A prince above all things should wish to be esteemed devout, though he be not so indeed. (The Prince, chapter 18)
The world looks but to the exterior, and by appearance; and judges actions not by the causes, but by the issue and end. So it suffices for a prince to seem outwardly religious and devout, although he be not so at all. For let it be so, that those who most narrowly frequent his company discover that feigned devotion, yet nor he nor they dare impugn the multitude, who believe the prince to be truly devout.
This maxim is a precept whereby this atheist Machiavelli teaches the prince to be a true contemner of God and of religion, and only to make a show and a fair countenance before the world, to be esteemed religious and devout, although he be not. Divine punishment for such hypocrisy and dissimulation, Machiavelli fears not, because he does not believe there is a God. He thinks that the course of the sun, the moon, the stars, the distinction of the springtime, summer, autumn, and winter, the political government of men, the production that the earth makes of fruits, plants, living creatures; that all this comes by encounter and adventure, following the doctrine of Epicurus (the doctor of atheists and master of ignorance), who esteems that all things are done and come to pass by fortune and the meeting and encountering of atoms. But if Machiavelli believed that those things came by the disposition and establishment of a sovereign cause, as common sense has constrained Plato, Aristotle, Theophrastus, and all the other philosophers who have had any knowledge to confess, he would believe there is one God who rules and governs the world and all things within it. And if he believed there is one God, he would also believe that men ought to honor him as the sovereign governor, and that he will not be mocked by his creatures. And therefore he would not give such precepts, to make a show to be devout and not to be. For what is it to mock God, if that is not? But those that learn such lessons of atheism, and who put out their eyes that they may not see so clear a light, take pleasure to be ignorant of what (as Cicero says) even nature itself teaches the most barbarous nations; that there is a God who governs all things. Let them know that if they will not know God well, God will well know them, and will make them feel that those who spit against heaven spit against themselves; when they feel how heavy his hand weighs, then shall they know that there is a God, a revenger of those who do not reverence him; but this knowledge shall be to their confusion and ruin. Many atheists have been seen who of a brutish boldness made mock of God; but it was never seen that they felt not the punishment and vengeance of their audaciousness and impiety, as hereafter we will show by examples. Yet we have cause to greatly deplore the misery and calamity of the time wherein we are, which is so infected with atheists and contemners of God and of all religion, that even those who have no religion are best esteemed and called in the court language people of service. Being fraught with all impiety and atheism, and having well studied their Machiavelli, which they know upon their fingers, they make no scruple nor conscience at anything. Command them to slay and massacre, they slay and massacre; command them to rob and spoil good Catholics and clergymen, they rob and spoil all. They hold benefices with soldiers’ garments and short cloaks, yet exercise no religion nor cares but for the gain thereof. Command them to betray or poison this or that person, they make no scruple at it; yea, they themselves think and devise all wickedness and impieties, as the invention of so many new taxes upon the poor people, who they destroy and cause to die with hunger, without any commiseration or compassion upon them, no more than upon brute beasts. But many years ago, did they not invent the tax of processes and contentions of law in France? By the means of which tax a poor man cannot seek by law to recover his own, unless beforehand he pays the tax and shows his acquittance. But by the means of that generous Prince of Conde it was taken away, by his complaints against these atheists, inventors of such novelties, who both by nation and religion are Machiavellians. Have they not also invented new customs, tributes, and taxes upon paper, inns, the sales of exemptions for lodging soldiers, of wardships, of marriages, of consulships, syndics, and other such like, which cannot be devised but by impious people, who have neither love for their neighbor nor their country? The tax of the small seal, for sealing of contracts, did it not come from the same forge? If it had not been for the Evangelists, who alone dared open their mouths to complain of these bloodsuckers, would they not have made laws and coined edicts to command tributes and sums of money for each child that should be baptized? Likewise to levy the twentieth part of every woman’s dowry upon the first conclusion of every marriage, even if they break off again? Have they not established the sale of offices of judgment, and so brought that now into common use which was utterly abolished by the General Estates at Orleans? Have they not devised the offices of counsellors without wages within bayliwicks and stewardships, and all for silver? Have they not, and do they not every day cause the value of money to be augmented for their own profit? For by the means of their banks, firms, and their other dealings in the realm, they have gathered great heaps of money, and can at their pleasure enhance the value thereof, both in their hands and out of their hands. Yet none complains thereof. But in the end it will produce and bring forth some great disorder and confusion, as has sometimes been seen for like actions, for reasons well enough known to wise people. As for peace, these people never like it, for they always fish in troubled water, gathering riches and heaps of the treasures of the realm while it is in trouble and confusion. They always have in their mouths the good maxims of their Machiavelli, to impeach and hinder a good peace. A prince, they say, must cause himself to be feared, rather than loved, and this must be held as a resolved point. But if a peace is accorded to these rebels, such as they desire, then it would seem that the king is afraid of his subjects, whereas he should make himself to be feared. True