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date: 14 May 2021

Montaigne on Faith and Religion

Abstract and Keywords

What Montaigne’s biography tells us about his religion is confirmed partly in his Essays. He was without doubt a loyal Catholic but did not want to tell his entire life. Instead of displaying his beliefs, Montaigne chose to exercise his free judgment on all things. He did so with an assumed and conscious boldness. Concerned to preserve the unity of the kingdom by maintaining the old religion, he became equally hostile to the Protestant innovations and the reactionary measures of the Catholic League. Montaigne asserts the true faith: a pure gift from God that cannot be reduced to cultural contingencies. He had a good knowledge of current theological debates but chose not to discuss the Church dogmas. Like an anthropologist, he studied the human side of Christianity. He preferred to use a secular discourse, however “very religious,” to broach the question of faith in profane terms but without challenging its religious foundation.

Keywords: religion, God, faith, Christianity, Catholics, Protestants, censorship, theology

Over the centuries, Montaigne has been a Catholic by tradition, a sincere Christian, a fideist, a crypto-Protestant, a deist, an agnostic, a concealed atheist, a Marrano by birth, a Buddhist by affinity, a Counter-Reformation activist, or indifferent in religious matters altogether. It is no doubt characteristic of great works to be interpreted according to beliefs, affiliations, and ideologies. Even the most informed critic is not immune to the prejudice that leads the reader to seek in a text that which resembles himself and to construct thereupon a self-satisfied, coherent reading, even if it means from the outset excluding certain statements from the moment they should embarrass him. The author of the Essays says of this kind of reader that he has a “worried” mind, but Montaigne’s first-person text functions more than others as a mirror, wherein each risks contemplating his own image.

Must we confound Montaigne and his book, even if the latter is “consubstantial with its author”?1 Unlike a memoir, it was not conceived for chronicling the events of life but rather as an intermittent record of his thoughts over the course of twenty years on all subjects. This includes religious ones, which he addresses both in passing and by dedicating some chapters to this theme.2 We must then, if not separate, then at least distinguish the engagement of Montaigne in the history of his age from the free exercise of his judgment in the Essays, the book of an author who speaks “as an ignorant enquirer,” who does not teach but “tell,”3 and who does not exhibit a stationary thought but a “thinking” that is always in motion.

(p. 526) After the examination of his book by the censors in Rome in 1581, Montaigne recalled this distinction, one fundamental to the beginning of “Of prayers” in 1582, then with insistence in an addition to this chapter in the Bordeaux Copy: “I set forth notions that are human and my own, simply as human notions considered in themselves … matter of opinion, not matter of faith; what I reason out according to me, not what I believe according to God … in a lay manner, not clerical, but always very religious.”4

Montaigne’s Political and Religious Engagement

During the second half of the sixteenth century, France was agitated by troubles—the word by which one designates eight civil wars—the Wars of Religion—punctuated by fragile peace treaties. Even putting aside the necessity of editorial prudence, writing about religion during “so unpleasant a season”5 is hardly the same thing as doing so in a more serene period, especially when one is, like Montaigne, attached to the Catholic house of Foix, itself a vassal of the Protestant king of Navarre, cousin of the “Tres-chestien” king of France.6 The three sons of Gaston de Foix, Montaigne’s protector, will die on the same day in the service of Navarre.7

Amid such complexity, the Lord of Montaigne had to take a side. If he received Navarre twice at his home, first in 1584, just after the latter’s victory in the battle of Coutras over the Catholic army, then again in 1587 with his entire suite of Huguenot nobles, it was nevertheless in the name of the Catholic Montpensier that he had intervened in the Grand Chamber of the Parlement of Bordeaux ten years before, “dispatched from the encampment at Sainte-Hermine” where the duke had installed the royal army against the Protestant troops of La Noue. Twelve years before that, on June 12, 1562, he had declared his Catholic faith in the Parlement of Paris before an image of the Passion of the Christ. He was thus perceived among the parliamentarians of Bordeaux as one of those intransigent Catholics who reproached the president for his indulgence toward adherents of the Reformation. In 1571, his admission to the Order of Saint-Michel (p. 527) obliged him to attend Mass daily.8 He would do so in his chapel, on the ground floor of the tower where he installed his beloved “library.” At the very top of the tower was a campanile, from which a bell continued to sound the Ave Maria morning and evening in a country won over to the Reformation.

During his two terms as mayor of Bordeaux (1581–1585) and beyond, Montaigne faithfully served Matignon, lieutenant-general of the king, not only by foiling the attempts of the Catholic Leaguers to take control of the city, but also, while on his estate, by informing the marshal of the activities and projects of Navarre or of the troop movements known to him. He used his influence over Navarre’s mistress, the Catholic countess of Guiche, to bring about the conversion of Henri, who had become heir apparent to the throne of France. In his last letter to Matignon on February 16, 1588, he recounts how he was robbed near the forest of Villebois, near Angoulême, by a certain Lignou, a name that we encounter again the following year in the forest of Loches, where he is found pillaging and mistreating the Carthusians of Liget. This Huguenot gang leader saw that he was dealing with two Catholics, Montaigne and Thorigny (the son of Matignon). On the order of Condé, a Protestant party leader who had been Montaigne’s host, he was forced to let them go. It was a misjudgment that landed Montaigne in prison the following summer at the request of the Duke of Elbeuf, “in retaliation for a relative of his,” from the Catholic League who had been detained by the king at Rouen. In response to the entreaties of Catherine de’ Medici, Montaigne was liberated by order of the Duke of Guise, the Catholic party leader who controlled Paris at the time. Without high-level protection, it was not easy to be moderate among the partisans of either side: “I was belabored from every quarter; to the Ghibelline I was a Guelph, to the Guelph a Ghibelline.”9

The Travel Journal introduced Enlightenment readers to an unexpectedly devout Montaigne, one who is seen kissing the pope’s foot, visiting the famous courtesan Veronica Franco in Venice, attending an exorcism and Lent sermons, then going on pilgrimage to Our Lady of Loreto, where he attends Mass, takes communion, and leaves a votive tablet for himself and his family. He speaks most highly there not only of the Jesuit scholars, whose growing influence he still admires at this time, but also of the “uneducated” Jesuati, whom he likes to visit.10 His secretary does not neglect to emphasize his theological competence, for example at Isne, during a debate with a Protestant doctor of theology about the Eucharist and the different modes of Jesus’ presence.11 He had displayed similar dispositions in Basel during a dinner with Platter and Hotman. If Montaigne is not a theologian, his knowledge of theological controversies is far from (p. 528) negligible and his curiosity embraces the Protestant churches in all their diversity, the Christians of the Orient, and the Jewish religion (he attends a Lutheran baptism and a circumcision, and he frequently visits the Patriarch of Antioch). During the second conversation at the Sacro Palazzo, even Sisto Fabri and his colleague Lancio, both Dominicans, pay homage to Montaigne’s knowledge, asking him to ignore the censor’s notes on his book: “they honored both my intention and affection for the Church and my ability … . They urged me to help the Church by my eloquence.” By which they only confirmed what the pope himself had said to Montaigne.12 Even if for the traveler as for his secretary these are stock phrases, they at least allow us to see on which side the French nobleman was officially situated, what qualities were recognized in him, and even what service was expected of him.

