Leibniz on Faith with Reason 1710 (Theodicy)

Theodicy by Freiherr von Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz 1646–1716 (1710)

Quotations from: Links in blue

Preliminary Dissertation on the Conformity of Faith With Reason begins on p. 73 Gutenberg text

 I begin with the preliminary question of the conformity of faith with reason, and the use of philosophy in theology, because it has much influence on the main subject of my treatise, and because Pierre Bayle 1647-1706 introduces it everywhere. I assume that two truths cannot contradict each other; that the object of faith is the truth God has revealed in an extraordinary way; and that reason is the linking together of truths, but especially (when it is compared with faith) of those whereto the human mind can attain naturally without being aided by the light of faith. This definition of reason (that is to say of strict and true reason) has surprised some persons accustomed to inveigh against reason taken in a vague sense

one may compare faith with experience, since faith (in respect of the motives that give it justification) depends upon the experience of those who have seen the miracles whereon revelation is founded, and upon the trustworthy tradition which has handed them down to us, whether through the Scriptures or by the account of those who have preserved them.

It is rather as we rely upon the experience of those who have seen China and on the credibility of their account when we give credence to the wonders that are told us of that distant country.

Yet I would also take into account the inward motion of the Holy Spirit, who takes possession of souls and persuades them and prompts them to good, that is, to faith and to charity, without always having need of motives.

Now the truths of reason are of two kinds: the one kind is of those called the ‘Eternal Verities’, which are altogether necessary, so that the opposite implies contradiction.

Such are the truths whose necessity is logical, metaphysical or geometrical, which one cannot deny without being led into absurdities. There are others which may be called positive, because they are the laws which it has pleased God to give to Nature, or because they depend upon those.

We learn them either by experience, that is, a posteriori, or by reason and a priori, that is, by considerations of the fitness of things which have caused their choice. This fitness of things has also its rules and reasons, but it is the free choice of God, and not a geometrical necessity, which causes preference for what is fitting and brings it into existence.

Thus one may say that physical necessity is founded on moral necessity, that is, on the wise one’s choice which is worthy of his wisdom; and that both of these ought to be distinguished from geometrical necessity. It is this physical necessity that makes order in Nature and lies in the rules of motion and in some other general laws which it pleased God to lay down for things when he gave them being. It is therefore true that God gave such laws not without reason, for he chooses nothing from caprice and as though by chance or in pure indifference; but the general reasons of good and of order, which have prompted him to the choice, may be overcome in some cases by stronger reasons of a superior order.



Now M. Pierre Bayle (1647–1706) declares, in his posthumous Reply to M. le Clerc (1642-1731), that he does not claim that there are demonstrations contrary to the truths of faith: and as a result all these insuperable difficulties, these so-called wars between reason and faith, vanish away.

Mysteries may be explained sufficiently to justify belief in them; but one cannot comprehend them, nor give understanding of how they come to pass.

Thus even in natural philosophy we explain up to a certain point sundry perceptible qualities, but in an imperfect manner, for we do not comprehend them.

Nor is it possible for us, either, to prove Mysteries by reason; for all that which can be proved a priori, or by pure reason, can be comprehended.

The question of the conformity of faith with reason has always been a great problem. In the primitive Church the ablest Christian authors adapted themselves to the ideas of the Platonists, which were the most acceptable to them, and were at that time most generally in favour. Little by little Aristotle took the place of Plato, when the taste for systems began to prevail, and when theology itself became more systematic, owing to the decisions of the General Councils, which provided precise and positive formularies. St. Augustine (354-430), Boethius and Cassiodorus in the West, and St. John of Damascus in the East contributed most towards reducing theology to scientific form, not to mention Bede, Alcuin, St. Anselm (1053-1109) and some other theologians versed in philosophy. Finally came the Schoolmen. The leisure of the cloisters giving full scope for speculation, which was assisted by Aristotle’s philosophy translated from the Arabic, there was formed at last a compound of theology and philosophy wherein most of the questions arose from the trouble that was taken to reconcile faith with reason.

