Tolérance, tolérants, intolérants, tolérantisme
"La discorde est le grand mal du genre humain, et la tolérance est le seul remède."(1)   [Discord is humankind's greatest evil, and toleration its only remedy.]

Like the strange birds described by Apollinaire "qui n'ont qu'une seule aile et qui volent par couples" ['that have only one wing and fly in pairs'] (Zone), the Edict of Nantes and its revocation are fated to signify forever as a pair. Just as there had to be the Edict before it could be revoked, so -- at least to our unavoidably retrospective fix on the matter -- is the Edict of Fontainebleau implied in that of Nantes. "Il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermée" ['A door must be either open or closed'], says the proverb ; il faut que l'Édit de Nantes soit ouvert ou fermé and everything depends on which is the case.

It is not my purpose to go into the historical evolution between the two events -- changes in proportionate force, following and attitude -- that made the reversal of the Edict of Nantes possible if not inevitable. A good part of catholic France had never been resigned even to the kingship of Henri IV, much less the Edict, and certainly never viewed the guarantees of 1598 as anything more than a humiliating armistice to be remedied as soon as the situation allowed. Even though it represented anything but a generous embrace of the protestants, it was deeply galling to the Church once the immediate crisis began to ebb. Certainly the grandson of Henri IV, who unlike him had never been a protestant, little appreciated even the practical use for it. The interim result was the well-documented guerre de chicane ['cavilling war'] paradoxically combined with an ostensible "charity" campaign inviting forgiveness predicated on conversion, steadily pursued from mid-century on. A confluence of political thought, moving in the direction of indivisible authority, and a religious thought according to which heresy must be purged, led inexorably, it now seems, to revocation. What Louis XIV sought to do was, in one sense, to "colonize" his own country; the often fervent missionary mentality at work in the missions of Nouvelle France or China could not easily countenance protection of blatant forms of religious dissent on the home soil. Territorial control was at issue and, as in the world of nature, it usually addresses primarily competition from members of the same or closely allied species. By decree, the king could change reality: overnight the "R. P. R."(2) vanished and its were faithful transformed into nouveaux convertis. He really was trying to be the "magician" Montesquieu satirically suggested in Lettres persanes.(3)

Protestantism indeed appeared all the more detestable because it was not pagan; protestants were heretics but, as heretics, wayward or schismatic Christians. Many churchmen never did manage to comprehend that one could be sincerely protestant; to them, protestants were just rebels or hypocrites doing the devil's bidding. They manifested great exasperation -- Bossuet's writings to the protestants are the clearest indication -- at the stubborn fact that protestants, who of course considered themselves the true Christians, really did not feel they belonged to the same religion at all as catholics. The charity in which the Church couched its repeated appeals to its lost sheep could simultaneously and without difficulty accommodate the use of force because, truth being indivisible, to restore it to the benighted, by whatever means, can only be to do them a favor. The attitudes hardened on both sides, amidst occasional talk of "reunification," though the show of force was hardly equal. As far as I know, no catholic was never seriously prepared to discuss compromise of any kind; for catholics, ending the schism always meant simply that the protestants could be forgiven and welcomed back into the Church where they belonged. That attempt collapsed when it finally became clear that few of them would ever do so voluntarily. Exasperated by the failure of their gentle appeal, they welcomed royal action. Bossuet's patience is infinite for explaining to protestants a thousand reasons why they are necessarily in error; he has no time whatever for any other sort of "dialogue" with them which would require him to take their own beliefs as serious alternatives to the Church's position.

It is interesting to contemplate in this time frame the relative importance of successive targets of religious repression in France. The apostate protestants were, at least, uncontestably French, and most of the protestant exiles long held out hope for some kind of political reversal which would permit their return home. On the other hand, whereas Jews were considered in most of France as much more alien than the protestants, indeed scarcely even French, it was in reality much better to be a Jew in the late seventeenth century than a protestant or even a Jansenist. In some parts of the kingdom, Jewish communities enjoyed locally recognized rights and reasonable security. Why should this be? Virtually all the arguments used to justify the forced conversion of protestants -- the patriotic connection (un roi, une foi, une loi),(4) and in particular the biblical imperative Compelle intrare (5) -- could in principle be applied with equal force to Jews and anyone else who wasn't a catholic. Logically speaking, that is: but of course the whole point is that pure logic was not the determing factor. Nevertheless Jews, who like the protestants of Alsace had never had their Edict of Nantes, did not suffer a Revocation either. Jews were neither heretics nor pagans; they had never "left" the fold, and therefore could not be constrained to return to it; their otherness was thus a protection of sorts, though not a very reassuring one, I suspect, since in the tracts of the period not infrequently allude approvingly to the Spanish expulsion of Jews. Jews probably thought: if this succeeds, we too are in trouble. But it didn't succeed, or at least not as brilliantly as intended, and then there were still the Jansenists to deal with first: within a few years of the Revocation, and although the conversion campaign continued little abated, the focus of religious and civil authorities largely shifted to this other enemy within, one that seemed to loom as a threat as significant as protestantism. Is this not paradoxical? For the Jansenists had never pretended to be anything other than good catholics (too good, as some saw it, that being part of the problem). By the end of the Sun King's reign, rank-and-file protestants, though still lacking any legal form of protection, were less likely to be vigorously harrassed than were Jansenists.

The Huguenots asserted, and doubtless often believed, that the Edict of Nantes was meant as a permanent guarantee of freedom of conscience. This was a mistake, not only because, as the facts were to show, it wasn't necessarily permanent -- however "perpétuel et irrévocable" it was according to its ritual language -- but also because, in an absolute system, any claim of unconditional freedom smacks inherently, to the ruler, of arbitrary and inadmissible limitation on his own authority. If the king is absolute, then no subject belongs completely to himself; in a sense one always belongs to the king, and it is futile to post "Private: keep out" signs anywhere on one's "own" estate. The conscience, as a free agent unrelated of the king's will, has no inherent rights. Toleration was thus an inconvenient argument for protestants to attempt to impose on (or use as leverage against) catholic thinking, especially when they were being very careful at the same time to underscore their loyalty to the crown. Rather, in keeping with that loyalty, and the crown's presumed reciprocal commitments to them, they for the most part stressed their legal and traditional rights and the inviolability of the "sacred" promises of Henri IV.

In any case, it was not the word tolérance which at this time bore the weight of the polemic: a pejorative term used only by catholics, tolérance presumed the very monopoly on truth that protestants denied them, and furthermore was not only condescending but negative by very definition, as reflected in the first dictionary of the Académie (1694): "Souffrance, indulgence qu'on a pour ce qu'on ne peut empêcher" ['The suffering or indulgence of what one cannot prevent']. Prevention is thus the preferred value; by implication, if one can prevent, then toleration is superfluous if not contemptible. The Edict represented toleration only in this severely restricted, harshly legalistic mode. As commented the protestant lexicologist Basnage de Beauval:

Le mot est devenu fort en usage depuis quelques années, parmi les théologiens, qui ont disputé violemment entre eux pour savoir jusqu'où l'on devait tolérer, ou ne pas tolérer les hérétiques. Le mot tolérance enferme en soi une condamnation tacite de la chose tolérée.

[The word has come to be much used in the last few years, among theologians, who have heatedly argued among themselves as to how far toleration of the heretics ought to go, or not go. The word toleration carries with it tacit condemnation of the thing tolerated].(6)

Toleration was, however, a much-used and -debated word on the other side of the Channel, and the English precedent was to count significantly in the writings of Montesquieu and Voltaire. But I submit that thinking about toleration was a quite different matter when emanating from a protestant mentality. The predication of toleration on the general uncertainty of human knowledge, as was notably Locke's position, could make little impression on a Church that considered itself precisely the unique means by which one had access to knowledge of those very things that surpass man's intelligence. While the protestant does not necessarily conceed that there can be plural Truths, he just about has to admit there can be more than one interpretation: the obviousness of this fact is what indeed fragments the protestant community itself, but it cannot be dismissed. Thus, even within the protestant wing of Christendom -- an oxymoron to catholic ears -- a modicum of toleration had always been mandatory. Such exigencies in no way faze catholics, for whom the Church was always there, one and unique. So, no toleration: there is the Church, and the rest is non-Church: hors de l'Église, even if that meant the vast majority of humankind, point de salut.(7)

In any case Locke seems to have had no influence on Pierre Bayle, who, so to speak, independently co-invented toleration. Bayle's learned treatises(8) doubtless served to make the concept respectable, but at the same time tended to isolated him because almost no one was willing to take the concept as far in its logical ramifications as he did. Insofar as arguments over the nature of Christianity were almost always bound to run afoul of the principal of apostolic succession, prudent protestants polemicists just about had to invoke some form of relativism to rationalize the factual plurality of religious faiths. This was not always for them an easy pill to swallow, but we do find Basnage de Beauval, a member of a leading protestant refugee family, going well beyond differences over the Pope and the Eucharist to invoke the vast multiplicity of world religions:

Il est vrai que le préjugé de tous les hommes est grand en faveur de la religion qu'ils ont choisie et qu'ils ne pensent guère à rendre justice aux autres, mais la raison est que l'on n'a jamais envisagé cette diversité qui règne parmi les hommes avec équité et avec humilité.(9)

[It is true that all men's prejudice is great in favor of the religion of their choosing and that their lease concern is to do justice to other religions, but the reason is that they have never contemplated this diversity that obtains among men with equity and humility.]

