when it comes to capturing the pioneer spirit (for good or for ill) of his countrymen, and for creating compelling characters in most of his fiction. But when he is writing mostly to prove a point, he does emulate Voltaire’s tongue-in-cheek tone.  He also reflects Voltaire’s practice when he uses “letters” and “journals” (supposedly from other people) to camouflage attacks on various aspects of society.

In his own attacks against religion, Twain also seems to have repeated several of Voltaire’s arguments (amplifying them with Twain’s own brand of humor, of course). Yet most of Twain’s rants against organized religion or Christian doctrine pale next to the original, even in translation. As a fomenter of “radical” ideas, Twain may influence the reader; Voltaire influenced countless other writers.

Voltaire’s Influence on the Church – Voltaire’s on the church has been as subtle, widespread, and effective as leaven in a lump of dough. Nearly three centuries later, countless religious leaders who’ve swallowed Voltaire’s claims without examination now contend that doctrines like the Trinity and the divinity of Christ are outdated “stumbling blocks” that are keeping people away from “The Faith” (assuming you can call anything “The Faith” that actually requires no faith at all).

Ironically, since Voltaire’s assertions have become dogma in traditionally “mainstream” denominations, the churches and institutions affected have become every bit as dogmatic about their version of “Christianity” as was the early eighteenth-century Roman Catholic church that Voltaire attacked. They, frankly, refuse to revisit their basic assumptions, even when archaeological and manuscript evidence proves them wrong.

As a further irony,  the churches that abandoned Biblical doctrines that they thought were keeping people away have stopped attracting new people at all, or even keeping more than a fraction of their own children and grandchildren in the church. Apparently if you take everything out of the “faith” that actually requires faith, you also take away the sense that the faith has anything more to offer than lessons in ethics, which, most people seem to feel they can do without. Yet, in spite of history’s lessons, it still seems that every time Voltaire’s arguments are restated by yet another author in search of publication or notoriety, they attract the attention of those who are easily swayed by whatever seems “clever” or “new.”

Though many times refuted, Voltaire’s assertions about basic Christian doctrines have become the bedrock that supports the foundations of the “Liberal,” “Neo-Orthodox, and “Post-Modern Christian” movements of the last two centuries. In a way, Voltaire has been the thorn in the side of theologically orthodox Christians for almost three centuries, a fact that he would probably find quite amusing, did he not have more compelling demands on his attention just now.


Oddly enough, a book about “reforming the church,” largely based on claims originally made by Voltaire, recently “made the rounds” at any number of conservative Bible colleges and seminaries.  Maybe you’ve read it and have all kinds of ideas for making “the faith” more acceptable to nonbelievers by minimizing – if not filtering out – everything that smacks of the supernatural.   Guess what – you’re just the latest in a long line of shallow thinkers who’ve fallen for the same centuries-old arguments.

Here’s a rule of thumb – the next time you hear what seems to be a reasonable, compelling argument against ANY of the core doctrines of Christianity, chances are it started with, or at least was popularized by Voltaire – and it has never staggered the faith of any Christian who took the time to do their own research or thinking on the subject.

Towards the year 1707, the time at which the English gained the battle of Saragossa, protected Portugal, and for some time gave a king to Spain, Lord Boldmind, a general officer who had been wounded, was at the waters of Barèges. He there met with Count Medroso, who having fallen from his horse behind the baggage, at a league and a half from the field of battle, also came to take the waters. He was a familiar of the Inquisition, while Lord Boldmind was only familiar in conversation. One day after their wine, he held this dialogue with Medroso:

You are then the sergeant of the Dominicans? You exercise a villainous trade.

It is true; but I would rather be their servant than their victim, and I have preferred the unhappiness of burning my neighbor to that of being roasted myself.

What a horrible alternative! You were a hundred times happier under the yoke of the Moors, who freely suffered you to abide in all your superstitions, and conquerors as they were, arrogated not to themselves the strange right of sending souls to hell.

What would you have? It is not permitted us either to write, speak, or even to think. If we speak, it is easy to misinterpret our words, and still more our writings; and as we cannot be condemned in an auto-da-fé for our secret thoughts, we are menaced with being burned eternally by the order of God himself, if we think not like the Jacobins. They have persuaded the government that if we had common sense the entire state would be in combustion, and the nation become the most miserable upon earth.

