Montesquieu
 

XXV.13 Most humble remonstrance to the inquisitors of Spain and Portugal

An eigh­teen-year-old Jewess bur­ned in Lisbon at the last auto-da-fé was the occa­sion of this lit­tle trea­tise, and I think it is the most futile one that has ever been writ­ten. When it comes to pro­ving things that are so clear, one will cer­tainly fail to convince.

The author decla­res that, although he is a Jew, he res­pects the Christian reli­gion, and is enough atta­ched to it to deny to prin­ces who are not Christians a plau­si­ble pre­text for per­se­cu­ting it.

“You com­plain,” he says to the inqui­si­tors, “that the empe­ror of Japan is having all the Christians in his sta­tes slowly bur­ned ; but he will ans­wer you : We are trea­ting you, who do not believe as we do, the way you your­sel­ves treat those who do not believe as you do ; you can com­plain only of your weak­ness, which keeps you from exter­mi­na­ting us, and because of which we exter­mi­nate you.

“But it must be admit­ted that you are far more cruel than that empe­ror. You put us to death, we who believe only what you believe, because we do not believe eve­ry­thing that you believe. We have a reli­gion that you your­sel­ves know to have once been che­ri­shed by God ; we think God still loves it, and you think he no lon­ger does ; and because you so judge, you punish by sword and fire those who har­bor an error so par­do­na­ble as to believe that God1 still loves what he once loved.

“If you are cruel towards us, you are even more so towards our chil­dren : you have them bur­ned because they fol­low the ins­pi­ra­tions they have recei­ved from those whom natu­ral law and the laws of all peo­ples teach them to res­pect as gods.

“You deprive your­sel­ves of the advan­tage given you over the Mohammedans by the man­ner in which their reli­gion was esta­bli­shed. When they vaunt of the num­ber of their fai­th­ful, you tell them that they were acqui­red by force, and that they spread their reli­gion by the sword : why then do you esta­blish yours by fire ?

“When you want to make us come to you, we ans­wer you by a source from which you glory to have des­cen­ded. You ans­wer us that your reli­gion is new, but that it is divine, and you prove it because it has grown by the per­se­cu­tion of pagans and by the blood of your mar­tyrs ; but today you assume the role of the Diocletians, and force us to assume yours.

“We implore you, not by the power­ful God whom both you and we serve, but by the Christ who you say took on the human condi­tion to put before you exam­ples you could fol­low ; we implore you to do to us as he would do him­self if he were still on earth. You want us to be Christians, and you are unwilling ?

“But if you are unwilling to be Christians, at least be men : treat us as you would if, having only these weak glim­me­rings of jus­tice which nature gives us, you did not have a reli­gion to guide you and a reve­la­tion to enligh­ten you.

“If hea­ven has loved you enough to make you see the truth, it has done you a great favor ; but is it for chil­dren who have recei­ved their father’s inhe­ri­tance to hate those who did not ?

“Now if you have this truth, do not hide it from us by the way in which you pre­sent it to us. The cha­rac­ter of truth is its triumph over hearts and minds, and not the impo­tence which you admit to when you want to have it accep­ted through tor­ture.

“If you are rea­so­na­ble, you should not make us die because we are unwilling to deceive you. If your Christ is the son of God, we hope he will reward us for being unwilling to pro­fane his mys­te­ries ; and we believe that the God which both you and we serve will not punish us for suf­fe­ring death for a reli­gion he for­merly gave to us, because we believe he has still given it to us.

“You live in an age when natu­ral light shi­nes brigh­ter than it ever has, when phi­lo­so­phy has illu­mi­na­ted the minds, when the moral of your Gospel has been bet­ter known, when the res­pec­tive rights of men over each other, the ascen­dency which one cons­cience has over ano­ther, are bet­ter esta­bli­shed. If the­re­fore you do not shake off your ancient pre­ju­di­ces, which, if you do not rea­lize it, are your pas­sions, you must admit you are incor­ri­gi­ble, inca­pa­ble of any enligh­ten­ment or ins­truc­tion, and it is a wret­ched nation that gives autho­rity to men such as you.

“Would you have us tell you our thin­king can­didly ? You regard us rather as your ene­mies than as the ene­mies of your reli­gion ; for if you loved your reli­gion, you would not let it be cor­rup­ted by gross igno­rance.

“We must warn you of one thing, which is that if some day someone dares to say that in the age in which we live the peo­ples of Europe were civi­li­zed, you will be cited to prove that they were bar­ba­ric ; and the notion they will have of you will be such as will dis­grace your age, and bring revul­sion on all your contem­po­ra­ries.”

It is the source of the blindness of the Jews not to realize that the economy of the Gospel is in the order of God’s designs, and thus that it is a consequence of his very immutability.