Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter XVI: That the strong Belief of a Falshood, attended even with the rejecting those Suspicions which sometimes arise in our Minds, that we are in an Error, does not necessarily proceed from a Principle of Corruption. - A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, 'Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full'
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Chapter XVI: That the strong Belief of a Falshood, attended even with the rejecting those Suspicions which sometimes arise in our Minds, that we are in an Error, does not necessarily proceed from a Principle of Corruption. - Pierre Bayle, A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, ‘Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full’ 
A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, ‘Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full’, edited, with an Introduction by John Kilcullen and Chandran Kukathas (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
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That the strong Belief of a Falshood, attended even with the rejecting those Suspicions which sometimes arise in our Minds, that we are in an Error, does not necessarily proceed from a Principle of Corruption.
I Persuade my self, that those who weigh what I now offer with a settl’d Judgment, will readily agree to it; as for others, I doubt whether they will or no: but most of all I mistrust your Readers of a pert Wit and gigantick Imagination, because they have generally the Misfortune to take things wrong, and eternally misunderstand ’em; either that the Author’s Reasoning hinders their weighing things with that Disinterestedness which is requisite, or that before they have quite read over a Chapter, they have fram’d in their own thoughts several Answers to it, which can’t chuse but be very defective, as having in view only a piece or skirt of an Objection. But by those who have more Application of thought, and who are able maturely to examine the strong and the weak sides of a Cause, ’twill always for the future be reckon’d, I think, a constant Truth.
In the first place, that the Soul of a Child adheres not to the first Religion taught to it, either as adorn’d with Sanctity, or stain’d with Sin; but<636> simply as it is a Spirit, susceptible of all kind of Ideas and Opinions, and limited to some rather than to others by its Union with Matter.
2. That the Facility with which this Soul receives whatever is offer’d to it in matter of Opinion, is neither a good nor a bad moral Quality, but a physical Imperfection at most, and a very great Limitation arising from the Laws of the Union of Soul and Body.
3. That the Docility of the Children of the Orthodox, and the Love they have for Orthodoxy, is not a Quality any way different from that of Heterodox Children; because the same Children, who now are all Zeal for Orthodoxy, wou’d have bin just the same for Heterodoxy, and vice versa, if they had bin bred up in another set of Opinions: whence it follows, that if Docility and Devotion were an effect of Original Sin in either sort, it must be so in both. Now ’twere impious maintaining this. Let’s think of the Courier I spoke of a while ago.237
4. That tho it’s somewhat strange, that Children shou’d with Joy and Transport embrace the most important Truths of a Paradise, Hell, Trinity, Incarnation, Original Sin, and all the other Doctrines propos’d to ’em, some according to Rome, others according to Geneva, &c. that they shou’d embrace ’em, I say, upon the Authority of a little School-Mistress or Master, or at most on that of the Curate or Minister of the Parish (for here’s their whole Rule of Faith) yet one may easily account for this; it being but fit that a Child shou’d have Humility enough, not to presume on his own Lights more than on those of his Father, Mother, or Pedagogue, and<637> consequently shou’d believe ’em without reserve. Beside, that ’tis but reasonable he shou’d have a good Opinion enough of ’em, not to call their Sincerity in question; so that if on one hand he believe their Light to be greater than his own, and that they teach him what they believe to be true, he ought by all means to conform to their Opinions; and ’tis impossible but he shou’d, because to call their Opinions in question, and guard against ’em, ’twou’d require a great stock of ready Ideas, and this he is not Master of; the few he has, are afforded him by slow degrees, and at second-hand, and only to fortify one another thro the great Care of those who instruct him.
