To attack the king was treason; to dispute the priest was blasphemy. These robbers and these beggars controlled two worlds. The king made laws, the priest made creeds. Both obtained their authority from God, both were the agents of the infinite. With bowed backs the people carried the burdens of one, and with wonder’s open mouth received the dogmas of the other. If the people aspired to be free, they were crushed by the king, and every priest was a Herod, who slaughtered the children of the brain.
The Romans never condemned a citizen to death, unless for crimes which concerned the safety of the state. These our masters, our first legislators, were careful of the blood of their fellow-citizens; but we are extravagant with the blood of ours.
Let us compare the criminal procedure of the Romans with ours. With them, the evidence were heard publicly in presence of the accused, who might answer or interrogate them, or employ counsel. This procedure was open and noble; it breathed Roman magnanimity.
This custom, with many others, is derived from our canon law, which denies Christian burial to those who are guilty of suicide, concluding thence, that it is not lawful to inherit on earth from one who hath himself no inheritance in heaven. The cannon law assures us, that Judas committed a greater crime in hanging himself, than in betraying Jesus Christ.
Confession of sins hath been authorised in all times and in all nations. The ancients accused themselves in the mysteries of Orpheus, of Isis, of Ceres, of Samothrace. The Jews confessed their sins on the day of solemn expiation, and still continue the same practice. Each penitent chuses his confessor, who becomes his penitent in turn, and each receives from his companion thirty-nine lashes whilst he is repeating, three times, the formule of confession, which consists only in thirteen words, and which consequently must be general.
ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN POLITICAL AND NATURAL LAWS. I call natural laws, those which nature dictates in all ages to all men, for the maintenance of that justice which she (say what they will of her) hath implanted in our hearts. Theft, violence, homicide, ingratitude to beneficent parents, perjury against innocence, conspiracies against one’s country, are crimes that are universally […]
It is not only the common interest of mankind that crimes should not be committed, but that crimes of every kind should be less frequent, in proportion to the evil they produce to society. Therefore, the means made use of by the legislature to prevent crimes, should be more powerful, in proportion as they are destructive of the public safety and happiness, and as the inducements to commit them are stronger. Therefore there ought to be a fixed proportion between crimes and punishments.
If we look into history we shall find that laws which are, or ought to be, conventions between men in a state of freedom, have been, for the most part, the work of the passions of a few, or the consequences of a fortuitous or temporary necessity; not dictated by a cool examiner of human nature, who knew how to collect in one point the actions of a multitude, and had this only end in view, the greatest happiness of the greatest number.
A sub-mandarin said to the judge: “How long does your excellency wish them to be kept in prison?” “Until they agree,” said the judge. “Then,” said the sub-mandarin, “they are in prison for life.” “In that case,” said the judge, “until they forgive each other.” “They will never forgive each other,” said the other; “I know them.” “Then,” said the mandarin, “let them stop there until they pretend to forgive each other.
But, as they denied the existence of Purgatory, which it is not permitted to doubt, and which brought a considerable income to the monks; and as they did not venerate relics, which ought to be venerated, and which are a source of even greater profit—in fine, as they assailed much-respected dogmas, the only answer to them at first was to burn them.