The second part, treating of the religion which a prince ought to hold
After having before discoursed largely enough what counsel a prince should have and take, it will not be to any evil purpose to handle what religion he ought to hold and cause to be observed in his dominions. For it is the first and principal thing wherein he ought to employ his counsellors; namely, that the true and pure religion of God be known; and being known, that it be observed by him and all his subjects. Machiavelli in this case (as a very atheist and contemner of God) gives another document to a prince; for he would that a prince should not care whether the religion he holds be true or false, but says that he ought to support and favor such falsities as are found therein. And he comes even to this point, as an abominable and wicked blasphemer, that he prefers the religion of the pagans before the Christians; and yet his books are not condemned by our Sorbonne. But before we enter to confute his detestable maxims, I will in manner of a preface demonstrate in few words the true resolution that a prince ought to have in this matter. I presuppose then by a certain maxim, that the prince ought to hold the Christian religion, as it is seen, by all antiquity, simplicity, and excellence of doctrine. For in the first place, none can deny but it is more ancient than any other of all the religions that ever were, because it takes its foundation upon the books of Moses, and the promises of God, of Christ and Messiah, contained in those books, which were made to our first fathers, from the beginning of the world. But there is no author, Greek or Latin, who was not long after Moses; and it was a thing confessed and held among all learned men, that Moses wrote his books many hundreds of years before Homer, Berosus, Hesiod, Manethon, Metasthenes, and others like, which many men hold for the most ancient writers. Moreover, when Moses describes the generation of Noah, and shows us that his children have been the first stem and root of divers nations of the world (in token and sign thereof, these nations hold yet at the present the names of such children) doth not this show plainly and truly, that Moses began at the world’s beginning? Of Madens came the Medes, of Janus the Ionians, of Jobel the Iberians, of Riphat the Riphaeng, of Tigran the Tigranians, of Tharsis the Tharsians, of Cithin the Cyprians, of Canaan the Canaanites, of Sidon the Sidonians, of Elam the Elamites, of Assur the Assyrians, of Lud the Lydians and others. All these were the children, nephews, or arrear-nephews of Noah, from whence the said nations have taken their names. I follows therefore, that they were the first flocks and roots of them. Again, if we look to the ceremonies that in times past the pagans used in their sacrifices, men shall easily know that they are but apish imitations of such sacrifices as were ordained by God, which are described by Moses. For the sacrifice of Iphigenia which the Greeks made in Aulide to prosper them in the war they enterprised against Troy, what else is it than an imitation of Japheth’s sacrifice? Who made a vow of a sacrifice, to prosper him in the war he enterprised; which sacrifice fell after by the divine will upon his own daughter. The custom which the Gauls and many other people to immolate and offer criminals when they had an opinion that God was angry with them; what other thing was it but a following of the sacrifice of Abraham, and of the sacrifices that God had commanded for the expiation of sins? The pagans also imitated this of Moses his sacrifices, that they immolated the like beasts, and reserved also a part of the beast sacrificed to eat. So that thereby also it is clearly seen that the religion of Moses is the primitive and first, and that the other religions are but foul and lazy portraits and imitations thereof. From hence it follows that our Christian religion, which draws its principles from the promises of the Messiah contained in Moses, is the most ancient in the world, yea as ancient as the world itself. For I will not vouchsafe to stay upon the refutation of the strange opinion of Machiavelli and other ancient pagan philosophers, who have maintained that the world had no beginning; but I send them to Empedocles, Plato, and other ancient pagan philosophers who have maintained the contrary. I think that the ignorance of the philosophers who held that the world had no beginning shall excuse them, because they never saw the books of Moses, and in a thing so difficult and hard to comprehend, the spirits of men might easily fail. But the impiety of Machiavelli is no way excusable, who has seen the books of Moses and yet follows that wicked opinion, like a mocker and contemner of the holy scriptures, thinking to show that he knows more than others. He, I say, who is ignorant and full of brutish beastliness, as (God willing) I shall make known.
As for the simplicity of the Christian religion, herein it is seen that the Christians will know God, as he wills that we should know him, and as he has manifested himself to us, without passing further. For they are not so presumptuous as were those foolish pagan philosophers who disputed about the essence of God, and disputing on that point fell into opinions, the most absurd and strange in the world. Some, after they had much dreamed in their brains, concluded that the universal world was God; others that it was the soul of the world; others that it was the sun; and others put forward other like monstrous opinions. They also disputed of his power, of his eternity, and of his providence, by natural reasons. In all these they knew not how to resolve themselves therein; for how is man so proud and insensible to think that his brain (which is not half a foot large) can comprehend so great and infinite a thing? It is as great a foolery and grossness as he that in the palm of his hand will comprehend all the waters of the sea. A Christian then has this modesty and simplicity, to know God by those means and according to how he will be known of men, believing that having a will to pass further is to enter darkness and not into knowledge. From hence follows that the knowledge which a Christian has of God is the only true knowledge, and that all the knowledge that others (as pagans and philosophers) ever had, neither was nor is anything but a shadow and imagination, very far from the most part of the truth.