5. But whether that Facility in Children, of adopting all Opinions taught them in matter of Religion, be reckon’d Good or Evil, still it’s certain, that ’tis a physical Perfection at least (if it be improper to call it a moral one, because antecedent to any free and reasonable Choice) to love what they take to be Truth, and hate what they take to be an Error. No matter whether their Guides deceive ’em or no; still the loving what one believes comes from God is conforming to Order, and the hating it wou’d not, altho it shou’d happen, that the thing hated was really displeasing to him: ’twere only by Accident, and beside our Intention, that we shou’d hate what God prohibits. And whoever loves that which he thinks approv’d by God, altho perhaps it is not, wou’d, by the same Motion of his Soul, love what is really approv’d in his sight, did he know it as such; as he who despises what he believes come from God, altho it comes not from<638> him, wou’d by the same Act of his Soul despise what really came from God, did he know it as such. This I think is what no one will deny me, who has the Sense to take this matter aright, and does not mistake my thought.
6. That since the great Facility of Children, in believing every thing told ’em without distinction, whether true or false, is a Quality, which morally speaking is neither Good nor Evil; it follows, that their embracing a Heresy with the firmest Persuasion, and which excludes all shadow of doubting, is no Sin in them: for, beside that this may proceed in a great measure from the Temper and Constitution, and from the way in which they have bin educated; we are moreover to consider the principal Reason already assign’d, to wit, that the same Child, who embraces a Heresy with the most obstinate and tenacious Belief, wou’d embrace the Truth altogether as firmly, if propos’d with the same Advantages as Error. So that one can no more say, that the opiniatre Spirit of an Heretick Child is a Mark of the depravation of his Soul, than that the Constancy with which the same Child wou’d have believ’d the Truth, if propos’d as the Lye was, was the Consequence of his Perverseness and Pravity of Heart. Now who dare advance such an Extravagance?
7. That if a Child may be strongly (or obstinately, if you will, for I shan’t stand upon the Propriety of Words) persuaded that his Heresy is a thing perfectly well-pleasing to God, without the least mixture of Malice in his Persuasion, or Corruption of Heart; he may also, by the same Rule, be obstinately persuaded, that Ortho-<639>doxy is a Fundamental Error, more to be avoided than Plague or Leprosy. This is not believing two different Doctrines, but one and the same, propos’d in different terms; consequently the first cannot be innocent without the second, nor this without the other.
This alone is sufficient to make out the Position in the Title of this Chapter. For if once it’s allow’d, that a Man may be under a full and intire Persuasion, that the Doctrines opposite to our own are false and detestable; if, I say, there may be such a Persuasion, without the least mixture of Malice or Corruption of Heart, it follows, that without the least tincture of the same Malice, one may believe all that flows naturally, and according to the inviolable Laws of Order, from this Persuasion: as first, That all the Arguments, in favor of Opinions contrary to our own, are mere Sophism and Cavil. Secondly, That we must take special care not to be ensnar’d by ’em, and remember the saying, That Suspicion’s the Mother of Security. Thirdly, That if any Scruples or Doubts happen to be suggested to our Minds upon hearing the Reasons for the opposite side, we must encounter ’em with the Shield of Faith, as so many Temptations of the World or the Devil; and in general, be as deaf as the Adder, which stops her Ears to the Voice of the Charmer. Fourthly, That we must continually pray to God, that he wou’d give us Grace to persevere to our Lives end in the Faith to which we have bin call’d; and strengthen our selves in it more and more by reading his holy Word, and by Meditation.<640>
When once we come to this, and are resolv’d to lose no ground, there’s neither Disputer nor written Controversy, that can persuade us out of what we have bin taught in our Childhood. For we slight all kind of Explication and Instruction that’s offer’d to us; and are not at all startl’d at the Arguments of a subtle Adversary, which we are not able to answer. This, say we to our selves, is a Poisoner, who knows how to sweeten and gild his Pill. But what Judgment must we now make of those, who by this means are never to be recover’d from their Errors? Must we, according to the first Answer propos’d at the beginning of the thirteenth Chapter,238 say, That they err thro Malice, because they refuse to consult an Oracle, which wou’d set ’em right, to wit, the Definitions of the Church of Rome; or because they read not the Scriptures with an humble teachable Disposition, zealous of the Truth, which was the second Answer propos’d in the same place? Neither I think can be pleaded; I have already given the reason with regard to the second Answer,239 and here’s something further to be offer’d upon= it.
