Front Page Titles (by Subject) DISCOURSE VI.: Of Bigotry in Princes. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 3 - Gordon's Discourses II, History (Books 1-2)
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DISCOURSE VI.: Of Bigotry in Princes. - Publius Cornelius Tacitus, The Works of Tacitus, vol. 3 - Gordon’s Discourses II, History (Books 1-2) [120 AD]
The Works of Tacitus. In Four Volumes. To which are prefixed, Political Discourses upon that Author by Thomas Gordon. The Second Edition, corrected. (London: T. Woodward and J. Peele, 1737). Vol. 3.
Part of: The Works of Tacitus, 4 vols.
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Of Bigotry in Princes.
The mischief of Bigotry in a Prince: Its strange efficacy, and what Chimera’s govern it.
TACITUS tells us, that Otho was, in his designs upon the Sovereignty, violently instigated by the vain predictions of the Astrologers, who were ever confidently averring, that the Stars presaged approaching revolutions, and a year of signal glory to Otho. What else was this his absurd and greedy belief in the Astrologers but Bigotry to deceivers and false prophecy, whence he was prompted to seize the Empire, murder the Emperor, and throw the world into War and convulsions? For with him these wretched predictions passed as uttered by a prophetic spirit, and as the propitious warnings of the Fates. My Author, according to his custom, accounts for Otho’s credulity in these by a fine observation, “That such is the visionary genius of human nature, ever most zealous to believe things dark and unsearchable.” He adds, that Ptolemy (one of the Astrologers most credited by him) confined not himself afterwards to predictions only; but having first flattered the ambition of Otho, was now prompting him to the last bloody act of treason. His reflection upon this is just and strong, “That from the harbouring of such aspiring wishes, to the forming of such black purposes, the mind is led with wonderful facility.”
Croesus, King of Lydia, was a bigotted believer of Oracles, and many and immense were the gifts and oblations which he made them. By their fallacious responses he was incited to war with Cyrus, which ended in his perpetual captivity, and in the utter conquest of his wealthy Kingdom.
Bigotry in a weak Prince, or in any Prince, is always one of his worst and most dangerous weaknesses, generally ruinous to his People, often to himself; as it subjects him to the blind controul of narrow-spirited and designing Guides (for all Bigots must have Directors and Masters) who in manageing his conscience seldom forget their own interest, and to that interest often sacrifice the Public and all things.
Bigotry has a kindness for nothing but itself, and to all the rest of the world bears at best perfect unconcern, generally perfect malice. Hence wild wars and persecutions, Countries oppressed and exhausted, Communities enslaved and butchered, all perhaps for names and garments, for postures and grimaces, for sounds, and distinctions, and nonsense. Corresponding to the design is the result; numbers are made miserable or destroyed, that a few may flourish and domineer. For, that dominion is founded in Grace, and that the holy ought to inherit the Earth, is a position as old and extensive as roguery and enthusiasm. From this spirit Princes who are guided by it, instead of public Fathers and Protectors, often become public Pests and Destroyers; Nations are animated against Nations, and those of the same Nation plague and devour one another.
What human wisdom can restrain men actuated by divine fury? And when they think that the Deity commands them to spoil and kill, what avails any counsel or exhortation to protect and to save? Sheck Eidar a Prince and Enthusiast of Persia, having made a Reform of the Mahometan Religion there, declared it impossible to be saved without adhering to his system: And upon such as are to be damned in the next world, it is always deemed lawful, nay, necessary and meritorious, to inflict penalties and death in this.
The Turkish Doctors, on the contrary, differing from those of Persia in some important niceties, hold it lawful for the true believers (that is, for themselves) to kill, destroy and exterminate the Persians. Those pious zealots even hope from the goodness of God, that, at the day of judgment he will graciously change these Heretics into Asses, and doom them to carry the Jews, as the most contemptible of all Nations, a full trot into Hell. For such cruel and unrelenting censures, certainly these sound divines must have enormous provocation, and the Persians undoubtedly hold the most shocking opinions. They do so: For, instead of washing the naked feet all over, as the orthodox Turks do, they satisfy themselves with only sprinkling the water lightly over them. Another of their damnable Doctrines is, that they do not trim their Mustaches, according to the pure doctrine and usage of these their antagonists, but cut their beards only upon the chin. What is yet more horrible, they hold it lawful to wear green about their feet, a colour sacred to the memory of Mahomet; and, as a further demonstration of their obstinacy and pestilent notions, they assert the lawfulness of wearing a red Turbant. What can be a more just, what a nobler ground for hatred and war between these two Nations; war and hatred never to have an end?