Once the context is framed this way, toleration becomes a universal principle and not an argument over French politics. Although the polemical heat was still very high at this point, in certain ways the tone was set for a new kind of discourse about religions difference which would in the eighteenth century displace "truth" with "opinion" as the preferred philosophical category of religious reference.

Precisely what was taking place politically, if we follow Michel de Certeau's analysis, was the process of forging a distinction between politics and religion which is no longer a simple division of temporal from spiritual.(10) According to whether one prioritized human, natural, or divine right, papal or royal authority, one becomes a "client" of the king or a rebel. De Certeau's commentary bears principally on the conflict opposing Jesuits and Jansenists, but it can help explain why protestants make a point of their royalism, so as to avoid any suspicion that any insubordination is implied by their theological emacipation from the crown. For similar reasons, and again because these demarcations are not an self-evident part of the landscape but rather in the process of formation, Jansenists want no part of any imputation of common ground to themselves and protestants.

Officially, the denial of toleration was maintained unmitigated for a century. In the twilight of his reign (8 March 1715), Louis XIV issued another edict reconfirming all the interdictions and penalties of the Edict of Fontainebleau. Hopes of both Jansenists and protestants for reprieve under the Regent were soon dashed. On 14 May 1724 a declaration by the young Louis XV again confirmed all the penalties and requirements of earlier edicts: galleys (for men) or prison (for women) and confiscation of property for attending clandestine assemblies; the death penalty for preachers; children to be obligatorily baptised and sent to schools and to catechism; "former" protestants must celebrate church marriages and receive extreme unction. Further to assure at least a minimal observance of catholic faith sacrements, midwives, doctors, and apothecaries were required to signal relevant cases to the parish priest for appropriate intervention; and these offices as well as other public functions were open only to those who could submit a certification of catholic practice furnished by their parish.

Indeed all that legislation, including the Revocation itself, could do was to require certain public acts. It could not prevent one's being a protestant at heart, but it could make collective worship very difficult and even extremely dangerous by forbidding assemblies and hanging pastors,(11) and force even secret protestants to observe the essential catholic sacrements if they hoped to claim any civic status whatever. The requirement of a certificat de catholicité for official functions and controlled professions was analogous to the quarrel with the Jansenists over billets de confession: the Church expended a lot of energy trying to keep everything under control at once. At the same time, the continuing struggle with Jansenism doubtless reinforced the intransegency of the prelature where protestants were concerned.

On the other hand, conformity to catholic forms, however unpalatable, often enabled closet protestants to lead a reasonably normal life, especially since local priests were not always adamant about hounding them. Since parish priests are known to have been frequently resentful of episcopal directives, their practice in this matter may be a symptom of a crack in the Church's official stance on this and other matters; many of them may have been positively hostile to intolerance. Minor functionaries seem often to have accommodated protestants without too much control, and even greater indulgence was often shown in the army and navy, for want of enough experienced officers and captains. As it did with regard to strictures on the press, the government oscillated over time between rigor and de facto toleration; extreme regional variations further compound the complexity of this picture. But as Barbara de Negroni points out,

il s'agit d'une tolérance qui n'est pas reconnue, qui est illégale, et on emploie souvent dans les textes qui traitent de la question protestante l'expression 'tolérance tacite'; la tolérance n'est pas alors une loi provisoire et révocable mais une pratique qui suppose la non-application des lois existantes.

the toleration in question is unrecognized, illegal, and often the texts dealing with the protestant question make use of the expression "tacit toleration": in this case, toleration is not a temporary and revocable law but a practice supposing the non-application of existing law.(12)

Those who could not bring themselves to submit to these exterior constraints risked seeing their marriages declared nul and their children disinherited as bastards if not indeed taken from them for catholic upbringing -- "la plus horrible situation," declares Rousseau, "où jamais peuple se soit vu depuis que le monde existe" ['the most deplorable situation any people has found itself in since the world began'].(13)

It was common, in the years surrounding the Revocation, for catholic writers to justify intolerance by attesting an equally intolerant stance on the part of French protestants, and such language is sometimes repeated even by historians today.(14) An important distinction can in this way be obfuscated. This is partly a question of semantics, but it can abusive to pretext the intolerance of a small minority and thus place on the same plane huguenot and catholic "intolerance." The huguenots may have been dogmatic -- this is, often at least, more like the proper word -- but politically they were simply not, on a national level, in a position to be intolerant. (It is of course true that the minority on a national scale can be a large majority on a local scale, and thus capable, within certain regions, or practicing intolerance.) Even the bishops who opposed universal tolerance during the Vatican II debates in the mid-1960s had to concede that it was appropriate for catholics to be "tolerant" where they were not in command. On the other hand, it was often repeated that protestant countries, notably England and the Netherlands, were themselves intolerant with respect to catholics. Locke's Letters on toleration had essentially argued that tolerance should be extended to everyone except catholics and atheists, the former because they were incapable of admitting a pluralist principal, and the latter because they lacked a basis for moral commitment. Nonetheless, such comparisons were frequently skewed both by the writer's bias and by the unacknowledged complexity of the separate contexts.(15)

The question I want to raise is this: who spoke for the collective moral conscience in France during those years? The Church was attempting to in its way, of course, but as a victor in a struggle against heresy: it was deaf to cries of outrage; there was nothing the Church could or would do, in word or in deed, to mitigate the suffering being inflicted on protestants in the name of the Church and state. Into this vacuum stepped, in fact, men of letters. To begin with, the secular literature of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century in many places reflects on the condition of protestants in France. To hear Bossuet describe the situation, the Revocation made heresy vanished overnight, leaving the churches too crowded to receive all the new converts; ministers indeed abandoned their congregations in droves even before receiving orders to do so, which they were only too grateful to comply with.(16) A flood of mostly clandestine publications soon, however, conveyed a convincingly different message, and before long many in France had to conclude that the end result of the Revocation was surely negative. Often, to be sure, these writings were by protestant exiles such as Basnage, Bayle, Courtilz de Sandras.(17) "[E]ntre toutes les vertus chrétiennes il n'y en a point dans le temps où nous sommes que l'on doive plus prêcher que la tolérance et la douceur envers ceux qui ne sont pas du même sentiment que nous" ['Of all Christinan virtues, there is none that we should preach more insistently in our time than toleration and gentleness towards those who are of a different sentiment from us'], wrote Jean Leclerc.(18) Besides defending their own, and in that capacity pressing for a reversal of French policy, they were in effect also joining the new, transnational network that Bayle dubbed the "république des lettres," destined to have a major impact on Enlightenment ideology. On the other hand, the negative impact of this association is that, despite the huguenots' professed and real historical devotion to the king, they were regularly accused of harboring "republican" proclivities; even Voltaire, as late as 1751, refers to the "esprit républicain des réformés."(19)

Equally important to this evolution, however, was the fact that the voices of this sort that were heard were by no means exclusively protestant. In the seventeenth century, the principles of toleration had been preached in France (and on its perimeter) by protestants, as part, one might say, of their arsenal of self-defense. But in the eighteenth, they were taken up by many writers of whom some were conspicuously lacking in protestant leanings. Robert Challe, a sceptical catholic but one with little sympathy for protestant views per se, represents a contingent of men of letters dismayed by religious persecution of all kinds; he repeatedly manifests in various of his writings his profound disgust for the violence perpetrated against protestants which he moreover judges, on a practical level, to have proven disastrous. He devastatingly compares the doctrine of Compelle intrare, "dont on voit de si cruelles exécutions" ['of which we witness such cruel executions'] to cynical techniques of conversion he had witnessed at the missions in New France, and essentially reduces the two activities to forms of the same basic religious hypocrisy:

Un évêque a bien eu l'impudence d'écrire de nos jours qu'on n'avait violenté les huguenots ni dans leurs personnes ni dans leurs biens, et cela dans le temps que les galères étaient actuellement remplies de ces malheureux, qu'un courage aussi héroïque que mal placé avait fait triompher de la tyrannie, et lorsqu'on traînait par les rues les corps de ceux qui s'étaient dédits des confessions qu'on en avait extorquées, et enfin lorsque l'on voyait les dragons érigés en missionnaires employer le viol et le massacre pour faire embrasser la pure et sainte religion.(20)

[A bishop had the impudence to write in our lifetime that the huguenots had suffered no violence either to their persons or possessions, and this at the very time when the galleys were full of those poor people, whose courage, as heroic as it was ill-placed, had given them victory over tyranny, and when those who had reneged on confessions extorted from them were dragged in the streets, and lastly when dragoons set up as missionaries used rape and massacre so that the pure and holy religion would be embraced.]

When Challe later concludes: "Depuis la suppression de l'édit de Nantes, il semble que la main de Dieu se soit appesantie sur le royaume" ['Ever since the suppression of the Edict of Nantes, it seems that the hand of God has weighed heavily on the kingdom],(21) he is thinking not only of the moral but, even more, the military and economic consequence of the exodus, which among other things had fomented an international espionage ring able to compromise French defenses: a naval officer apprised by Challe of a theft of French ciphers and their translation into English shrugs his shoulders and remarks that "la suppression de l'édit de Nantes était une plaie qui saignerait longtemps" ['the suppression of the Edict of Nantes was a wound that would bleed for a long time'] (274-75).(22) The whole business was, Challe unhesitatingly asserts, a horrible blot on the reign of Louis XIV whose reputation would have benefitted had he died thirty years earlier (51). The Revocation set in motion an inexorable decline on all fronts which Challe details extensively, including the drain of talent and capital. Although we cannot exactly say that Challe sets the tone for his and the following generations (his memoirs, though composed in 1716, went unpublished until the twentieth century), we can be sure he exemplifies a harsh, revisionist eye cast on this whole episode by a number of observers who whose principal motive could not have been to merely to avenge personal losses.

