Britney PirringThe Criticism of Religion as Seen in Voltaire’s Candide The Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, was an intellectual movement that brought about social reforms throughout Europe during the 18th century.
The Enlightenment challenged traditional beliefs based on Catholic doctrines and faith and sought to find answers through reason rather than from God. Contrary to popular belief, Voltaire was a man of passionate faith. Although Voltaire firmly believed in God, he did not agree with the Christian notions of the Trinity and religious intolerance, and criticized the Catholic Church through his satirical published work Candide. Like many other Enlightenment thinkers, Voltaire was a deist who believed in the existence of a divine being who created everything.
He accepted the existence of a higher being or God, but rejected the Holy Trinity. Voltaire revered Jesus, but only as a man and teacher and not as the son of God. Voltaire also rejected the all too common division, hatred, and intolerance that resulted from religious intolerance. He once wrote “We need a God who speaks to the human race,” (.) Voltaire could not come to terms with the Catholic Church’s religious intolerance and belief in the Trinity and found himself abhorring the Church for it.
Voltaire’s attitude of hostility towards the Church was also formed as a result of its great power and corruption. Voltaire’s hatred of organized religion may have possibly originated from when he once told the English poet Alexander Pope that his Jesuit teachers sexually assaulted him as a schoolboy (.) However his great detrust and opposition of the Church came from the large power wielded by the Catholic Church during the “Ancien Regime”. The Ancien Regime, or Old Regime was the political social system of France during the Late Middle Ages in which there was no separation of church or state. During the Old Regime there was no such thing of religious equality and the king was obligated to promote Catholicism throughout the kingdom.
King Louis XIV, believed he could eliminate protestantism in France without war. Troops invaded towns and threatened Protestants to convert to Catholicism or face death or separation from their family. By 1685 all protestant ministers were expelled and churches made demolished.
Besides the treatment of non-Catholics, the French Catholic Church contained much corruption inside. The clergy was exempt from most taxation and had great authority in discipline. Bishops had the power to question faith and morals and punish “heresy.” Punishment could be a fine, confiscation of property, or even death. Joining the clergy was an attractive profession as it brought power and income. Many members only joined for their own benefit and abused their jobs. Church authorities often drank heavily, skipped mass, and frequented prostitutes.
In Candide, Voltaire exposes the dark truth behind the Catholic Church and its impious clergy. Voltaire’s critique of the Catholic Church and its members manifests all throughout the story of Candide. Candide displays many religious figures acting contrary to how they should be. The hypocrisy of religion can be seen when the old woman recounts her story where she was born into great wealth and that she is actually Pope Urban X’s daughter. The pope is supposed to be celibate. In another example, Cunegonde has lost her diamonds and belongings. The woman suspects it was a Franciscan who was in the same hotel as them. Franciscans take vows of poverty and give up material possessions.
Voltaire also includes the auto-da-fe’s, where heretics are publicly executed. Persecution itself is contradictory to Christian beliefs.