Incited by such worthy causes as these, and openly avowing them as the motives of anger and hostility, their respective Princes have often conducted vast armies against each other, wasted countries, sacrificed millions. An Emperor of Turkey had it once in his head to have massacred all the Christians in his Dominions, though in several of his Countries they were by far the greater part. But this and all the Laws of mercy and policy are but weak considerations when opposed to religious impulse, and the instigation of Bigotry and Bigots. Mahomet was to be humoured, he who was the Apostle of God, he who hated Infidels. Now who would, who durst refuse to oblige God and Mahomet? Nor was such reasoning peculiar to the Mahometan Dervises, the good men who conduct the Consciences of Mahometan Princes. The professors of the best Religion cannot reason better, whenever they allege Religion to justify violence.
How easily a bigotted Prince is led against reason and interest: What ravages he is apt to commit.
FOR such dreams and whimsies as those last recited, or for whimsies equally absurd, equally reproachful to men and societies, haave Princes been brought to consume their People and risk their States. The Emperor Justinian, bent upon a war against the Vandals in Africa, was dissuaded from it by his first Minister, the Captain of his guards, for solid reasons, but urged again to the same wild design by the credit and foolish reasons of a Bishop, who it seems had in his sleep seen a vision, which encouraged the Emperor by all means to exterminate those Heretics. (They were Arians.) Who could withstand such an argument? And was not the expedition a wise one, worthy of a judicious Prince and of the Public-weal? It was at least worthy of him who advised it, and he dreamed or lied meritoriously for the truth, that is to say, for his own opinion and animosity. In sanguinary, in wild and destructive counsels, none have ever exceeded, few have ever equalled, those who professed to be the Ministers of mercy and peace.
Henry the second of France made a most scandalous Peace with the Emperor, even to the dismembring of his own Dominions, on purpose to make war upon his native Subjects, and to crush and butcher the Hugonots, who gave him no provocation, but that of praying to God in a manner which they judged most acceptable to God. This the selfish Bigots who governed his Passions and Counsels, and dishonoured his Crown, represented as the most crying crime, and this crime he punished with the most glaring rigour. It was a fine pursuit in which these seducers had engaged a Prince, in himself truly magnanimous, that of cutting the Throats of his People. One of his Successors, a great aimer at Glory, with all his mighty ambition was cramped by the little spirit of a Bigot. He who aimed at universal Monarchy, was himself subject to the Empire of Bigots, and his Bigotry made his country groan, made him an enemy to great part of his Subjects, the soberest and most industrious of them all, and produced oppressions and desolation utterly repugnant to the glory which he thirsted after without measure, and claimed without a title.
The expulsion of the Moors from Spain, effected by the devices and instigations of restless and mischievous Monks, working upon the Bigotry of the King, and continually alarming his Conscience with the anger and denunciations of Heaven for his slowness and want of zeal, is another sad instance of the baneful nature of this sort of spirit, when found in a Prince, or in those who govern him. In all places where it prevails, how different soever they be, and upon all occasions, how contradictory soever they prove, whatever it proposes or pursues, is still the cause of God: And who that once believes this, will, by opposing it, venture to fight against God? There is afterwards no room, nor perhaps safety, to mention public good or public peace, or any temporal consideration whatever. For what are these in comparison? What signified the numbers and industry of the Moors, as long as they were Infidels? Where the harm of dispeopling and impoverishing Spain, when, with so small a loss, so great, so pious a point was gained, that of quieting the King’s Conscience and making the Monks easy? No matter what became of the Bees so the Drones were safe, and the Bigot was appeased.
A bigotted Prince how subject to be drawn into Guilt and Folly — The dictates of Bigotry how opposite to those of true Religion.
ANY folly, any chimera or punctilio, let it be as absurd, as mean and trifling as it will, when once it is pronounced sacred, grows instantly momentous, and equal, nay, superior, to all things. Whether it be a piece of earth, or piece of building, or a coat, or a cap, or a day, or an uncouth word; it is more important than the tranquillity of the world and all the rights of men, and for it all men are to be oppressed, or worried, or slaughtered. Nay, the highest and most diffusive mischief which a Prince can do, shall be made his highest merit; and public devastation or a general massacre shall be recommended as a sure and pious atonement for his private vices and enormities.
