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.

Voltaire as a Critic

English: a bust of Voltaire, on the façade of ...

English: a bust of Voltaire, on the façade of Lycée Voltaire in Paris Français : Buste de Voltaire, sur la façade du Lycée Voltaire à Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Voltaire as a critic (of philosophy, religion and social customs): what do you see as his specific targets?

In terms of philosophy, Voltaire targets Leibniz and his philosophy of systematic optimism. Leibniz argued that if God were perfect then He must have created a perfect world; thus, he considered the world’s suffering as a factor of a “harmonious universe” that people are too limited in perspective to fully understand (xii). Voltaire saw this position as a “divine justification for suffering and injustice” and used Candide to take Leibniz’, and Dr. Pangloss’, position to its extreme in order to mock this philosophy (xii).

In terms of religion, Voltaire criticizes the notion that one religion is superior to another. For example, Candide, “who always had a taste for metaphysics,” asks Cacambo to ask an old man in Eldorado “whether there was a religion in the country” (Voltaire 56). The man is shocked and questions whether there can be two religions: “ ‘Can there be two religions?’ he said. ‘We have, I think, the religion of everyone; we worship God from morning till evening” (56). Furthermore, Voltaire also mocks the European notion of prayer. The man explains that they did not pray to him because “we have nothing to ask him for; he has given us all we need, we thank him without ceasing” (56). This scene criticizes the European’s relationship with God. In particular, it mocks the way that Europeans tend to ask God for favors rather than thank him for what he has already given them.

In terms of social customs, Voltaire criticizes the state. In contrast to the European monarchs, the King that Candide meets in Eldorado is gracious and welcoming. In contrast to France where exile for the wealthy and the semi-wealthy was common, in this country “a reasonably well-off person” stays where he is (Voltaire 58). Furthermore, the King states, “I certainly have no right to detain foreigners; that is a tyranny that does not exist either in our customs or in our laws; all men are free; leave when you will” (Voltaire 58). Voltaire uses Eldorado’s as an alternative to the way that society is conducted in France; thus, instead of criticizing France and Europe directly, he shows the reader another country that treats its citizens in a completely different way and implies that it is possible to create a society which functions a lot like this one.

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