Seven years later, in letters sent from Paris in February 1588, the ambassadors of England and France confirm Montaigne’s affiliation with the Catholic party, even though he is, at the time, at the head of a Protestant delegation.13 The first, Stafford, comments to his superior on “the arrival of a certain Montaigne, sent on behalf of the king of Navarre with the son of Matignon,” and he observes that this mission makes all of the Protestants jealous because “the man in question is Catholic.” The second, Mendoza, provides his king with the same information: “There has arrived here, they say, Monsieur de Montaigne, who is a Catholic nobleman, and who follows Navarre under the direction of Matignon.” Like Stafford, he thinks that Montaigne is working toward the conversion of the king of Navarre by using his influence over the Countess of Guiche.

Finally, we must recall two final testimonies about Montaigne’s Catholic death and tomb. There are doubts concerning the late and indirect account of his final moments by Étienne Pasquier: “he had the Mass said in his bedroom; and as the priest reached the elevation of the Corpus Domini, this poor nobleman threw himself headlong, the best he could, onto his bed, his hands joined.”14 The proponents of an unbelieving Montaigne have difficulty admitting this edifying end, where the wafer—indubitably a Catholic marker—plays an eminent role. The other testimony is engraved in two epitaphs on the marble of Montaigne’s tomb, formerly installed at the Feuillants in Bordeaux. The Greek epitaph makes him speak in the first person: “I joined pyrrhonian doubt to Christian doctrine.” This no doubt is how the “Apology” was read at the time, particularly those pages where it is affirmed that this form of skepticism, far from undermining the bedrock of the Christian faith, ruins the dogmatic philosophies and offers to God “a blank tablet” on which to engrave whatever pleases him.15 The Latin epitaph salutes in the deceased the friend of kings and princes, specifying that among the latter must be numbered also “the dissident party leaders, while he himself maintained an absolute fidelity (p. 529) to the laws of his fathers and to the religion of his ancestors.” Too often unknown, these two texts record the very first posthumous reception of Montaigne. It is not until 1676 that the Essays, having been meanwhile exploited by the libertines and censured by the Jansenists, will be placed on the Index of Forbidden Books, where they will remain until its abolishment in 1965.

The Commitment of the Essays

Several phrases in the Essays constitute veritable declarations of faith and of religious affiliation. The most famous of these is found in the preamble added in 1582 to the chapter “Of prayers” and later amplified by this manuscript addition: “since I hold it as execrable if anything is found which was said by me, ignorantly or inadvertently, against the holy prescriptions of the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church, in which I die and in which I was born.”16 Is this simply an agreed formula, inserted by a cunning free spirit to beguile foolish censors? This declaration is often interpreted as such in our time. In Montaigne’s time, certain Protestant friends of his might likewise have thought that he was a “nicodemite,” that is, a practicing Catholic, but a Protestant at heart. A bit later, he answers them sternly:

How fantastic seemed to me the imagination of those who in recent years had the habit of reproaching each and every man in whom there gleamed some light of intelligence and who professed the Catholic religion, with dissimulation! They may take my word for it: if anything were to have tempted my youth, ambition for the risk and difficulties that attended this recent enterprise would have played a good part in it.17

It seems that in his youth Montaigne was attracted by the Reformation (one of his early reading notes in a work of Giraldi mentions Melanchthon), but, as this hypothetical sentence suggests, he did not succumb to the temptation. “I suspend judgment”—such is the meaning of the Greek verb épékhô, that pyrrhonian refrain that he made into his motto and which he translates thus: “I hold back, I do not budge.”18 Again in the (p. 530) “Apology,” another declaration registers the same constancy: “Thus I have by the grace of God, kept myself intact, without agitation or disturbance of conscience, in the ancient beliefs of our religion, in the midst of so many sects and divisions that our century has produced.”19 The Christian faith of Catholic observance is one of the rare elements of stability that he claims to find in himself, as though it has stood the test of time. And yet, in this century of extreme instability, theology itself is also unstable, even within the internal debates at the Council of Trent.

Montaigne recalls on occasion which side he is on in the current conflict, for example when he describes his adversaries thus: “those who are not of our Church nevertheless,”20 “those of the so-called Reformed religion.”21 He speaks of doctrinal controversy in terms that evoke battle or dueling:

It seems to them that they [the Catholics] are being very moderate and understanding when they yield to their opponents some of the articles in dispute. But, besides the fact that they do not see what an advantage it is to a man charging you for you to begin to give ground and withdraw, and how much that encourages him to pursue his point, those articles which they select as the most trivial are sometimes very important.22

If the Catholic Leaguers are in his eyes guilty of having subsequently surpassed them in violence,23 do the Protestants not still bear the primary responsibility for the hostilities?

[The innovation] that has been oppressing us for so many years is not the sole author of our troubles, but one may say with good reason that it has accidentally produced and engendered everything, even the troubles and ruins that have been happening since without it, and against it; it has itself to blame.24

(p. 531) The Essays counter several of these doctrinal “innovations” introduced by the Protestants. To begin with the dogma25 of salvation by faith alone (sola fides), independently of works: “surely this faith, of which our mouths are so full, is marvelously slight in our times, unless the contempt it has for works makes it disdain their company.”26 This quip of Montaigne does not target faith, which he elsewhere declares indispensable to salvation (“the virtuous actions of Socrates and Cato remain vain and useless because they did not direct them toward the end of loving and obeying the true creator of all things, and because they did not know God”27) but emphasizes that it is works—deserving ones or not (he does not pronounce upon this knot in theological debate)—that reveal the quality, the authenticity of this faith. Without good works to embody it, the sola fides gives only one view of the spirit, indeed a mere display.

The aversion of certain Protestants (Zwinglians, Calvinists) to pious images leads them to “a purely intellectual religion,” as though disembodied:

the human spirit cannot keep on floating in this infinity of formless ideas; they must be compiled for it into a definite picture after its own pattern… . I could hardly be made to believe that the sight of our crucifixes and the pictures of that piteous agony, the ornaments and ceremonious movements in our churches, the voices attuned to the piety of our thoughts, and that stirring of the senses, do not warm the souls of the people with religious emotion very beneficial in effect.28

One could speak here of a Catholic aesthetic, one which closely associates the body with the spirit in the practices of devotion, as is the case in the Mass, where the officiant invites the faithful to rise to hear the word of God: “It must be a premeditated and sober action, to which we should always add this preface of our service, sursum corda, and always bring even the body disposed in a demeanor that attests a particular attention and reverence.”29 By an inverse movement, the Protestants retain only the symbolic cross, without (p. 532) the body of the crucified and the compassion it inspires. Yet one of the characteristics of Montaigne’s translation of Sebond is the importance accorded, by amplification, to the “edifying spectacle of the Passion.”30 Religion is also a matter of emotions.

The Christian names with which the Protestants want to replace those of the saints show that their desire for “reformation” also has political implications, always more or less associated with religious considerations in Montaigne: “[the Protestants] have gone so far as to combat our ancient baptismal names, Charles, Louis, François in order to populate the world with Methuselahs, Ezekiels, and Malachis, which smack much more of the faith.”31 As the three Christian names cited are those among the last deceased kings of France (Louis XII, Francis I and II, Charles IX), one may well wonder if Montaigne did not perceive in these changes of name the sign of a large-scale cultural revolution, as damaging for the French monarchy as for that Catholic church whose periphrasis for Mary he scrupulously takes up on the previous page: “the sacrosanct name of the Virgin Mother of our Savior.”

