Montesquieu

Usbek to the same


The pro­hi­bi­tion of divorce is not the sole cause of the depo­pu­la­tion of Christian coun­tries ; the great num­ber of eunuchs they have among them is not a less consi­de­ra­ble cause.

I am spea­king of the priests and der­vi­ches of both sexes who conse­crate them­sel­ves to ever­las­ting conti­nence. It is among the Christians the epi­tome of vir­tue, which I do not unders­tand about them, not kno­wing what a vir­tue is from which nothing results.

I find that their doc­tors mani­festly contra­dict them­sel­ves when they say that mar­riage is holy, and that celi­bacy, which is the oppo­site, is even more holy. Not to men­tion that when it comes to pre­cepts and fun­da­men­tal dog­mas, the good is always the best.

The num­ber of these peo­ple pro­fes­sing celi­bacy is pro­di­gious. Fathers used to condemn their chil­dren to celi­bacy from the cradle ; today they conse­crate them­sel­ves to celi­bacy as early as the age of four­teen,1 which comes to about the same thing.

This com­mu­nity of conti­nence has obli­te­ra­ted more men than pla­gues and the bloo­diest wars have ever done. In every reli­gious house you see an eter­nal family where no one is born, and which is main­tai­ned at the expense of all the others.2 These hou­ses are always open like so many chasms where future gene­ra­tions bury them­sel­ves.

This policy is very dif­fe­rent from that of the Romans, who esta­bli­shed penal laws against those who rejec­ted the laws of mar­riage and wan­ted to enjoy a liberty so contrary to the public wel­fare.

I am spea­king to you now only of Catholic coun­tries. In the Protestant reli­gion eve­ryone is entit­led to beget chil­dren : it suf­fers nei­ther priests or nor der­vi­ches ; and if in the esta­blish­ment of that reli­gion, which brought eve­ry­thing back to the ear­liest times, its foun­ders had not been cons­tantly accu­sed of intem­pe­rance, there can be lit­tle doubt that after making the prac­tice of mar­riage uni­ver­sal, they would also have ligh­te­ned its yoke, and finally remo­ved any bar­rier that on this point sepa­ra­tes the Nazarene3 and Muhammad.

But howe­ver that may be, it is cer­tain that reli­gion gives the Protestants an infi­nite advan­tage over the Catholics.

I dare to say that in the pre­sent state of Europe, it is not pos­si­ble for the Catholic reli­gion to sub­sist five hun­dred years.

Before the decline in Spanish power, the Catholics were much stron­ger than the Protestants ; the lat­ter gra­dually achie­ved equi­li­brium, and today the balance is begin­ning to swing in their favor. This super­io­rity will increase by the day ; the Protestants will become richer and more power­ful, and the Catholics wea­ker.

The Protestant coun­tries should be and really are more popu­lous than the Catholic ones ; whence it fol­lows, first, that tri­bu­tes there are more consi­de­ra­ble, because they increase in pro­por­tion to those who pay them.

Secondly, that the lands there are bet­ter culti­va­ted. Finally, that trade flou­ri­shes more there, because there are more peo­ple who have a for­tune to make, and that with more needs, they have more resour­ces to fill them. When there is only a suf­fi­cient num­ber of peo­ple to culti­vate the land, trade neces­sa­rily peri­shes ; and when there is only a suf­fi­cient num­ber to main­tain trade, the culti­va­tion of the land neces­sa­rily fails. In other words, both must fall at the same time, because one can never be intent on one without it being at the expense of the other.

In the Catholic coun­tries, not only is the culti­va­tion of the land aban­do­ned, but even indus­try is per­ni­cious. It consists only in lear­ning five or six words of a dead lan­guage4 ; once a man has that pro­vi­sion in his pos­ses­sion, he need no lon­ger worry about his for­tune : he finds in the clois­ter a tran­quil life which in secu­lar life would have cost him sweat and effort.

Nor is that all : the der­vi­ches hold in their hands almost all the wealth of the state. It is a society of greedy men who always take and never give back. They end­lessly amass reve­nues to acquire capi­tal. So much wealth beco­mes, so to speak, para­ly­sed : no more cir­cu­la­tion, no more trade, no more arts, no more manu­fac­tu­ring.

There is no Protestant prince who does not raise ten times much in taxes on his peo­ples than the Pope does on his sub­jects ; yet the lat­ter are wret­ched, whe­reas the for­mer live in plenty ; trade revi­ves eve­ry­thing in one case, and monas­ti­cism spreads death eve­ryw­here in the other.

Paris this 26th day of the moon of Chahban 1718

The age set since the Council of Trent was in fact sixteen.

To the argument of the sterility priests, monks, and nuns, is added an economic one, often repeated later : that celibates are parasites, consumers who produce nothing.

Jesus.

Probably a suggestion that Hoc est corpus meum (‘This is my body’) sufficed for saying mass.