A little before these changes, and before the great schism in the West (1054) that still endures, there was in Italy a sect of philosophers which disputed this conformity of faith with reason which I maintain.

They were dubbed ‘Averroists’ because they were adherents of a famous Arab author, who was called the Commentator by pre-eminence, and who appeared to be the one of all his race that penetrated furthest into Aristotle’s meaning.

Aristotle went so far as to advocate a universal soul forming the ocean of all individual souls, and believed this universal soul alone capable of subsisting, whilst individual souls are born and die.

Plato’s Soul of the World has been taken in this sense by some, but there is more indication that the Stoics succumbed to that universal soul which swallows all the rest. Those who are of this opinion might be called ‘Monopsychites’, since according to them there is in reality only one soul that subsists.

A certain German of Swabian birth (Johann Peter Spaeth), converted to Judaism some years ago, who taught under the name Moses Germanus, having adopted the dogmas of Spinoza, believed that Spinoza revived the ancient Cabala of the Hebrews.

And a learned man who confuted this proselyte Jew appears to be of the same opinion. It is known that Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) recognizes only substance in the world, whereof individual souls are but transient modifications.

The annihilation of all that belongs to us in our own right, carried to great lengths by the Quietists, might equally well be veiled irreligion in certain minds, as is related, for example, concerning the Quietism of Foë, originator of a great Chinese sect. After having preached his religion for forty years, when he felt death was approaching, he declared to his disciples that he had hidden the truth from them under the veil of metaphors, and that all reduced itself to Nothingness, which he said was the first source of all things. That was still worse, so it would seem, than the opinion of the Averroists. Both of these doctrines are indefensible and even extravagant; nevertheless some moderns have made no difficulty about adopting this one and universal Soul that engulfs the rest. It has met with only too much applause amongst the so-called freethinkers, and M. de Preissac, a soldier and man of wit, who dabbled in philosophy, at one time aired it publicly in his discourses.

The System of Pre-established Harmony is the one best qualified to cure this evil. For it shows that there are of necessity substances which are simple and without extension, scattered throughout all Nature; that these substances must subsist independently of every other except God; and that they are never wholly separated from organic body. Those who believe that souls capable of feeling but incapable of reason are mortal, or who maintain that none but reasoning souls can have feeling, offer a handle to the Monopsychites. For it will ever be difficult to persuade men that beasts feel nothing; and once the admission has been made that that which is capable of feeling can die, it is difficult to found upon reason a proof of the immortality of our souls.

I return then to the Averroists, who were persuaded that their dogma was proved conclusively in accordance with reason. As a result they declared that man’s soul is, according to philosophy, mortal, while they protested their acquiescence in Christian theology, which declares the soul’s immortality. But this distinction was held suspect, and this divorce between faith and reason was vehemently rejected by the prelates and the doctors of that time, and condemned in the last Lateran Council under Leo X (1475-1521).

The Reformers, and especially Martin Luther (1483-1546), as I have already observed, spoke sometimes as if they rejected philosophy, and deemed it inimical to faith. But, properly speaking, Luther understood by philosophy only that which is in conformity with the ordinary course of Nature, or perhaps even philosophy as it was taught in the schools.

To come now to the events of my own time, I remember that when in 1666 Louis Meyer, a physician of Amsterdam, published anonymously the book entitled Philosophia Scripturae Interpres (by many persons wrongly attributed to Spinoza, his friend) the theologians of Holland bestirred themselves, and their written attacks upon this book gave rise to great disputes among them. Divers of them held the opinion that the Cartesians, in confuting the anonymous philosopher, had conceded too much to philosophy. (Rene Descartes 1598-1650)

A like dispute has threatened of late to disturb the peace in the Churches of the Augsburg Confession (1530). Some Masters of Arts in the University of Leipzig (1409) gave private lessons at their homes, to students who sought them out in order to learn what is called ‘Sacra Philologia’, according to the practice of this university and of some others where this kind of study is not restricted to the Faculty of Theology. These masters pressed the study of the Holy Scriptures and the practice of piety further than their fellows had been wont to do.

