Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter XXII: That what has bin lately prov'd, helps us to a good Answer to the Bishop of Meaux demanding a Text, in which Heresys are excepted out of the number of those Sins, for the punishing of which God has given Princes the Sword. - A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, 'Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full'
Return to Title Page for A Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14.23, ‘Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full’
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Chapter XXII: That what has bin lately prov’d, helps us to a good Answer to the Bishop of Meaux demanding a Text, in which Heresys are excepted out of the number of those Sins, for the punishing of which God has given Princes the Sword. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
That what has bin lately prov’d, helps us to a good Answer to the Bishop of Meaux demanding a Text, in which Heresys are excepted out of the number of those Sins, for the punishing of which God has given Princes the Sword.
I have spoke to this Demand before in the third Part of my Commentary, p. 369. But I have some other Reflections to make upon it here.
The grand Defect of this Query is, that it is up to the Bishop of Meaux to find a Scripture Passage, in which Hereticks are reckon’d in the number of those Evil-doers who are punishable by the Sword.
For in effect, the Spirit of all Laws tending more to Mildness than Rigor, and being liable to the favorablest Construction, where it’s doubtful whether a Matter be punishable or no; Heresy ought to be deem’d exempt from all Punishment, if the Legislator has not specify’d and declar’d it punishable expresly and by name. Now that it’s at least doubtful whether Heresys are cognizable by the Civil Magistrate, we<688> need bring no better proof than the Sense of the first Ages of the Church, and that of several grave Authors of different Sects, Ages and Nations, without reckoning on any of the Reasons I have hitherto alledg’d. And it even happens, that many of those who write Apologys for Persecution, let fall several Expressions in favor of Forbearance and a Liberty of Conscience, when caught unawares and not actually thinking on the Engagement they are under of writing for the persecuting Sect. So true is it, that Reason and natural Light revolt against the Doctrine of Persecution. Consequently, till the Bishop can produce an express Passage of Scripture, comprehending Hereticks among the Evil-doers whom Princes are bound to punish, we shall have ground enough to believe ’em excepted.
But I have a further peremptory Answer to Mr. De Meaux’s Query. If Princes had receiv’d the Sword from God, for the Punishment of Hereticks no less than for the Punishment of Assassins, Poisoners, Robbers, False Witnesses; all Princes must give it in charge to the Judges appointed by ’em in their several Dominions, to take cognizance of Causes of Heresy, as they do of all other Causes Civil or Criminal, with Liberty to take the Advice and Opinion of Divines, as they shou’d see fit. Consequently Trials for Heresy must undergo the same Fate as all other Trials; I mean, they must be examin’d into with Care, the Defences of the Accus’d heard, and after the exact Observance of all due Forms of Law, the Suffrages or Opinions of the Judges counted, and Sentence pronounc’d<689> against the Accus’d; upon a Plurality of Voices. Now all the World must agree, provided the Judges act conscientiously, and do their utmost Endeavor to discover the Merits of the Cause, and the Rights of the Partys, that their Judgments are righteous, as well in the sight of Man as of God, altho they shou’d happen to be deceiv’d. Then Sentences pronounc’d against Persons accus’d of Heresy, whether in effect Hereticks or no, must be just in the sight of God and Man, provided they were pass’d conscientiously, and after Examinations in due form, and a legal Proceeding in the whole Trial.
The meaning whereof, in one word, and without disguise, is this, That God, acting the equitable part, as no doubt he always does, cou’d not require at the hands of Heretick Kings, the Blood of those Orthodox, which they might on occasion spill; because, in quality of a righteous Judg, he wou’d hear the Reasons of these Kings, who might alledg the Command they had receiv’d in his Holy Word, to punish Hereticks with the same Care as Murderers, Ravishers, False Witnesses, &c. whereupon they had done no more than obey the Will of God, in ordering their Judges to proceed against Hereticks: That if the Judges were deceiv’d in taking those for Hereticks who really were not so, this cou’d not be a greater Fault in ’em than sentencing a Man as a Murderer or Felon, who really was not so; that not being infallible, nothing more cou’d reasonably be requir’d of ’em, than examining all Causes diligently, and always declaring for the side that seem’d to them true and just: That when, thro the artificial and impenetrable Contrivances of a knot of<690> False Witnesses, or Abettors of Villany, they had condemn’d the Innocent to death, and acquitted the Guilty; their Integrity, tho attended with an Error, which might lead ’em into Actions materially unjust, was sufficient to justify ’em; it manifestly follow’d, that having acted with the same honest and upright Intention in the Trials of those accus’d of Heresy, they were not to blame in having condemn’d ’em, since they saw ’em fully convicted of the Crime.
