Sacred Texts  Classics  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Golden Verses of Pythagoras, by Fabre d'Olivet, [1917], at

30. Thou shalt see that the evils which devour men
Are of their choice the fruit. . . .

Undoubtedly one of the most important things for man to understand is the nearest cause of his evils, so that, ceasing from murmuring against Providence, he may blame only himself for the misfortunes of which he is the proper artisan. Ignorance, always weak and presumptuous, concealing its own mistakes, holds responsible, with their consequences, the things which are most foreign there: thus the child which hurts itself, threatens with his voice and strikes with his hand the wall against which he has stumbled. Of all errors this is the most common. Likewise he acknowledges with as much difficulty his own wrongs as he accuses with ease those of others. This baleful habit of imputing to Providence the evils which afflict humanity has furnished, as we have seen, the strongest arguments to the skeptics to attack its influence, and to undermine thus in its foundation the very existence of the Divinity. All peoples have been guilty of this a; but the moderns are, as I believe, the only ones who coldly and without passion, in order to sustain certain opinions that they have embraced, have raised systematically their ignorance concerning the cause of evil, and made an irresistible fatality proceed from the All-Powerful and divine Prescience, which drawing man on to vice and misfortune, damns him by force; and by a consequence determined by the will of God, delivers him to eternal

p. 254

sufferings. a Such were those among the Christians of the fifth century, who were named Predestinarians on account of their terrible system. Their opinion, it is true, was condemned by the councils of Arles and Lyon b; but they declared that the church fell into inconsistency, since the sentiment in this respect, being exactly conformable with that which Saint Augustine had advanced against the Pelagians, this church could not condemn the one without condemning the other and therefore, without deciding in favour of the opposed doctrine which they had already condemned. It is certain that the Predestinarians were right on this last point, as well as Gotescalc, Baius, and Jansenius, who, with the book of Saint Augustine in hand, proved it later on, by causing in this church, at different times, troubles more or less violent on the subject.

This is the moment to complete the proofs of what I advanced in my Seventh Examination, that the liberty of man can be established only by the sole theosophical tradition, and the assent that all the sages of the earth have given to it; and that there is no doctrine, which, becoming separated, does not abandon the Universe to the irresistible impulse of an absolute fatality. I have shown sufficiently the emptiness of all the cosmogonical systems, whether their authors have founded them upon a sole principle or upon two, upon spirit or upon matter; I have sufficiently indicated the danger that would have ensued from divulging the secret dogma of divine Unity, since this disclosure drew with it the necessity of explaining the origin of Good and Evil, which was impossible; I have cited the example of Moses, and I have demonstrated as a decisive point in this matter that those of his followers who rejected the oral tradition of this great man, to attach themselves to the literal meaning only of his Sepher, fell into fatalism and were led to make God himself the author of Evil; finally I have announced that Christianity

p. 255

and Islamism, issuing alike from the Mosaic doctrine, have not been able to evade the dogma of predestination: this dogma, although often repulsed by the Christian and Mussulman doctors, alarmed at its consequences, is shown, none the less, from the facts. The Koran which teaches it openly exempts me from other proofs in defence of the Mussulmans. Let us turn to the Christians.

It is certain that one of the greatest men of the primitive church, Origen, perceiving to what consequences the explanation of the origin of Evil led, by the way in which it was vulgarly understood, according to the literal translation of the Sepher of Moses, undertook to bring all back to allegory, recalling Christianity being born to the theosophical tradition pertaining to the free will of man a; but his books, wherein he exposed this tradition according to the doctrine of Pythagoras and Plato, b were burned as heretical, by the order of Pope Gelasius. c The church at that time paid little attention to the blow dealt by Origen, occupied as it was with examining the principal dogmas of incarnation, of the divinity of Jesus, of the consubstantiality of the Word, of the Unity of its person and the duality of its nature; but when, following the energetic expression of Plucquet, the flame of conflagration had passed over all these opinions, and when the waves of blood had drenched the ashes, it was necessary to offer new food for its activity. An English monk named Pelagius, d born with an ardent and impetuous mind, was the foremost to attack this thorny question of the liberty of man, and, wishing to establish it, was led to deny original sin.

Man [he said] is free to do good or evil: he who tries to lay the blame of his vices on the weakness of nature, is unjust: for what is sin, in general? Is it a thing that one may evade, or

p. 256

not? If one cannot evade it, there is no evil in committing it and then it does not exist: if one can evade it, it must be evil to commit it and therefore it exists: its very existence is born of the free will, and proves it. a The dogma of original sin [continued Pelagius] is absurd and unjust to God; for a creature which does not exist would not be an accomplice of a bad action; and it outrages divine justice, to say that God punishes him as guilty of this action. b Man [added Pelagius] has therefore a real power of doing good and evil, and he is free in these two respects. But the liberty of doing a thing supposes necessarily the union of all causes and of all conditions requisite for doing that thing; and one is not free regarding an effect, every time that one of the causes or conditions naturally exigent for producing this effect is lacking. Therefore, to have the liberty of seeing the subjects, it is necessary not only that the sense of sight be well developed, but also that the subjects be discriminated, and placed at an equitable distance. c

This far, the doctrine of Pelagius was wholly similar to that of Pythagoras, as explained by Hierocles d; but it differs from it afterwards, in what the English monk asserted, that since man is born with the liberty of doing good and evil, he receives from nature and unites in him all the conditions and all the causes naturally necessary for good and evil; which robs him of his most beautiful prerogative,—perfectibility; whereas Pythagoras held, on the contrary, that these causes and these effects were only accorded to those who, on their part, concurred in acquiring them, and who, by the work that they have done for themselves in seeking to know themselves, have succeeded in possessing them more and more perfectly.