They who refuse to consult what may have bin defin’d by that Church, which has most Universality and Antiquity to plead, and the most invariable Union to the Chair of St. Peter, do this, either because they are afraid, that by consulting it they shou’d find something to convince ’em they are in an Error; or else, because they are persuaded they shou’d get no good by consulting it, but rather expose themselves to the Snares of the Devil. In the first Case I’ll allow, that if they be in an Error, they may be<641> deem’d to err wilfully and maliciously: for the Truth is not that which they love, seeing they are afraid to find it; they are only willing to believe, that the State they are in, and which they are loth to forsake, is reconcilable to Truth. In the second Case, every one sees, without my Help, that the Error is neither wilful nor malicious. Now as on one hand, there is none but God the Searcher of Hearts can know who they are, that continue in Error from the first alledg’d Motive, which is undoubtedly sinful, even tho they believ’d their own Religion good in the main; so I believe, on the other hand, that a World of People persevere in their first Opinions, and won’t trouble their Heads with Disputes, Examinations, and nice Discussions, purely from the second alledg’d Motive: and all that can be said against those is, that their absolute Acquiescence in the Doctrines they imbib’d in their tender Years, is not so excusable when they are grown up to Mens Estate, as it was during their Childhood, and while under a Physical Inability of examining different Religions, and comparing what can be said pro and con; yet that they are not chargeable with the least degree of Hatred or Contempt for the Truth.
I repeat it too often perhaps; but ’tis because my Readers are not us’d to Explications of this kind: so that to work ’em into their Consideration, it’s absolutely necessary to renew and represent ’em afresh from time to time; I shall therefore say it over again, That it is the greatest Illusion in the World, to imagine, that an Act of Love, which tends towards an Object in reality false,<642> but objectively240 true, or, which is the same thing in plainer terms; which appears true to us, is not an Act of Love for Truth, in the utmost Rigor and Propriety, when we are mov’d to it from no other cause than a sincere Persuasion, that the Object on which it terminates is the Truth. Shou’d this be deny’d me, this Extravagance must of necessity follow; to wit, That a Heretick, thorowly persuaded that what he believes, is the Truth, and loving what he believes, only from a firm Persuasion of its being the Truth, and which is much the same, ready to forsake and abhor it, if once convinc’d ’twas not the Truth, wou’d not love Orthodoxy, if he knew it distinctly such as it is in it self. I say, this is maintaining an Extravagancy, of which Man, unaccountable as he is, does not afford an Original; there are Combinations of Acts in this Supposition, which are in nature impossible.
Let’s therefore say, when a Man is once come to this pass, as to love his Opinions only because he believes ’em true; 1. That he has a general most sincere Disposition to love the Truth wherever he finds it, which is a very excellent moral Quality; and that in effect he does love it: for will any one pretend, that a Miser who takes counterfeit Broad-pieces for true, and sets his Heart upon ’em, does not love Gold? 2. That the real Falseness of his Opinions, is not the Cause of his loving ’em. 3. That if what is really true appear’d such to him, he wou’d love and prefer that. 4. That he not only exceeds in the Love of Truth, him who knows the Truth, and does not love it; but may<643> even dispute this Love with him, who really knows and loves it.
Let’s say further, that a Heretick who shews no regard for what he believes to be the Truth, wou’d shew as little for real Truth if he had happen’d to know that; and is consequently as guilty of despising the Truth, as if he were one of those Orthodox, who have a perfect indifference for the Truth which they do know. The Reason of this is obvious enough; because with regard to a Heretick indifferent for Religion, the Falseness is only an accidental Cause of his Indifference: just as with regard to a Heretick zealous against Orthodoxy, the Truth is only an accidental Cause of his Hatred to it. Now that which is a Cause only by Accident passes for nothing, when the Question is concerning an Action’s being morally good or evil.