The Mysteries of the Trinity, of the Incarnation and of the Holy Communion gave most occasion for dispute. The new Photinians, disputing the first two Mysteries, made use of certain philosophic maxims which Andreas Kessler, a theologian of the Augsburg Confession, summarized in the various treatises that he published on the parts of the Socinian philosophy. But as to their metaphysics, one might instruct oneself better therein by reading the work of Christopher Stegmann the Socinian (Faustus Socinus 1539-1604)). It is not yet in print; but I saw it in my youth and it has been recently again in my hands.

their maxims were good in philosophy and not in theology

philosophy was a Hagar beside Sara and must be driven from the house with her Ishmael when she was refractory.

A section of those who are called Reformed (namely those who on that point follow rather Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531) than John Calvin 1509-1564)) seemed to reduce the participation in the body of Jesus Christ in the Holy Communion to a mere figurative representation, employing the maxim of the philosophers which states that a body can only be in one place at a time.

Contrariwise the Evangelicals (who name themselves thus in a particular sense to distinguish themselves from the Reformed), being more attached to the literal sense of Scripture, opined with Luther that this participation was real, and that here there lay a supernatural Mystery.

They reject, in truth, the dogma of Transubstantiation, which they believe to be without foundation in the Text; neither do they approve that of Consubstantiation or of Impanation, which one could only impute to them if one were ill-informed on their opinion.

For they admit no inclusion of the body of Jesus Christ in the bread, nor do they even require any union of the one with the other: but they demand at least a concomitance, so that these two substances be received both at the same time.

Meanwhile remote operation has just been revived in England by the admirable Mr. Isaac Newton (1642-1727), who maintains that it is the nature of bodies to be attracted and gravitate one towards another, in proportion to the mass of each one, and the rays of attraction it receives.

Accordingly the famous Mr. John Locke (1632-1704), in his answer to Bishop Edward Stillingfleet (1635-1699), declares that having seen Mr. Newton’s book he retracts what he himself said, following the opinion of the moderns, in his Essay concerning Human Understanding, to wit, that a body cannot operate immediately upon another except by touching it upon its surface and driving it by its motion.

He acknowledges that God can put properties into matter which cause it to operate from a distance. Thus the theologians of the Augsburg Confession claim that God may ordain not only that a body operate immediately on divers bodies remote from one another, but that it even exist in their neighbourhood and be received by them in a way with which distances of place and dimensions of space have nothing to do.

I found in comparing the Rationale Theologicum of Nicolaus Vedelius (1596-1642) with the refutation by Johann Musaeus (1613-1681) that these two authors, of whom one died while a Professor at Franecker after having taught at Geneva and the other finally became the foremost theologian at Jena, are more or less in agreement on the principal rules for the use of reason, but that it is in the application of these rules they disagree.

For they both agree that revelation cannot be contrary to the truths whose necessity is called by philosophers ‘logical’ or ‘metaphysical’, that is to say, whose opposite implies contradiction.

They both admit also that revelation will be able to combat maxims whose necessity is called ‘physical’ and is founded only upon the laws that the will of God has prescribed for Nature.


all commentators agree that when our Lord said that Herod was a fox he meant it metaphorically; and one must accept that, unless one imagine with some fanatics that for the time the words of our Lord lasted Herod was actually changed into a fox. But it is not the same with the texts on which Mysteries are founded, where the theologians of the Augsburg Confession deem that one must keep to the literal sense.