Like Voltaire and Montesquieu, who play a particularly important role in disseminating this revision of the official history, Prévost spent a good while in England (and also in the Netherlands) early enough to have met members of the refuge, as the protestant diaspora was called, and gleaned their families' own stories. (He had also witnessed at close hand the extortion exerted on Jansenists in the wake of the bull Unigenitus [1713], the years of his own noviciates.) He constructs a long episode of his second major novel, the much-read Cleveland, around various aspects of these experiences. First of all, the colony of St. Helena described by Cleveland's brother Bridge in book iii has been founded by militant protestants, eighty of whom are survivors of the siege of La Rochelle (1628); Mme Eliot, who despite her name is French, extols not only the fervor of their self-defense but "la rigueur de la cour, la mauvaise foi du cardinal de Richelieu, la violation de tous nos privilèges et des droits qui nous avaient été accordés par les plus saintes promesses" ['the harshness of the court, the bad faith of Cardinal Richelieu, the violation of all our privileges and rights that had been granted us with the most sacred promises'](24) -- in other words, the Edict of Nantes. Later Cleveland, who is English and thereby metonymically protestant, comes to live in France in 1667, choosing to live in Saumur because of its famous protestant academy, just as the jaws of the vice begin to close in on it. He is no sooner settled than one of the "principal ministers of the French protestant churches" comes to sollicit him to try to dispose Charles II to provide an asylum for the academy in England. This "M. C." describes a community of faithfuls already subject to a sort of reign of terror:

La haine du clergé contre nous éclate en mille manières. Nous sommes informés de bonne part qu'on ne se propose rien moins que l'abolition de tous nos privilèges; et connaissant le caractère de nos persécuteurs, nous nous attendons tous les jours aux dernières violences. Peut-être ferions-nous mieux de prévenir l'orage par une fuite volontaire; mais il est incertain même si l'on nous laisserait la liberté de fuir. Cependant, comme nous serons forcés tôt ou tard de tenter ce parti, nous croyons devoir penser de bonne heure à nous ménager un asile. (293)

[The clergy's hatred for us is breaking out in a thousand ways. We are informed on good evidence that what they have in mind is nothing less that the abolition of all our privileges; and knowing the character of our persecutors, every day we expect the most extreme forms of violence. We might do better to anticipate the storm by fleeing willfully; but it is even uncertain whether they would allow us the freedom to flee. Nevertheless, since that is what we shall be forced sooner or later to attempt, we feel we should begin early to prepare a refuge for ourselves.]

Clearly Prévost is informed, and wants to inform his readers, of the reality of this war of attrition launched in ernest some twenty years before the Revocation itself, and specifically of the bishops' demand in 1665 for the suppression of the protestant academics and the orders given in 1669 and 1771 to cease receiving, and finally to expel, foreign teachers. Doubtless he had read Bayle's refutation of Maimbourg's Histoire du calvinisme and even more likely Ce que c'est que la France toute catholique sous le règne de Louis le Grand; doubtless he had read Bossuet on this subject as well, in particular the Conférence avec M. Claude. Perhaps too Élie Benoist's Histoire de l'Édit de Nantes(25) and other protestant writings such as the Histoire de la persécution faite à l'Église de Rouen sur la fin du XVIIe siècle.(26) This author of this latter work, Philippe Legendre, was a former minister of the protestant church at Quevilly which comes up later in the novel; so was Jacques Basnage (1653-1723), later one of the most famous refugees in Rotterdam.

Cleveland shares the anguish of the protestant community, even that of seeing his own children spirited away to a convent. In St. Cloud he makes the acquaintance of M. de R..., a rich protestant who announces to him the coming suppression of the chambre de l'Édit of Rouen,(27) simultaneously evoking the difficulty of fleeing to England or Holland.

Cela est moins aisé, repartit-il, que vous ne vous l'imaginez. Le chemin n'est pas libre. D'ailleurs, puis-je quitter le royaume sans un sou, et m'aller exposer avec ma famille à toutes les extrémités de la misère ? Je suis ici trop observé pour vendre mon bien secrètement. J'ai autant d'espions de ma conduite que j'ai d'amis et de domestiques.(28)

[That is not as easy as you might think, he replied. The path is not open. Moreover, can I leave the realm peniless, and expose myself and my family to extreme poverty? I am too closely watched here to sell my property in secret. There are as many spies of my movements as I have friends and servants.]

A letter from another protestant noble details "quantité de nouvelles violences qu'on avait exercées dans sa province contre les réformés. Il se plaignait en particulier, dans les termes les plus touchants, de ce qu'on lui avait enlevé son fils et deux de ses filles, pour les faire élever dans des lieux qu'il ignorait" ['many new acts of violence that were perpetrated in his province against protestants. He bemoaned particularly, in the most moving terms, the fact that his son and two of his daughters had been taken from him to be raised in places unknown to him'] (323). Cleveland discovers he is himself being closely spied upon by a conniving Jesuit who is spiteful over for his failure to convert him, and narrowly escapes the Bastille (339).

It might seem surprising that Prévost, a priest, should so extensively and sympathetically detail these trials, but it is more to the point that he reflects an opinion which was widely accepted by the 1730s, and one that had further ramifications than just calling into question the Church's or state's sugar-coated version of Revocation history. The protagonist of Mémoires et aventures d'un homme de qualité (1728-1731) had earlier insisted, in his euphoric farewell to England, on the religious liberty found there:

Les Anglais ont reconnu que la contrainte est un attentat contre l'esprit de l'évangile. Ils savent que le cœur des hommes est le domaine de Dieu; que la violence ne produit que des changements extérieurs; qu'un culte forcé est un culte sacrilège, qui perd celui qui l'exige et celui qui le rend; et sur ces principes ils ouvrent leurs temples à ceux qui y veulent entrer, sans s'irriter qu'on les abandonne.(29)

[The English have recognized that constraint is a crime against the spirit of the Gospel. They know that the heart of men is God's domain; that violence yields nothing but outward changes; that a forced observance is a sacrilegious one, damning to him who demands it as well as him who renders it; and upon these principles they open their churches to those who wish to enter in, without being angered if they are relinquished.]

Such an ejaculation, which is tantamount to an impassioned plea for toleration, comes at a time -- just prior to the Lettres philosophiques -- when praise of England is implicitly understood by readers as a rhetorically displaced commentary on France. And Prévost like Voltaire underscores both toleration and the general superiority of the English institutions (such as hospitals) that replaced Roman ones (such as monasteries). These bold comparisons could certainly not appear in any authorized publication in France, and indeed are found in the later parts of the novel, published not in Paris but in Holland.

More direct forms of argument come to the fore ten years earlier, however, in a work by an author holding impeccable noble and catholic credentials, namely Montesquieu: the scandalous book, also published in Holland, that later caused him so much embarrassment, Lettres persanes (1721). Usbek, his Persian visitor in Europe, who early on raises a number of doctrinal queries for explanation by the "derviches" back home, soon comes to question at length the exclusive claims of any religion. The paradoxe of the ignorant who are damned, common to this "Muslim" and Christian theology, provokes in him something like an intellectual crisis:

[Les Chrétiens] n'iront jamais dans le séjour des prophètes, et [...] le grand Hali n'est point venu pour eux. Mais, parce qu'ils n'ont pas été assez heureux pour trouver des mosquées dans leur pays, crois-tu qu'ils soient condamnés à des châtiments éternels, et que Dieu les punisse pour n'avoir pas pratiqué une religion qu'il ne leur a pas fait connaître? (Letter 35, p. 92-94)

[Christians will never go the sojourn of the prophets, and  . . . the great Ali did not come for them. But, just because they were not fortunate enough to find mosques in their country, do you believe they are damned to eternal sufferings, and that God will punish them for failing to practice a religion he did not make known to them?]

The implicit reversal of the question is easy enough for the alert reader to construct. Though Usbek's tone is not antireligious, he distances himself progressively from all dogmatism and expresses increasing scepticism about the possibility of identifying one true religion, all the more so that even Islam and Christianity are theoretically not the only options: "il faut choisir les cérémonies d'une religion entre celles de deux mille" ['one has to choose the ceremonies of one religion among two thousand'] (letter 46 p. 107).(30) In the end, even a believer must accept some humility and concede that others may believe differently.

Usbek alludes several times to the endless violence perpetrated in the name of religion, attesting nonetheless a certain degree of progress to be found in a progressive Europe, at least insofar as Jews are concerned:

On commence à se défaire parmi les chrétiens de cet esprit d'intolérance qui les animait. On s'est mal trouvé, en Espagne, de les avoir chassés, et, en France, d'avoir fatigué des chrétiens dont la croyance différait un peu de celle du prince. On s'est aperçu que le zèle pour les progrès de la religion est différent de l'attachement qu'on doit avoir pour elle; et que, pour l'aimer et l'observer, il n'est pas nécessaire de haïr et de persécuter ceux qui ne l'observent pas. (Letter 60, p. 135)

[Christians are beginning to get over the spirit of intolerance that once inspired them. Spain found itself worse off for having driven them (the Jews) out, and the French for having tormented Christians whose faith differed slightly from that of the prince. They have realized that zeal for religion's expansion is not the same thing as the devotion one should have for it; and that, in order to love and preserve it, it is not necessary to hate and persecute those who do not observe it.]