All this might be illustrated by the Case of two Men, who are to shoot at a Mark with a single Ball, and each to have a piece of Plate, if he hits at such a distance. We’l suppose one of the Plates chang’d, and a piece of Block-Tin laid in its room; they’l certainly shoot with as earnest an Intention of hitting the Mark, as if both were Sterling: and the real difference of the Object, and which they ’tis suppos’d are strangers to, abates not in the least of the ardency of either’s desire to succeed. Is not this a faithful Representation of two Men, sincerely zealous each for his own Religion, one really true, the other only in appearance? they move with the same Ardor towards the Prize and the Mark: and had the false bin presented to the first, so as he shou’d believe it true, he’d act just as he<644> did before; and the second, in like manner, if the true were presented to him, so as that he might believe it true.
But to return to the strong Persuasion which Education inspires, I shall add, that in places where there are two Religions which dispute the ground; the chief Care of Fathers and Mothers is to possess their Children betimes, that God has bin very gracious to them above a World of other Children, in ordering by his Providence that they shou’d be born in the true Religion. They accustom ’em to thank God Morning and Night for this particular Favor, and to beg him earnestly, that he wou’d not suffer the sacred Pledg of his Truth to be snatch’d from ’em, either thro the Wiles of the Devil, or the Deceitfulness of this World. There are some Parents whose Zeal carrys ’em to the making use of several little pious Frauds, as frighting their Children with Hobgoblins, or some Deformity of Body; unless they detest the opposite Communion. The natural and almost infallible Consequence of which is, that these Children, when come to Man’s Estate, are most firmly convinc’d of the Truth of their own Religion, or which is the same thing of the Falsness of the other; that when they read the Scripture, or any Treatise of Controversy, ’tis with a design of confirming themselves in their first belief; and if Doubts or Difficultys arise, tending to weaken their Persuasion, that they look on ’em as Suggestions of Satan, Temptations which the World and the Flesh lay in their way, to surprize ’em into the Paths of Perdition. I’l even allow, that when they read the Scriptures, they don’t expresly<645> pray to God to enlighten ’em, if the way they are in be erroneous. What can be infer’d from it? that they despise the Truth and love a Lye? By no means, but only that they overfirmly believe themselves in possession of the Truth. And is there in Conscience any thing more in this than Credulity, and want of an enlarg’d Philosophical Mind? Is there the least Trace of any Malice of Heart in it, or of that corrupt Source from whence Sin is deriv’d? Can one reasonably say, that a Heretick who refuses to confer with a learn’d Orthodox, whom he looks on as an artful Poisoner of Souls, and a dangerous Emissary of Satan, and who refuses this Conference on no other score but for fear he shou’d be seduc’d, hates the Light of Truth?
I have seen a great many Books of Devotion in my time, and Collections of Prayers on all Occasions, and for all States and Conditions, several preparatory Offices for the Lord’s Supper; but never met in ’em with any such Request as this, That shou’d it be our misfortune to be mistaken concerning Images, Invocation of Saints, Real Presence, the Authority of the Church, Antichrist, &c. God wou’d be pleas’d to enlighten and recover us from our Error. No Religion or Church prescribes its Children any such Form; and shou’d any one from his private Authority begin it, he’d be look’d upon as weak in the Faith and wavering, and pity’d as a bruis’d Reed which ought not to be broken, or smoking Flax which ought not to be quench’d.241 A Heretick therefore can’t justly be requir’d, when persuaded from probable Reasons that he is in the right way (and the Persuasion of an Orthodox<646> is built on no surer grounds) to desire of God, that he wou’d enlighten him if he errs in such or such Points; since this can’t be exacted from a Heretick, but it must be exacted from an Orthodox too, there being room enough for either to believe, that ’tis very possible he may be deceiv’d.
[237. ]See above, p. 476.
[238. ]See above, p. 466.
[239. ]See above, p. 468.
[240. ]See Appendixes, “Obsolete or Unusual Words or Meanings,” p. 578 (“objectively”).
[241. ]Cf. Isaiah 42:3.