And touching the excellence of the doctrine of true religion, herein it is first seen that it is founded upon the promises of God made to the first fathers from the beginning of the world. Whereby all they that embrace that religion are assured that God is their father, and that he loves them, and that he will give them eternal life by the means of the Messiah. Can there then be anything more excellent than this? Is there anything in the world that can give more contentment or repose to the spirit of man, than this doctrine? For when man considers the brevity of his days, the languishing and misery of this world, full of envies, enmities, all vices and calamities, will hi not judge himself more unhappy than those beasts, if he hoped not for an eternal happiness after this life? The poor pagans, having this consideration, aspired to an eternity, some in doing worthy acts, whereof there should be a perpetual memory after them; others wrote books that might be read after their death; others persuaded themselves that the gods would send good men’s souls into the Elysian Fields, and the wicked into the Acherontic and Stygian darkness. Yet were there some philosophers who disputed that the souls of generous and valiant men after death go to heaven. All these opinions and persuasions of men were but to give rest to their minds, which judged man of all creatures most unhappy, without an eternal life after this. But what assurance had they of these opinions, which they gave to themselves? These poor people had none, neither founded they themselves, but upon some weak and feeble reasons. For thus they argued that it was not credible that God, who is all good, would create man (who is the most excellent creature in the world) to make him most unhappy, which he should do if he should not enjoy a happy and eternal life after this. They also say that it is not credible that God, who is all just, would equally deal with the good and the bad; which he should do if there were not another life than this, wherein the good might receive a felicity, and the wicked punishment for their misdeeds. But what is all this? These are but feeble and weak, petty reasons, whereupon the spirits and consciences of men can find no good foundation to repose themselves, and to take an assured resolution of a salvation and an eternal felicity. But the Christian has another foundation than this, for he knows that God is of old gone out (if I may so say) from his throne in heaven to communicate and manifest himself to our ancient fathers, to speak unto them, to declare unto them his bounty and love towards mankind. He knows that god has made them promises of the Messiah, which he has since accomplished, and that in him he has promised to give eternal life to all those who lay hold of that Messiah, and use his means to come unto it. These promises have been many times reiterated to our said fathers, and in ages will distant from each other, that they might not be forgotten, but that they might be so much the more clear, and known by everyone. Insomuch that the pagans themselves (who never read our fathers’ writings) have had some knowledge of the promises of God touching the Messiah, they were so clear, notorious and well known, as we shall say more fully in another place. Here therefore a resolution, a great excellency in this doctrine of the Christian religion, viz. what it brings us to a certain knowledge and a firm assurance of an eternal life after this; which knowledge and assurance is not founded upon certain lean philosophical reasons, but upon the promises proceeding from the very mouth of God, who is the truth itself, and cannot lie.
And as for the doctrine of manners, I confess that the pagans and philosophers who have held other religions have spoken and reasoned in reasonably good terms, but yet their doctrine comes nothing near to that which the Christian religion teaches us thereof. True it is that the pagans have spoken something well of justice, temperance, clemency, prudence, loyalty, fidelity, amity, gentleness, magnanimity, liberality, love towards one’s country, and such other virtues. He who denies that they have spoken well, and that some have somewhat practiced them, should do them wrong. And the Christians have this in common with them, to approve and follow all these virtues, and for that cause they disdain not to read their books, and to learn of them the goodly documents which they have left, touching these virtues. But I must say that the Christian religion has launched and entered far deeper into the doctrine of good manners, than the pagans and philosophers have done. For proof hereof I will take the maxim of Plato, that we are not only born for ourselves, but that our birth is partly for our country, partly for our parents, and partly for our friends. Behold a goodly sentence we can say no other; but if we compare it with the doctrine of Christians, it will be found maimed and defective. For what mention does Plato make of the poor? Where and in what place of this notable sentence does he set them? He speaks not at all of them; briefly, he would have it that our charity should be first employed towards ourselves, which they have well marked and followed who say that a well ordered charity begins with himself. But this is far from the doctrine which Saint Paul teaches the Christians when he says that charity seeks not her own; and also that which Christ himself commands, to love our neighbor as ourselves. Secondly Plato places our love towards our country, thirdly our love towards our parents, and lastly our friends. And what becomes of the poor? Let them do as they can, for Plato his charity stretches not to them. And indeed a poor person, in the time of the pagans, who had no means to live, had no shorter way than to sell himself to be a slave unto him who bought him, who afterward served himself with him and nourished him. If such a poor man found no man to buy him, he died with hunger. True it is that some were sometimes touched with commiseration of