Do you believe that we English who cover the seas with vessels, and who go to gain battles for you in the south of Europe, can be so unhappy? Do you perceive that the Dutch, who have ravished from you almost all your discoveries in India, and who at present are ranked as your protectors, are cursed of God for having given entire liberty to the press, and for making commerce of the thoughts of men? Has the Roman Empire been less powerful because Tullius Cicero has written with freedom?

Who is this Tullius Cicero? I have never heard his name pronounced at St. Hermandad.

He was a bachelor of the university of Rome, who wrote that which he thought, like Julius Cæsar, Marcus Aurelius, Titus Lucretius Carus, Plinius, Seneca, and other sages.

I know none of them; but I am told that the Catholic religion, Biscayan and Roman, is lost if we begin to think.

It is not for you to believe it; for you are sure that your religion is divine, and that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. If that is the case, nothing will ever destroy it.

No; but it may be reduced to very little; and it is through having thought, that Sweden, Denmark, all your island, and the half of Germany groan under the frightful misfortune of not being subjects of the pope. It is even said that, if men continue to follow their false lights, they will soon have merely the simple adoration of God and of virtue. If the gates of hell ever prevail so far, what will become of the holy office?

If the first Christians had not the liberty of thought, does it not follow that there would have been no Christianity?

I understand you not.

I readily believe it. I would say, that if Tiberius and the first emperors had fostered Jacobins, they would have hindered the first Christians from having pens and ink; and had it not been a long time permitted in the Roman Empire to think freely, it would be impossible for the Christians to establish their dogmas. If, therefore, Christianity was only formed by liberty of opinion, by what contradiction, by what injustice, would you now destroy the liberty on which alone it is founded?

When some affair of interest is proposed to us, do we not examine it for a long time before we conclude upon it? What interest in the world is so great as our eternal happiness or misery? There are a hundred religions on earth which all condemn us if we believe your dogmas, which they call impious and absurd; why, therefore, not examine these dogmas?

How can I examine them? I am not a Jacobin.

You are a man, and that is sufficient.

Alas! you are more of a man than I am.

You have only to teach yourself to think; you are born with a mind, you are a bird in the cage of the Inquisition, the holy office has clipped your wings, but they will grow again. He who knows not geometry can learn it: all men can instruct themselves. Is it not shameful to put your soul into the hands of those to whom you would not intrust your money? Dare to think for yourself.

It is said that if the world thought for itself, it would produce strange confusion.

Quite the contrary. When we assist at a spectacle, every one freely tells his opinion of it, and the public peace is not thereby disturbed; but if some insolent protector of a poet would force all people of taste to proclaim that to be good which appears to them bad, blows would follow, and the two parties would throw apples of discord at one another’s heads, as once happened at London. Tyrants over mind have caused a part of the misfortunes of the world. We are happy in England only because every one freely enjoys the right of speaking his opinion.

We are all very tranquil at Lisbon, where no person dares speak his.

You are tranquil, but you are not happy: it is the tranquillity of galley-slaves, who row in cadence and in silence.

You believe, then, that my soul is at the galleys?

Yes, and I would deliver it.

But if I find myself well at the galleys?

Why, then, you deserve to be there.


What harm can the prediction of Jean Jacques do to Russia? Any? We allow him to explain it in a mystical, typical, allegorical sense, according to custom. The nations which will destroy the Russians will possess the belles-lettres, mathematics, wit, and politeness, which degrade man and pervert nature.

From five to six thousand pamphlets have been printed in Holland against Louis XIV., none of which contributed to make him lose the battles of Blenheim, Turin, and Ramillies.

In general, we have as natural a right to make use of our pens as our language, at our peril, risk, and fortune. I know many books which fatigue, but I know of none which have done real evil. Theologians, or pretended politicians, cry: “Religion is destroyed, the government is lost, if you print certain truths or certain paradoxes. Never attempt to think, till you have demanded permission from a monk or an officer. It is against good order for a man to think for himself. Homer, Plato, Cicero, Virgil, Pliny, Horace, never published anything but with the approbation of the doctors of the Sorbonne and of the holy Inquisition.”

“See into what horrible decay the liberty of the press brought England and Holland. It is true that they possess the commerce of the whole world, and that England is victorious on sea and land; but it is merely a false greatness, a false opulence: they hasten with long strides to their ruin. An enlightened people cannot exist.”

