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phrase, and perverting an innocent expression. At last, the faction which oppressed him forced from his judges the sentence which condemned him to die.*
In order to justify this execution, it was necessary to charge the unfortunate man with the most enormous of crimes. The grey friar—the very grey friar Marsenne, was so besotted as to publish that “ Vanini set out from Naples, with twelve of his apostles, to convert the whole world to atheism.” What a pitiful tale! How should a poor priest have twelve men in his pay? How should he persuade twelve Neapolitans to travel at great expence, in order to spread this revolting doctrine at the peril of their lives? Would a king himself have it in his power to pay twelve preachers of atheism? No one before Father Marsenne had advanced so enormous an absurdity. But after him it was repeated; the journals and historical dictionaries caught it, and the world, which loves the extraordinary, has believed the fable without examination.
Even Bayle, in his Miscellaneous Thoughts (Pensées Diverses) speaks of Vanini as of an atheist. He cites his example in support of his paradox, that " a society of atheists might exist :” he assures us, that Vanini was a man of very regular morals, and that he was a martyr to his philosophical opinions. On both these points he is equally mistaken. Vanini informs us, in his Dialogues, written in imitation of Erasmus, that he had a mistress named Isabel. He was as free in his writings as in his conduct; but he was not an atheist.
A century after his death, the learned La Croze, and he who took the name of Philaletes, endeavoured to justify him. But as no one cares anything about the memory of an unfortunate Neapolitan, scarcely any one has read these apologies.
The jesuit Hardouin, more learned and no less rash than Garasse, in his book intitled Athei Detecti, charges the Descartes, the Arnaulds, the Pascals, the Mallebranches, with atheism. Happily, Vanini's fate was not theirs.*
* He was burned in 1619.-T.
A word on the question in morals, agitated by Bayle, “ Whether a society of atheists can subsist.” Here let us first observe the enormous self-contradictions of men in disputation. Those who have been most violent in opposing the opinion of Bayle ; those who have denied with the greatest virulence the possibility of a society of atheists, are the very men who have since maintained with equal ardour that atheism is the religion of the Chinese government.
They have most assuredly been mistaken concerning the government of China : they had only to read the edicts of the emperors of that vast country, and they would have seen that those edicts are sermons, in which a Supreme Being, governing, avenging, and rewarding, is continually spoken of.
But at the same time they are no less deceived respecting the impossibility of a society of atheists; nor can I conceive how Bayle could forget a striking in-' stance which might have rendered his cause victorious.
In what does the apparent impossibility of a society of atheists consist? In this :-it is judged that men without some restraint could not live together; that laws have no power against secret crimes; and that it is necessary to have an avenging God, punishing, in this world or in the next, such as escape human justice.
The laws of Moses, it is true, did not teach the doctrine of a life to come, did not threaten with chastisements after death, nor even teach the primitive Jews the immortality of the soul; but the Jews, far from being atheists, far from believing that they could elude the divine vengeance, were the most religious of
* We must not as Englishmen exult in the better practice of ourown country in the age of Vanini. About the time he suffered for atheism, 'one Bartholomew Leggatt was burnt in Smithfield as, a Socinian by a sort of persons who still exist, and who would burn Socinians, if in their power, with as much goût as ever.-T.
men. They believed not only in the existence of an eternal God, but that he was always present among them; they trembled lest they should be punished in themselves, their wives, their children, their posterity to the fourth generation. This was a very powerful check.
But among the Gentiles, various sects had no restraint: the Sceptics doubted of everything; the Academics suspended their judgment on everything; the Epicureans were persuaded that the Divinity could not meddle in human affairs, and in their hearts admitted no divinity. They were convinced that the soul is not a substance, but a faculty which is born and perishes with the body; consequently, they had no restraint but that of morality and honour. The Roman senators and knights were in reality atheists; for to men who neither feared nor hoped anything from them, the gods could not exist. The Roman senate, then, in the time of Cæsar and Cicero, was in fact an assembly of atheists.
That great orator, in his oration for Cluentius, says to the whole assembled senate—“ What does he lose by death? We reject all the silly fables about the infernal regions. What, then, can death take from him? Nothing, but the susceptibility of sorrow.”