“The freedom of conscience” that the Protestants made one of their first political demands serves as a title to the chapter of the Essays in which the author attempts to rehabilitate Julian the Apostate. Some critics, adducing the central position of this seventeenth chapter in Book II (though it is in fact the “Apology” that is physically at the center of the volume), have made Montaigne into the champion of this demand, which in fact he here learns to mistrust as a slogan liable “to kindle the trouble of civil dissension, that same recipe of freedom of conscience that our kings have just been employing to extinguish it.”32 Today we would speak of co-optation, or indeed, in the language of political communication, of “talking points,” and Montaigne would perhaps add to his book, at least for the French readers, a chapter “Of the freedom of expression.”

The translation of the Bible into the vernacular is one of the centerpieces of the Protestant faith. The question having been debated, but not really decided, by the Council of Trent (“The universal Church has no judgment more arduous and solemn to make”33), the author of the Essays can give his opinion, in this case a conservative (p. 533) one: “It is not everyone’s study: it is the study of the persons who are dedicated to it, whom God calls to it… . Comical folk, those who think they have made it fit for the people!”34 Against the naivety of the Protestants and of certain Catholics on this point stands the prudence of the Jews and the Muslims, whose religions are firmly anchored to a sacred language. Vulgarization runs the risk of profanation. So it is, for example, with the Psalms, which young apprentices everywhere hum like fashionable songs:

It is not without good reason, it seems to me, that the Church forbids the promiscuous, reckless, and indiscreet use of the holy and divine songs which the Holy Spirit dictated to David… . Nor assuredly is it right to see the holy book of the sacred mysteries of our belief bandied about a hall or a kitchen. Formerly they were mysteries; at present they are sports and pastimes.35

The separation of the profane and the sacred is one of the points on which Montaigne most insists. It seems that for him the existence of a clergy is the condition sine qua non of the possibility of a secular speech concerned only with profane matters. The Protestants tend to blur this distinction by encouraging free inquiry, even among women and children. One choice at a time, one concession at a time, one slips imperceptibly toward that “execrable atheism”36 that Pierre Bunel had seen dawning on the horizon of the “innovations of Luther”: “the common herd … when once they have been given the temerity to despise and judge the opinions that they had held in extreme reverence, such as are those in which their salvation is concerned … will soon after cast easily into like uncertainty all the other parts of their belief.”37 The only possible barrier against these spiritual excesses is to found faith on obedience to the Magisterium: “We must either submit completely to the authority of our ecclesiastical government, or do without it completely. It is not for us to decide what portion of obedience we owe it.”38 The author addresses these words to the “mestis,” those half-breed philosophers who (like himself, (p. 534) as he says39) disturb the world. Let them submit or resign—religion has no need of their wisdom!

Audacious Remarks and Questionings

Montaigne had previously experimented with free inquiry himself: “In other days I exercised this freedom of personal choice and selection, regarding with negligence certain points in the observance of our Church.”40 Later, he adds, “learned men” gave him to understand the importance of these, but his book always clearly kept something of the quality it had taken—perhaps under the influence of the regents at the College of Guienne—in his youth.

He thus sometimes agrees with certain Protestant opinions, for example when they forbid the overuse of God’s name (“in which I think they are right”41) or recommend public confession (“In honor of the Huguenots, who condemn our private and auricular confession, I confess myself in public, religiously and purely”42). On subjects as sensitive as sin, repentance, prayer, and the resurrection of the body, he dares to give a personal opinion as well. The crimes perpetrated by Christians of all confessions lead him even to doubt their faith, and indeed his own, and to call into question the specific character of Christianity.

Contrary to what one often reads, the notion of sin is not foreign to Montaigne; indeed, he recognizes certain sins as “mortal,” in accordance with the established terminology. Whatever other names he gives it (presomption [presumption], cuider [thinking], curiosité [curiosity]), he ruthlessly denounces the sin of pride, the original sin in the story of Genesis and principal target of the “Apology” insofar as it leads man to reduce God to his conjectures and analogies (this conceptual anthropomorphism is for him the worst of all):

Christians have a particular knowledge of the extent to which curiosity is a natural and original evil in man. The urge to increase in wisdom and knowledge was the first downfall of the human race; it was the way by which man hurled himself into eternal damnation. Pride is his ruin and his corruption.43

(p. 535) It is no doubt this sin of the mind that he would like to see placed at the top of the list in the confessors’ manuals, well above sins of the flesh: “Confusion about the order and measurement of sins is dangerous… . Even our teachers often rank sins badly, in my opinion.”44 But if it is natural and common to all men, how can one avoid it? As for the sins into which one ceaselessly relapses, and those bound up with the profession one practices, what good is it to confess them regularly and frequently, as the Catholics do, if one does not have the intention or the power to break free of them?

It is also sometimes argued that he never repents, yet he himself says, in “Of repentance,” that he repents “rarely.” As his conception of “repentance” is a rigorous, demanding one, implying rupture and conversion, he carefully distinguishes it from “regret,” the simple desire to be different from what one is. In “Of prayers,” he specifies that there is neither “forgiveness” nor “reconciliation” without “repentance” and “satisfaction,” thus without “visible and palpable reparation”: so many theological terms that exhibit his knowledge of the different components of the sacrament of penitence. He returns elsewhere to the question of modes of confession, only to go beyond it by secularizing it: “We speak our thoughts religiously to God, and to our confessor, as our neighbors do to the whole people. But, someone will answer, we speak only our self-accusations. Then we speak everything: for our very virtue is faulty and fit for repentance.”45 In the rest of this long manuscript addition, he removes his own project of self-writing—more medical than pious—from the strictly religious context of confession: “I expose myself… . It is not my deeds that I write down; it is myself, it is my essence.”46 Written and published, this confession admits everything, qualities and faults, down to the small details of bodily life, but without repentance or indeed much regret. No longer concerned with anything but authenticity, he paves the way for Rousseau.

The chapter “Of prayers” was at first a commentary on the Pater noster. As the prayer privileged by all Christians,47 it is for Montaigne the sole model for all valid prayers, for it says “all that is necessary” with properly divine words: “a certain form of prayer has been prescribed and dictated to us word for word by the mouth of God.”48 The attribution of these words to God—words that Matthew and Mark attribute to Jesus—could not shock a reader who believed in the divinity of Christ. What is problematic is (p. 536) that they are detached in this way from the whole of the biblical texts, as though they had a special status. When he cites these texts, the author of course attributes them to the Holy Word (“Saincte Parole”) or to the Holy Spirit (“Sainct Esprit”), but he also says that they have been accommodated to our capacities by God: “It is for God alone to know himself and to interpret his works. And he does it improperly in our human language, in order to stoop and descend to us, who are on the ground, prostrate.”49 Revealed writings, placed at the disposition of men, show in human language what relations they must maintain with God and with each other but teach them nothing about God himself that is not marked by “an extreme loss and fall of [his] divine greatness.”50

Having reworked the very end of the “Apology” several times, it is with the word “metamorphosis” that Montaigne finally decides to close it. For the well-read, it evokes Ovid, but it is also the word used by Matthew and Mark in Greek to designate the transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor and by Paul for that other transfiguration to which the Christian—following his lead—is called on the Last Day. Such also is the theological meaning that the context invites us to retain, starting from an opposition between Stoic pride that wishes to elevate man above humanity—without ever reaching that point—and Christian humility that allows itself to be lifted by the hand of God alone but at the cost of a radical transformation of its being. This short explicit thus ties in with certain statements from earlier in the chapter, where it is said, starting from a quotation from Paul, that we cannot even conceive with our imagination the nature and mode of such a transformation:

“Eye cannot see … neither can it have entered into the heart of man, the happiness which God hath prepared for them that love him” … it must be by so extreme and universal a change that, according to the teachings of physics, it will no longer be ourselves… . It will be something else that will receive these rewards.51

Faith may well make the believer hope for a glorious body after the promised resurrection; but if this properly unimaginable body no longer has anything to do with his actual one—individual, sensitive, desiring—how can he feel concerned by such an abstract perspective?

