The Golden Verses of Pythagoras, by Fabre d'Olivet, , at sacred-texts.com
Lysis here approaches openly one of the greatest difficulties of nature, that which in all time has furnished to the skeptics and to the atheists the weapons that they have believed most formidable. Hierocles has not concealed it in
his Commentaries, and he expresses it in these terms: "If God is able to bring back all men to virtue and to happiness, and if he does not will to do so, is God therefore unjust and wicked? Or if he wills to bring them back and if he is unable, is God therefore weak and impotent?" a Long before Hierocles, Epicurus seized upon this argument to support his system, and had extended it without augmenting its force. His design had been to prove by its means that, according as he had advanced it, God does not interfere with the things of this world, and that there is, consequently, no Providence. b Lactantius, thinking that he was answering this, has quoted from Epicurus and has afforded Bayle, the most learned and the most formidable of modern skeptics, the occasion for demonstrating that, until now, this terrible argument had remained unrefuted notwithstanding all the efforts made for its overthrow.
This indefatigable reasoner said:
The evil exists; man is wicked and unhappy: everything proves this sad truth. History is, properly speaking, only a miscellany of the crimes and adversities of mankind. However, at intervals, there have been seen shining some examples of virtue and happiness. There is, therefore, a mixture of evils and of moral and physical goodness. . . . Now, if man is the work of a sole principle, sovereignly good, sovereignly holy, sovereignly potential, how is he exposed to the maladies of cold, heat, hunger, thirst, pain, and sorrow? How has he so many wicked inclinations? How does he commit so many crimes? Can the sovereign sanctity produce a criminal creature? Can the sovereign bounty produce an unfortunate creature? c
Bayle, content with his anti-providential declaration, believes that he has triumphed over all the dogmatists of
the world; but whilst he recovers his breath, observe that he admits a mixture of good and evil, and allow him to continue.
"Origen," he said, "asserts that evil has come from the wicked use of the free will. And why has God allowed man to have so pernicious a free will?" "Because, "Origen answers, "an intelligent creature who had not enjoyed free will would have been immutable and immortal as God." What pitiable reason! Is it that the glorified souls, the saints, are equal to God, being predestined to good, and deprived of what is called free will, which, according to Saint Augustine, is only the possibility of evil when the divine grace does not incline man towards the good?" a
Bayle, after several outbursts of this sort, finishes by declaring that the way in which evil is introduced under the rule of a sovereign being, infinitely good, infinitely potential, infinitely holy, is not only inexplicable but even incomprehensible. b Bayle is right on this point; also I have always said, in the course of this work, that the origin of evil, comprehensible or not, could never be divulged. But the matter of the origin of evil is not the question here. Bayle was too good a reasoner not to have felt it, not to have seen that the argument of Epicurus, and all the elocution with which he furnished it, did not bear upon the cause of evil itself, but upon its effects; which is quite different. Epicurus did not demand that the origin of evil be explained to him, but the local existence of its effectsthat is to say, one should state clearly to him, that if God was able and willing to take away the evil from the world, or to prevent it from penetrating there, why he did not do so. When any ones house is the prey of flames, one is not so insensate as to be concerned with knowing what the essence of the fire is, and why it burns in general, but why it burns in particular; and why, being able to extinguish it, one has not done so. Bayle, I repeat, was too clever a logician not to have perceived this. This
distinction was too simple to have escaped him; but seeing that its very simplicity had concealed it from the doctors of the Christian church, he was content to affect an ignorance of it to his adversaries, to have the pleasure, so precious to a skeptic such as he, of seeing them one after another exhaust themselves upon the argument of Epicurus:
God, whether he wills to take away evil, and can not; whether he can and does not will to; whether he does not will it nor can; whether he wills it and can. If he wills it and can not, he is weak; which does not accord with God. If he can and does not will it, he is wicked; which accords with him no better. If he does not will it nor can, he is wicked and weak, which could not be. If he can and wills it, that which alone is worthy of his divinity, whence then come the evils? Or why does he not take them away? a
Lactantius, to whom Bayle owed his argument, had thought to overthrow it, by saying that God, being able to take away evil, did not will it; so as to give to men, by its means, wisdom and virtue. b But the skeptic philosopher had no trouble to prove that this answer was worth nothing, and that the doctrine that it contained was monstrous; since it was certain that God was able to give wisdom and virtue without the means of evil; since he had even given them, following the belief of Lactantius himself, and that it was because he had renounced them that man had become subject to evil. Saint Basil was no more fortunate than Lactantius. Vainly he asserted that the free will, whence results evil, had been established by God himself in the design that this All-powerful Being had for being loved and freely served. Bayle, attacking him in his own faith, asked him, if God is loved and served by force in Paradise, where the glorified
souls do not enjoy the fatal privilege of being able to sin. a And with the same blow with which he struck him, he brought down Malebranche who had said the same thing. b The downfall of Malebranche, and the desire to avenge him, bestirred in vain a crowd of audacious metaphysicians. Bayle pierced them one after another with the weapons of Epicurus, whose steel they did not know, and died with the glory of their having said the greatest piece of stupidity which could be said upon a like matter: namely, that it was possible that God might prescribe another end, in creating the world, than to make his creatures happy. c
The death of Bayle did not extinguish the ardour that his works had excited. Leibnitz, justly displeased with all that had been said, thought he could answer the skeptic philosopher better; and raising himself with a great force of genius to that pristine moment when God formed the decree of producing the world, he represented the Being of beings choosing among an infinity of worlds, all possible, all present at his thought, the actual world, as most conformable to his attributes, the most worthy of him, the best finally, the most capable of attaining to the greatest and most excellent end that this all-perfect Being may have been able to purpose. d But what is this magnificent and worthy end which the Divinity has chosen, this goal which not alone constitutes the actual world such as it is, but which also presents it to the mind, according to the system of Leibnitz, as the best of possible worlds? This philosopher does not know.