Theologians of all parties, I believe (fanatics alone excepted), agree at least that no article of faith must imply contradiction or contravene proofs as exact as those of mathematics, where the opposite of the conclusion can be reduced ad absurdum, that is, to contradiction. St. Athanasius (296-373) with good reason made sport of the preposterous ideas of some writers of his time, who maintained that God had suffered without any suffering.

what is contrary to reason is contrary to the absolutely certain and inevitable truths; and what is above reason is in opposition only to what one is wont to experience or to understand.

the two labyrinths which have ever exercised theologians and philosophers.

But these writers have not denied the possibility of finding thread in the labyrinth; they have recognized the difficulty, but they have surely not turned difficulty into sheer impossibility.

As for me, I confess that I cannot agree with those who maintain that a truth can admit of irrefutable objections: for is an objection anything but an argument whose conclusion contradicts our thesis?

And is not an irrefutable argument a demonstration? And how can one know the certainty of demonstrations except by examining the argument in detail, the form and the matter, in order to see if the form is good, and then if each premiss is either admitted or proved by another argument of like force, until one is able to make do with admitted premisses alone?

Now if there is such an objection against our thesis we must say that the falsity of this thesis is demonstrated, and that it is impossible for us to have reasons sufficient to prove it; otherwise two contradictories would be true at once.

One must always yield to proofs, whether they be proposed in positive form or advanced in the shape of objections.

And it is wrong and fruitless to try to weaken opponents’ proofs, under the pretext that they are only objections, since the opponent can play the same game and can reverse the denominations, exalting his arguments by naming them ‘proofs’ and sinking ours under the blighting title of ‘objections’.

It is another question whether we are always obliged to examine the objections we may have to face, and to retain some doubt in respect of our own opinion, or what is called formido oppositi, until this examination has been made.

I would venture to say no, for otherwise one would never attain to certainty and our conclusion would be always provisional. I believe that able geometricians will scarce be troubled by the objections of Joseph Scaliger (1540-1609) against Archimedes (387-211 BC), or by those of Mr. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) against Euclid; but that is because they have fully understood and are sure of the proofs.

I conclude from reasons I have just set forth that when an objection is put forward against some truth, it is always possible to answer it satisfactorily.

Whatever scorn the generality of moderns have to-day for the logic of Aristotle, one must acknowledge that it teaches infallible ways of resisting error in these conjunctures. For one has only to examine the argument according to the rules and it will always be possible to see whether it is lacking in form or whether there are premisses such as are not yet proved by a good argument.

It is quite another matter when there is only a question of probabilities, for the art of judging from probable reasons is not yet well established; so that our logic in this connexion is still very imperfect, and to this very day we have little beyond the art of judging from demonstrations. But this art is sufficient here: for when it is a question of opposing reason to an article of our faith, one is not disturbed by objections that only attain probability. Everyone agrees that appearances are against Mysteries, and that they are by no means probable when regarded only from the standpoint of reason; but it suffices that they have in them nothing of absurdity. Thus demonstrations are required if they are to be refuted.

And doubtless we are so to understand it when Holy Scripture warns us that the wisdom of God is foolishness before men, and when St. Paul observed that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is foolishness unto the Greeks, as well as unto the Jews a stumbling-block.

For, after all, one truth cannot contradict another, and the light of reason is no less a gift of God than that of revelation. Also it is a matter of no difficulty among theologians who are expert in their profession, that the motives of credibility justify, once for all, the authority of Holy Scripture before the tribunal of reason, so that reason in consequence gives way before it, as before a new light, and sacrifices thereto all its probabilities.

It is more or less as if a new president sent by the prince must show his letters patent in the assembly where he is afterwards to preside.

That is the tendency of sundry good books that we have on the truth of religion, such as those of Augustinus Steuchus (1497–1548), of Du Plessis-Mornay or of Hugo Grotius (1583-1645): for the true religion must needs have marks that the false religions have not, else would Zoroaster, Brahma, Somonacodom and Mahomet be as worthy of belief as Moses and Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless divine faith itself, when it is kindled in the soul, is something more than an opinion, and depends not upon the occasions or the motives that have given it birth; it advances beyond the intellect, and takes possession of the will and of the heart, to make us act with zeal and joyfully as the law of God commands.

