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Joseph Joubert (1754–1824). Joubert: A Selection from His Thoughts. 1899.

Chapter I.

Of God, Creation, Eternity, Piety, Religion, Preachers, Sacred Books

[1]GOD is so great, and so vast, that to understand Him it is necessary to divide Him.

[2]We always believe that God is like ourselves. The indulgent proclaim Him indulgent, the malignant preach Him as terrible.

[3]All fine and delicate thought in which the soul truly takes part recalls us to God and to piety. The soul cannot stir, awaken, open its eyes without feeling God. God is felt by the soul as air is felt by the body.

[4]Dare I say it? God may be easily known if only we do not force ourselves to define Him.

[5]Earth is only comprehensible to those who have known heaven. Without the world of religion, the world of sense offers nothing but a desolating enigma.

[6]The God of metaphysics is but an idea, but the God of religion, the Creator of heaven and earth, the sovereign Judge of actions and thoughts, is a force.

[7]Because matter is constantly in our sight, we are hindered from seeing it. In vain do you glorify the workman by showing us the wonders of his work; the quantity blinds us, the object distracts us, and the end, though for ever indicated, is for ever invisible.

[8]Would God have made human life merely to contemplate the flow of it, merely to watch the tossing, and tumbling, the play, and the variety—or merely to have the sight of ever-moving hands passing a torch from one to another? No; God does nothing but for eternity.

[9]Our immortality is revealed to us by an inner message breathed at birth into the soul. God Himself when He created us implanted this word, engraved this truth, of which the tones and tokens are indestructible. But, in doing this, God whispers to us and enlightens us secretly. To catch His accents, we must have an inner silence; to see His light, the senses must be closed, and we must look within.

[10]Whither go our ideas? Into the memory of God.

[11]God, in creating our souls and our natures, speaks to them, and gives them teaching whose import is forgotten, but whose impress remains; of this speech and of this light, thus implanted, there remain through the darkest hours of the soul, and in the most forgetful hours of the mind, a murmur and a reflection that never cease, and that sooner or later disturb us amid our worldly distractions.

[12]Will God permit fine thoughts to rank with fine actions? Will there be a reward for those who have sought for them, who have delighted in them, and applied themselves to them? Will the philosopher and the politician be repaid for their projects as the good man for his good deeds? And has useful labour merit in the eyes of God, like a good life? It may well be; but the reward of the first is not as certain as that of the second, and will not be the same; God has put no hope or certainty of it into our souls; other motives guide us. However, I can well imagine Bossuet, Fénelon, Plato, laying their work before God, even Pascal and La Bruyère, even Vauvenargues, and La Fontaine, for their works reflect their souls, and could be counted to their credit in heaven. But it seems to me Rousseau and Montesquieu would hardly dare to present their work: they have only put into it their talents, their moods and their industry. As for Voltaire, his works also reflect the man, and they will be counted—but to his cost.

[13]God takes the ages into account. He pardons the coarseness of some, the over-refinement of others. Little known by some, mis-known by others, in His even scales He counts to our excuse the superstitions and the unbeliefs of the times in which we live. Our age is sick; He sees it. Our understanding is maimed; He will pardon us, if we give wholly to Him whatever there may be left in us that is sound.

[14]Heaven is for those who think upon it.

[15]Piety is a sublime wisdom surpassing all other wisdom; a kind of genius, that gives wings to the mind. No one is wise who has not piety.

[16]Piety is a kind of modesty. It makes us turn away our thoughts, as modesty makes us turn away our eyes, from all that is unlawful.

[17]Piety is to the affections what poetry is to the imagination, what fine metaphysic is to the intellect; it exercises the whole compass of our feelings. By it the soul attains perfect symmetry, and the highest perfection that is possible to her.

[18]Piety attaches us to all that is most powerful—that is, God; and to all that is weakest, such as children and old people, the poor, the infirm, the unhappy and the afflicted. If we have not piety, old age shocks our sight, infirmity repels us, imbecility disgusts us. If we have piety, we see in old age but the fulness of years, in infirmity suffering, in imbecility misfortune; and we feel only respect, compassion, and the desire to give relief.

[19]Religion imposes the duty, even on a poor man, of being liberal, noble, generous, munificent in charity.

[20]God wills that we should love even His enemies.

[21]To think of God is an act.

[22]God loves the soul, and as there is a force that draws the soul to God, so is there also, if I dare say so, one that draws God to the soul. He makes the soul his delight.

[23]God!—and thence all virtues, all duties. If there be any into which the idea of God does not enter, some failing, or some excess will always be found in them: they lack either number, weight, or measure, things whereof the exactitude is divine.