it is, that if such a peace could be made with them, as it might again procure another Saint Bartholomew’s journey, nothing were so good and pleasant as that. For that is another resolved point and maxim, that a prince should not hold any faith or promise but so far as concerns his profit; and that he ought to know how to counterfeit the fox, to catch and entrap other beasts, and as soon as he has them in his nets, to play the lion in slaying and devouring them. We have set down unto us that good example of Cesare Borgia, who in our country could so well counterfeit the two beasts. Behold here the language and dealings of our Machiavellians, who at this day men call people of service; for there is no wickedness in the world so strange and detestable, but they will enterprise, invent, and put it into execution if they can. From whence comes it that they are thus inclined to all wickedness? It is because they are atheists, contemners of God, neither believing there is a God who sees what they do, nor that ought to punish them. It is that good doctrine of Machiavelli, who among other things complains so much that men cannot be altogether wicked, as we shall touch in its place. These good disciples, seeing that their master found this imperfection in them, that they could not show themselves altogether and in all things wicked, seek by all means to attain a degree of perfect wickedness. And indeed they have so well studied and profited in their master’s school, and can so well practice his maxims, that none can deny but they are come unto the highest degree of wickedness. What need men then to be abashed if they see in the world, and especially in this poor kingdom of France, such famine, pestilence, civil wars, father against son, brother against brother, those of the same religion against each other, with all hatred, envy, disloyalty, treasons, perfidies, conspiracies, poisonings, and other great sins to reign? Is there any marvel if the people go to wrack, the clergy impoverished, the nobility almost extinct? For it is the first judgment of the vengeance of God, which he exercises against us because some are filled with all impiety and atheism, which they have learned from Machiavelli. And others who should resist such impieties, lest they should take root, suffer them to increase and augment. So that indeed all men are culpable of atheism, impiety, of the spite of God and religion, which at this day reigns. Therefore most righteously does God punish us all. For atheism and impiety is so detestable and abominable before God, that it never remains unpunished.
The emperor Caligula was a great atheist and contemner of God, and he was cunning enough to practice Machiavelli’s maxims. To counterfeit his devotion, he caused to be bruited that he often spoke with Jupiter; and that he had great familiarity with Castor and Pollux, who he said were his brethren; and that he had good acquaintance with the moon. By this means he not only persuaded the people that he was very devout, but also by means of privacy with the gods that he participated even in divinity with them; and yet never man more boldly despised all divinity than he. But consider what such kind of people these are; there was never cowardly beast more fearful than this wicked atheist; as soon as he heard it thunder (says Suetonius), he would cover and quickly wrap his head and hide himself under his bed. I pray you what other thing was this but an extreme fear of conscience, when he hears the thundering and resounding voice of him whom he contemns? One day being beyond the Rhine with a great and puissant army, as he passed over a little strait on foot, someone near him began to say to him, “Sir, if now the enemy should appear and show himself, we could not be without fear?” What then did this cowardly atheist? At that word he straight mounted on horseback and fled as fast as he could. But as he was cowardly, so was he very cruel; and so shall you almost ordinarily find in these atheists both cruelty and cowardice together. In the end God sent him his due reward; for he endured not long, but was slain by Cassius Chaerea and Cornelius Sabinus, captains of his guard, whereby this wicked contemner of God felt the just divine vengeance, and so he knew he was a mortal man, and not God, who caused himself to be worshipped as a god. Dion writes that after his death some ate of his flesh, to prove if the flesh of the gods was of a good taste.
The emperor Phillipus, who reigned in the primitive Christian church, was a wicked Arabian who had no fear of God, but was the most cruel and wicked of the world, as commonly Arabians are. Yet to cover his vices and wickedness, he did what Machiavelli commands a prince here; for he feigned to be a Christian, and somewhat favored the Christian religion, which before had been greatly persecuted. But God soon punished this dissimulation and hypocrisy, for he reigned but five years, and by his soldiers was massacred together with his son at Verona.
The emperor Julian, who was called the Apostate, all the time of his youth, in the time of his uncle Constantine the Great, was instructed in the Christian religion; but upon a foolish curiosity he gave himself to diviners and sorcerers, to know things to come, which made him forsake Christianity. Yet he always feigned himself to be a Christian, because for the most part the nobility and the men of war were so; therefore to please them he often went unto the Christian churches, and there used the exercises of their religion. After he was created emperor in Paris, and had set a sure foot in the empire, he began to reveal what he had always kept in his heart; that is, to make open the temples for images, and to set up the pagan religion which Constantine had suppressed, and to establish their sacrifices. And although he dared not prohibit the exercise of Christianity, yet underhand he sought by all means to destroy it; for he forbade that any should receive any Christians to be regents or bailmasters, and caused to be sown all manner of partialities and divisions that he could among Christians. Finally after he had reigned for the space of a year and seven months, he was slain at the age of 32 years, making war against the Persians. Some write that as he died he blasphemed spitefully against Christ, crying “Thou hast vanquished, thou Galilean.” Behold the unhappy end of this atheist and apostate.