I desire my Reader, if possible, to lay by his Prejudices for one moment, and consider, whether Equity will permit God to condemn a Heretick Judg who has sentenc’d an Orthodox; when this Judg can alledg in his defence,
1. The Holy Scriptures, which according to the Bishop of Meaux, has rank’d Hereticks among those Evil-doers whom the Magistrate is bound to punish.
2. The full and intire Conviction which he found himself under, upon a thorow Examination of the Cause, that such a one was a Heretick.
3. Several Instances, in which he, and a world of Judges besides him, had condemn’d a Person as guilty of Murder, who really was not, and deliver’d him that was guilty, yet without its being chargeable on ’em as an Iniquity, or making ’em liable to Punishment; provided they went secundum allegata & probata,273 sincerely and from a good Conscience, and upon a strict Examination of the Cause.
These three Points, known by God to the utmost degree of certainty, must undoubtedly jus-<691>tify Heretick Judges, who shou’d with Zeal and Vigor punish the most Orthodox; for it’s impossible to alledg any new Disparity after those which have bin already dispers’d like so many vain Mists rais’d before our sight.
Now, as from hence it follows, that the punishing the Orthodox wou’d become an Act excusable at the Throne of God, were there a Command in Scripture for punishing Hereticks; I have just ground for answering Mr. de Meaux, that nothing is more repugnant to Reason and Religion, than the pretending there’s any such Command in Scripture.
It’s in vain to fly for Examples to the Old Testament, because here there’s no possibility of confounding the Orthodox and Heterodox; nothing being clearer, or more express, than the case of those who were punishable on the score of Religion. They were such as work’d upon the Sabbath-day, or who maintain’d in express terms, that the God of the Jews was not the true God; or in general, whose* Impiety was, in some respect or other, manifestly repugnant to the Law, as they themselves wou’d have own’d. And we don’t find the Jews had any Power to punish those, who acknowledging the Authority of the Law, had perhaps particular Notions of their own about the Sense of Passages, which were doubtful or capable of different Interpretations.<692>
But see what a pass Christians have brought themselves to. They all are agreed, if Jesus Christ or his Apostles had design’d to say so or so, that we ought to believe it; but maintain, one Party that they have said this, another Party that they have said that; and alledg so many Reasons of each side to puzzle the Cause, as alone might serve to convince us that the penal Laws which took place under the old Dispensation are abolish’d under the new: for as the Case has all along stood, these Laws cou’d never be safely put in execution, but at a time when the Christians had really no Jurisdiction. My meaning is, that in the days of the Apostles, or their first Disciples, it had bin easy to discover those who gave the Scriptures a wrong Interpretation; because the Infallibility of the Apostles, who might have bin consulted by word of Mouth or by Letter, and the fresh Remembrance of the verbal Instructions they had given their Disciples, and Pastors whom they themselves had consecrated, was a ready means for clearing any Doubt or disputed Point. But the Christians had not the power of the Sword at this time; nor did they receive it, till the different Sects and Disputes among themselves had darken’d the Understandings of all those who might have bin inclin’d to judg without partiality.
This Evil has bin increasing ever since, whence one of these four things must necessarily follow: Either that God has given no Command for punishing Heresys, like those he has given for punishing Murders, Thefts, &c. Or that the Idea he has given of Heresy is as clear and as generally agreed in as that of Murder and Theft: Or<693> that he has made a Law which became impracticable as soon as People began to have the power to put it in execution (an Imprudence not to be pardon’d in any Legislator who cou’d see but the length of his nose): Or last of all, that in case of Obscurity he design’d Men shou’d govern themselves as they do in all other Matters, Civil or Criminal, where the Cause is decided by a Majority of Voices, and where the Judges are no way answerable if they act with Integrity and a good Conscience. Sure I am, that neither the second, nor third, nor fourth of these Suppositions will be admitted, and consequently the first must hold good.