[24]The only happy people in the world are the good man, the sage and the saint, but the saint is happier than either of the others, so much is man by his nature formed for sanctity.

[25]God’s esteem, if it may be so expressed, is easier to earn than man’s esteem, because God takes account of our efforts.

[26]Forgetfulness of earthly things, and a purpose directed towards heavenly things; freedom from all heat, and care, and trouble, and effort; fulness of life without any agitation; the delight of feeling without the labour of thought; the rapture of ecstasy without the preparatory meditation; in a word, pure spirituality in the thick of the world, and amid the tumult of the senses:—it is only the joy of a minute, an instant; but these moments of piety spread a fragrance over our months and years.

[27]Religion is the poetry of the heart; it has enchantments useful to our daily life; it gives us both happiness and virtue.

[28]Piety is not a religion though it is the soul of all religions. A man has not a religion simply by having pious inclinations, any more than he has a country simply by having philanthropy. A man has not a country until he is a citizen in a state, until he undertakes to follow, and uphold, certain laws, to obey certain magistrates, and to adopt certain ways of living and acting.

[29]Religion is neither a theology nor a theosophy; it is more than all this; it is a discipline, a law, a yoke, an indissoluble engagement.[M.A.]

[30]One man finds in religion his literature and his science, another finds in it his joy and his duty.

[31]The pomps and magnificence with which the Church is reproached are in truth the result and the proof of her incomparable excellence. From whence, let me ask, have come this power of hers, and these excessive riches, except from the enchantment into which she threw the world? Ravished with her beauty, millions of men from age to age kept loading her with gifts, bequests, sessions. She had the talent of making herself loved, and the talent of making men happy. It is that which wrought prodigies for her; it is from thence that she drew her power.[M.A.]

[32]The austere sects excite the most enthusiasm at first; but the temperate sects have always been the most durable.[M.A.]

[33]Those who are without religion lack a virtue, and had they all others they could not be perfect.

[34]Virtue is not an easy thing; why should religion be easy?

[35]Close thine eyes, and thou shalt see.

[36]To attain the regions of light we must pass through clouds. Some of us never emerge; others know how to pass beyond.

[37]One should be fearful of being wrong in poetry when one thinks differently from the poets, and in religion when one thinks differently from the saints.[M.A.]

[38]Before God a man must be neither learned nor philosophical, but a child, a slave, a pupil, or at most a poet.

[39]In our religious life, we should be simple, unconstrained and cheerful; not dignified, grave, and calculating.

[40]Those who have never felt the spirit of devotion have never been tender-hearted enough.

[41]The idea of God is a light, a light that guides, that cheers; and prayer feeds the flame.

[42]Are we permitted to speak to God of our own wishes, and our own affairs? It may be said that both are right—those who do so in trustful simplicity, and those who in reverence refrain.

[43]The ceremonies of Catholicism are a training in refinement.

[44]The saints who were men of intellect, seem to me superior to the philosophers. They were happier in their lives, more useful, more exemplary.

[45]Why is even a bad preacher almost always heard by the pious with pleasure? Because he talks to them about what they love. But you who have to expound religion to the children of this world, you who have to speak to them of that which they once loved perhaps, or which they would be glad to love—remember that they do not love it yet, and to make them love it take heed to speak with power.[M.A.]

[46]You may do what you like, mankind will believe no one but God; and He only can persuade mankind who believes that God has spoken to him. No one can give faith, unless he has faith. The persuaded persuade, as the indulgent disarm.[M.A.]

[47]As the doctor’s own nature enters into his doctoring, and the moralist’s character enters into his moralising, so the temper of the theologian often determines his theology.

[48]For a translation of the Bible you want largeness of phrase; constructions where the joins are not too close, nor the surface too polished; and in the words and expressions a touch of the archaic.

[49]We need all the leisure of idleness, some spare time, and some study, to enjoy the beauties of Homer, and to understand him we must dream over him. We need but a moment, I will not say of attention, but of listening, to understand and receive into our being the beauties of the Bible, beauties that proportion themselves to the different disposition and capacity of different minds; so that they can enter into the smallest, or entirely fill the greatest, and are available in all their fulness for the intelligence of any man, according as he is more or less well disposed, and as soon as he is ready to admit them.

[50]The Old Testament teaches good and evil; the Gospel on the contrary seems written for the elect; it is the book of innocence. The first is made for earth, the other seems made for Heaven. According as the one or the other of these books is the more familiar to a nation, different religious tempers come into being.