humanity towards poor persons, when they saw them languishing and in misery. But they called not this commiseration a virtue, but only a human passion. Neither had they any hospitals to lodge and nourish the poor in, nor their princes or great lords had their almoniers as Christians have. When a child was born deformed they would kill it, a cruel thing and full of inhumanity, yet it was ordinarily practiced; at Rome it was an express law of Romulus, whereby he commanded to expose and stifle the children who were born deformed. Which not only was a cruelty against nature, but as it were a spite and injury done to the Creator who had created and formed them. They made account of poor men as they did of beasts, for they slew their slaves at their pleasure, and when and for what they would. Vedius Polio a Roman gentleman in the time of Augustus Caesar ordinarily caused to slay his servants and slaves, of which he had a great number; choosing always the most profitable, cast the other bodies into his ponds which he had near his house, to feed lampreys. In the pagans’ time, to offer pleasure and pastime to the people, they had theaters for combats of poor slaves, who they caused to band in two parts, one against another, furiously setting upon each other with naked swords, and none of them armed with anything for defense. This sport ended, when they of one party had slain all the others, or else when all had slain one another to the last. The people laughed and took pleasure to see this, no more nor less than we take pleasure to see cocks fight. Hereby it is seen that the pagans had no pity for the poor, nor of slaves and servants, but regarded them as brute beasts, and made no more account of them than the service they drew from them. Also we never read among all their moral precepts that they ever spoke of the poor, nor that they ever established any good policy to help them. Yet notwithstanding this agrees well with natural reason, to do well to his like. And this so noble a sentence which the emperor Alexander Severus carried for his device: What you would not have done to thee, do it not to another. Which agrees well with common sense, and seems well to be a principle of nature, not only in the negative, but also in the affirmative. Yet although natural light leads us hereunto, the pagans have not yet come to this point. The historian Lampridius says that the emperor Alexander learned this excellent device from the Christians or the Jews of his time. Therefore it appears by the above said reasons that the doctrine of manners, which is taught by the Christian religion, is much more excellent than that which the religions of the pagans and philosophers teach, seeing they make no account of the poor, who are recommended to us by so many precepts of religion. Moreover, the Christian religion abases the pride of men’s hearts, and so makes them know they are sinners; and the religion of the pagans and philosophers fill men with pride and presumption, persuading them that naturally they are virtuous of themselves, and inclined to do good and virtuous works, which they attribute to their own virtue and not to God. Yet more, the Christian religion teaches us to be patient, to support the imperfections of one another, and to pardon; but contrary, that of the pagans and philosophers persuades to seek vengeance. For a conclusion, none can deny but that the doctrine of Christian religion is in all points more excellent and perfect than that of the pagan religion. But when I speak of the pagan religion, I understand all others. Religions, unless it be the Jewish religion, out of which the Christian takes its origin, I hold for pagans the Turks, Saracens, and all other barbarous people, who allow neither the Old nor New Testament, and that have no knowledge in them.
But I do not doubt but some will here make a question in this time wherein we are, that is, what religion ought to be accounted Christian, whether the Catholic or reformed. Hereunto I answer that we ought not to make two of them, and that it is but one same religion, and as the names Catholic, and evangelist, and reformed, are all one name, so is the thing itself. For the one and the other acknowledges Christ, which is the foundation, and hold the articles of the faith of the apostles, approve the trinity, and the sacraments of baptism and the holy supper; although there is some diversity in the understanding of certain points, we may not for that make them two separate religions. For in brief, the one and the other is Christian, seeing they take Christ for the foundation. But for this purpose I will here recite a discourse of a learned man which I lately heard at my lodging in my journey from Paris to Basel. By which discourse this good person maintained that the Catholic and Evangelists agree not only in name but in doctrine, although sophist will persuade to the contrary. This proposition at first seemed to me a very paradox, but when I heard and understood the reasons of that good man, his saying seemed very true. There was in the company a Catholic gentleman, not a great talker and babbler but a man very gentle and affable, who took great pleasure to hear this discourse, and asked many questions of this good man, whom I cannot name, for I never saw him before. He was no man of great show, neither was there any great estimation made of him at the beginning, before we heard him speak; but at the end of our table, when we had given thanks, upon certain talk we had of religion he put forth the said proposition. All the company prayed him to clear and illuminate that point, and to speak his full opinion therein; for there was neither Catholic nor Evangelist who did not greatly desire to understand that point. He began then in this manner, after he had prayed all the company to take in good part what he should say, and humanely to excuse his faults, if any escaped.
(Here follows a lengthy discourse on the points of contention between Catholics and Protestants. I may transcribe it in the future. - Ed.)