Then we have no further need to think of reasons or to pause over the difficulties of argument which the mind may anticipate.

Thus what we have just said of human reason, which is extolled and decried by turns, and often without rule or measure, may show our lack of exactitude and how much we are accessary to our own errors.

Nothing would be so easy to terminate as these disputes on the rights of faith and of reason if men would make use of the commonest rules of logic and reason with even a modicum of attention.

Instead of that, they become involved in oblique and ambiguous phrases, which give them a fine field for declamation, to make the most of their wit and their learning.

It would seem, indeed, that they have no wish to see the naked truth, peradventure because they fear that it may be more disagreeable than error: for they know not the beauty of the Author of all things, who is the source of truth.

The most excellent philosophers of our time, such as the authors of The Art of Thinking, of The Search for Truth and of the Essay concerning Human Understanding, have been very far from indicating to us the true means fitted to assist the faculty whose business it is to make us weigh the probabilities of the true and the false: not to mention the art of discovery, in which success is still more difficult of attainment, and whereof we have nothing beyond very imperfect samples in mathematics.

For instance, M. Bayle will not have it that one can justify the goodness of God in the permission of sin, because probability would be against a man that should happen to be in circumstances comparable in our eyes to this permission.

God foresees that Eve will be deceived by the serpent if he places her in the circumstances wherein she later found herself; and nevertheless he placed her there.

Now if a father or a guardian did the same in regard to his child or his ward, if a friend did so in regard to a young person whose behaviour was his concern, the judge would not be satisfied by the excuses of an advocate who said that the man only permitted the evil, without doing it or willing it: he would rather take this permission as a sign of ill intention, and would regard it as a sin of omission, which would render the one convicted thereof accessary in another’s sin of commission.

But it must be borne in mind that when one has foreseen the evil and has not prevented it although it seems as if one could have done so with ease, and one has even done things that have facilitated it, it does not follow on that account necessarily that one is accessary thereto.

It is only a very strong presumption, such as commonly replaces truth in human affairs, but which would be destroyed by an exact consideration of the facts, supposing we were capable of that in relation to God.

For amongst lawyers that is called ‘presumption’ which must provisionally pass for truth in case the contrary is not proved; and it says more than ‘conjecture’, although the Dictionary of the Academy has not sifted the difference.

Now there is every reason to conclude unquestionably that one would find through this consideration, if only it were attainable, that reasons most just, and stronger than those which appear contrary to them, have compelled the All-Wise to permit the evil, and even to do things which have facilitated it. Of this some instances will be given later.

It is none too easy, I confess, for a father, a guardian, a friend to have such reasons in the case under consideration.

Yet the thing is not absolutely impossible, and a skilled writer of fiction might perchance find an extraordinary case that would even justify a man in the circumstances I have just indicated.

But in reference to God there is no need to suppose or to establish particular reasons such as may have induced him to permit the evil; general reasons suffice.

One knows that he takes care of the whole universe, whereof all the parts are connected; and one must thence infer that he has had innumerable considerations whose result made him deem it inadvisable to prevent certain evils.

In God this conclusion holds good: he did this, therefore he did it well. It is not, then, that we have no notion of justice in general fit to be applied also to God’s justice; nor is it that God’s justice has other rules than the justice known of men, but that the case in question is quite different from those which are common among men. Universal right is the same for God and for men; but the question of fact is quite different in their case and his.

there is a conflict between reason and faith, and that the rules of law are other in respect of this person than they are in respect of the remainder of mankind.

But that, when explained, will signify only that appearances of reason here give way before the faith that is due to the word and the integrity of this great and holy man, and that he is privileged above other men; not indeed as if there were one law for others and another for him, nor as if one had no understanding of what justice is in relation to him.