The fable of Aphéridon and Astarté (letter 67, pp. 146-154) is presented essentially under the sign of religious freedom, although it is also in conflict with another social value, the interdiction of incest. This story of love, constancy and longsuffering seems to suggest that even in such a situation it is religious freedom that ought to be preferred.

The principle at stake is toleration, with or without the word, and frequently enough the implied referent is the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In letter 85 (pp. 179-181) the subject is evoked in the form of a transfer: there is no mention of the Edict per se, but rather of the proposed expulsion of Armenians from Persia under the transparent pretext that "notre empire serait toujours pollué, tandis qu'il garderait dans son sein ces infidèles" ['our empire would forever be polluted so long as it harbored those infidels in its bosom']. The episode is an allegory of the Revocation and the diaspora of protestants, to the benefit of neighboring countries:

En proscrivant les Arméniens, on pensa détruire en un seul jour tous les négociants et presque tous les artisans du royaume. Je suis sûr que le grand Chah Abas aurait mieux aimé se faire couper les deux bras que de signer un ordre pareil, et qu'en envoyant au Mogol et aux autres rois des Indes ses sujets les plus industrieux, il aurait cru leur donner la moitié de ses États. (p. 179)

[By outlawing the Armenians, they very nearly eliminated all the merchants and almost all the artisans in the kingdom in a single day. I am sure that the great Shah Abas would rather have cut off his two arms than sign such an order, and that had he sent all his most industrious subjects to the Mogol and the other Indian kings, he would have thought he was giving them half of his realm.]

A bolder extension of the same line of thought is that not meterly is toleration not dangerous, a plurality of religions may even be beneficial: "S'il faut raisonner sans prévention, je ne sais pas, Mirza, s'il n'est pas bon que dans un État il y ait plusieurs religions" ['If one were to reason without prejudice, I am not sure, Mirza, that it is not better for there to be several religions within a state']. Usbek adds that members of minoritarian religions are usually zealous servants of the state and that there is no religion "qui ne prescrive l'obéissance et prêche la soumission" ['which does not prescribe obedience and preach submission'].

J'avoue que les histoires sont remplies de guerres de religion. Mais, qu'on y prenne bien garde : ce n'est point la multiplicité des religions qui a produit ces guerres, c'est l'esprit d'intolérance, qui animait celle qui se croyait la dominante; c'est cet esprit de prosélytisme que les Juifs ont pris des Égyptiens, et qui est passé, comme une maladie épidémique et populaire, au mahométans et aux chrétiens; c'est, enfin, cet esprit de vertige, dont les progrès ne peuvent être regardés que comme une éclipse entière de la raison humaine. (Letter 85, pp. 179-181)

[I concede that the histories are full of religious wars. But take care to note that it is not the multiplicity of religions that has produced these wars, but rather the spirit of intolerance inspiring the one that believed itself dominant; it is this spirit of proselytism which the Jews took from the Egyptians, and passed like a contagious, mass disease to the Muslims and Christians; it is, in sum, this intoxicating spirit the advance of which can only be regarded as a total incapacitation of human reason.]

Little wonder that for such audacity Montesquieu was accused of impiety.(31)

(On the other hand, one will find little if anything in L'esprit des lois that lends itself directly to toleration propaganda -- even though, paradoxically, the only occurrence I know of the word tolérance in all Montesquieu's work is precisely in the chapter heading: "De la tolérance en fait de religion" ['On toleration in matters religious'].(32) Insofar as his purpose there is to categorize possible situations objectively, Montesquieu hardly denies that a state might judge itself better off with a single, established religion; he even makes a number of allusions to "abuse" of religious proliferation: "Quand on est maître de recevoir dans un État une nouvelle religion, ou de ne la pas recevoir, il ne faut pas l'y établir; quand elle y est établie, il faut la tolérer" ['When one has the power to decide whether or not to allow new religion into a state, it should not be established; when it is established therein, it must be tolerated'].(33)

Voltaire picks up enthusiastically on Montesquieu's lead in his Lettres philosophiques: "Un Anglais, comme homme libre, va au ciel par le chemin qui lui plaît" ['An Englishman, being free, goes to heaven by the path of this own choosing'] (letter 5). He stresses the priority of commercial integrity over religious belief, but goes beyond that to assert the positive value of pluralism, enunciated even more boldly than Usbek had done: "S'il n'y avait en Angleterre qu'une religion, le despotisme serait à craindre; s'il y en avait deux, elles se couperaient la gorge; mais il y en a trente, et elles vivent en paix et heureuses" ['If there were but one religion in England, despotism would be a threat; if there were two, they would cut each others' throats; but there are thirty, and they live together happily and peacefully'] (letter 6). Voltaire fully appreciated his predecessor's contribution as well as its risks; as he wrote in a letter of 1733, just at the moment when Lettres philosophiques was about to appear:

Il y a des temps où l'on peut impunément faire les choses les plus hardies, il y en a d'autres où ce qu'il y a de plus simple et de plus innocent devient dangereux et criminel. Y a-t-il rien de plus fort que les Lettres persanes? Y a-t-il un livre où l'on ait traité le gouvernement et la religion avec moins de ménagement? Ce livre cependant n'a produit autre chose que de faire entrer son auteur dans la troupe nommée Académie Française. [...] Il n'y a qu'heur et malheur en ce monde. Je tâcherai de vivre à Paris comme La Fontaine, de mourir moins sottement que lui, et de n'être point exilé comme Ovide.(34)

[There are times when one can do the boldest things with impunity, others when the simplest or most innocent matter turns dangerous and criminel. Is anything more daring than Lettres persanes? Is there any book in which the government and religion have been treated with less deference? Yet the only consequence of this book was to open to its author the doors of the troup called Académie Française. . . . Such are the vagaries of life. I shall attempt to live in Paris like La Fontaine, to die less foolishly than he, and to avoid being exiled like Ovid.]

Nonetheless, his book was burned, his arrest decreed, and Voltaire had to take refuge for ten years at Cirey.

The point is that by this time the terms of the discourse had already changed radically since 1685. The suffering of huguenots had over time caused another kind of lesson to sink in: that of their own intensity of conviction, and the consequent impossibility, for many of them, of conforming to even the minimal outward signs of a religion that they considered all but satanic (Babylon was a frequent protestant epithet for Rome). The Baylian and Lockian foundation of the desirability of toleration on the inevitably limited compass of human subjectivity, an intellectual move which Barbara de Negroni labels a "Copernician revolution" (1996: 140), provided a new rationale for the rights of individual belief. It is an argument which, thanks to a gradually shifting ambiance, "takes" better in the eighteenth century than in the seventeenth, when such relativism was, in France, largely indigestible.

Dieu n'a pas imprimé aux vérités qu'il nous révèle, à la plupart du moins, une marque ou un signe auquel on les puisse sûrement discerner; car elles ne sont pas d'une clarté métaphysique et géométrique; elles ne produisent pas dans notre âme une persuasion plus forte que les faussetés; elles n'excitent point des passions que les faussetés n'excitent.(35)

[God has not stamped the truths he reveals to us, at least not most of them, with a mark or sign by which they may certainly be discerned; for they are not of a metaphysical and geometrical clarity; the persuasion they effect in our souls is not greater than that of falsehoods; they arouse no passions that falsehoods do not arouse.]

Here Bayle usefully annexes the Deus absconditus of the purest catholic tradition -- but to catholics, there is still the Church to make things clear. Questions can now be framed in the context of all the world's religions and not just in terms of apostasy; and "freedom of conscience," that illusory protection that had eluded the Edict of Nantes, now becomes one of the principal slogans. Nonetheless, for rhetoric's sake, the eighteenth-century plea for toleration is generally couched in terms of an orthodox, if often contrived, piety. Even Usbek usually begins with a preamble placing his essential commitment to the faith beyond corruption. The new strength of the discourse of toleration, however, is owing to the fact that many catholics too have adopted attitudes that were once defensively protestant; and so it is that the philosophes can urge toleration in the guise of good catholics. Virtually no one went so far as to argue that salvation might be found in any religion (although Usbek comes close): polemically speaking, such a public denial of the exclusive truth claims of the Church would have been disastrous policy.

The leading role played by the issue of toleration in the philosophical movement as a whole can be seen as a direct result of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. If there was a litmus test for being counted a philosophe, religious toleration was surely it. (It became, not surprisingly, a stock rejoinder to accuse the philosophes themselves of another form of intolerance. The abbé Féraud's dictionary gives the following example of the word's usage, citing Palissot, the Jesuits' favorite anti-philosophe writer: "Les philosophes tolérants sont les plus intolérants des hommes.

Pleins de crédulité pour des faits ridicules,
Et sur tout autre objet sottement incrédules...
Préchant la tolérance, et très intolérants."(36))

['Tolerant philosophers are the least tolerent of men,
Credulousness as can be for stupid facts,obliteration
And for everything else foolishly incredulous...
Preaching toleration, and most intolerant.]