Does not Cæsar, wishing to save the life of his friend Catiline, threatened by the same Cicero, object, that to put a criminal to death is not to punish himthat death is nothing
that it is but the termination of -a moment rather fortunate than calamitous? Did not Cicero and the whole senate yield to this reasoning? The conquerors and legislators of all the known world, then, evidently formed a society of men who feared nothing from the gods, but were real atheists.
Bayle next examines whether idolatry is more dangerous than atheism, -whether it is a greater crime not to believe in the Divinity, than to have unworthy notions of it: in this he thinks with Plutarch-that it is better to have no opinion than a bad opinion ; but, without offence to Plutarch, it was infinitely better
that the Greeks should fear Ceres, Neptune, and Jupiter, than that they should fear nothing at all. It is clear that the sanctity of oaths is necessary; and that those are more to be trusted who think a false oath will be punished, than those who think they may take a false oath with impunity. It cannot be doubted that, in an organized city, it is better to have even a bad religion than no religion at all.
It appears then that Bayle should rather have examined whether atheism or fanaticism is the most dangerous. Fanaticism is certainly a thousand times the most to be dreaded; for atheism inspires no sanguinary passion, but fanaticism does; atheism does not oppose crime, but fanaticism prompts to its commission.
Let us suppose, with the author of the Commentarium Rerum Gallicarum, that the highchancellor De l'Hôpital was an atheist : he made none but wise laws; he recommended only moderation and concord. The massacres of St. Bartholomew were committed by fanatics. Hobbes passed foran atheist; yet he led a life of innocence and quiet, while the fanatics of his time deluged England, Scotland, and Ireland, with blood. Spinosa was not only an atheist, he taught atheism: but assuredly he had no part in the juridical assassination of Barneveldt; nor was it he who tore in pieces the two brothers De Witt, and ate them off the gridiron.,
Atheists are for the most part men of learning, bold but bewildered, who reason ill, and, unable to comprehend the creation, the origin of evil, and other difficulties, have recourse to the hypothesis of the eternity of things and of necessity.
The ambitious and the voluptuous have but little time to reason; they have other occupations than that of comparing Lucretius with Socrates. Such is the case with us and our time.
It was otherwise with the Roman senate, which was composed almost entirely of theoretical and practical atheists—that is, believing neither in Providence nor in a future state, this senate was an assembly of philoso
phers, men of pleasure, and ambitious men, who were all very dangerous, and who ruined the commonwealth. Under the emperors, Epicureanism prevailed. The atheists of the senate had been factious in the times of Sylla and of Cæsar; in those of Augustus and Tiberius, they were atheistical slaves. I should not wish to come in the way
of an atheistical prince, whose interest it should be to have me pounded in à mortar: I am quite sure that I should be so pounded. Were I a sovereign, I would not have to do with atheistiçal courtiers, whose interest it was to poison me: I should be under the necessity of taking an antidote every day. It is then absolutely necessary for princes and people, that the idea of a Supreme Being, creating, governing, rewarding and punishing, be profoundly engraven on their minds.
There are nations of atheists, says Bayle in his Thoughts on Comets. The Caffres, the Hottentots, and many other small populations, have no god : they neither affirm nor deny that there is one; they have never heard of him: tell them that there is one, and they will easily believe it; tell them that all is done by the nature of things, and they will believe you just the same. To pretend that they are atheists, would be like saying they are Anti-Cartesians. They are neither for Descartes nor against him; they are no more than children: a child is neither atheist nor deist; he is nothing.
From all this, what conclusion is to be drawn? That atheism is a most pernicious monster in those who govern; that it is the same in the men of their cabinet, since it may extend itself from the cabinet to those in office; that, although less to be dreaded than fanaticism, it is almost always fatal to virtue. And especially, let it be added, that there are fewer atheists now than ever, since philosophers have become persuaded that there is no vegetative being without a germ, no germ without a design, &c. and that the corn in our fields does not spring from rottenness.
Unphilosophical geometricians have rejected final