None can reason more justly, my friends; but let us see, if you please, what state has been lost by a book. The most dangerous, the most pernicious of all, is that of Spinoza. Not only in the character of a Jew he attacks the New Testament, but in the character of a scholar he ruins the Old; his system of atheism is a thousand times better composed and reasoned than those of Straton and of Epicurus. We have need of the most profound sagacity to answer to the arguments by which he endeavors to prove that one substance cannot form another.

Like yourself, I detest this book, which I perhaps understand better than you, and to which you have very badly replied; but have you discovered that this book has changed the face of the world? Has any preacher lost a florin of his income by the publication of the works of Spinoza? Is there a bishop whose rents have diminished? On the contrary, their revenues have doubled since his time: all the ill is reduced to a small number of peaceable readers, who have examined the arguments of Spinoza in their closets, and have written for or against them works but little known.

For yourselves, it is of little consequence to have caused to be printed “ad usum Delphini,” the atheism of Lucretius—as you have already been reproached with doing–no trouble, no scandal, has ensued from it: so leave Spinoza to live in peace in Holland. Lucretius was left in repose at Rome.

But if there appears among you any new book, the ideas of which shock your own–supposing you have any–or of which the author may be of a party contrary to yours–or what is worse, of which the author may not be of any party at all–then you cry out “Fire!” and let all be noise, scandal, and uproar in your small corner of the earth. There is an abominable man who has printed that if we had no hands we could not make shoes nor stockings. Devotees cry out, furred doctors assemble, alarms multiply from college to college, from house to house, and why? For five or six pages, about which there no longer will be a question at the end of three months. Does a book displease you? refute it. Does it tire you? read it not.

Oh! say you to me, the books of Luther and Calvin have destroyed the Roman Catholic religion in one-half of Europe? Why say not also, that the books of the patriarch Photius have destroyed this Roman religion in Asia, Africa, Greece, and Russia?

You deceive yourself very grossly, when you think that you have been ruined by books. The empire of Russia is two thousand leagues in extent, and there are not six men who are aware of the points disputed by the Greek and Latin Church. If the monk Luther, John Calvin, and the vicar Zuinglius had been content with writing, Rome would yet subjugate all the states that it has lost; but these people and their adherents ran from town to town, from house to house, exciting the women, and were maintained by princes. Fury, which tormented Amata, and which, according to Virgil, whipped her like a top, was not more turbulent. Know, that one enthusiastic, factious, ignorant, supple, vehement Capuchin, the emissary of some ambitious monks, preaching, confessing, communicating, and caballing, will much sooner overthrow a province than a hundred authors can enlighten it. It was not the Koran which caused Mahomet to succeed: it was Mahomet who caused the success of the Koran.

No! Rome has not been vanquished by books; it has been so by having caused Europe to revolt at its rapacity; by the public sale of indulgences; for having insulted men, and wishing to govern them like domestic animals; for having abused its power to such an extent that it is astonishing a single village remains to it. Henry VIII., Elizabeth, the duke of Saxe, the landgrave of Hesse, the princes of Orange, the Condés and Colignys, have done all, and books nothing. Trumpets have never gained battles, nor caused any walls to fall except those of Jericho.

You fear books, as certain small cantons fear violins. Let us read, and let us dance–these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.



As you have it in your power, sir, to do some service to letters, I implore you not to clip the wings of our writers so closely, nor to turn into barn-door fowls those who, allowed a start, might become eagles; reasonable liberty permits the mind to soar–slavery makes it creep.

Had there been a literary censorship in Rome, we should have had to-day neither Horace, Juvenal, nor the philosophical works of Cicero. If Milton, Dryden, Pope, and Locke had not been free, England would have had neither poets nor philosophers; there is something positively Turkish in proscribing printing; and hampering it is proscription. Be content with severely repressing diffamatory libels, for they are crimes: but so long as those infamous calottes are boldly published, and so many other unworthy and despicable productions, at least allow Bayle to circulate in France, and do not put him, who has been so great an honour to his country, among its contraband.