Another passage from the “Apology” may lead the reader to similar perplexity: that in which the author draws up a long list of troubling similarities between the Christian religion and those of the New World: similarities of belief and custom (“belief in a single (p. 537) first man, father of all nations,” Original Sin and its punishment, the flood, “worship of a god who once lived as a man in perfect virginity,” celibacy of priests, fasting, Lent, final judgment, purgatory), of cult objects and rituals (“surplices, holy water, sprinklers, funeral crosses), even of the words themselves (“You have come from dust and will return to dust”).52 Montaigne adheres, it seems, to the theological explanation (of missionary origin), which sees a divine preparation of the peoples of the New World for reception of the Gospel by pathways specific to themselves, foreign to the Judeo-Christian tradition, with which they had had no contact prior to the arrival of the Europeans: “these empty shadows of our religion … testify to its dignity and divinity. It has insinuated itself to some extent … into these barbarous ones as by a common and supernatural inspiration.”53 For a contemporary, in short, these resemblances confirmed the excellence of the Christian faith, but the fact that these examples are intertwined with others that are clearly profane or that recall certain customs of other religions could also be considered irreverent by a modern reader.

Many critics see in the famous declaration “We are Christians by the same title that we are Perigordian or Germans”54 the perfect expression of Montaigne’s relativism in religious matters, even to the point of making it the Montaignian dogma par excellence. Such an interpretation is encouraged by the arrangement of this sentence in those editions where, as a 1588 addition to the 1580 text, it is set apart like a maxim, whereas the 1588 edition simply places it within the continuity of the text without making it into a separate paragraph. Stylistic examination, moreover, allows one to resituate it within the continuous development of those six pages of the “Apology,” where, in a discourse structured by hypotheticals (“If we held to God by the mediation of a living faith, if we held to God through him and not through ourselves, if we had a divine foothold and foundation …”55), and punctuated with reproaches (“We ought to be ashamed,” “I say it to our great confusion”56), the author hammers home that the true faith, a pure gift of God, must not be confused with that which one mistakes for it and which rests on contingencies alone (“Those considerations should be employed in our belief, but as subsidiaries”57). Montaigne thunders like a preacher against his co-religionists: “Some (p. 538) make the world believe that they believe what they do not believe. Others, in greater number, make themselves believe it, being unable to penetrate what it means to believe.”58 Does he apply to himself this second reproach, at bottom more troubling than the first? Does he apply it to all Christians? The true faith comes from an “extraordinary infusion” and not from “human ties” alone. But into the heart of this vigorous account of true faith, doubt has insinuated itself: “I am afraid that we enjoy it only in this way.”59

There exist for that matter people whose lifestyle suggests that they have received the gift of foi vive (living faith), exceptional people whose renunciation of corporal pleasures is explained by an intense desire to participate, even in this life, in the fruitio Dei. They constitute a digression in the diatribe at the end of the Essays against those who, in spite of their “subterranean conduct,” say sublime things under the occasional pressure of their “transcendental humors”: “I am not here touching on, or mixing up with that brattish rabble … those venerable souls … who, anticipating, by dint of keen and vehement hope, the enjoyment of eternal food, final goal and ultimate limit of Christian desires… .”60 Montaigne perhaps thought while writing these lines of certain monks and clerics whom he had met in Bordeaux or elsewhere, for example the austere Feuillants, a recently organized group of reformed Cistercians.61 As though by premonition, or having already decided on his burial place, he writes after 1588 that he imagines himself “very well into their place,” adding: “and I love and honor them all the more because they are different from me.”62 This last remark points particularly at their vow of chastity—clearly admiration does not imply imitation. The pleasant phrasing of this praise of difference must not, however, make us forget what this difference implies in Montaigne’s eyes: to live according to the evangelical counsels is possible only for monks and clerics, those tied to God by vows, withdrawn from the world, and subject to a rule (which is not the case for secular priests); common people must seek “a road in another direction”63—if not for their faith, then at least for their mores—especially in a time when Christianity shows itself less and less the path to humanity.

(p. 539) A Very Religious Secularism

What remains in the way of available language for talking about religion for one who, though not ignorant of such matters, has decided to leave theological discourse to professional theologians? It would be tempting to answer: silence. Montaigne would not disagree:

And might it not reasonably be said that an order against writing on religion, unless very reservedly, for any but those who make this their express profession, would have some appearance of utility and justice; as perhaps would an order to me, at the same time, to hold my peace about it?64

Yet the use of the hypothetical sufficiently shows that he has not done this. Speaking under the eye of potential censors, and paradoxically authorizing himself, by this eventual possibility of correction, to venture rash statements,65 he occasionally uses theological terms, including those of apophatic or negative theology (this he prefers to all others because, unable to say what God is, it says what he is not), but he scatters them among the words of poets and historians.

He justifies this usage, which is not exclusive to himself, in a famous 1588 addition to the chapter “Of prayers,” to which he again adds, in the Bordeaux Copy, a brief quotation from Saint Augustine: “that human speech has lower forms, and should not make use of the dignity, majesty, and authority of divine speech. I for my part allow it to say, in unsanctioned terms, ‘fortune,’ ‘destiny,’ ‘accident,’ ‘good luck,’ and ‘bad luck,’ ‘the gods,’ and other phrases, in its own way.”66 This is—with the difference of just a few words—the list one finds in 1590 in the note “To the reader” in an edition expurgated by Lelio Capilupi, where they are admitted as metaphors, subject to a reading per allegoriam. If Augustine tolerates the use of these improper terms, it is because they “adumbrate” the truth—in other words, because they at least paint its hazy, projected shadow.67 Montaigne wishes to reserve “human speech” for “humanists”—the word by which he designates those who have taken man as their subject of study—and also to relegate the (p. 540) theologians to the study of God and his word, thus to “divine speech,” which has no need for the support of human philosophy. The rule of the separation of styles that he decrees is consequently established on the basis of a distinction of classes, according to whether one is a cleric or a layperson.