Not that it is really a major question in its own right: it was simply an entry-level virtue, a threshold for bona fide membership. It was on the level of the broader public, not the philosophe culture particularly where it was a foregone conclusion, that toleration became an important concept and rallying cry. It was not only easy to understand, it was also fully compatible with love of one's neighbor and other theological virtues. For this reason it is an issue that helps to define the new role of the writer in this period. As Sartre put it in Qu'est-ce que la littérature? the eighteenth-century writer differed from that of the seventeenth century, whose function had been essentially to reflect the ruling class's values to itself, precisely in having moved beyond the classical preoccupation with the past in order to embrace the present:

[P]our la première fois depuis la Réforme, les écrivains interviennent dans la vie publique, protestent contre un décret inique, demandent la révision d'un procès, décident en un mot que le spirituel est dans la rue, à la foire, au marché, au tribunal et qu'il ne s'agit point de se détourner du temporel, mais d'y revenir sans cesse, au contraire, et de le dépasser en chaque circonstance particulière. (p. 138)

[For the first time since the Reformation, writers intervene in public life, protesting against an unjust decree, demanding the review of a trial, deciding in a word that the life of the spirit is in the street, at the fairground, in the marketplace, in the tribunal and that one must not be turned away from the temporal but on the contrary constantly return to it, and go beyond it in every specific situation.]

Addressing an expanded reading public, writers who shrug off the official tenets acquired a new status as voice of an "oppressed" bourgeoisie in search of its own ideology and self-consciousness; drawn away from their milieu of origin, they become "pure" critics, advancing their revendications in the name of humanity. This literature of ideas can be considered as action, all the more so in that it entails an element of real danger.

No one can better illustrate the range of rhetorical strategies used in the cause of toleration than Voltaire, who can be serious, amusing, or sarcastic, often in admixtures an unattuned reader would have difficulty sorting out. Sometimes, indeed, Voltaire addresses the already convinced with prose better designed to confirm than to persuade: "pardonnons-nous réciproquement nos sottises" ['les us forgive each other our stupidities'] in the opening paragraph of the article "Tolérance," in his Dictionnaire philosophique (1764) seems a wording unlikely to induct a conservative catholic into the cause. On this topic his tone is more characteristically serious, however, and the recent history of France of much greater real concern than the allegorical generalities in which it becomes rhetorically enmeshed: when he invokes the mutual toleration of "le guèbre, le banian, le juif, le mahométan, le déicole chinois, le bramin, le chrétien grec, le chrétien romain, le chrétien protestant, le chrétien quaker" ['the Parsi, the Banian, the Jew, the Mahometan, the Chinese theist, the Brahmin, the Greek Christian, the Roman Christian, the protestant Christian, the Quaker Christian'](37) the pertinent allusions are really catholic and protestant. The same article illustrates a typically astute characterization of established religion as privileged embodiment of differences of "opinion": "Il est clair que tout particulier qui persécute un homme, son frère, parce qu'il n'est pas de son opinion, est un monstre. Mais le gouvernement, mais les magistrats, mais les princes, comment en useront-ils envers ceux qui ont un autre culte que le leur?" ['It is clear that any individual who persecutes a brother because he does not share his opinion is a monster. But how shall the government, the magistrates, the princes deal with those who have a faith different from theirs?'] (403, emphasis added). Such an assimilation, for which Voltaire set the tone but which had a thousand echos, implies that differences of rite are all reducible to opinion, and thereby implicitly excludes any possible claims to ultimate truth. In effect, by such terminology the usual rhetoric of the Church is relativized and relegated to the margins.

Voltaire's Traité sur la tolérance (1763) figures very prominently in this overall evolution because of the bold way the principle is highlighted in its title, the subsequent evidence of its broad public reception, because of the circumstances of the Calas case itself, which permitted Voltaire to marshall a new urgency of discourse and dissemination, and because the campaign for Calas's rehabilitation was ultimately successful. There had been no protest movement against the Revocation of 1685, when such an act was not a political possibility; but seventy-five years later, something like a protest movement takes place around the Calas affaire, which can reasonably be thought of as the Dreyfus affair of the eighteenth century. Although there was no daily press able to exert anything comparable to the impact of J'accuse, Voltaire's Traité was just about its functional equivalent, inviting thousands of Frenchmen, notably including officials at many levels of the justice system, to reflect seriously on the gravity of the miscarriage that had been perpetrated. Here it was the Church's honor, as it was to be the army's in the 1890s, that was pitted against truth; if Calas was to be rehabilitated, there was no way such an outcome could fail to discredit the Church.

It is the combination of cause and circumstances that makes for a cause célèbre; in reality the argument of the Traité, boldly assertive where the facts of the Calas case are concerned, is not all that daring on the level of toleration in general. On the question of civil rights it is in fact very restrained. Many of Voltaire's arguments are direct descendants of Bayle's, but then we always knew Voltaire was a student of Bayle. For strategic reasons, however, and perhaps philosophical ones as well, Voltaire would not dream of following Bayle's extremely broad construction of toleration, which should extend even to atheists; on the contrary, Voltaire, like Montesquieu, does not overtly repudiate the desirability of an established religion, even as he argues withing that framework for toleration of minority religions: to do so would be to adopt a posture that would appear anti-French, and thus offend his readers. On the other hand, he coyly invites the reader to extend his own, purely political, arguments: "Des lecteurs attentifs, qui se communiquent leurs pensées, vont toujours plus loin que l'auteur" ['Attentive readers who share their thoughts always go farther than the author'].(38)

The Encyclopédie, however subversive in its own manner, also maintained overall a semblance of undeviant catholicity; nonetheless it had a few protestants on board, and among them were two who wrote articles under the heading Tolérance. The one that was actually published (in volume XVI, 1765) was by young Jean Edme Romilly, son of a citizen of Geneva, himself educated and ordained there. (Jaucourt, also -- but secretly -- a protestant, wrote the other entry, which it was suppressed by publisher Le Breton as redundant.(39)) His long article (five double-column folio pages) draws principally on traditional arguments; rather than relativize truth, he tactically assumes, in orthodox fashion, the clarity of an opposition between non-believers and "us" believers, not neglecting all the while the attenuating Revocation-era theme of the right to be wrong in good faith (Bayle's conscience errante): "je ne conçois pas ce qu'on peut reprocher à celui qui se trompe de bonne foi, qui prend le faux pour le vrai sans qu'on puisse l'accuser de malice ou de négligence" ['I cannot conceive what reproach can be made to the man who chooses error in good faith, accepting as true what is false with no suggestion of malice or negligence']. Similarly, he rehearses older arguments -- that persecution creates martyrs, that forced conversions are not dependable -- in order to recall the harsh realities of persecution, still without any suggestion of impiety on his part:

[Q]uand le fanatisme a fait couler des flots de sang sur la terre, n'a-t-on pas vu des martyrs sans nombre s'indigner et se roidir contre les obstacles? Et à l'égard des conversions forcées, ne les vit-on pas aussitôt disparaître avec le péril, l'effet cesser avec la cause, et celui qui céda pour un temps, revoler vers les siens dès qu'il en eut le pouvoir; pleurer avec eux sa faiblesse, et reprendre avec transport sa liberté naturelle?

[When fanaticism shed oceans of blood across the earth, did we not see innumerable martyrs rise up and brace themselves against the obstacles? And where forced conversions are concerned, did we not also see them disappear when the danger did, the effect ceasing with the cause, and the man who gave in for a while fly to rejoin his own the minute it was in his power to do so, weep with them for his weakness, and joyously reclaim his natural freedom?]

Indeed, he resorts with apparent naïveté to hoary clichés ("Jesus en a appellé à ses œuvres, Mahomet à son épée; Jesus dit: voyez et croyez; Mahomet, meurs ou crois" ['Jesus appealed to his works, Mohammed to his sword; Jesus said: see, and believe; Mohammed, die, or believe']) when they lend themselves to his polemical designs. He concludes with a renvoi to his coreligionnaire(40) and model Pierre Bayle, still a hero for the tolerationist:
  Nous prêchons la tolérance pratique, et non point la spéculative; et l'on sent assez la différence qu'il y a entre tolérer une religion et l'approuver. Nous renvoyons les lecteurs curieux d'approfondir ce sujet au commentaire philosophique(41) de Bayle, dans lequel selon nous, ce beau génie s'est surpassé.

[We are preaching practical, not speculative toleration; and it is not hard to see what a difference there is between tolerating a religion and approving it. We refer readers desirous of pursuing this subject to Bayle's philosophical commentary, where in our view this fine genius surpassed himself.]

The fact that the subject lay still close to the protestant heart does not mean it was by any means, even in the Encyclopédie, a protestant exclusive. "Tolérance" is complemented by other articles such as Diderot's "Intolérance," and "Persécuter," possibly by the abbé Claude Yvon -- a devout catholic, indeed one opposed to toleration of atheists.(42) All such articles develop their subject in vast historical dimensions, drawing on numerous ancient examples, both Biblical and pagan; but in so doing they continually suggest more immediate inferences: the article "Persécuter," for example, comes around to the general assurance that "opinions" will never trouble the public order so long as "les tourments et la violence" are not used against them -- a transparent allusion to contemporary persecution of protestants. Another favorite approach is to deduce the progressive principle under discussion from Christian tradition itself and conclude, as does "Intolérance," that the implied adversary rather than the author is the bad Christian: "Quelques lignes détachées de l'Écriture-sainte, des pères, des conciles, suffiront pour montrer que l'intolérant . . . est un méchant homme, un mauvais chrétien, un sujet dangereux, un mauvais politique, et un mauvais citoyen" ['A few lines taken from Holy Scripture and from the Church fathers and councils will suffice to show that the intolerant man . . . is a wicked man, a poor Christian, a dangerous subject, a poor politician, and a poor citizen']. Diderot sprinkles his article -- which is really, of course, another article on tolérance -- with broad corollaries and pointed lessons that in an earlier era would have been unthinkable in any publication even indirectly sanctioned by the crown:
  Il est impie de vouloir imposer des lois à la conscience, règle universelle des actions. Il faut l'éclairer et non la contraindre. . . . Si l'on peut arracher un cheveu à celui qui pense autrement que nous, on pourra disposer de sa tête, parce qu'il n'y a point de limites à l'injustice.