You say that the magistrates who regulate the literary custom-house complain that there are too many books. That is just the same thing as if the provost of merchants complained there were too many provisions in Paris. People buy what they choose. A great library is like the City of Paris, in which there are about eight hundred thousand persons: you do not live with the whole crowd: you choose a certain society, and change it. So with books: you choose a few friends out of the many. There will be seven or eight thousand controversial books, and fifteen or sixteen thousand novels, which you will not read: a heap of pamphlets, which you will throw into the fire after you have read them. The man of taste will read only what is good; but the statesman will permit both bad and good.

Men’s thoughts have become an important article of commerce. The Dutch publishers make a million [francs] a year, because Frenchmen have brains. A feeble novel is, I know, among books what a fool, always striving after wit, is in the world. We laugh at him and tolerate him. Such a novel brings the means of life to the author who wrote it, the publisher who sells it, to the moulder, the printer, the paper-maker, the binder, the carrier–and finally to the bad wine-shop where they all take their money. Further, the book amuses for an hour or two a few women who like novelty in literature as in everything. Thus, despicable though it may be, it will have produced two important things–profit and pleasure.

The theatre also deserves attention. I do not consider it a counter attraction to dissipation: that is a notion only worthy of an ignorant curé. There is quite time enough, before and after the performance, for the few minutes given to those passing pleasures which are so soon followed by satiety. Besides, people do not go to the theatre every day, and among our vast population there are not more than four thousand who are in the habit of going constantly.

I look on tragedy and comedy as lessons in virtue, good sense, and good behaviour. Corneille–the old Roman of the French–has founded a school of Spartan virtue: Molière, a school of ordinary everyday life. These great national geniuses attract foreigners from all parts of Europe, who come to study among us, and thus contribute to the wealth of Paris. Our poor are fed by the productions of such works, which bring under our rule the very nations who hate us. In face, he who condemns the theatre is an enemy to his country. A magistrate who, because he has succeeded in buying some judicial post, thinks that it is beneath his dignity to see Cinna, shows much pomposity and very little taste.

There are still Goths and Vandals even among our cultivated people: the only Frenchmen I consider worthy of the name are those who love and encourage the arts. It is true that the taste for them is languishing: we are sybarites, weary of our mistresses’ favours. We enjoy the fruits of the labours of the great men who have worked for our pleasure and that of the ages to come, just as we receive the fruits of nature as if they were our due […] nothing will rouse us from this indifference to great things which always goes side by side with our vivid interest in small.

Every year we take more pains over snuffboxes and nicknacks than the English took to make themselves masters of the seas […]. The old Romans raised those marvels of architecure–their amphitheatres–for beasts to fight in: and for a whole century we have not built a single passable place for the representation of the masterpieces of the human mind. A hundredth part of the money spent on cards would be enough to build theatres finer than Pompey’s: but what man in Paris has the public welfare at heart? We play, sup, talk scandal, write bad verses, and sleep, like fools, to recommence on the morrow the same round of careless frivolity.

You, sir, who have at least some small opportunity of giving good advice, try and rouse us from this stupid lethargy, and, if you can, do something for literature, which has done so much for France.


It is above all the prose deals with which modern-day readers are familiar, and again the works cover a broad spectrum: histories, belligerent satires, handouts of all types, discussions, short fictions or contes, and letters both actual and fictive. The obvious absentee from this list is the unique, a category which, like the prose drame, Voltaire thought base and minor. To understand the strength of his dislike for these ‘new’ categories, we have to keep in mind that Voltaire was a product of the late seventeenth century, the moment of the Quarrel between Ancients and Moderns, and this literary debate continued to influence his visual views all through his life. Controversial spiritual and political views were frequently revealed in the literary kinds (classical tragedy, the verse satire) perfected in the seventeenth century; the ‘conservatism’ of these kinds appears, to modern readers at least, to jeopardize the post, though this noticeable traditionalism may in reality have actually assisted Voltaire mask the originality of his business: it is at least feasible that in a work such as Zaïre (1732), the kind of the classical disaster made its concepts of religious toleration more tasty.