It is commonly seen that such men as have no God give themselves to sorcerers and diviners. For of necessity they must have a master, and after they have forsaken God, they must needs take to the devil for their master and governor. The emperor Bassianus Caracalla, being a true contemner of God, fell to delight in magic and witchery; by the art of necromancy he would cause to come to him the soul of his father Severus, and the emperor Commodus, to know of them if he should ever recover from the disease whereof he was sick. The soul of his father (or rather some evil spirit) appeared to him, holding a naked sword in his hand, but spoke not a word unto him; but that of Commodus appearing also, said unto him these words: “Get thee to the gallows.” Being at war in Mesopotamia, he had two lieutenants general, Audentius and Macrinus, who he incessantly outraged and mocked, so that neither of them greatly trusted him; he had also at Rome one Maternianus, who executed all his affairs, whom he much troubled. Therefore he sent unto him a command to assemble all the diviners, sorcerers, and necromancers that could be found, to consult together and search out if any secret enterprise was intended or practiced against him. Maternianus executed his commandment, and upon a consultation of them, they answered that Macrinus had determined to slay the emperor Bassianus. Maternianus, who did not love Macrinus, did not fail to advise the emperor hereof; but the packet of letters was presented to him at a certain hour when he was very attentive, and given to take his pastime. Insomuch that he commanded Macrinus, who was nearby, to take the packed and open it, and to tell him the substance of it later, at some hour of council. Macrinus took the packed and opened it, within which he found many letters, speaking of many of his affairs; and among others one was found containing the resolution of the said consultation. Macrinus then was much abashed, and joyful withal; abashed that the diviners and necromancers laid to his charge a thing whereof he never thought, and joyful because the letter did not fall into the emperor’s hands; whom he knew to be very cruel, and ready to exercise his choler. Therefore he hid this letter and showed him the other; but thinking of his own cause, he resolved to slay his master rather than to attend while he was slain himself; and the sooner, for fear Maternianus should write again of the same cause. Macrinus then suborned a captain of footmen called Martialis, who also had a quarrel with the emperor, to slay him; who espying one day the emperor going out of the way to empty his body, he slew him with many pricks of a dagger. So that a man may say that it was the devil which played him this part, because he trusted in diviners and necromancers. For had it not been for that consultation, whereby Macrinus was brought in peril of his life, he would have never dared enterprise what he did. But necessity makes men enterprise, even the most cowardly.
Josephus rehearses that in the time of Claudius and Nero, the Jews raised up many civil wars in Judea and Samaria, so often that they made no account of any other occupation but to live by booties and rapines; so that Vespasian, lieutenant general for Nero, was sent against them with a great army. All the wickedest men of the country, who were worth nothing and who could not live but from the good men, gathered themselves together and called themselves Zealots, saying they would fight for the temple of Jerusalem and for the conservation of their religion, which they had received and learned from their forefathers; and that they would not permit any other religion to be exercised in their countries but their own which was anciently used from hand to hand, since Moses and Abraham. Under the show of this good name of Zealots, and under color of boasting that they would fight and die for the conservation of their ancient religion, they took up arms and elected for captains the worst persons they could find. Vespasian many times had them told (even by Josephus, a captain of their own nation, who wrote this history) that he would change nothing of their religion, but maintain them therein, and in all their liberties and franchises. But like very hypocrites and liars, they thinking one thing with their hearts and saying another with their mouths, would never hearken unto peace in any sort, nor upon any condition whatsoever. Vespasian, seeing their stubbornness, was constrained to war upon them in all extremity, which endured long, even until he came to the empire, after the deaths of Nero, Galba, Otho and Vitellius, who did not reign long. Finally these goodly Zealots, who would never hearken unto peace, by their obstinacy came to such an extremity that they themselves set their temple on fire in Jerusalem (for the conservation whereof they said they fought), and burned it wholly. They overthrew both themselves and their religion, for which they bore arms, and committed a thousand sorts of cruelties and impieties, saying they fought for piety. Briefly, this devout zeal which they bragged of for the ancient religion of their fathers – although they had but a masking and false countenance thereof – was cause of the ruin of Jerusalem, and of all the country, and of the death of a million men.
A prince then must take another manner of resolution than what Machiavelli speaks; namely, that he resolves himself to fear God, and to serve him with a heart pure and without dissimulation, according to his holy commandments, in doing the exercises of the true and pure religion of God, which is the Christian. If he does this, God will bless him and make him prosper in his affairs. Hereof there may be cited many examples; I will content myself with a few of the most notable.