[It is impious to attempt to impose laws on the conscience, the universal guide for actions. It must be enlightened and not constrained. . . . If we can pluck one hair from the head of him who thinks differently from us, we can dispose of his head as well, because injustice knows no limits.]

Insofar as he realizes he can get by with such assertions, we can conclude that much of the readership is assumed already to be favorable to the attitude expressed; the evidence is not direct, but it is hardly negligible for that: a work and a writer that had experienced the difficulties already weathered by the Encyclopédie and its editor would never venture such strident tones if large numbers of its readers were likely to react in hostile indignation. On the contrary, despite the suppression of the royal privilege (in 1758; these articles are posterior to that date), the encyclopedists were quite assured by this time that neither the town nor the court would cause them any grief. The Jesuits, still, perhaps: but they were expelled in 1762. By 1765, when the last several volumes of the Encyclopédie appeared, the noble protestant, and by implication acceptance of his total integrity as a human being, had been made a major, if tacit, theme in an important play performed on the stage of the Théâtre Français itself, Sedaine's Le philosophe sans le savoir.

Toleration thus helps define the Enlightenment itself. Such a transformation was also made possible by the advance, on another front, of the church-state cleavage that had been just emerging during the Revocation era. Always resisted by the Church, except in the age-old form of distinction between temporal and spiritual powers, the theoretical separation of authorities made regular progress not just in political theory but, just as importantly, in the minds of French subjects. In practical terms, the Revocation helped to prove the fallacy, or at least the futility, of the temporal/spiritual discrimination. One could argue about whether the plot behind the Revocation was pious or cynical, whether it was best explained by the king's or the bishops' ambition: they all tended in the same direction; the Revocation was overdetermined. "Dans un état intolérant, le prince ne serait qu'un bourreau aux gages du prêtre" ['In an intolerant state, the prince would be nothing but a hangman at the service of the priest'], writes Diderot ("Intolérance"). Toleration was implicated in multiple crosscurrents, especially pro- and anti-jansenist propaganda, gallican versus ultramontain stances, parish practice against the episcopal authority.(43)

The generalization of a language of toleration indicates that a major conceptual shift had taken place: de Negroni has found many catholic tracts specifically calling for civil tolerance so as to combat religious (theological) impurity (1996: 190-91). Ever since the Compelle intrare movement began there had been some churchmen who were much concerned about the profanation of the sacrements by unbelievers partaking of them insincerely; such men were likely to prefer an alternative, civil solution to sham conversion. As early as 1702 Basnage de Beauval attests the existence of opposite camps of tolérants and intolérants.(44) The development of active discussion on the subject is amply attested later by such titles as Mémoire politico-critique, où l'on examine s'il est de l'intérêt de l'Église et de l'État d'établir pour les calvinistes du royaume une nouvelle forme de se marier (by Novi de Caveirac, 1756) and Lettre de M. l'évêque d'Agen à M. le contrôleur général, contre la tolérance des huguenots dans le royaume (anonymous and undated).(45)

The church/state dichotomy becomes an important analytical tool in De l'esprit des lois, and with Rousseau an essential prescription for an ordered civil state. The social contract and the shared values it presumes are in utter, implicit opposition not just to absolutism in general but to the practice of repression and intolerence that had been state policy in France. The very example of protestants denied civil rights allows Rousseau to define civic functions as opposed to religious:

Les effets du sacrement doivent être purement spirituels. Or point du tout. Ils ont tellement confondu tout cela que l'état des citoyens et la succession des biens dépendent uniquement des prêtres. Il dépend absolument du clergé qu'il ne naisse pas dans tout le royaume de France un seul enfant légitime, qu'aucun citoyen n'ait droit au bien de son père et que dans trente ans d'ici la France entière ne soit peuplée que de bâtards. Tant que les fonctions des prêtres auront des effets civils les prêtres seront les vrais magistrats.(46)

[The effects of the sacrement ought to be purely spiritual. But such is not at all the case. They have so confounded everything that the status of citizens and the succession of property are wholly dependent on priests. If the clergy so wished it, it is entirely possible for there to be not a single legitimate child born in the entire kingdom, not a single citizen entitled to his father's property, and in thirty years for France be wholly populated by bastards. As long as the functions of priests have civil effects, priest will be the true magistrates.]

For Rousseau these matters are political before they are religious; he would have no problem asserting, with Usbek: "[D]ans quelque religion qu'on vive, l'observation des lois, l'amour pour les hommes, la pitié envers les parents, sont toujours les premiers actes de religion" ['Whatever be the religion under which one lives, the observance of law, love of mankind, pity for one's parents are always the principal acts of religion'].(47) For Usbek like Rousseau evaluates religion essentially in civic terms, that is, in terms of the social consequences of religious practice. For all the ambiguities in his discussion of civil religion, Rousseau makes it clear that it is political and not religious unity that counts,(48) and that any exclusive principle concerning religion is inadmissible. From this principle follows another:

Maintenant qu'il n'y a plus et qu'il ne peut plus y avoir de religion nationale exclusive, on doit tolérer toutes celles qui tolèrent les autres, autant que leurs dogmes n'ont rien de contraire aux devoirs du citoyen. Mais quiconque ose dire, hors de l'Église point de salut, doit être chassé de l'État.(49)

[Now that there is no longer and can never again be an exclusive national religion, we must tolerate all those that are toleratant of others, so long as their doctrines are in no way contrary to the duties of the citizen. But whoever dares to say, There is no salvation outside the Church should be driven from the state.

The condition of being tolerated is to tolerate. Although there needs to be at least a minimal religious base for civic order, no official credo beyond belief in God and the afterlife is called for. Tolerance is an inherently civic matter, and it relates intimately to an even larger cause, which is liberty itself.

In the long run, the cure for the Revocation was not to be restoration of the Edict. It was, instead, the slow but effective cultural assimilation of that for which the Edict was but an imperfect and temporary palliative, namely the spirit of toleration. Inserted vigorously into the public sphere by Lettres persanes in 1721 and Lettres philosophiques in 1734, the idea of toleration, even without acquiring any new legal status, grew apace throughout the eighteenth century. It was this achievement of public discourse that in practice greatly mitigated the letter of the law and partially compensated for the lack of formal guarantees and fortified strongholds. A genuinely repressive regime must be prepared to repress widely and harshly; but in reality, whatever the desire on high, functionaries and judges progressively lost that will. Sporadic persecutions continued, but were less and less the rule:

"[I]t soon became clear that the law [of 1724] was unworkable. Two pastors were indeed executed at Montpellier, and Court was obligated to take refuge in Switzerland; but in many places governors and other officials adopted a more lenient attitude on the strength of their own authority. Cardinal de Fleury, the Marquis de Gudane and the Maréchal de Mirepoix counselled clemency."(50) Protestants, and even Jansenists and Jews, could be increasingly at home, or at least fairly secure, almost anywhere. Although even the parliamentary reversal of the Calas case changed no laws and thus had no direct consequence for anyone but the surviving family members, it cannot have failed to make many a constable and judge feel justified in his reluctance or refusal to apply the existing, unregenerate regulations, especially those that entailed extremely severe penalties.(51)

To the staunch catholics, nonetheless, toleration, even when it bore no hint of condoning disbelief, was an insidious smoke screen for more dangerous avatars of free thought; so-called open minds "sont en réalité des partisans masqués de la réforme, du libertinage ou de l'athéisme qui cherchent insidieusement à éloigner les peuples de la vérité religieuse" ['are in reality the disguised proponents of reform, libertinism, or atheism who insidiously seek to draw peoples away from religious truth'].(52) Of course, these people were not always wrong, but such was the problem with any chink in an old and brittle armor that required an enormous effort of maintenance. Such voices at this point are easily identifiable to any contemporary reader as those of a mechanical rear guard which has long since lost control of the terms of the discussion.

Tolérance, once the name of a deplorable failure of courage and will, was now a virtue and the banner of reconstructed, enlightened thought. The new edition of the dictionary of the Académie in 1765, while it repeated almost verbatim the original definition, added a most significant qualification: "Condescendance, indulgence pour ce qu'on ne peut empêcher, ou qu'on croit ne devoir pas empêcher" ['The suffering or indulgence of what one cannot prevent or feels one should not prevent'] (emphasis added). This idea of restraint from interference even if one could prevent instead had been unthinkable to such an august royal body in 1694. The pejorative charge once incumbent in tolérance was, however, rhetorically recaptured with the coinage of the new word tolérantisme,(53) which we find in the Jesuit dictionary of of Trévoux in 1752 with heavily underscored negative connotations: "Secte, doctrine des tolérants. Le tolérantisme est né exprès pour réunir ensemble les choses les moins alliables. Où ne va pas le tolérantisme si l'on veut en pousser les principes?" ['Sect or doctrine of the tolerants. Tolerantism arose specifically for the purpose of joining the most incongruous things together. Where will tolerantism not lead if its principles are extended a little?'].(54) Although accorded respectful status by the Académie,(55) tolérantisme, as used by most catholic tracts, stigmatizes permissiveness gone haywire; it is tolérance with a sneer.

