Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI.: OF THE INDULGENCE OF THE ROMANS IN MATTERS OF RELIGION. - An Essay on Crimes and Punishments
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CHAPTER VI.: OF THE INDULGENCE OF THE ROMANS IN MATTERS OF RELIGION. - Cesare Bonesana di Beccaria, An Essay on Crimes and Punishments 
An Essay on Crimes and Punishments. By the Marquis Beccaria of Milan. With a Commentary by M. de Voltaire. A New Edition Corrected. (Albany: W.C. Little & Co., 1872).
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OF THE INDULGENCE OF THE ROMANS IN MATTERS OF RELIGION.
The amazing contrast between the Roman laws, and the barbarous institutions by which they were succeeded, hath often been the subject of conversation among the speculative part of mankind.
Doubtless the Roman senate held the supreme God in as great veneration as we; and professed as much esteem for their secondary deities as we for our saints. Ab Jove principium was their common formule. Pliny, in his panegyric on the good Trajan, attests, that the Romans never omitted to begin their discourse and affairs by invoking the Deity. Cicero and Livy tell us the same thing. No people were more religious; but they were too wise, and too great, to descend to the punishment of idle language or philosophic opinions. They were incapable of inflicting barbarous punishments on those who, with Cicero, himself an augur, had no faith in auguries; or on those who, like Cæsar, asserted in full senate, that the gods do not punish men after death.
It hath often been remarked that the senate permitted the chorus in the Troad to sing, There is nothing after death, and death itself is nothing. You ask, what becomes of the dead? They are where they were ere they were born.*
Was ever profanation more flagrant than this? From Ennius to Ausonius all his profanation, notwithstanding the respect for divine worship. Why were these things disregarded by the senate? Because they did not, in any wise, affect the government of the state; because they disturbed no institution, nor religious ceremony. The police of the Romans was nevertheless excellent; they were nevertheless absolute masters of the best part of the world, till the reign of Theodosius the second.
It was a maxim of the Romans, Deorum offensæ, Diis curæ, Offences against the gods concern the gods only. The senate, by the wisest institution, being at the head of religion, were under no apprehensions that a convocation of priests should force them to revenge the priesthood under a pretext of revenging Heaven. They never said, let us tear the impious asunder, lest we ourselves be deemed impious; let us shew the priesthood, by our cruelty, that we are no less religious than they.
But our religion is more holy than that of the Romans, and consequently impiety is a greater crime. Granted. God will punish it. The part of man is, to punish that which is criminal in the public disorder which the impiety hath occasioned. But if in the act of impiety the delinquent hath not even stolen a handkerchief; if the ceremonies of religion have been in no wise disturbed, shall we, as I said before, punish the impiety as we would punish parricide? The Marshal d’Ancre had caused a white cock to be killed when the moon was at full: ought we therefore to burn the Marshal D’Ancre?
[* ]Post mortem nihil est, mors ipsaque nihil, etc.Seneca.