Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XIX (Philosophical Letters)
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THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XIX (Philosophical Letters) 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. XIX.
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THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND.
England is truly the country of sectaries—“in my Father’s house are many mansions.” An Englishman, in virtue of his liberty, goes to heaven his own way. And yet, notwithstanding that every one is permitted to serve God after his own way, the true religion of the nation, that in which a man makes his fortune, is the sect of Episcopalians, called the Church of England, or simply “the Church,” by way of eminence. No one can possess an employment, either in England or Ireland, unless he be ranked among the orthodox, or a member of the Church of England, as by law established. This reason—which carries its conviction with it—has operated so effectually on the minds of dissenters of all persuasions, that not a twentieth part of the nation is out of the pale of the established Church.
The English clergy have retained a great number of the ceremonies of the Church of Rome; and, in particular, that of receiving, with a most scrupulous exactness, their tithes. They have also the pious ambition of aiming at superiority; for where is the simple curate of a village who would not willingly be pope?
Moreover, they make a religious merit of inspiring their flock with a holy zeal against every one who dissents from their church. This zeal burned fiercely under the Tories during the four last years of Queen Anne’s reign; but happily produced no greater mischief than the breaking of the windows of some few meeting–houses; for the rage of religious parties ceased in England with the civil wars, and was under Queen Anne no more than the murmurings of a sea, whose billows still heaved, after a violent storm. When the Whigs and the Tories laid waste their native country, in the same manner as the Guelphs and Ghibellines formerly did Italy, it was absolutely necessary for both parties to call in religion to their aid. The Tories were for Episcopacy, the Whigs for abolishing it; but when these had got the upper hand, they contented themselves with only limiting its power.
When the earl of Oxford and Lord Bolingbroke used to drink healths to the Tory cause, the Church of England considered these noblemen as defenders of its holy privileges. The lower house of convocation, a kind of house of commons, composed wholly of the clergy, was in some credit at that time; at least, the members of it had the liberty of meeting to discuss ecclesiastical matters; to sentence, from time to time, to the flames, all impious books, that is, books written against themselves. The ministry, which is composed of Whigs at present, does not now so much as allow these gentlemen to assemble; so that they are at this time reduced—in the obscurity of their respective parishes—to the dull occupation of praying for the prosperity of that government, whose tranquillity they would not unwillingly disturb.
With respect to the bishops, who are twenty–six in all, they still maintain their seats in the house of lords in spite of the Whigs; because ancient custom, or, if you please, abuse, of considering them as barons, still subsists. There is a clause, however, in the oath they are obliged to take to the government, that puts these gentlemen’s Christian patience to a severe trial; namely, that they shall be of the Church of England, as by law established. There is hardly a bishop, dean, or other dignitary, but imagines himself so jure divino; and consequently it cannot but be a great mortification to them to be obliged to confess that they owe their dignities to a pitiful law made by a set of profane laymen. A learned monk (Father Courayer) wrote a book, not long ago, to prove the validity and succession of English ordinations. This book was forbidden in France; but think you the English ministry were pleased with it? No such thing. Those cursed Whigs do not care a straw whether the Episcopal succession among them has been interrupted or not; or whether Bishop Parker was consecrated in a tavern,1 as some pretend, or in a church, choosing rather that the bishops should derive their authority from the parliament than from the apostles. Lord B— observed that the notion of divine right would only serve to make tyrants in lawn sleeves and rochets; but that the law made citizens.
With respect to the morals of the English clergy, they are more regular than those of France, and for this reason: the clergy, in general, are educated in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, at a distance from the depravity and corruption that are found in the capital. They are not called to the dignities of the Church till very late, at a time of life when men are sensible of no other passion but avarice, and their ambition wants a supply. Employments are here bestowed, both in church and army, as the rewards for long services only; and there is hardly an instance of boys being made bishops or colonels, immediately upon their leaving school. Besides, most of the clergy are married. The pedantic airs contracted at the university, and the little commerce men of this profession have with the women, commonly oblige a bishop to confine himself to his own. Clergymen sometimes take a cheerful glass at the tavern, because it is the custom so to do; and if they chance to take a cup too much, it is with great sobriety, and without giving the least scandal.
That undefinable mixed kind of mortal who is neither of the clergy nor of the laity; in a word, the thing called abbé in France, is a species utterly unknown in England. All the clergy here are very much upon the reserve, and most of them pedants. When these are told, that in France young fellows, distinguished for their dissoluteness, and raised to the prelacy by female intrigues, address the fair sex publicly in an amorous way, amuse themselves with writing tender songs, entertain their friends splendidly every night at their own houses, and after the feast is over, withdraw to invoke the assistance of the Holy Spirit, and boldly assume the title of successors to the apostles; when the English, I say, are told these things, they bless God that they are Protestants. But these are shameless heretics, who deserve to fry in hell with all the devils, as Master Rabelais says; and, for this reason, I shall trouble myself no more about them.
[1 ]Alluding to the Nag’s Head Consecration.