However mitigated the doctrine of Pelagius might be, it appeared still to accord too much with free will and was condemned by the ecclesiastical authorities, who declared,

p. 257

through the medium of several councils, that man can do nothing of himself without the aid of grace. Saint Augustine, who had been the soul of these councils, pressed by the disciple of Pelagius to explain the nature of this grace and to say how God accorded it to one man rather than to another without being induced by the difference of their merits, replied that man being in the masse de perdition, and God having no need of them, and being furthermore independent and all-powerful, he gave grace to whom he willed, without the one to whom he did not give it having the right to complain; everything coming to pass as a result of his will, which had foreseen all and determined all. a Assuredly one could not establish more forcibly the necessity of all things, nor submit men to a sterner fatality, since the want of grace deprived them, not only of virtue in the fleeting course of this life, but delivered them without hope to the torments of an eternal hell. But Saint Augustine, who obeyed a severe and consistent reason, felt very well that he could not speak otherwise, without renouncing the dogma of original sin and overthrowing the foundation of Christianity. All the rigid Christians, all those who, at different times, have undertaken to restore Christianity to its constitutive principles, have thought as Saint Augustine, and although the church, alarmed at the terrible inferences that were drawn from the canonical doctrine, may have essayed to temper it, by condemning, as I have said, the Predestinarians and by approving of the persecutions directed against Gotescalc; and, at the time when Luther drew in his reform a great part of Christendom toward the dogma of predestination, this did not prevent Baius, who remained faithful to orthodoxy, from preaching the same dogma; nor Calvin, soon after, from adding new lights to what Luther had left doubtful, and Jansenius, finally, corroborating what Baius had only outlined, from raising in the very midst of the

p. 258

church that formidable faction which all the united efforts of the Pope and the Jesuits have been unable to convict of erring in the doctrine of Saint Augustine, which it has sustained with a force worthy of a better cause.

According to Calvin, who of all of them expresses himself most clearly, the soul of man, all of whose faculties are infected with sin, lacks force to resist the temptation which lures him on toward evil. The liberty of which he prides himself is a chimera; he confounds the free with the voluntary, and believes that he chooses freely because there is no constraint, and that he wills to do the evil that he does. a Thus following the doctrine of this reformer, man, dominated by his vicious passions, can produce of himself only wicked actions; and it is to draw him from this state of corruption and impotence that it was necessary that God should send his son upon earth to redeem him and to atone for him; so that it is from the absence of liberty in man that Calvin draws his strongest proofs of the coming of Christ: "For," he said, "if man had been free, and if he had been able to save himself, it would not have been needful that God should offer up his Son in sacrifice." b

This last argument seems irresistible. Besides when the Jesuits had accused Calvin and his followers of making God the author of sin, and of destroying thus all idea of the Divinity c they knew better than to say how it can be otherwise accomplished. They would not have been able, without doing a thing impossible for them—that is, without giving the origin of evil. The difficulty of this explanation, which Moses, even as I have said, has enveloped with a triple veil, has in no wise escaped the fathers of the primitive church. They have well felt that it was the important point whereon depended the solution of all other questions. But how can one attempt even the explanation? The most

p. 259

enlightened among them had agreed that it is an abyss of nature that one would not know how to fathom. a


253:a Homère, cité par Maxime de Tyr.; Pline, l. ii., c. 7; BIBLE, psalm. 73 et 93; Job, c. 23; Habacuc, c. 1; Malach., c. 3; Balzac, Socrate chrétien, p. 237.

254:a Plucquet, Dict. des Hérés., art. PRÉDESTINATIENS.

254:b Noris., Hist. pelag., l. ii., c. 15.

255:a Origen, Comment. in Psalm., p. 38 et 39.

255:b S. Léon., Epist. Decret., ii.; Niceph., l. xvii., c. 27.

255:c Conc. Rom., Gelas., t. iii.

255:d Dict. des Hérés., art. PÉLAGIENS.

256:a Plucquet, comme ci-dessus, t. ii., p. 454.

256:b Pelag., apud S. August., De Nat. et Grat., l. iii., c. 9.

256:c Pelag., apud August., De Grat. Christ., c. 4.

256:d Comment. in Aur. Carm., v. 62.

257:a S. August., De Grat. Christ., cité par Plucquet, Dict. des Hérés., art. PÉLAGIENS.

258:a Calvin, Institut., l. ii., c. 1 et 2.

258:b Ibid., t. ii.

258:c Maimbourg, Hist. du Calvinisme, l. i., p. 73.

259:a Origen., Contr. Cels., l. iv., p. 207.

Next: 31. Unfortunates Seek Afar the Goodness Whose Source Within They Bear