Let any Man consult himself a little. Will he find any thing more unequitable in that low State of Knowledg which Men are doom’d to, and in those Circumstances to which their Malice has reduc’d the Functions of the Judicature, than a Law of God importing, that a Judg who gave a wrong Vote shou’d be damn’d? I understand by giving a wrong Vote, not his voting against Conscience, or at random, without a disinterested and attentive Examination of the Cause, but his being of an Opinion which agrees not with the Judgment of God upon the same Cause; God who knows the critical precise point, from which whoever varies ever so little, swerves from that which is right, and passes to what is wrong. Cou’d the ablest and most upright Judg upon earth keep his place for one day, without a mortal Sin, were such a Law as this reveal’d to him from on high? And wou’d not a King sin mortally only in naming and appointing Judges, when the Charge were such as no Man cou’d<694> with a good Conscience undertake, without risking eternal Damnation by deciding the very least Cause; nothing being so easy for a Man who is not infallible, as missing the fix’d and critical Point which separates Right from Wrong? How then must it be, when they are to judg in weightier Causes, where the Advocates quote of each side a vast number of Laws, Precedents, and Decrees given in like cases? For we find in the Reports and Common-place Books of Lawyers, Texts of contradictory Laws, a hundred different ways of reconciling these Contradictions; we find Decrees in ’em made either in different Courts of the same Kingdom, or in the same Court, some of which are for, others against the Partys impleading: for the same Court does not always give the same Judgment in similar Causes. In fine, these Decrees, these Laws, these Customs variously interpreted, suffer nothing to appear evident or demonstrative, and at most but very probable. Now when a Man, who knows he’s not infallible, is determin’d only by that which to him carries the greatest probability, he may very well believe that he is not deceiv’d, but he does not know it by a certain Knowledg of Science: for according to the Remark of Philosophers, our Assent to a Conclusion, prov’d from Premises which are only probable, is not Science, but Opinion; and Opinion does not exclude all fear of being deceiv’d.
That Judg then must be the rashest, and the foolishest Man alive, who stakes his eternal Salvation on the Persuasion he’s under, of not swerving in the least from the precise Point on which the Merits of the Cause turn; the rather, be-<695>cause he often sees other as able Judges as himself differ from him in Opinion: which shews that what appears to us most probable, does not always appear so to others; and that therefore ’twere imprudent hazarding eternal Happiness on a Certainty, which is founded only on a great Appearance of Truth.
This helps me to a new Argument against Mr. the Bishop of Meaux: for it’s plain, that in this Conflict of Decrees, this inextricable Labyrinth of the Laws, in a Complication of cross Incidents which very often entangle Civil Causes, God requires no more of Judges than that they examine the matter carefully, and vote according to their Consciences; nor shall it any way affect their Salvation, that what appear’d to them right and just, did not appear so to him who sees the most hidden things exactly as they are in themselves. Consequently, if he had enjoin’d Princes to punish Hereticks, he wou’d require no more of their Judges than carefully to examine and vote according to Conscience, without intending that their Salvation shou’d be endanger’d by their making a judgment of what is Heresy, different from that which he himself makes by his omniscient Knowledg. Now as this were granting Heretical Judges a full Impunity, who in pursuance of their own Notions of Heresy shou’d put the most zealous Orthodox to death by wholesale, it follows, God never intended that Princes shou’d exercise any Jurisdiction in Cases of Heresy.<696>
A new Turn given to the Examination of the Objection, founded on the Clearness of Controversys.
The only Defence now remaining is to say, That Trials for Heresy are not so perplex’d as the more perplex’d Civil Causes. To which I answer, That this is very true, provided the Judges have the liberty of defining Heresy according to the Prejudices of their own Religion; for then nothing is easier than convicting a Man of Heresy. They have no more to do in this case than just ask him whether he believes all the same Articles of Faith which they believe; and if he answers No, there’s an end of the matter: he’s convicted of Heresy in due form. But as the Orthodox and Heretick Judges wou’d by this means be upon an equal foot, and as it wou’d hence follow that the same Doctrine was true and false at the same time, ’tis plain there’s no standing by this way. There’s an absolute necessity that the Judges and the Accus’d agree upon some common Rule, and go by it, instead of holding by Principles which divide ’em. Now whether this common Rule be the written Word of God alone, or whether it comprehends an unwritten Word besides, every one may perceive, from the Reflections already made in the Answers to the second and third Disparitys,274 that the finding the critical Point which separates the True from the False, the Probable and the Seemingly True, is no small Difficulty; the finding it, I say, with such a Certainty as leaves no room to doubt that we have found it, and<697> that every other Opinion different from our own is necessarily false. For after all, in matters contested between Christians no body pretends to carry his Proofs to a Metaphysical or Geometrical Evidence; they must ever remain in the Class of probable Propositions: and therefore from hence alone, that Man owns he’s not infallible, he must confess that he may be deceiv’d in preferring one probable Proposition to another probable Proposition: Consequently the Judges in Trials for Heresy can have no greater assurance that they have voted right, than those may have who are Judges in Civil Causes.
