On Candide

by , 2000

In his novel Candide, Voltaire often criticized religious beliefs of the times. His criticism of religion surfaces throughout the entire story. The kindness of the Anabaptist that Candide met showed the silliness of religious prejudices. The old woman's story of her father, Pope Urban X, and the life of wealth she lived as a child shows the corruption of the Catholic clergy. Finally, the conversation Candide and Cacambo had with the old man in Eldorado shows the benefits of a simple religion, a contrast of the European religions of the time.

During the eighteenth century, the Anabaptists were often persecuted and hated because of their radical religious beliefs. Voltaire attacked this custom with his description of the kindness of an Anabaptist by the name of James. Candide found himself in Holland, a Christian country, with no food or work, so he asked one of the Protestant citizens for some bread. After Candide did not admit that the pope was the antichrist, the Protestant yelled at him, "You don't deserve to eat... go you scoundrel, you wretch, never come near me again!," while his wife dumped a bucket full of waste on Candide's head (24). James, the Anabaptist, witnessed this horrible action towards Candide and invited him into his own home, served him bread and beer and gave him two florins. Later on, in a journey to Lisbon, a sailor fell into the ocean, and so James quickly helped him back onto the ship, "but, in the course of his efforts, he was thrown into the sea in full view of the sailor, who let him perish without deigning even to look at him" (28). James' kindness resulted in his death. Voltaire included this Anabaptist in his story to display the silliness of religious prejudices. This man was hated by society because of his religious views, but he was kind to others, unlike the Protestants and the sailor that Candide encountered.

Voltaire also criticized the corruption found in the clergy of the Catholic Church. An old woman took care of Candide after his flogging in Lisbon and reunited him with his long lost love, Cunegonde. While on a ship, the three exchanged stories of their adventures and the troubles that they had faced. In the beginning of the old woman's story she said, "I am the daughter of Pope Urban X and the Princess of Palestrina" (42). She then talked about the magnificent palace that she grew up in and the riches that she enjoyed and how she was betrothed to a prince of Massa-Carrara. This story was mentioned in Candide because it showed the corruption of the Catholic clergy. The pope, a man who was supposed to be celibate and follow the example of Christ, instead had a daughter who wore dresses "worth more than all the splendor in Westphalia," a wife who was a princess, and a "palace so magnificent that all the castles of [the] German barons couldn't have served as its stable" (42). Voltaire included this tale to ridicule the corruption in the Catholic clergy.

Voltaire also attacked the traditional religion of the day by showing the benefits of a better religion. He used a conversation between an old man and Candide in Eldorado to display this ideal religion. After questioning the man about whether or not his people had a religion and what God it was that they worshipped, Candide asked to see some of their priests. The old man's response was that they were all priests, they needed no special people to interfere in their worship with God. To this, Candide exclaimed, "What! You have no monks who teach, argue, rule, plot and burn people who don't agree with them?" (67). The old man replied that they would be mad if they did. The religion that the people of Eldorado had was much simpler than any of the European religions. Voltaire spoke of this religion to show how the clergy were unnecessary and sometimes even harmful, and how a simple religion might benefit Europeans better.

Voltaire filled his novel, Candide, with attacks and criticisms on religion. He did this in different ways. He attacked religious prejudices by showing an example in which they falsely judged people, he attacked the corruption of the clergy by writing about the daughter of a wealthy pope, and he attacked the complexity of religion by showing the benefits of a simpler religion.