by John Patrick Michael Murphy
He told the world what the Catholic Church, and the government it anointed did to the people - it made them wallow in servility. The world watched as he tried to civilize both State and Church. It heard of his pleading with Parliament to pardon Chevalier de La Bare, a teenager who sang irreverent songs, carved up a cross, and didn't remove his hat to a passing crowd of clergy. The bishops wanted him tortured, and then burned. Parliament showed its compassionate side - it had him beheaded instead. Voltaire did free Jean Espinas, who had been growing his own gloves from oaring a French galley for 23 years, for putting up an itinerant Protestant preacher for a night in his home. He also freed Claude Chaumont from a galley bench - his crime was attending a Protestant service!
He was born Francois Marie Arouet but promptly changed his name to "Voltaire" after he was clapped into prison for his "disrespectful writing." After that, he wrote under "Voltaire," or, quite often, somebody else, like "the Archbishop of Paris" or some other high churchman. In these anti-Christian missals he would have the "author" dedicate the book to him! When the religious police could pin something on him he would go to court acting ashamed, offering to apologize in exchange for a pardon. Then he would do more damage with the apology than the matter he was apologizing for. "He often advanced by retreating, and asserted by retraction," said Ingersoll. Here's an example: "They say I must retract. Very willingly. I will declare that Pascal is always right. That if St. Luke and St. Mark contradict one another, it is only another proof of the truth of religion to those who know how to understand such things; and that another lovely proof of religion is that it is unintelligible…"
He built a retreat at the foot of the Swiss Alps just across the border from France. He owned a huge section on the French side as well. That way he could skip back and forth depending upon who was after him, evading both fundamentalist French Catholics and Calvinist Swiss, as the need arose. Here is a sampling of why they were after him:
"Clergyman: A generic title under which is designated any Christian who consecrates himself to the service of God, and feels himself called upon to live without working at the expense of the rascals who work to live."
"Voltaire" is copyright © 1999 by John Patrick Michael Murphy.
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