Montesquieu

Usbek to ***


They are always tal­king here about the Constitution.1 The other day I ente­red a home where at once I saw was a fat man of red com­plexion who was saying in a loud voice : I have issued my pas­to­ral,2 I am not about to reply to eve­ry­thing you say ; but read my pas­to­ral, and you will see that in it I have resol­ved all your doubts. It cost me a lot of sweat to write it, he said, put­ting his hand to his fore­head ; I nee­ded all my eru­di­tion, and I had to read many Latin authors. I believe it, said a man who was there, for it is a fine piece of work, and I defy that Jesuit who comes to see you so often to write a bet­ter one. Well, read it then, he rejoi­ned, and you will be bet­ter infor­med on these mat­ters in fif­teen minu­tes than if I had spent two hours tal­king to you about them. That is how he avoi­ded ente­ring into conver­sa­tion and ris­king his self-impor­tance. But as he being pres­sed, he was obli­ged to come out from behind his bar­ri­ca­des, and he began theo­lo­gi­cally to utter nume­rous idio­cies, sup­por­ted by a der­vich who very res­pect­fully replied in kind. When two men who were pre­sent would deny him some prin­ci­ple, he would first say : That is cer­tain ; we have so jud­ged it, and we are infal­li­ble jud­ges.3 And how is it, I asked at that point, that you are infal­li­ble jud­ges ? Do you not see, he rejoi­ned, that the Holy Spirit enligh­tens us ? That is a good thing, I replied ; for given the man­ner in which you have been tal­king all day, I ack­now­ledge that you have great need of being enligh­te­ned.

Paris this 18th day of the moon of Rebiab I, 1717

The bull Unigenitus has already been mentioned in letter 22. It was promulgated by Pope Clement XI on 8 September 1713 in order to help Louis XIV contain Jansenism. Opposition to the bull revived during the Regency ; the controversy continued in episcopal pastorals, in university assemblies, and in flurries of pamphlets. In 1717, four bishops, supported by the assembly of the Sorbonne, appealed against the Constitution to a general counsel of the Church, and were banished from Paris. By royal decree on 7 October 1717, the regent tried in vain to silence the opposing parties. See Lucien Ceyssens and Joseph A. G. Tans, Autour de l’Unigenitus (Louvain : Leuven University Press, 1987).

A bishop’s pastoral was destined to be read from the pulpit at the churches in his diocese. Its purpose was often to condemn a writing judged to be heterodox or impious ; bishops on both sides made use of this tool. This could possibly refer to Fleury, bishop of Fréjus, who had issued one such pastoral against the bull Unigenitus on 6 May 1714. In 1717 Fleury became preceptor of the young king.

The notion of infallibility was an important question in the Constitution debate. The bull required the approval of the bishops because the Gallican Church subordinated the infallibility of the Holy See to that of a general council. Since a minority of the bishops had refused to accept the bull, could the majority be regarded as infallible ?