Montesquieu

“They are impious toward the gods,” says Plato, “who deny their exis­tence, or who grant it but main­tain that they do not meddle in things here below, or finally who think they are easily appea­sed by sacri­fi­ces : three equally per­ni­cious opi­nions.”1 There Plato says the most sen­si­ble things that natu­ral insight has ever said where reli­gion is concer­ned.

The magni­fi­cence of the exte­rior rite is very much rela­ted to the cons­ti­tu­tion of the state. Good repu­blics have not merely cur­bed the luxury of vanity, but also of super­sti­tion. They have made laws of fru­ga­lity within reli­gion. Among them are seve­ral laws of Solon, seve­ral laws of Plato on fune­rals which Cicero adop­ted, and finally some of Numa’s laws on sacri­fi­ces.2

Birds, says Cicero, and pain­tings made in a day, are most divine gifts. We offer com­mon things, said a Spartan, so that we will have the means every day of hono­ring the gods.

The atten­tion men must devote to the wor­ship offe­red to the deity is quite dif­fe­rent from the magni­fi­cence of that wor­ship. Let us not offer up our trea­su­res if we do not wish to make the deity see the esteem which we confer on things we should rather dis­dain.

“What must the gods think of the gifts of the impious,” says Plato admi­ra­bly, “since a good man would blush to receive pre­sents from a scoun­drel ?”

Religion ought not, under pre­text of gifts, to require of peo­ple what the neces­si­ties of the state have left to them ; and as Plato says, chaste and pious men should offer gifts that are like them.3

Nor should reli­gion encou­rage the expen­di­tu­res of fune­rals : what is more natu­ral than to sup­press the dif­fe­rence of for­tu­nes in a mat­ter and at moments that equa­lize all for­tu­nes ?

Laws, book X.

Rogum vino ne respergito, law of the Twelve Tables.

Laws, book II.