Montesquieu
 

XXV.5 On the limits which the laws must set on the wealth of the clergy

Individual fami­lies may perish, thus assets in them have no per­pe­tual des­ti­na­tion. The clergy is a family which can­not perish ; its assets are the­re­fore atta­ched to it fore­ver, and can­not be estran­ged.

Individual fami­lies can grow, thus their assets must be able to grow as well. The clergy is a family that is not sup­po­sed to grow ; its assets ought the­re­fore to be limi­ted.

We have kept the pro­vi­sions of Leviticus on the assets of the clergy, with excep­tion of those that limit those assets : indeed we shall never know in our society the limit beyond which a reli­gious com­mu­nity is no lon­ger allo­wed to acquire pro­perty.

Those end­less acqui­si­tions seem to the peo­ple so unrea­so­na­ble that whoe­ver would would wish to speak in their favor would be regar­ded as an imbe­cile.

Civil laws some­ti­mes find obs­ta­cles to chan­ging esta­bli­shed abu­ses, because they are tied to things they must res­pect ; in this case, an indi­rect pro­vi­sion bet­ter indi­ca­tes the legis­la­tor’s good spi­rit than some other one that would strike at the thing itself. Instead of for­bid­ding the clergy’s acqui­si­tions, it is bet­ter to dis­suade the clergy itself : to leave the right in place, and sup­press the fact.

In some coun­tries of Europe, consi­de­ra­tion for the rights of lords has led to the ins­ti­tu­tion in their favor of a right of indem­nity on pro­per­ties acqui­red by per­pe­tual congre­ga­tions.1 The prince’s inte­rest led him to require a right of amor­ti­za­tion in the same case. In Castile, where there is no such right, the clergy has taken over eve­ry­thing ; in Aragon, where there is some right of amor­ti­za­tion, it has acqui­red less ; in France, where that right and the right of indem­nity are esta­bli­shed, it has acqui­red still less, and one can say that the pros­pe­rity of this state is due in part to the exer­cise of those two rights. Increase these rights, and put an end to mort­main, if that is pos­si­ble.

Make the ancient and neces­sary heri­ta­ble domain of the clergy sacred and invio­la­ble ; let it be, like the clergy, fixed and eter­nal ; but let new domains leave its hands.

Allow the rule to be vio­la­ted when the rule has become an abuse ; suf­fer the abuse when it conforms to the rule.

In Rome they still remem­ber an abs­tract which was sent there on the occa­sion of some conten­tions with the clergy. In it was found this maxim : “The clergy must contri­bute to the costs of the state, wha­te­ver the Old Testament may say.” One assu­mes from this that the author of the abs­tract was bet­ter ver­sed in the lan­guage of tax col­lec­tion than of reli­gion.

[Acquis par les gens de main-morte : Trévoux defines gens de main-morte as “all the bodies and communities that do not die, although those who compose them do, the subrogation of persons who succeed to each other making the body of the community immortal.”]