Among the inappropriate terms freely used by Montaigne figures the word “fortune,” which he prefers by far to that other—too stoic—term, destin (fatum). The Roman censors asked him insistently to substitute for this word another, more suitable one. They were doubtless thinking of “Providence,” which indeed one finds in a 1582 addition, whose significance is greater than might have been expected: “It is an act of divine Providence to allow its holy Church to be agitated, as we see it is, by so many troubles and storms, in order to awaken pious souls by this opposition … .”68 “Providence” is also found in the Bordeaux Copy, but the tone has changed: “If sometimes divine Providence has passed over the rules to which it has necessarily constrained us, the intention was not to give us any dispensation from them … acts of its character, not of ours.”69 Beyond these two cases, not only does the author almost never correct the offending word (objectionable also to the Protestants), but he even makes it proliferate in all subsequent states of the text. Is this a gesture of rebellion? A desire, rather, not to engage his book in the service of propaganda, of whatever sort it be—which would not have failed to happen had he replaced the many occurrences of “fortune” with “providence,” a word that both sides abuse according to their successes and their interests (this is no doubt, for Montaigne, the real impiety). The fictive dialogue that he continued to maintain with the Roman censors probably enabled Montaigne to specify, in the first place for himself, the deliberately secular status of his book.

An anthropologist avant la lettre, the “humanist” Montaigne considers the human aspect of Christian faith and religion to be within his purview, just like any other belief or religion in the world, “for it is man that believes and prays.”70 Of Jesus Christ himself, God become man, he retains above all the humanity, and proposes to the believer to make him a companion.71 He is attentive to rituals, which put the body into play, to ancient theology, at once poetic and mythic, and to the articulation of the political and of the religious, for “every polity has a god at its head.”72 Though affirming his Christian faith, he readily speaks as a (p. 541) natural philosopher73 or as a pagan poet: nature teaches us that animals are our friends, that man is not at the center of the world, that death is a dissolution (dissolvi, as Lucretius and the Vulgate have it74). Apollo Citharede warms with his rays the sad, somber image that Christians often give of their God.75 Such apparent deviations found a sort of support in the long tradition of Christian humanism renewed by Budé, but at the time of the Essays, as much among Protestants as among Catholics, it was thought necessary to purge the Christian religion of any pagan traces. The following century will be more severe still.

Montaigne will be increasingly reproached with according little place to Christian morality, for example in areas as important as education, reflection on death, and sexuality. To speak only of the latter two, he even challenges it by allowing suicide in the case of unbearable pain (I, 40 and II, 3) or by cultivating imaginary eroticism as a health practice (III, 5). The Essays are the place where, over the course of twenty years, a “probity” attempts to elaborate itself, one which owes nothing to the precepts of Christianity, yet which does not, for all that, reject its dogmas: “What I like is the virtue that laws and religions do not make but perfect and authorize, that feels in itself enough to sustain itself without help, born in us from its own roots, from the seed of universal reason that is implanted in every man who is not denatured.”76 To be sure, the dogmatic philosophers have muddled the footprints77 (piste) of nature in us, but that which is still perceptible can allow us to elaborate an ethics founded on “the preservation of human society,”78 where pleasures, and indeed even certain vices, have a place beside virtues. Reason is primary here, which leads one “to play the man well and properly.”79 Faith and religion only come afterward, in order to validate or perfect this quality of humanity. Jesus opens the way to heaven—in this life, even, for the “venerable souls”—but it is Socrates and experience that teach others, believers of common faith, how to live humanely.80

In the last pages of the Essays, nature and God tend to be, if not indistinguishable, at least in harmony in a vibrant Montaignian homage to life:

As for me, then, I love life and cultivate it just as God has been pleased to grant it to us… . I accept with all my heart and with gratitude what nature has done for me, and (p. 542) I am pleased with myself and proud of myself that I do. We wrong that great and all-powerful Giver by refusing his gift, nullifying it, and disfiguring it. Himself all good, he has made all things good… . There is no part unworthy of our care in this gift that God has given us.81

To those melancholy spirits who, under cover of religion, despise corporal pleasure even though they live in the world, the author responds that one must, on the contrary, join one’s soul with this offered sweetness (douceur), “study it, savor it, and ruminate it, to give proper thanks for it to him who grants it to us.”82 Montaigne’s prayer, if there be one—a prayer of the heart, which needs no words, perhaps not even a precise address—is a prayer of thanksgiving. As for God, it is never a “question” for Montaigne.83

Though consubstantial, the Lord of Montaigne and the author of the Essays have always been two people (less clearly separated, it is true, than Montaigne and the mayor of Bordeaux). The former, a loyal Catholic, remained firmly faithful to the party that he deemed “the justest.” The latter, whilst validating this commitment, nevertheless admits that, this healthy limb having also contracted gangrene, one can no longer really trust it, especially when seeing it advocate rebellion against the prince as its adversary had done only recently. The criticism even extends to all Christians in the exhortation in the “Apology” already evoked: “There is no hostility that excels Christian hostility… . Our religion is made to extirpate vices; it covers them, fosters them, incites them.”84 One thinks of the pages on the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal, the violence of the Spaniards in America, the witch-burnings in Europe, the pious massacres that “dismember” France. No religion is spared by the attentive reader of Lucretius that is Montaigne.85 He exclaims with him: “Tantum relligio potuit suadere malorum!86 On the same page, he recalls that the Persians, the Achaeans, the Spartans, the Romans, the Thracians, the Gauls all practiced the sacrifice of humans—or indeed of small children, as with the Carthaginians and the Aztecs—in honor of a god. He even thinks that there is no nation “innocent of having tried this.”87 The “Assassins” of Phoenicia, considered the most religious of the “Mohammedans,” engage in suicide attacks with the (p. 543) certainty that “the most certain way to deserve Paradise is to kill someone of a different religion.”88

On the other hand, he finds in various forms of worship the symbols of a religiosity more to his taste: adoration of the Sun (transcendence), the temple to the Unknown God in Athens (mystery), the statue of Apollo the musician (cheerful wisdom). He does not deem them incompatible with the Christianity he professes. Of this he particularly likes the belief in a God who gives and forgives, whom one cannot see but of whom ancient witnesses affirmed that he had formerly embodied himself in a man of beautiful, perfect humanity, whose friends they had been. To this God, some have devoted their lives, which he admires without necessarily wanting to follow suit. He speaks with fervor of Christian faith, at least of what it should be, and yet he allows his mind to venture among men without it in order to seek out what is human. In this way, a deliberately secular ethics is little by little elaborated, one that makes of moderation and compassion the two principal virtues, of pride, cruelty, and lying the three principal vices, and of the culture of the body and sensual pleasures the indispensable counterweight to the slidings of the mind. This is perhaps for him the best way to keep his faith intact. Founded on submissiveness (perhaps for lack of anything better?), humility, and fidelity, it enjoys its advantage apart, set back from discourse. I, his reader, do not have access to it.

“We are, I know not how, double within ourselves, with the result that we do not believe what we believe, and we cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn.”89 Inspired by Saint Paul, this vertiginous sentence, which divides consciousness in two, can by itself make us understand why the Essays were read both as a sort of Christian gentleman’s breviary and, on the contrary, as a war machine against all religions, beginning with the Christian one. Both orientations are found in it, that of religious traditionalism and that of free thought—for Montaigne’s book is the product of an experimental Montaigne,90 a potential, audacious, bold Montaigne. The one orientation agrees with his biography, insofar as we know it; the other provides the sworn enemies of religion with ammunition that the author himself perhaps never thought of offering them.