Henry the third of France was very debauched, very devout, a notorious Bigot, a notorious Oppressor. But by acts of penance all his acts of impiety were cancelled, his conscience calmed, and he free to begin a new score of iniquity. This was the repeated round of his life. Amongst the atonements exacted from him by the merciless Hypocrites whose property and instrument he was, the persecution of the Protestants was always one: The rest consisted in profuse bounties and donations to the Monks. So that the blood and spoil of his poor Subjects payed for all. He, moreover, rendered himself contemptible by descending to strange and ridiculous mortifications, and to all the foolish mummery of Friars, so much below a King or a Man, but so much conducing to the holy purposes of his ghostly Guides, who thus bewitched him and held him fast to their fraternity.
Whilst the late Pope, a well-meaning man, but a wretched Bigot, instead of attending to the Administration of his Principality, was bestowing all his thoughts and time in visiting Churches and Images, in consecrating Chappels and Altars, and the like pious and unprofitable fooleries, corruption and injustice prevailed in his Court, oppression and misery amongst his People. With the best intentions that could be, his reign was despicable and grievous. What Philip de Comines says, that a stupid Prince is the heaviest curse that God can send upon a People, is equally true of a bigotted one; for Bigotry is religious stupidity, pious craziness; and as folly, whether natural or spiritual, is of it self blind and always requires guiding, the Bigot as well as the Blockhead will be for ever a slave to Pedagogues and Seducers.
Cardinal Richlieu, amongst the other implements of his Sovereignty over his Master the Monarch, was always provided with some able Divines to explain away conscientious Scruples, the impressions of Morality, and the precepts of the Gospel, whenever the same thwarted his Passions and Politics. Nay, the whole Assembly of the Clergy of France always proved his complaisant Casuists upon occasion, and accommodated their Theology to the drift of the first Minister. When he was engaging these his Sycophants to declare the marriage of the Duke of Orleans to be null, because he did not like it (and a better reason the Bible it self could not have furnished for illuminating these venerable Guides) the Queen Mother wrote to the Pope, to forbid the Clergy from meddling with that marriage: “For, she said, it was publicly notorious, that the Bishops were all Courtiers, and would say whatever the King or Minister would have them, and even contradict what they then declared, should a future Minister bid them.” By the like management he brought the King, who, like a good Catholic, abhorred Heretics, to protect and assist Heretics, as he did the Protestants in Germany, yet at the same time to crush and oppress his own Subjects, because they were Heretics, though by the Law and his Duty he owed them protection.
To believe in God, to trust in him, and to adore him, is the Duty of a Prince and of all men. But, for the love of God to hurt and distress men, is amazing wickedness and phrenzy. Conscience is the most sacred property, and has as just a right to protection from the Sovereign as have the lives and fortunes of his Subjects. If difference in Religion cause disputes amongst his People, so does difference about civil Property; and in religious controversies amongst them, it is his duty to hold as even a hand as in litigations about money and land. In one case as well as the other, he is to leave them to Law, and Reason, and Argument, and to prevent their deciding religious opinions, any more than civil suits, by force and violence.
Further instances of the great mischiefs occasioned by Bigotry of Princes.
WHENCE proceeded the Croisades, those mad expeditions so often undertaken by Christian Princes to recover Judea out of the hands of the Saracens, but from the Bigotry of Princes and People inspired and managed by the Pope and the Clergy? For this, Europe was drained of her best Men and Treasures, and her strength wasted in the East, for no reasons of State or security, but only for the sake of the Rock where our Saviour’s Body had lain for some hours. Neither he nor his Apostles had declared, that he had endowed this Rock with any sanctity or virtue, any more than any other stone or earth upon which he had chanced to tread. But the cheating Priests, they who always laid the first foundations of their Empire in delusion, by their noise, impudence and forgeries raised such frantic zeal in the minds of men, as produced great armies, efforts, and slaughter for the recovery of a bit of ground just like other ground. It was apparent that neither God, nor Christ, nor the blessed Spirit concerned themselves about it, else they would have guarded it from the hands of Infidels. So far otherwise, that never did any warlike expeditions more miserably miscarry, never was so much valour and strength so uselesly thrown away. Indeed, the whole ended in misfortunes and disappointments, nor produced aught save the destruction of Christian blood and wealth abroad, misrule, weakness and poverty at home, and the establishment of Ecclesiastical Tyranny in Christendom. Yet, though it was manifest that God blessed not these extravagant rambles, which were likewise repugnant to all good policy amongst men, the solemn cheats who deceived in his name, who would always be knowing his will in spite of himself, and who valued not the interest of men, failed not to preach up more, when all the former had ended in nothing but infamy and ruin. They cared not what became of the world so they could govern it, and with all their might, and frauds, and impudence, again and again excited Christendom to destroy itself to humour them.