The emperor Marcus Aurelius the philosopher, a prince both good and wise, though a pagan, making war against the Marcomanes and Quadiens, people of Germany, was once with all his army in a very great danger and peril. Being enclosed in a withered and dry country, where his soldiers for lack of water died of drought, his enemies, keeping the passage, intended to vanquish them without striking a stroke. By chance, or rather by God’s providence, the emperor had in his army a legion of Christians; and it was told him by his lieutenant general, that he had heard say that those Christians by their prayers obtained from God whatever they demanded. Which the emperor understanding, addressed himself to that legion – which was a good zeal in the pagan, though without knowledge – and prayed them that they would pray unto their God for the salvation of his army. Which presently they did with a good heart; desiring God, in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior, to conserve that army and the emperor, and draw them from the danger wherein they were. Soon after their prayers, God hearing them sent presently a terrible lightning upon the enemy, and a great rain fell upon the Roman soldiers, who would have died of thirst, but that they received the rain upon the hollow bottoms of their targets, bucklers, and morrions. Insomuch that the God of hosts fighting for them, they got the victory without striking a stroke, clean contrary from that the Marcomans and Quadiens looked for. Whereupon the emperor was much ravished with admiration, and afterward greatly honored the Christians.
Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor, besides overcoming Licinius and Maxentius, great enemies of the Christian religion, also obtained many triumphant victories against the Sarmats, Goths, and Scythians. Happy he was and victorious, because he had the fear of God and the Christian religion in exceedingly great honor and reverence. As much may we say of the emperors Theodosius, Justinian, and other Christians. As much may we say of our kings of France, Charles Martell and Charlemagne, who prospered in the wars they had against the high Germans, Saxons, Frisons, and against the Goths, Huns, Visigoths, Lombards, and Saracens, all of which were then pagans and infidels; from which they obtained great victories and brought them to be subject unto their obedience. This grace came not to them to be such victors by their own forces, seeing their enemies were far stronger than they, considering their forces and number of armed people. But that grace came unto them by the favor of God, whom they served without feignedness and hypocrisy, having the Christian religion in great and singular recommendation and reverence. As much we may say also generally of most of our French kings; for among them we find none such as Caligula, Caracalla, or such other monsters full of impiety and atheism, till lately some few have been found not much inferior to them.
David was marvelously happy in war, and always victorious over his enemies, because he was a good prince, fearing God and honoring his holy religion. Solomon his son, as long as he served God sincerely, without feigning and hypocrisy, prospered very well and marvelously in a great and happy peace, and none dared stir him. But as soon as he began to practice the doctrine which Machiavelli teaches, namely, to have a feigned and dissembled religion and devotion, straight had he enemies on his head, who rose up against him; as Adad the Edomite, and Razin, who made war upon him. So generally may be said of all the kings of Judah and Israel, one after another; that God has always prospered those who were pure and sincere in religion, and who have had his service in recommendation; and contrary, upon those impure and hypocrites in religion, he has heaped ruins, calamities, and other vengeances.
But I pray you consider a little the reason wherewith Machiavelli proves his maxim. Because (says he) the people look but at the exterior and outward show of things, it is sufficient that the prince show himself outwardly devout, although he be not devout at all. Ought religion then to serve for nothing but to please and be agreeable unto the people? Or ought it not rather to serve to make men agreeable to God? But how would thou that God should take pleasure in your religion – he that sees the bottom of your heart and finds the deepest of your thoughts – if it be simulated and feigned, and that you are a hypocrite? Neither may Machiavelli nor the Machiavellians (that is to say, the atheists of our time) think men so senseless and gross that they cannot soon discover their hypocrisies and dissimulations. Many there are in the world who think by their subtleties and dissemblings to be covered and hid, yet are sufficiently known; and however craftily they do it, all the world knows there is nothing but impiety and wickedness in their hearts. Suppose therefore these simulations and hypocrisies come to be discovered in a prince, I pray you into what honor and reputation will he fall? Shall he not be mocked, blamed, and despised by his subjects, if seeing himself discovered, he makes an open profession of impiety and atheism (as we see many persons do it because they can no longer hide their impiety); shall not this be publicly to authorize all impiety and spite of God and of all religion? For certain it is that men, who are naturally more inclined to evil than to good, when they see their prince follow that course, will do as he does. Because ordinarily subjects conform themselves to the manners and conditions of the prince. Behold then the consequence of that most wicked and detestable doctrine of that wicked atheist; which is to bring all people to a spite and a mockery of God and his religion, and of all holy things, and to let go the bridle to all vices and villainies. From which God keep us by his grace, and destroy all them who teach so wicked doctrines, if they will not amend; as certainly he will do, and so let them look for it.