Voltaire and the Jesuits

Cover of "Candide (Barnes & Noble Classic...

Cover of Candide (Barnes & Noble Classics)

Voltaire and the Jesuits: what’s his attitude toward this specific arm of the Catholic church? Interesting little fact: Voltaire was educated by Jesuits early in life.

Voltaire is particularly critical of the Jesuits. Candide becomes a Jesuit, befriends the Reverend Father Kroust, and is sent to Rome:  “The Father General needed some young German Jesuit recruits. The sovereigns of Paraguay receive as few Spanish Jesuits as they can; they prefer foreigners, since they feel more their masters” (47). The Jesuits want Candide because he is German, and being a foreigner (not Spanish) allows him to stand out more from the local population and rule more severely.

Voltaire mocks the Jesuits’ superficiality and tendency for melodrama by showing their tears and tenderness and simultaneous cruelty and lack of empathy. For example, we are told of how the Baron’s “tears began to flow,” how “he seemed unable to tire of embracing Candide,” and how “he kept calling him [Candide] his brother, his savior” (47). Then we are shown his immediate change in tone when he hears that Candide has plans to marry the Baron’s sister, Cunegonde. The Baron calls Candide an “insolent wretch… I am amazed by your effrontery in daring to speak to me of such rash plan!” (47 – 48). Candide tries to reason with the Baron. He tells him how he had saved his sister, how she wants to marry him, and how “Dr. Pangloss always told me that men are equal, and certainly I shall marry her” (48). The Baron does not accept this.

After Candide kills the Baron, Cacambo puts the Baron’s probe over Candide and tells him to pretend to be him. He insists that no one will notice because “everyone will take you for Jesuit on his way to give orders” (48). Here, Voltaire is criticizing the Jesuits’ inconstancy, superficiality and self-satisfaction. In other words, the Baron is presented as a two-faced, self-centered and self-interested individual. He only shows affection and preaches love, faith and equality to get what he wants. But when faced with a potential brother in law who he views as someone who is lower than him in society, he true colors come out and he shows himself to be a domineering abusive racist.

Voltaire. “Candide.”Candide, Zadig and Selected Stories. New York: Signet Classics, 2001. Print.

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