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Montesquieu: Lettres Persanes

  • C. J. Betts
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Part of the Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idees / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 104)

Abstract

In 1721, the year of the Lettres persanes, the Dictionnaire de Trévoux defined a deist as follows: ‘Homme qui n’a point de Religion particulière; mais qui reconnaît seulement l’existence d’un Dieu, sans lui rendre aucun culte extérieur’. This is Furetière’s definition of 1690 almost verbatim. It is followed by a slightly argumentative article on deist belief, which is interesting mainly because it confirms that the connection between deism and natural religion had become an accepted fact. Deists wish to return to ‘la simplicité de la nature’, they ‘rejettent toute révélation, croyant seulement ce que la lumière naturelle démontre, qu’il y a un Dieu, une providence, des récompenses pour les bons, et des châtiments pour les méchants; qu’il faut honorer Dieu, mais chacun è sa manière et selon sa volonté, comme on convient, disent-ils, que les premiers hommes l’ont fait jusqu’ è Moľse’.1 The inclusion of an outline of natural religion gives deism a more respectable status than the mere ‘belief in God’ mentioned by previous dictionaries; the author complains about the deists’ attitude to revelation and their repudiation of fideism (‘la nécessité qu’on leur impose, de croire des mystères inconcevables’), but is not at all derogatory. This could reflect Jesuit policy towards theists and natural religion. In any case, it eliminates the connections with Socinian heresy, plots to subvert Christianity and the Epicurean denial of providence, all of which had often featured in previous accounts of deism.

Keywords

Moral Ideal Natural Religion Muslim Faith Divine Justice Ritual Observance 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague 1984

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  • C. J. Betts

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