Morality, even official, had in effect ceased to be a monopoly of the Church or state. "Public opinion" was fast supplanting the pulpit, and a large segment of it was becoming anticlerical.(56) The true site of moral imperatives was the public sphere, and its leadership now came principally from the world of letters. In short, what had been accomplished was the first phase in the constitution of the writer as society's lay conscience as described by Paul Bénichou in Le sacre de l'écrivain. If the mediation of the writer was in the process of becoming "sacred," it is largely because the Church had disqualified itself from serving as the voice of a national conscience, and notably over the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the anti-Jansenist campaign, which had run on for ten more years in mid-century (1746 to1756) with the affair of billets de confession. Thus room was created for institution of a lay morality whose operation in the public forum was compared by Malesherbes to that of the most prestigious classical models:

Il s'est élevé un tribunal indépendant de toutes les puissances, et que toutes les puissances respectent, qui apprécie tous les talents, qui prononce sur tous les genres de mérite; et, dans un siècle éclairé, dans un siècle où chaque citoyen peut parler à la nation entière par la voie de l'impression, ceux qui ont le talent d'instruire les hommes et le don de les émouvoir, les gens de lettres, en un mot, sont au milieu du public dispersé ce qu'étaient les orateurs de Rome et d'Athènes au milieu du peuple assemblé.(57)

[A tribunal has arisen that is independent of all earthly powers, and which the powers all respect, that judges all talents, decides on all kinds of merit; and in an enlightened era, an era when every citizen can speak to the entire nation through the voice of the press, those who have the talent to instruct men and the gift of stirring them, men of letters in a word, are in the midst of a dispersed public what the orators of Rome and Athens were in the midst of the people assembled.]

It is clear too that the pivotal point in this swing of authority was the 1760s, the decade of the Calas affair, the clandestine but tacitly authorized completion of the Encyclopédie -- and the expulsion of the Jesuits. Subsequent to that point the tone of the philosophes is triumphant, as in this coda to Voltaire's article "Tolérance" in 1772:

[Q]uand nous avons fait retentir ces véritables voix humaines dans les orgues de nos églises, nous avons servi la nature, nous avons rétabli l'humanité dans ses droits; et il n'y a pas aujourd'hui un ex-jésuite ou un ex-janséniste, qui ose dire: Je suis intolérant.(58)

[When we made these genuinely human voices resonate in the organs of our churches, we served sature, we reëstablished humanity in its rights; and there is today not a single ex-Jesuit or ex-Jansenist who dares to say: I am intolerant.]

No one is more conscious than he, as his expressions suggest, of the transfer of roles that had taken place: whereas in 1685 the Church pursued forced conversion in the name of human charity, it is now the philosophe who is seated at the Church's organ in the name of human rights. Still, while the persuasion of informed opinion can be deemed accomplished, real power and the forces of dark popular superstition were sometimes still to be contended with.

In a sense, the révocation of the Revocation finally came on 17 Novembre 1787, when Louis XVI formalized the civil status and open access to all positions for protestants. Although he yet granted no formal recognition of their churches, this edict was, as Elisabeth Labrousse rightly qualifies it, the consecration of a 102-year failure:

[C]e texte démontrait d'une manière éclatante qu'au bout d'un siècle il ne restait plus au gouvernement français qu'à reconnaître l'échec de la Révocation. L'extirpation du protestantisme par un trait de plume n'avait pu modeler la réalité: chicanes, tracasseries, persécutions, répressions n'étaient pas venu à bout de l'attachement tenace de la majorité des huguenots à leur confession.(59)

[This text demonstrated spectacularly that a century later there was nothing left for the French government to do but recognize the failure of the Revocation. The obliteration of protestantism by the stroke of a pen had not been able to mould reality: cavillings, harrassment, persecutions, and repression had not been able to overcome the tenacious loyalty of most huguenots to their confession.]

What the Revolution would do was attempt to neutralize religious difference definitively through the invention of citizenship -- and the training of citizens via such devices as the catéchisme du citoyen. There would no longer exist what we now call "minorities" because they would be absorbed into a permanent majority of citizens: religious minorities were thus disinvented; only the nation would remain.

Toleration had not developped autonomously; rather, the process can be thought of as the result and meeting point of a number of other complex attitudinal evolutions. Toleration progresses thanks to relativism, which in turn depends on criticism: once more, Bayle is father to the whole history. It also depends on geographical exploration, the progress of historiography, and so forth. Toleration does not so much drive the Enlightment machine as symbolize it; it is the point at which philosophal and scientific thought begins to diffuse into the general culture, and ultimately becomes one of the proudest hallmarks of that culture.

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Principal Works Cited


Basnage de Beauval, Henri. Tolérance des religions (1684), preface by Elisabeth Labrousse. New York and London: Johnson Reprint Co., 1970.

Bénichou, Paul. Le sacre de l'écrivain, 1750-1830: essai sur l'avènement d'un pouvoir spirituel laïque dans la France moderne. Paris: José Corti, 1973.

Bossuet. Oraisons funèbres. Paris: Classiques Garnier, 1961.

Challe, Robert. Difficultés sur la religion proposées au père Malebranche (circa 1710?), ed. Frédéric Deloffre and Melâhat Menemencioglu. Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 209 (1982).

-- Mémoires [1716] and Correspondance complète, ed. Frédéric Deloffre and Jacques Popin. Geneva: Droz, 1996. Daniel-Rops, Henri. The church in the eighteenth century (L'ère des grands craquements), trans. John Warrington. London: Dent, and New York: Dutton, 1964.

De Certeau, Michel. "La formalité des pratiques: du système religieux à l'éthique des Lumières (XVIIe-XVIIIe)," in L'Écriture de l'histoire (Gallimard, 1975), 153-212.

Furetière, Antoine. Dictionnaire universel, 3rd ed., 1703, complemented by Basnage de Beauval.

Kafker, Frank and Serena. The Encyclopedists as individuals. Oxford: Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, vol. 257 (1988).

Labrousse, Elisabeth. "Notes à propos de la conception de la tolérance chez Pierre Bayle." Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 4 (1975): 205-8.

Montesquieu. Lettres persanes, ed. Laurent Versini. Paris: GF-Flammarion, 1995.

Negroni, Barbara de. Intolérances : catholiques et protestants en France, 1560-1787. Paris: Hachette, 1996.

-- "Tolérance," in Michel Delon (ed.), Dictionnaire européenne des Lumières (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1997), 1047-50. Pomeau, René. "Voltaire et Rousseau devant l'affaire Calas," in Roland Desné et al., Voltaire, Rousseau et la tolérance (Amsterdam: Maison Descartes, and Presses Universitaires de Lille, 1980), 61-75.

Prévost, Antoine. Œuvres. Presses Universitaires de Grenoble, 8 vols., 1977-1986. Vol. 1, Mémoires et aventures d'un homme de qualité qui s'est retiré du monde; vol. 2, Le philosophe anglais, ou mémoires de M. Cleveland, fils naturel de Cromwell.

Richard, Michel. La vie quotidienne des protestants sous l'ancien régime. Paris: Hachette, 1966.

Rousseau, Jean Jacques. Du contrat social, ed. Robert Derathé. Œuvres complètes, Pléiade (Paris: Gallimard), 1959-1994, vol. 3.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Qu'est-ce que la littérature ? Paris: Gallimard, 1948.

Voltaire. Correspondance, ed. Theodore Besterman. Paris: Gallimard (Pléiade), t. 1, 1963.

-- Dictionnaire philosophique, ed. René Étiemble. Paris: Classiques Garnier, 1967.   -- Le siècle de Louis XIV, ed. Antoine Adam. Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1966, 2 vols.   -- Traité sur la tolérance, ed. René Pomeau. Paris: GF-Flammarion, 1989.

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1. Voltaire, "Tolérance," Dictionnaire philosophique, p. 405.

2. Officially, protestantisme could only be referred to as the religion prétendue réformée ['so-called reformed religion'].

3. "[I]l n'a qu'à leur persuader qu'un écu en vaut deux. . . . [I]l n'a qu'à leur mettre dans la tête qu'un morceau de papier est de l'argent" ['He has only to persuade them that one écu is worth two. . . . He has only to put it into their heads that a piece of paper is money'] (letter 24, p. 75).

4. 'One king, one faith, one law' -- a traditional slogan.

5. 'Compel them to come in' (Luke 14:23).

6. Basnage de Beauval, addition to the third edition of Furetière's Dictionnaire universel, 1703.

7. 'There is no salvation outside the Church.'

8. Ce que c'est que la France toute catholique sous le règne de Louis le Grand and Commentaire philosophique sur ces paroles de Jésus-Christ: "Contrains-les d'entrer", où il est prouvé par plusieurs raisons démonstratives qu'il n'y a rien de plus abominable que de faire des conversions par la contrainte, both published in 1686.