Translated by Trevor Tucker


(1) All quotations from Montaigne are taken from The Complete Works of Montaigne, trans. Donald Frame (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1958), and Les Essais de Michel de Montaigne, ed. Pierre Villey and V. L. Saulnier (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1978): II, 18, 612 C [665]: “livre consubstantiel à son autheur.”

(2) “We should meddle soberly with judging divine ordinances” (I, 31), “Of prayers” (I, 56), “Apology for Raymond Sebond,” the theologian translated by Montaigne in 1569 (II, 12), “Of freedom of conscience” (II, 17), “Of repentance” (III, 2).

(3) III, 2, 742 B [806]: “I do not teach, I tell.”

(4) I, 56, 284 C [323]: “Je propose les fantasies humaines et miennes, simplement comme humaines fantasies, et separement considerées … matiere d’opinion, non matiere de foy; ce que je discours selon moy, non ce que je croy selon Dieu … d’une maniere laïque, non clericale, mais tres-religieuse tousjours.”

(5) Notice to the Reader of La Boëtie’s Translations, in The Complete Essays of Montaigne, trans. Donald Frame, 1295.

(6) See Jean Balsamo, “Foix (famille),” in Dictionnaire de Michel de Montaigne, ed. Philippe Desan (Paris: H. Champion, 2007), 468–470.

(7) Montaigne notes this event on July 29 [1587] in his copy of the Ephemeris Historica of Michaël Beuther (Paris: Fezandat and Granjon, 1551). See the “Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes” website:

(8) It is not clear whether Montaigne kept to this obligation. I thank Philippe Desan for this information.

(9) III, 12, 972 B [1044]: “Je fus pelaudé à toutes mains: au Gibelin j’estois Guelphe, au Guelphe Gibelin.” Such was the fate of “politiques.”

(10) Without naming them, Montaigne will praise them in the Essays (III, 12, 967 B [1039]) for that vow of ignorance that for them forbids priesthood: “I once took pleasure in seeing men in some place, through piety, take a vow of ignorance, as one might of chastity, poverty, penitence.” See A. Legros, “Jésuites ou Jésuates? Montaigne entre science et ignorance,” Montaigne Studies 15 (2003): 131–146.

(11) Travel Journal, 1088 [33].

(12) Travel Journal, 1178 [131]: “ils honoroient et mon intention et affection envers l’Eglise et ma suffisance … [et] me prierent d’aider à l’Eglise par mon eloquence.”

(13) Madeleine Lazard, Michel de Montaigne (Paris: Fayard, 1992), 323–324.

(14) Michel de Montaigne, Essais, ed. Pierre Villey and V. L. Saulnier, 1209.

(15) II, 12, 455 A [506]: “C’est une carte blanche preparée à prendre du doigt de Dieu telles formes qu’il luy plaira y graver.”

(16) I, 56, 278 AC [318]: “tenant pour execrable, s’il se trouve chose ditte par moy ignorament ou inadvertament contre les sainctes prescriptions de l’Eglise catholique, apostolique et Romaine, en laquelle je meurs et en laquelle je suis nay.” For all quotations from the chapter “Of prayers,” see Montaigne, Essais, I, 56, Des prières,” ed. A. Legros (Geneva, Switzerland: Droz, 2003).

(17) I, 56, 281 C [320]: “Que l’imagination me sembloit fantastique, de ceux qui, ces années passées, avoient en usage de reprocher tout chascun, en qui il reluisoit quelque clarté d’esprit, professant la relligion Catholique, que c’estoit à feinte! Ils m’en peuvent croire. Si rien eust deu tenter ma jeunesse, l’ambition du hazard et difficulté qui suivoient cette recente entreprinse, y eust eu bonne part.”

(18) II, 12, 454 A [505]: “je soutiens, je ne bouge.” This formula, not unrelated to tennis, also has political implications. See A.-M. Cocula and A. Legros, Montaigne aux champs (Bordeaux: Éditions Sud Ouest, 2011), 87–88.

(19) II, 12, 521 A [569]: “Ainsi me suis-je, par la grace de Dieu, conservé entier, sans agitation et trouble de conscience, aux anciennes creances de nostre religion, au travers de tant de sectes et de divisions, que nostre siecle a produites.”

(20) I, 56, 284 A [323]: “ceux qui ne sont pas des nostres.” Montaigne corrected “de nostre advis” (opinion) to “des nostres” (affiliation) in the Bordeaux Copy.

(21) II, 32, 661 A [721]: “ceux de la Religion pretendue reformée.”

(22) I, 27, 163 A [181–182]: “Il leur semble faire bien les moderez et les entenduz, quand ils quittent aux adversaires aucuns articles de ceux qui sont en desbat. Mais outre ce, qu’ils ne voyent pas quel avantage c’est à celuy qui vous charge, de commancer à luy ceder et vous tirer arriere, et combien cela l’anime à poursuivre sa pointe, ces articles là qu’ils choisissent pour les plus legiers, sont aucunefois tres-importans.” For our contemporaries, nothing could be less ecumenical.

(23) Should we see here an allusion, among other massacres, to that of Saint Bartholomew’s Day, of which Montaigne, in full compliance with the royal wishes, never speaks explicitly? Some critics think he must have mentioned the event in his copy of Beuther, and that the page was torn off, yet the page for August 24 is indeed there, with no note by Montaigne.

(24) I, 23, 104 C [119]: “[La nouvelleté] qui nous presse depuis tant d’ans, elle n’a pas tout exploicté, mais on peut dire avec apparence, que par accident elle a tout produict et engendré; voire et les maux et ruines, qui se font depuis sans elle, et contre elle: c’est à elle à s’en prendre au nez.”

(25) Their enemies readily referred to the Protestants as “dogmatists.” See A. Legros, “Qu’est-ce qu’un ‘dogme’ pour Montaigne?” in O Cepticismo e Montaigne, ed. Rui B. Romao (Covilha, Portugal: Universidade da Beira Interior, 2003), 59–82.

(26) II, 29, 651 A [709]: “certes cette foy, dequoy nous remplissons tant la bouche, est merveilleusement legiere en nos siecles, sinon que le mespris qu’elle a des œuvres, luy face desdaigner leur compaignie.”

(27) II, 12, 396 A [447]: “les actions vertueuses de Socrates et de Caton demeurent vaines et inutiles pour n’avoir eu leur fin et n’avoir regardé l’amour et obeïssance du vray createur de toutes choses, et pour avoir ignoré Dieu.”

(28) II, 12, 462–463 C [513–514]: “L’esprit humain ne se sçauroit maintenir vaguant en cet infini de pensées informes; il les luy faut compiler à certaine image, à son modelle … à peine me feroit on accroire, que la veuë de noz crucifix et peinture de ce piteux supplice, que les ornemens et mouvemens ceremonieux de nos eglises, que les voix accommodées à la devotion de nostre pensée, et cette esmotion des sens n’eschauffent l’ame des peuples, d’une passion religieuse, de tres-utile effect.” However, this approbation does not include processions of Flagellants, nor the repeated use of signs of the cross.

(29) I, 56, 282 B [321]: “Ce doibt estre une action destinée et rassise, à laquelle on doibt tousjours adjouster cette preface de nostre office: ‘Sursum corda’, et y apporter le corps mesme disposé en contenance qui tesmoigne une particulierre attention et reverence.”