It is rather because the rules of universal justice do not find here the application that they receive elsewhere, or because they favour him instead of accusing him, since there are in this personage qualities so admirable, that by virtue of a good logic of probabilities one should place more faith in his word than in that of many others.

One must not say either that what we call justice is nothing in relation to God, that he is the absolute Master of all things even to the point of being able to condemn the innocent without violating his justice, or finally that justice is something arbitrary where he is concerned.

Those are rash and dangerous expressions, whereunto some have been led astray to the discredit of the attributes of God.

For if such were the case there would be no reason for praising his goodness and his justice: rather would it be as if the most wicked spirit, the Prince of evil genii, the evil principle of the Manichaeans, were the sole master of the universe, just as I observed before.

What means would there be of distinguishing the true God from the false God of Zoroaster if all things depended upon the caprice of an arbitrary power and there were neither rule nor consideration for anything whatever?

It is therefore more than evident that nothing compels us to commit ourselves to a doctrine so strange, since it suffices to say that we have not enough knowledge of the facts when there is a question of answering probabilities which appear to throw doubt upon the justice and the goodness of God, and which would vanish away if the facts were well known to us.

We need neither renounce reason in order to listen to faith nor blind ourselves in order to see clearly, as Queen Christine used to say: it is enough to reject ordinary appearances when they are contrary to Mysteries; and this is not contrary to reason, since even in natural things we are very often undeceived about appearances either by experience or by superior reasons.

All that has been set down here in advance, only with the object of showing more plainly wherein the fault of the objections and the abuse of reason consists in the present case, where the claim is made that reason has greatest force against faith: we shall come afterwards to a more exact discussion of that which concerns the origin of evil and the permission of sin with its consequences.

since reason is a gift of God, even as faith is, contention between them would cause God to contend against God; and if the objections of reason against any article of faith are insoluble, then it must be said that this alleged article will be false and not revealed: this will be a chimera of the human mind, and the triumph of this faith will be capable of comparison with bonfires lighted after a defeat.

Such is the doctrine of the damnation of unbaptized children, which M. Nicole would have us assume to be a consequence of original sin; such would be the eternal damnation of adults lacking the light that is necessary for the attainment of salvation.

Yet everyone need not enter into theological discussions; and persons whose condition allows not of exact researches should be content with instruction on faith, without being disturbed by the objections; and if some exceeding great difficulty should happen to strike them, it is permitted to them to avert the mind from it, offering to God a sacrifice of their curiosity: for when one is assured of a truth one has no need to listen to the objections.

we do not comprehend the nature of odours and savours, and yet we are persuaded, by a kind of faith which we owe to the evidence of the senses, that these perceptible qualities are founded upon the nature of things and that they are not illusions.

faith triumphs over false reasons by means of sound and superior reasons that have made us embrace it; but it would not triumph if the contrary opinion had for it reasons as strong as or even stronger than those which form the foundation of faith, that is, if there were invincible and conclusive objections against faith.

There remains, then, this question of natural theology, how a sole Principle, all-good, all-wise and all-powerful, has been able to admit evil, and especially to permit sin, and how it could resolve to make the wicked often happy and the good unhappy?

Reason teaches us this by infallible proofs; and in consequence all the objections taken from the course of things, in which we observe imperfections, are only based on false appearances. For, if we were capable of understanding the universal harmony, we should see that what we are tempted to find fault with is connected with the plan most worthy of being chosen; in a word, we should see, and should not believe only, that what God has done is the best.

And it is not to be doubted that this faith and this confidence in God, who gives us insight into his infinite goodness and prepares us for his love, in spite of the appearances of harshness that may repel us, are an admirable exercise for the virtues of Christian theology, when the divine grace in Jesus Christ arouses these motions within us.