9. Henri Basnage de Beauval, Tolérance des religions (1684), p. 48. The examples he adds in his revision of Furetière (third ed., 1703) go pointedly in the same direction: "Puisqu'on ne peut pas convenir de la vérité que chaque secte s'attribue, l'on devrait du moins convenir de se tolérer mutuellement, et de ne point s'égorger" ['Since we cannot agree on the truth each sect claims, we should at least agree to tolerate each other, and not cut each others' throats']; "Puisque l'on ne peut s'accorder sur les matières de la grâce, il faut bien se tolérer" ['Since we cannot agree on matters of grace, we must needs tolerate each other'].

10. L'écriture de l'histoire, p. 171.

11. Two orders signed by Louis XV in 1745 confirmed death sentence for pastors: see Richard 201-3 and de Negroni 1996: 183-84.

12. De Negroni 1996: 184; cf. Richard 206.

13. "Il leur est permis d'être ni étrangers, ni citoyens, ni hommes. Les droits mêmes de la nature leur sont ôtés, le mariage leur est interdit et dépouillés à la fois de la patrie, de la famille et des biens, ils sont réduits à l'état des bêtes" ['They are allowed to be neither foreigners, nor citizens, nor men. The very rights of nature are taken from them, marriage forbidden them, and, divested at one and the same time, of fatherland, family, and possessions, they are reduced to the state of beasts'] (first version of Du contrat social, in Œuvres complètes, 3: 343-44).

14. "[O]n ne saurait assez souligner combien parfaitement intolérantes étaient la théologie et l'ecclésiologie des Églises Réformées" ['It is important to appreciate how perfectly intolerant the theology and ecclesiology of the Reformed Churches were'] (Labrousse 1975: 206).

15. Catholic rights were clarified by the Toleration Act of 1689, but it was more concerned with toleration of protestants from outside the Church of England, in order particularly to consolidate the rule of a calvinist king (William of Orange).

16. Oraison funèbre de Michel Le Tellier, 339-40.

17. Known today mostly for his novels, Courtilz published Réflexions politiques par lesquelles on fait voir que la persécution des réformés est contre les véritables intérêts de la France in Cologne in 1686.

18. Letter to Isaac Papin, 9 March 1684, quote in Hans Bots and Françoise Waquet, La République des Lettres (Berlin: De Boeck, 1997), p. 121.

19. Le siècle de Louis XIV, ch. xxvi, 2: 91.

20. Difficultés sur la religion proposées au père Malebranche, p. 228. The probable allusion is to Bossuet's Instructions pour Pâques 1686 aux nouveaux convertis: cf. pp. 502-3, n. 423.

21. Mémoires, p. 52.

22. Voltaire echoes such conclusions in Le siècle de Louis XIV (1751): "Ainsi la France perdit environ cinq cent mille habitants, une quantité prodigieuse d'espèces, et surtout des arts dont ses ennemis s'enrichirent" ['Thus France lost some five hundred thousand inhabitants, a prodigious quantity of currency, and above all arts that contributed to her enemies' riches.](23)

23. Ch. xxvi; 2: 101.

24. Le philosophe anglais, 103.

25. Delft: Adrien Beman, 1693-1695.

26. Rotterdam: Jean Malherbe, 1704; facsimilé, Rouen: Deshays et Métérie, 1871.

27. The chambres de l'Édit decided contestations of protestant practice; those of Rouen and Paris were suppressed in 1669.

28. P. 317; all subjects of the king were indeed forbidden in August 1669, under penalty of confiscation de corps et de biens ['of their persons and possessions'] to leave the kingdom to take up residence in other countries.

29. Mémoires d'un homme de qualité, 273-74 ; this passage is found in book 12, published in 1731.

30. Cf. Challe: "A qui se rendrait un peuple chez qui arriveraient en même temps un rabbin, un dervis, un talapoin, un moine chrétien, un ministre luthérien et un calviniste?" ['To whom would a people surrender itself faced with a rabbi, a dervish, a talapoin, a Christian monk, a Lutheran minister, and a Calvinist who arrived at the same time?'] (Difficultés sur la religion, 115).

31. The abbé Jean Baptiste Gaultier, in Les Lettres persanes convaincues d'impiété (1751), calls the book "[un] des livres les plus dangereux que les impies ont mis au jour" ['One of the most dangerous books that the impious have brought forth'] (ii).

32. Book XXV, article 8.

33. Book XXV, article 10.

34. To Le Cornier de Cideville, 26 juillet 1733 (Corr. 1: 404).

35. Bayle, Commentaire philosophique..., quoted by de Negroni (1996: 144).

36. Jean-François Féraud, "Tolérant," Dictionnaire critique de la langue française (Marseille, 1787).

37. "Tolérance," Dictionnaire philosophique, p. 401.

38. Traité sur la tolérance, 52-53.

39. See Douglas H. Gordon and Norman L. Torrey, The censoring of Diderot's Encyclopédie and the re-established text, New York: Columbia U P, 1947. Jaucourt's article can be found on pp. 95-106.

40. Religionnaire was a term used since the sixteenth century for protestants.

41. That is, the Commentaire philosophique sur ces paroles de Jésus-Christ: "Contrains-les d'entrer" (see n. 5 above).

42. As Richard N. Schwab and Walter E. Rex record in Inventory of Diderot's "Encyclopédie" (Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 91 [1972]: 773), Jacques Proust, in Diderot et l'Encyclopédie (1957), p. 157, "notes the affinity of this article with the entire second part of Yvon's Liberté de conscience resserrée dans des bornes légitimes (London, 1754)." See also Kafker 404.

43. For instance, reports Barbara de Negroni, "La défense de l'état-civil des protestants s'inscrit ici clairement dans une perspective gallicane: elle offre d'excellentes armes pour lutter contre les théologiens ultramontains et les suppôts de la cour de Rome" ['Defense of the civilian status of protestants is clearly consonant with a Gallican perspective: it offers excellent weapons for combatting ultramountain theologians and the lackeys of the Roman court'] (1996: 192).

44. "Le mot est assez nouveau pour distinguer ceux des théologiens qui sont pour la tolérance des hérétiques dans la société civile, d'avec ceux qui y sont opposés, et qu'on appelle pour cet effet intolérants. On a vu des disputes bien aigres depuis quelques années entre les tolérants et les intolérants" ['The word is a rather new one to distinguish between theologians who are in favor of tolerating heretics in civilian life from those who are opposed to it, and who are for this purpose called intolerants. Angry disputes have been witnessed these last few years between tolerants and intolerants'] ("Tolérant," Furetière, third edition, 1703).

45. 'Political-critical memoir, in which it is examined whether it is in the Church's and state's interest to establish a new form of marriage for the Calvinists of the kingdom' and 'Letter from the Archbishop of Agen to the Controller General against tolerating huguenots in the kingdom.'

46. Du contrat social, 343. As de Negroni has put it, "Il s'agit alors de définir une autonomie du politique; la défense de l'état-civil des protestants conduit à mettre en évidence l'existence dans la société de devoirs purement civils" [The purpose was to define an autonomous status for politics; defense of protestants' civilian status leads to taking for granted the existence in society of duties that are strictly civic'] (1996: 194).

47. Lettres persanes, lettre 46, p. 107.

48. "Hobbes est le seul qui ait vu le mal et le remède, qui ait osé proposer . . . de tout ramener à l'unité politique, sans laquelle jamais État ni gouvernement ne sera bien constitué" ['Hobbes was the first to have see the disease and the remedy, to have dared propose . . . bringing everything back to political unity, without which no state nor government can be well constituted'] (Du contrat social, 463).

49. Ibid., 469.

50. Daniel-Rops, 150.

51. "Sur le moment, l'affaire Calas n'a rien changé à l'état de droit. Elle a agi uniquement sur l'état de l'opinion, de sorte que tout de même les mesures légales contres les protestants tendront à tomber en désuétude" ['At the time, the Calas affaire changed nothing in terms of the law. Its effect was solely on opinion, with the result that all the same the legal mesures against the protestants tended to atrophy'] (René Pomeau, 1980: 72). Pomeau qualifies this statement, however, a few years later: "L'affaire Calas eut sans doute une conséquence dans les faits. On mit fin aux exécutions de pasteurs, aux rafles de huguenots 'au Désert'pour approvisionner le bagne" ['Doubtless the Calas affair had one factual consequence. The execution of pastors, the raids on huguenots' homes "of the desert to furnish prison labor" were ended'] (introduction to Traité de la tolérance, p. 19).

52. De Negroni 1997: 1048.

53. The Dictionnaire Robert gives the date 1721 for its first occurrence, but without reference.

54. "Tolérantisme," Dictionnaire universel français et latin, 1752 ed., Supplément.

55. "Tolérantisme: Caractère ou système de ceux qui croient qu'on doit tolérer dans un État toutes sortes de religions. Le tolérantisme a lieu dans plusieurs États" ['Tolerantism: Character or system of those who believe that a state must tolerate all sorts of religions. There are numerous states where tolerantism prevails'] (dictionary of 1765).

56. "[L]'indignation et le mépris que les persécutions finirent par inspirer à l'opinion éclairée fut une source puissante d'anticléricalisme irréconciliable" ['The indignation and scorn provoked over the long term by the persecutions were powerful sources of irreconcilable anticlericalism'] (Elisabeth Labrousse, introduction to Basnage 1970: xxxiv-xxxv).

57. Discours de réception de Malesherbes (1775), quoted in Maurice Pellisson, Les hommes de lettres au dix-huitième siècle, Paris: Armand Colin, 1911, p. 247.

58. Questions sur l'Encyclopédie: the text is in a note to the Dictionnaire philosophique, p. 625.

59. Introduction to Basnage 1970: vi.

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