We are not able [he said] to penetrate it, for we are too limited for this; we can only infer, by reasoning with the insight that God has given us, that his bounty only has been able to purpose, by creating the greatest possible number of intelligent
creatures, by endowing them with as much knowledge, happiness, and beauty as the Universe might admit without going away from the immutable order established by his wisdom. a
Up to this point, the system of Leibnitz sustained itself, and was able even to lead to a relative truth; but its work was not accomplished. It was necessary to explain, following the demand of Epicurus so much repeated by Bayle, how in this immutable order established by the divine Wisdom in this best of worlds, that physical and moral evil make felt such severe effects. The German philosopher, instead of stopping at these effects, and stating the primordial cause, inaccessible to his researches, still scorned it, as had all the adversaries of Bayle, and asserted that physical and moral evils were necessary to maintain this immutable order, and entered into the plan of this best of worlds. Fatal assertion which overthrew his system instantly: for, how dares one to say that evil is necessary, and above all necessary not only in what is best, but in what is the best possible!
Now, whatever may be the primordial cause of Evil, concerning which I can not nor do I wish to explain myself, until the triple veil, extended over this formidable mystery by Moses, may have been raised, I will say, according to the doctrine of Pythagoras and Plato, that its effects can be neither necessary, nor irresistible since they are not immutable and I will reply to the much-lauded argument of Epicurus, that by this very thing they are neither necessary nor irresistible; God can and will remove them and he does remove them.
And if certain disciples of Bayle, astonished by a reply so bold and so new, asked me when and how God works so great a benefit, of which they have perceived no traces, I will say to them: by time and by means of perfectibility. Time is the instrument of Providence; perfectibility, the plan of its work; Nature, the object of its labour; and Good,
its result. You know, and Bayle himself agrees, that there exists a mixture of good and evil: and I repeat to you here what I have already said a; and I maintain that this good emanates from Providence, and is its work, and replaces in the sphere where it has been transported, an equivalent amount of evil which it has transmuted into good; I maintain that this good continues augmenting itself unceasingly and the evil which corresponds to it, diminishing in an equal proportion; I maintain finally that, having left absolute evil and having arrived at the point where you now are, you will arrive by the same road and by the same means, that is, by favour of time and of perfectibility, from the point where you are to absolute Good, the crown of perfection. This is the answer to your question, When and how does God take away evils? Still if you claim you cannot see any of this, I will reply that it is not for you, arguing with the weakness of your view, to deny the progress of Providence, you whose imperfect senses mistake all the time even the subjects within your range, and for whom the extremes are touching so forcibly, that it is impossible for you to distinguish upon the same dial the movement of the needle which traverses it in a cycle, from the movement of that which traverses it in less than a second; one of these needles appearing to you immobile and the other not existing for you. b
If you deny what I affirm, bring other proofs of your denial than your weakness and cease, from the little corner where Nature has placed you, presuming to judge its immensity. Still if you lack negative proofs, wait a moment more, and you shall have from me affirmative proofs. But if, going back, and wishing to sustain the argument of Epicurus which is giving way, you believe that you will succeed by saying that this philosopher had not asked, in the case where God was able and willed to remove evils, how he removed them, but why he did not remove them; I will reply
to you that this question is a pure sophism; that the how is implicitly contained in the why, to which I have replied in affirming that God, being able and willing to remove evils, removes them. And if you recall an objection that I have already overthrown concerning the manner in which he removes them, and that bringing you to judge of his ways, you would assume that he ought to remove them, not in a lapse of time so long that you would be unconscious of it, but in the twinkling of an eye; I would reply that this way would be to you quite as imperceptible as the other; and that furthermore, that which you demand exists, since the lapse of time of which you complain, however long it may appear to you, is less than the twinkling of an eye for the Being of beings who employs it, being absolutely nihil compared to Eternity. And from there I will take occasion to tell you that evil, in the way in which it is manifest in the world, being a sort of malady, God, who alone can cure it, knows also the sole remedy which may be applicable to it and that this sole remedy is time.
It seems to me that however little attention you may have given to what I have just said, you ought to be tempted to pass on from the knowledge of the remedy to that of the malady; but it is in vain that you would demand of me an explanation concerning its nature. This explanation is not necessary to overthrow the argument of Epicurus and that is all that I have wished to do. The rest depends upon you and I can only repeat with Lysis:
263:a Aur. Carm., v. 62-77.
263:b Lactant., De Irâ Dei, c. 13, p. 548.
263:c Dict. crit., art. MANICHÉENS, rem. D.
264:a Dict. crit. art. MARCIONITES, rem. E et G.
264:b Ibid., art. PAULICIENS, rem. E.
265:a Bayle, Dict. crit., art. PAULICIENS, rem. E.
265:b De Irâ Dei, c. 13, p. 548.
266:a Basilius, t. i., In Homil. quod Deus non sit auctor mali, p. 369; Bayle. Dict. crit., art. MARCIONITES, rem. E et G.
266:b Traité de Morale.
266:c Réponse à deux object. de M. Bayle, par Delaplacette, in-12, 1707.
266:d Essai de Théodicée, part iii., No. 405 et suiv.
267:a Essai de Théodicée, part. iii., No. 405 et suiv.
268:a Ci-dessus, 25e Examen.
268:b Mém. de lAcad. des Sciences, ann., 1765, p. 439.