That is what Luther aptly observed in opposition to Erasmus, saying that it is love in the highest degree to love him who to flesh and blood appears so unlovable, so harsh toward the unfortunate and so ready to condemn, and to condemn for evils in which he appears to be the cause or accessary, at least in the eyes of those who allow themselves to be dazzled by false reasons.

One may therefore say that the triumph of true reason illumined by divine grace is at the same time the triumph of faith and love.

It will be found also that when the Fathers entered into a discussion they did not simply reject reason.

And, in disputations with the pagans, they endeavour usually to show how paganism is contrary to reason, and how the Christian religion has the better of it on that side also. Origen (185 – 253) showed Celsus (177) how reasonable Christianity is and why, notwithstanding, the majority of Christians should believe without examination.

Celsus had jeered at the behaviour of Christians, ‘who, willing’, he said, ‘neither to listen to your reasons nor to give you any for what they believe, are content to say to you: Examine not, only believe, or: Your faith will save you; and they hold this as a maxim, that the wisdom of the world is an evil.’

Origen gives the answer of a wise man, and in conformity with the principles we have established in the matter.

For reason, far from being contrary to Christianity, serves as a foundation for this religion, and will bring about its acceptance by those who can achieve the examination of it.

But, as few people are capable of this, the heavenly gift of plain faith tending towards good suffices for men in general.

‘If it were possible’, he says, ‘for all men, neglecting the affairs of life, to apply themselves to study and meditation, one need seek no other way to make them accept the Christian religion.

For, to say nothing likely to offend anyone’ (he insinuates that the pagan religion is absurd, but he will not say so explicitly), ‘there will be found therein no less exactitude than elsewhere, whether in the discussion of its dogmas, or in the elucidation of the enigmatical expressions of its prophets, or in the interpretation of the parables of its gospels and of countless other things happening or ordained symbolically.

But since neither the necessities of life nor the infirmities of men permit of this application to study, save for a very small number of persons, what means could one find more qualified to benefit everyone else in the world than those Jesus Christ wished to be used for the conversion of the nations?

And I would fain ask with regard to the great number of those who believe, and who thereby have withdrawn themselves from the quagmire of vices wherein before they were plunged, which would be the better: to have thus changed one’s morals and reformed one’s life, believing without examination that there are punishments for sin and rewards for good actions; or to have waited for one’s conversion until one not only believed but had examined with care the foundations of these dogmas?

It is certain that, were this method to be followed, few indeed would reach that point whither they are led by their plain and simple faith, but the majority would remain in their corruption.’

Celsus brings up still another objection to the Christians, in the same place. ‘If they withdraw’, he says, ‘regularly into their “Examine not, only believe”, they must tell me at least what are the things they wish me to believe.’

Therein he is doubtless right, and that tells against those who would say that God is good and just, and who yet would maintain that we have no notion of goodness and of justice when we attribute these perfections to him. But one must not always demand what I call ‘adequate notions’, involving nothing that is not explained, since even perceptible qualities, like heat, light, sweetness, cannot give us such notions.

Thus we agreed that Mysteries should receive an explanation, but this explanation is imperfect.

It suffices for us to have some analogical understanding of a Mystery such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, to the end that in accepting them we pronounce not words altogether devoid of meaning: but it is not necessary that the explanation go as far as we would wish, that is, to the extent of comprehension and to the how.

For albeit I do not hold that the soul changes the laws of the body, or that the body changes the laws of the soul, and I have introduced the Pre-established Harmony to avoid this derangement, I nevertheless admit a true union between the soul and the body, which makes thereof a suppositum.

This union belongs to the metaphysical, whereas a union of influence would belong to the physical.

But when we speak of the union of the Word of God with human nature we should be content with an analogical knowledge, such as the comparison of the union of the soul with the body is capable of giving us.

We should, moreover, be content to say that the Incarnation is the closest union that can exist between the Creator and the creature; and further we should not want to go.