To render this more plain and obvious to all the world, I shall only remark the Conformity between disputable obscure Points of Divinity, and Matters of Law or Physick. Distempers have this peculiar to ’em, that whenever they come to any height, you can hardly get a Consultation of three or four Physicians who are not divided in Opinion, both as to Fact and Right: one will have it that the Distemper proceeds from the Liver, another that it proceeds from the Stomach; one defines it one way, another another way; and they might dispute the Point till the Patient’s dead, unless they put it to the Vote: but they decide it by a Majority of Votes to be one Distemper rather than another; and sometimes it happens to be such a one as the Doctors said not one syllable of in the whole Consultation. The same kind of Difficultys divide ’em as to the Right, I mean the way by which this Disease is to be cur’d, when agreed on: some will have such a Remedy, others quite the contrary; and after a great many Ar-<698>guments, they are forc’d to put it again to the Vote. It’s the same in Civil Causes: Shew your Case to different Lawyers, you shall almost always find ’em disagree in their Opinions, and one Person has perhaps ten or twelve Advices upon the same Law-Point, which hardly agree in any one instance.
The same thing happens in Theological Questions: Be they ever so little obscure, you can’t find three Professors of the same University who’l give you the same Answer upon ’em; and when they happen to meet in a Visit, if any of the Company consult ’em seriously on any Point, they presently go together by the ears about it, without being ever able to clear the propos’d Doubt. From thence have arisen so many different Explications of the same Passages of Scripture, so many different ways of reconciling Passages which seemingly contradict one another; and what’s nearer to my purpose in this place, thence the great Conformity between Civil and Theological Causes. In law Cases each Advocate has Texts of Law on his own side, Interpretations or Answers of antient Judges or Lawyers, Decrees given in like Cases, Objections ready fram’d, and Solutions to those which are made against him: In theological Controversys each Party has Texts of Scripture on his side, antient Fathers, Opinions of the most famous Universitys, Arguments, Objections, Distinctions, Solutions; not a Book being written by any Sect, to which the opposite Sect does not presently reply.
How comes it then, that each Party boasts that his own Cause is as clear as Noon-day? This must of necessity be owing to the Force<699> of Prejudice and Education: for those we call your Esprits Forts, a Generation of little Faith and slow of heart to believe, unfortunately too much unprejudic’d, scarce see any thing convincing in all our Books of Controversy, but the Objections and reciprocal Retortions of the contesting Partys; and make the same judgment of ’em as that Elector of Cologn did, mention’d by Father Paul,275 who in the Disputes between the Thomists and Scotists protested, he cou’d perceive nothing solid in ’em of either side when each spoke for his own Cause, but cou’d abundance when either spoke against the other.
Let’s conclude then, that the necessity there wou’d be of permitting Judges to decide Causes of Heresy, as they do Civil Causes, upon the greatest appearances of Reason, and by a Majority of Voices; or in other words, according to the Lights, whether great or small, of the Judges, and the Prejudices of the prevailing Religion; is a convincing Argument, that God has not made Heresy liable to the Sword of the Magistrate.
But we must not make an end of this Chapter without remarking one thing which is a certain Truth, tho nothing can be further from popular Notions; to wit, That if Hereticks were indeed made obnoxious to the Sword of the Magistrate, and that Heretical Judges who condemn’d the Orthodox to Punishment sin’d, ’twou’d follow that the Orthodox Judges who condemn’d Hereticks wou’d sin too. For the Fault of the first cou’d consist in nothing else than the Temerity they had bin guilty of, in condemning Persons whose Crime was prov’d upon ’em only<700> by probable Reasons. Now the Orthodox Judges wou’d come under the same imputation; since it’s notorious, that the Proofs of Orthodoxy not amounting to Demonstration, can at best be but probable: Then, &c. I own these two sorts of Judges, perfectly alike in that of their following the greatest Probability in the respective Judgments of each, wou’d differ very much in this, that one sort wou’d have the misfortune of taking that for true which was not so, and the other the good fortune of taking that for true which really was so. But as this good and ill fortune supposes no difference of Merit, but a Disparity in their Lot, one being born by ill chance in a Heretical Town or Family, the other in an Orthodox Town or Family; it can’t be imagin’d that this shou’d make any difference in the Destinys of Men. In this World the having Merit without being happy, is less than being happy without having the least Merit; but in Heaven things are measur’d out and weigh’d by the Ell, and Ballance of Reason: there’s nothing given by mere Chance; and in truth ’twere winning Heaven at cross and pile, if he who was sav’d differ’d from him who is damn’d only in this, that neither having any better Evidence for what he affirm’d than the other, one of the two shou’d have the good fortune to hit on the Truth.<701>
[273. ]“According to the testimony and proofs.”
[* ]They, who from hence wou’d conclude, that we may punish Infidels at least, will find the Answer in Part 2. ch. 4. [See above, p. 174.]
[274. ]See above, Chapter 10, p. 445, and Chapter 11, p. 455.
[275. ]Paolo Sarpi, The History of the Councel of Trent, Book 4, 1551; tr. N. Brent, 2nd edn., 1629, p. 329.