What will not deluders dare, what will not the deluded suffer, when delusion reigns and reason is subdued? When men have lost the use of their senses, they are not likely to be very circumspect about their persons and fortunes; nor will such as rob them of their understanding, spare their lives or property; and they who belied God made no scruple of abusing men. Still more Croisades were preached up and undertaken. To carry them on men sacrified their persons and estates, married women their jewels and rich apparel, maidens their portions, widows their dowries; he who had no property gave his life, and such as were too feeble to travel and fight, hired others in their room. Under such phrenzy the Impostors had brought them by an assurance of pardon for all their sins, by an offer of the inheritance of the Saints to all who had the grace to act like madmen, and perish like fools. Paradise and Salvation, of which these Jugglers assumed to be the disposers, cost them nothing, and these they were always ready to traffic away for any substantial advantage and gratification present. Thus they abused the Laity with words and hopes, a sort of payment which they themselves would never accept: Nor, in truth, was ever any sett of men so addicted as they to secure all their rewards and establishments in this life, whilst, to disguise their designs, they were all the while discoursing piously of another.
They preached up the contempt of the world to others, and still humbly accepted to themselves whatever they had induced others to renounce. Nay, to engross all, seemed to be the only drift of such preachments.
All this was glaring and notorious to common sense: But the Monks had vanquished and banished all common sense by the dint of ghostly fears: And to combat any understanding that was still stubborn and unbewitched, they were furnished with other weapons, with dungeons, ropes and faggots. Every one who dared to contradict the Monks, though in defence of the veracity and honour of God, and for the welfare of human-kind, was an Atheist, at best a Heretic, fit to be consigned to Satan and destroyed by men. So far had these enemies to the world gained the dominion of it with its property, and such credit had the mockers of God obtained by boldly abusing his name and word! What could be more ruinous, and had proved to be, than these Croisades? Yet with what vehemence did the Clergy promote them, and how fast and blindly did Kings and People run to destruction and shame at the cry and instigation of the Clergy, who had the craft and address to throw all their works of zeal, all or the principal hazard and expence, upon the heads and pockets of others, and of making the Laity their dupes, property and drudges? Pere Daniel, the Jesuit, in his late History of France, is forced to own, that the Clergy there, after they had preached up a Croisade with mighty eloquence and zeal, grumbled bitterly when they themselves became taxed to carry it on. So rare, says he, it is to find any zeal that is perfectly disinterested! This is a very merciful reflection. The truth is, that their zeal was nothing but interest, or, at best, frenzy.
The Story of Saint Bernard is remarkable. He was engaged by the Pope to exert his credit and eloquence in raising a Croisade. The warm Monk undertook it zealously, and laboured in it with ardour. Even miracles were said to have been wrought in favour of his endeavours. He alledged a divine call, and authority divine for that expedition, and prophesied certain success to the Christians, certain destruction to the Turks. Upon such assurances from Heaven, uttered by one of its Embassadors, who sounded the Lord’s trumpet to war, all men ran to enlist themselves, and whole Cities and Villages were left desart. A mighty army passed into Asia, most of that mighty army perished: The whole expedition was fatal, and God’s Providence gave the lye notoriously to the promises of his Embassador, who yet kept himself in countenance by a pitiful subterfuge; “That these forces miscarried for their sins.” Why did he not foresee these sins, he who pretended to divine light and prophecy? He had boldly promised success without exception or reserve; and the excuse which he made will equally serve any quack-prophet that ever appeared or ever can appear in the world.
Besides the loss of men, which was often such as left the countries that furnished them little else but Widows and Orphans; (for the Monks who remained in safety at home, were to be accounted, not members, but moths of human Society) besides the waste of Treasure, then very scarce in Christendom; the Administration of Government was every where neglected or abused in the absence of the Governors, men, who can never fail of finding business enough at home, if they will conscientiously perform it. Kings too were sometimes taken prisoners, and for ransoming them, almost all the money which remained in their poor Countries, always made poor by these pernicious enterprizes, must be amassed and carried away to enrich their enemies.
We now see clearly the folly and mischief of these wild adventures; we discern (in this instance at least) the danger of credulity, the pestilent influence of delusion. They who were under it perceived it not, and we wonder at their blindness. Succeeding generations will perhaps be finding cause, though I hope not equal cause, of wondering at us, though they too may have their follies, but perchance not the same follies.