Voltaire’s contribution to the history of Enlightenment approach is very little, and he can not be thought about a significant or original thinker. In terms of the history of concepts, his single crucial accomplishment was to have helped in the 1730s to present the idea of Newton and Locke to France (therefore to the rest of the Continent); as well as this accomplishment is, as Jonathan Israel has actually just recently revealed, barely as radical as has in some cases been believed: the English thinkers in question served essentially as a deistic bulwark versus the more radical (atheistic) currents of believed in the Spinozist custom. Voltaire’s deist beliefs, stated throughout his life, concerned appear significantly outmoded and defensive as he got older and as he ended up being more and more exercised by the spread of atheism. Voltaire’s failure to produce an original viewpoint was, in a sense, reversed by his deliberate cultivation of a philosophy of action; his ‘good sense’ crusade versus superstitious notion and prejudice and in favour of religious toleration was his single biggest contribution to the development of Enlightenment. ‘Rousseau composes for composing’s sake’, he stated in a letter of 1767, ‘I write to act.’.

We rarely know with certainty what Voltaire really believed or thought; what mattered to him was the impact of exactly what he composed. The terrific crusades of the 1760s taught him to appreciate the importance of popular opinion, and in popularizing the clandestine ideas of the early part of the century he played the role of the journalist. He might have been old-fashioned in his nostalgia for the classicism of the previous century, but he was completely of his day in his consummate understanding of the medium of publishing. He controlled the book trade to accomplish maximum publicity for his concepts, and he well understood the value of exactly what he called ‘the portable’. In 1766, Voltaire wrote to d’Alembert: ‘Twenty in-folio volumes will certainly never cause a revolution; it’s the little portable books at thirty sous which are to be feared.’.

This would also be a simplification, for notwithstanding his obvious literary conservatism, Voltaire was in reality a relentless reformer and experimenter with literary genres, ingenious virtually despite himself, specifically in the domain of prose. He never ever turned his back on verse drama and philosophical poetry, he experimented with various kinds of historical writing and tried his hand at different designs of prose fiction. Above all, he appears to have found late in his career the satirical and belligerent uses of the piece, especially in his alphabetic works, the Dictionnaire philosophique portatif (1764), including 73 posts in its very first edition, and the Questions sur l’Encyclopédie (1770-1772). The latter work, whose first edition included 423 articles in nine octavo volumes, is a vast and challenging compendium of his idea and ranks among Voltaire’s unacknowledged masterpieces. When he passed away, Voltaire was dealing with what would have been his third ‘philosophical’ dictionary, L’Opinion en alphabet.

It was for that reason Voltaire’s literary and rhetorical contributions to the Enlightenment which were really distinct. Interested neither in music (like Rousseau) nor in art (like Diderot), Voltaire was essentially a man of language. Through force of style, through skilful choice of literary category, and through the achieved adjustment of the book market, he discovered means of popularizing and promulgating concepts which up until then had actually usually been clandestine. The range of his writing is enormous, accepting practically every category. In verse, he wrote in every form– impressive poetry, ode, satire and epistle, and even periodic and light verse; his drama, likewise written in verse, includes both comedies and catastrophes (although the tragedies have not endured in the modern theatre, lots of survive on in the opera, as, for example, Rossini’s Semiramide and Tancredi).

Voltaire’s ironic, fast-moving, deceptively simple style makes him among the greatest stylists of the French language. All his life, Voltaire enjoyed to act in his own plays, and this fondness for role-playing finished into all his writings. He used something like 175 various pseudonyms in the course of his profession, and his writing is identified by an expansion of various personalities and voices. The reader is continuously drawn into dialogue– by a footnote which contradicts the text, or by one voice in the text which suggests versus another. Using the mask is so ruthless and the presence of humour, paradox, and satire so pervasive that the reader has lastly no idea of where the ‘real’ Voltaire is. His autobiographical works are couple of and totally unrevealing: as the title of his Commentaire historique sur les Å�uvres de l’auteur de la Henriade suggests, it is his works alone which constitute their author’s identity.

Voltaire was likewise modern-day in the way he invented himself by fashioning a public image from his adopted name. As the patriarch of Ferney, he turned himself into an organization whose fame reached throughout Europe. As an engaged and militant intellectual, he stood at the start of a French tradition which anticipated Emile Zola and to Jean-Paul Sartre, and in modern-day republican France his name stands as a cultural icon, a sign of rationalism and the defence of tolerance. Voltaire was a man of paradoxes: the bourgeois who as de Voltaire gave himself aristocratic pretensions, but who as plain Voltaire later on ended up being a hero of the Revolution; the conservative in aesthetic matters who appeared as a radical in religious and political concerns. He was, above all, the master ironist, who, perhaps more than any other author, gave to the Enlightenment its characteristic and specifying tone of voice.