Voltaire [Francois Marie Arouet]
1694 - 1778
French Author/Philosopherby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Francois Marie Arouet (pen name: Voltaire) was born in Paris, France on November 21, 1694. He received an education at the Louis le Grand College and upon completion was on track to study law by his father but Francois was quick to drop this and return to his true passion- literature. In 1717 Francois’ quick tongue got him in trouble with the government when he was accused of writing a derisive spoof about the French authorities, so he spent 11 months imprisoned in the Bastille. It was during this time that he wrote his first theatrical tragedy “Oepide” and adopted the name “Voltaire”. Oedipe was first performed on November 18, 1718 at the Theatre Francais and was well received. He had major success in theatricals releasing two more, Artemire and Marianne, but then again in 1726 insulted a powerful nobleman (Chevalier De Rohan) and was given the choice between exile and imprisonment. Voltaire chose exile and lived in England from 1726 to 1729.
It was in England that Voltaire truly began in philosophical rationalism and in the study of natural sciences. He was also intrigued by England’s Constitutional Monarchy and its religious tolerance. He was attracted to the philosophy of John Locke and the ideas of Sir Isaac Newton. When he returned to France Voltaire wrote a book praising the institutions and customs of England. He believed that England’s freedom of speech and religious tolerances were necessary for social and political progress. He often used England as a model for what he considered to be the opposite of France.
Voltaire was one of the most famous French writers in history. He wrote between fifty and sixty theatrical plays and a variety of books and poems. Some of his most famous are Letters on the English (book), Zaire (play), Zadig (book), and Dictionnaire philosophique (book). Voltaire is also thought of as one of France’s greatest philosophers. His largest philosophical work is called Dictionnaire philosophique. It is this piece that plainly shows Voltaire’s anti-religious character. The titles of the several articles that the piece includes are often pestering annoyances, which he uses to attack the Bible and the church. Voltaire strongly opposed Christianity. Although he attacked Christian beliefs fiercely, he did not do so consistently. Sometimes he claimed that the Bible was a figment and that Jesus had never existed but was created by men who wanted God to be in their imagine. While other times he claimed that only the Bible had been preserved without any change to adjust those inconsistencies. So although he was the inventor of modern day sayings such as ‘common sense is not so common’ and ‘a witty saying proves nothing’ he often contradicted himself.
The Enlightenment was the period of time in Europe when reason began to become more accepted than religion and when tolerance was what most were fighting for. Voltaire is often thought of as the personification of the Enlightenment. This is not to say that Voltaire did not fight for some noble causes, for he was a bold advocator of freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, and opposition to the cruel impulses of ‘unenlightened’ monarchs, to slavery and to militarism. Voltaire’s infamous quote, ‘One hundred years from my day there will not be a Bible in the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker ’ leaves a person wondering, ‘how did a man with seemingly so much knowledge reject the inevitable Truth?’
The Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…”2 If this is true and the fear of the Lord is just the beginning of knowledge then it is safe to say that those who never know the Lord are without knowledge. Maybe they acquire the respect of the world, but then when they’re gone, their legacy is gone shortly thereafter. The Bible also says, “Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom…” 3 Pride clouds the mind. So maybe it was not that Voltaire couldn’t see the truth of God’s Word and the truth shown through His creation, but maybe it was that he had so much pride that he just couldn’t seem to let go of. Granted the Christian apologetics of Voltaire’s time weren’t what they are today, the Bible says that none of us are with an excuse. The existence of a God can be plainly seen in everyday life. So according to the world Voltaire was a great man, full of wisdom, understanding, and ‘tolerance’. However, it’s God’s definition of a “great man” that should be of more importance to us. Isn’t it ironic that a man who said God’s inerrant Word wouldn’t survive another century is now gone and that now his works are so minute? Man cannot exceed God--- no matter how hard he tries!
2 Holy Bible, Proverbs 1:7a
3 Holy Bible, Proverbs 3:7a
1) “Voltaire”, http://education.yahoo.com/reference/encyclopedia/entry?id=49637
Columbia University Press, Copyright © 2003
2) “Voltaire: Author and Philosopher”, Lucid Interactive, http://www.lucidcafe.com/library/95nov/voltaire.html Copyright © 1995-2005
3) Voltaire, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voltaire,
4) “The European Enlightenment”, Richard Hooker, http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/ENLIGHT/ENLIGHT.HTM, Copyright © 1996
5) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Tyndale House Publishers, Copyright © 1996