(30) “Spectacle édifiant de la passion”—title of a chapter in Mireille Habert’s Montaigne traducteur de la théologie naturelle (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2010).

(31) I, 46, 245 A [277]: “… jusque à combatre ces anciens noms de nos baptesmes, Charles, Loys, François, pour peupler le monde de Mathusalem, Ezechiel, Malachie, beaucoup mieux sentans de la foy.”

(32) II, 19, 619 A [671]: “… pour attiser le trouble de la dissension civile, de cette mesme recepte de liberté de conscience, que noz Roys viennent d’employer pour l’estaindre.”

(33) I, 56, 282 B [321]: “L’Eglise universelle n’a point de Jugement plus ardu à faire, et plus solenne.” Like the lines from Horace that conclude the chapter “Of prayers” (which speak of an altar, of a sacrificial Host, and of consecrated bread), the lines on the translations of the Bible were censored by Simon Goulart, presumed editor of the “Lyon” Essays of 1595. When Montaigne quotes the Bible (forty-five quotations, of which twenty are from the Old Testament and twenty-five from the New Testament, particularly Paul and Ecclesiastes, as on the ceiling of the “library” where they cross skeptical maxims and verses of Lucretius) he sometimes does so in French, thus showing himself to be less of a rigorist in deed. On the biblical quotations, see Marianne Meijer, “Montaigne et la Bible,” Bulletin de la Société des Amis de Montaigne 20 (1976): 23–57. On the censor Simon Goulart, see A. Legros, “Ce qui gênait Simon Goulart dans le chapitre ‘Des prières,’ ” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 67 (2005): 79–91.

(34) I, 56, 282 C [321]: “Ce n’est pas l’estude de tout le monde: c’est l’estude des personnes qui y sont vouées, que Dieu y appelle… . Plaisantes gents, qui pensent l’avoir rendue maniable au peuple, pour l’avoir mise en langage populaire!”

(35) I, 56, 281 ABC [320–321]: “Ce n’est pas sans grande raison, ce me semble, que l’Eglise defend l’usage promiscue, temeraire et indiscret des sainctes et divines chansons que le Sainct Esprit a dicté en David… . Ny n’est certes raison de voir tracasser par une sale, et par une cuysine, le Sainct livre des sacrez mysteres de nostre creance. C’estoyent autrefois mysteres, ce sont à present desduits et esbats.”

(36) II, 12, 388 A [439]. Montaigne speaks of this “execrable atheisme,” with Pierre Bunel, as of the final stage in the Lutherian “sickness.” Later (II, 12, 394 C [446]) he will recall that, for Plato, it is an “unnatural and monstrous” proposition.

(37) II, 12, 388 A [439]: “le vulgaire … apres qu’on luy a mis en main la hardiesse de mespriser et contreroller les opinions qu’il avoit euës en extreme reverence, comme sont celles où il va de son salut … jette tantost apres aisément en pareille incertitude toutes les autres pieces de sa creance.”

(38) I, 27, 163 A [182]: “Ou il faut se submettre du tout à l’authorité de nostre police ecclésiastique, ou du tout s’en dispenser. Ce n’est pas à nous à establir la part que nous lui devons d’obeïssance.”

(39) At the end of the chapter “Of vain subtleties” (I, 54), the author says that for this reason he “draw[s] back” as much as he can toward the “seat” of ignorance, which he left in vain. The Essays testify in part to this desire to withdraw.

(40) I, 27, 164 A [182]: “[j’ai] autrefois usé de cette liberté de mon chois et triage particulier, mettant à nonchaloir certains points de l’observance de nostre Eglise.”

(41) I, 56, 284 A [323]: “en quoy je trouve qu’ils ont raison.” Public confession is not unknkown to the Catholics, but only for venial sins and in a global manner (collective recitation of the Confiteor at Mass).

(42) III, 5, 780 B [846]: “En faveur des Huguenots, qui accusent nostre confession privée et auriculaire, je me confesse en publicq, religieusement et purement.”

(43) II, 12, 447 A [498]: “Les Chrestiens ont une particuliere cognoissance combien la curiosité est un mal naturel et originel en l’homme. Le soing de s’augmenter en sagesse et en science, ce fut la premiere ruine du genre humain; c’est la voye par où il s’est precipité à la damnation eternelle. L’orgueil est sa perte et sa corruption.”

(44) II, 2, 297 B [340]: “La confusion de l’ordre et mesure des péchés est dangereuse … . Les instructeurs mesmes les rangent souvent mal à mon gré.”

(45) II, 6, 332 C [379]: “Nous [catholiques] nous disons religieusement à Dieu, et à nostre confesseur, comme noz voisins [protestants] à tout le peuple. Mais nous n’en disons, me respondra-t-on, que les accusations. Nous disons donc tout: car nostre vertu mesme est fautiere et repentable.”

(46) II, 6, 332–333 C [379]: “Je m’estalle entier… . Ce ne sont mes gestes que j’escris, c’est moy, c’est mon essence.”

(47) Including the Conciliarist fathers, who recall that it is the prayer par excellence in their Catechismus of 1566. This is not then, as it is sometimes thought, a Calvinist peculiarity.

(48) I, 56, 279 A [318]: “certaine façon de priere nous a esté prescripte et dictée mot à mot par la bouche de Dieu.”

(49) II, 12, 448 AC [499]: “C’est à Dieu seul de se cognoistre et interpreter ses ouvrages: et le fait en nostre langue, improprement, pour s’avaller et descendre à nous, qui sommes à terre couchez.” See François Rigolot, “Tolérance et condescendance dans la littérature française du XVIe siècle,” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 62 (2000): 25–47.

(50) II, 12, 472–473 A [523]: “sans extreme interest et déchet de sa divine grandeur.”

(51) II, 12, 468 A [518]: “Œuil ne sçauroit voir, dict Saint Paul, et ne peut monter en cœur d’homme l’heur que Dieu a preparé aux siens… . ce doit estre d’un si extreme changement et si universel que, par la doctrine physique, ce ne sera plus nous… . Ce sera quelque autre chose qui recevra ces recompenses.”

(52) II, 12, 524–526 B [573–574]: “… creance d’un seul dieu, pere de tous les peuples; adoration d’un Dieu qui vesquit autrefois homme en parfaite virginité … surplys, eau-beniste, aspergez… . Tu es venu de poudre et retourneras en poudre.”

(53) II, 12, 526 B [574]: “Ces vains ombrages de nostre religion qui se voyent en aucuns exemples en tesmoignent la dignité et la divinité … elle s’est aucunement insinuée … à ces barbares aussi comme par une commune et supernaturelle inspiration.” See A. Legros, “D’un monde à l’autre, étranges similitudes: mise à l’essai d’un questionnement missionnaire,” Montaigne Studies 22 (2010): 127–136.

(54) II, 12, 394 C [445]: “Nous sommes Chrestiens à mesme titre que nous sommes ou Perigordins ou Alemans.”

(55) II, 12, 390–395 A [441–446]: “Si nous tenions à Dieu par l’entremise d’une foy vive; si nous tenions à Dieu par luy, non par nous; si nous avions un pied et un fondement divin… .”