I have said already that theologians usually distinguish between what is above reason and what is against reason.

They place above reason that which one cannot comprehend and which one cannot account for. But against reason will be all opinion that is opposed by invincible reasons, or the contrary of which can be proved in a precise and sound manner.

They avow, therefore, that the Mysteries are above reason, but they do not admit that they are contrary to it.

One cannot be contrary to one part without being contrary to the whole.

Right reason is a linking together of truths, corrupt reason is mixed with prejudices and passions.

And in order to discriminate between the two, one need but proceed in good order, admit no thesis without proof, and admit no proof unless it be in proper form, according to the commonest rules of logic.

One needs neither any other criterion nor other arbitrator in questions of reason.

Now that which appears to us not to be in conformity with our reason appears contrary to our reason, just as that which appears to us not in conformity with truth appears contrary to truth.

Thus why should not one say, equally, that the Mysteries are against our feeble reason, and that they are above our feeble reason?’

I answer, as I have done already, that ‘reason’ here is the linking together of the truths that we know by the light of nature, and in this sense the axiom is true and without any ambiguity.

The Mysteries transcend our reason, since they contain truths that are not comprised in this sequence; but they are not contrary to our reason, and they do not contradict any of the truths whereto this sequence can lead us.

Accordingly there is no question here of the universal reason that is in God, but of our reason.

the representation of the senses, even when they do all that in them lies, is often contrary to the truth; but it is not the same with the faculty of reasoning, when it does its duty, since a strictly reasoned argument is nothing but a linking together of truths.

And as for the sense of sight in particular, it is well to consider that there are yet other false appearances which come not from the ‘feebleness of our eyes’ nor from the loss of visibility brought about by distance, but from the very nature of vision, however perfect it be. It is thus, for instance, that the circle seen sideways is changed into that kind of oval which among geometricians is known as an ellipse, and sometimes even into a parabola or a hyperbola, or actually into a straight line, witness the ring of Saturn.

For the appearances of the senses do not promise us absolutely the truth of things, any more than dreams do.

It is we who deceive ourselves by the use we make of them, that is, by our consecutions.

Indeed we allow ourselves to be deluded by probable arguments, and we are inclined to think that phenomena such as we have found linked together often are so always.

Thus, as it happens usually that that which appears without angles has none, we readily believe it to be always thus.

If by reason one meant generally the faculty of reasoning whether well or ill, I confess that it might deceive us, and does indeed deceive us, and the appearances of our understanding are often as deceptive as those of the senses: but here it is a question of the linking together of truths and of objections in due form, and in this sense it is impossible for reason to deceive us.

our thought is finite, and that the Knowledge and the Omnipotence of God, whereby he has not only known from all eternity all that which is or which can be, but also has willed it, is infinite.

We have therefore quite enough intelligence to recognize clearly and distinctly that this knowledge and this power are in God; but we have not enough so to comprehend their scope that we can know how they leave the actions of men entirely free and undetermined.

Yet the Power and the Knowledge of God must not prevent us from believing that we have a free will; for we should be wrong to doubt of that whereof we are inwardly conscious, and which we know by experience to be within us, simply because we do not comprehend some other thing which we know to be incomprehensible in its nature.’

This passage from M. Descartes, followed by his adherents (who rarely think of doubting what he asserts), has always appeared strange to me. Descartes demands a freedom which is not needed, by his insistence that the actions of the will of man are altogether undetermined, a thing which never happens.

It is the part of the objection to open up the subject, and it is enough for him who answers to say Yes or No. He is not obliged to counter with a distinction.

St. Augustine, however (as well as M. Bayle), does not despair of the possibility that the desired solution may be found upon earth; but this Father believes it to be reserved for some holy man illumined by a peculiar grace:

It is to be hoped that M. Bayle now finds himself surrounded by that light which is lacking to us here below, since there is reason to suppose that he was not lacking in good will.


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