(56) II, 12, 390 A [442]: “Nous devrions avoir honte”; II, 12, 393 A [444]: “je le dis à nostre grande confusion.”

(57) II, 12, 394 A [445]: “Ces considerations là doibvent estre employées à nostre creance, mais comme subsidiaires.”

(58) II, 12, 391 C [442]: “Les uns font accroire au monde, qu’ils croyent ce qu’ils ne croyent pas. Les autres, en plus grand nombre, se le font accroire à eux mesmes, ne sçachants pas penetrer que c’est que croire.”

(59) II, 12, 390 A [441]: “je crain pourtant que nous ne la jouyssions que par cette voye.”

(60) III, 13, 1043 BC [1114–1115]: “Je ne touche pas icy et ne mesle point à ceste marmaille d’hommes que nous sommes … ces ames venerables … lesquelles preoccupant par l’effort d’une vifve et vehemente esperance l’usage de la nourriture eternelle, but final et dernier arrest des Chrestiens desirs… . ”

(61) At the end of “Of three kinds of association” (III, 3, 763 C [829]), the author alludes to those in Bordeaux whom he “sees” living together at every moment. Nothing, according to him, is more arduous. One can add this remark to Michel Simonin’s article “Montaigne et les Feuillants,” Revue d’Histoire Littéraire de la France 97 (1997): 529–549.

(62) I, 37, 205 C [229]: “Je m’insinue par imagination fort bien en leur place. Et si les ayme et les honore d’autant plus qu’ils sont autres que moy.” The sentence associates the Feuillants (loyalists to Bordeaux) and the Capucins (willing Catholic Leaguers).

(63) III, 13, 996 B [1068]: “route par ailleurs.”

(64) I, 56, 284 B [323]: “Ne diroit-on pas sans apparence, que l’ordonnance de ne s’entremettre que bien reserveement d’escrire de la Religion à tous autres qu’à ceux qui en font expresse profession, n’auroit pas faute de quelque image d’utilité et de justice; et à moy avecq, à l’avanture, de m’en taire?”

(65) I, 56, 278 A [318]: “And therefore, always submitting to the autority of their censure, which has absolute power over me, I meddle rashly with every sort of subject, as I do here.” Montaigne speaks knowingly of “rashness” as a lesser degree of “error,” the latter itself being below “heresy” on the ascending scale of heterdoxies.

(66) I, 56, 284 B [323]: “Le dire humain a ses formes plus basses et ne se doibt servir de la dignité, majesté, regence, du parler divin. Je luy laisse pour moy, dire, verbis indisciplinatis, fortune, destinée, accident, heur et malheur, et les Dieux et autres frases, selon sa mode.”

(67) A. Legros, “Les ombrages de Montaigne et d’Augustin,” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 55 (1993): 547–563.

(68) II, 15, 566 A [615]: “C’est un effect de la Providence divine, de permettre sa saincte Eglise estre agitée, comme nous la voyons, de tant de troubles et d’orages, pour esveiller par ce contraste les ames pies… .” See A. Legros, “Montaigne between Fortune and Providence,” in Chance, Literature, and Culture in Early Modern France, ed. J. D. Lyons and K. Wine (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009), 17–30.

(69) I, 23, 107 C [121]: “Si quelques fois la Providence divine a passé par-dessus les regles ausquelles elle nous a necessairement astreints, ce n’est pas pour nous en dispenser… . Actes de son personnage, non pas du nostre.” This addition was not included in the posthumous edition.

(70) II, 12, 463 C [514]: “car c’est l’homme qui croid et qui prie.”

(71) If one looks beyond strict occurrences of his name, Jesus is present in the Essays more frequently than is often said, under different names (like “Savior,” or by allusion (in I, 23, 106 B [120]) as the victor over death and sin, according to Saint Paul; in II, 12, 473 A [524] as the one who “proved to Christians” that he “overstepped” all human limits. See A. Legros, “ ‘Comme une autre histoire …’: Montaigne et Jésus-Christ,” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 58 (1996): 577–596.

(72) II, 16, 580 C [630]: “toute police a un dieu à sa teste.” On the relations between religion and politics, see Philippe Desan, Montaigne: Une biographie politique (Paris: Odile Jacob, 2014).

(73) III, 12, 986 C [1056]: “We naturalists judge… .”

(74) See A. Legros, “Sur bois et sur papier, les citations croisées de Montaigne,” in Les interférences des écoles de pensée antiques dans la littérature de la Renaissance, ed. E. Tilson (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2013), 113–128.

(75) III, 13, 1044 B [1116]: He is the “protector of health and wisdom, but gay and sociable wisdom.” Apollo is not named here, but it is to him that Horace addresses those lines with which Montaigne finishes his book in calling for an old age “without miracle.”

(76) III, 12, 988 C [1059]: “Je l’aime telle que les loix et religions non facent mais parfacent et authorisent, qui se sente dequoy se soustenir sans aide, née en nous de ses propres racines par la semence de la raison universelle empreinte en tout homme non desnaturé.”

(77) III, 13, 1042 B [1113]: “I seek her footprints everywhere.”

(78) II, 12, 447 A [498]: “la conservation de la societé humaine.”

(79) III, 13, 1039 B [1110]: “faire bien l’homme et deuëment.”

(80) See Thierry Gontier and Suzel Mayer, ed., Le Socratisme de Montaigne (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2010).

(81) III, 13, 1041–1043 BC [1113–1114]: “Pour moy donc, j’ayme la vie, et la cultive telle qu’il à pleu a Dieu nous l’octroyer… . J’accepte de bon cœur, et recognoissant, ce que nature a faict pour moy, et m’en agrée et m’en loue. On fait tort à ce grand et tout puissant donneur de refuser son don, l’annuller et desfigurer. Tout bon, il a faict tout bon… . Il n’y a piece indigne de nostre soin, en ce present que Dieu nous a faict.”

(82) III, 13, 1040 B [1112]: “… l’estudier, savourer et ruminer, pour en rendre grâces condignes à celuy qui nous l’ottroye.”

(83) See André Tournon, “ ‘Que c’est que croire,’ ” Bulletin de la Société Internationale des Amis de Montaigne 33–34 (1993): 163–181; Jean-Yves Pouilloux, “ ‘… ne sachant pas penetrer que c’est que croire…’,” Nouveau Bulletin de la Société Internationale des Amis de Montaigne 50 (2009): 109–118.

(84) II, 12, 392–393 C [444]: “Il n’est point d’hostilité excellente comme la chrestienne … Nostre religion est faicte pour extirper les vices: elle les couvre, les nourrit, les incite.”

(85) On Montaigne’s annotated copy of Lucretius, one finds the marginal note “contre la religion” (“against religion”) ten times.

(86) II, 12, 471 C [521]: “So many grievous crimes religion has inspired!”

(87) II,12, 470 A [521]: “Et croy qu’il n’en est aucune exempte d’en avoir faict essay.”

(88) II, 29, 653 A [711]: “le plus certain moyen de meriter Paradis, c’est tuer quelqu’un de religion contraire.”

(89) II, 16, 570 A [619]: “nous sommes, je ne sçay comment, doubles en nous mesmes, qui fait que ce que nous croyons, nous ne le croyons pas.”

(90) III, 2, 740 B [805]: “If my mind could gain a firm footing, I would not make essays, I would make decisions.”