Jerusalem Volume 2
Moses Mendelssohn
9:13 h
Jerusalem, or on Religious Power and Judaism is a book written by Moses Mendelssohn, which was first published in 1783. Moses Mendelssohn was one of the key figures of Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah) and his philosophical treatise, dealing with social contract and political theory (especially concerning the question of the separation between religion and state), can be regarded as his most important contribution to Haskalah. In his publication Moses Mendelssohn combined a defense of the Jewish population against public accusations with contemporary criticism of the present conditions of the Prussian Monarchy.
A Treatise on
Ecclesiastical Authority and Judaism
Moses Mendelssohn

Translated from the German by M. Samuels

Section I

To oppose those props of social life, state and church, civil and ecclesiastical government, secular and spiritual power to each other, so that they shall counterpoise, and not, on the contrary, prove burdens on social life; nor press on its foundation, in a greater degree than they help to support its structure, is in politics one of the most difficult problems, with the solution of which they are occupied already since many ages, and have here and there, perhaps with greater success, practically compromised, than theoretically solved it. These different relations of man in a state of society, it was thought proper to separate as moral entities, and to assign to each a separate jurisdiction, separate rights, dues, power and domain; although neither the precincts of those jurisdictions, nor the lines which divide them have yet been accurately fixed. Now the church is seen to move the landmark far up the territory of the state; and then the state to presume encroachments, which according to accepted notions, seem no less usurping. The evils which have hitherto arisen from a disagreement between those moral entities, and still threaten to arise, are immense. When in the field against each other, mankind is the victim of their discord; and when they agree together, the brightest jewel of human happiness is gone; for they seldom agree but for the purpose of banishing from their realms, a third moral entity, liberty of conscience, which knows how to derive some advantage from their squabbles.

Despotism has one advantage, it is cogent. However troublesome its demands may be found by common sense, they are themselves systematical and well-connected. It has a definite answer to every question. Never mind limits; for with him who has got all, “more or less” is of no farther consideration. So is, according to Roman Catholic principles, also ecclesiastical government; it is complete in every particular, and as it were all of one piece. Grant it all its demands; and you will at least know what you have to expect. Your system is built for you, and perfect repose reigns in every part of it; it is true, that kind of dismal repose which, as Montesquieu says, “reigns in a fortress on the eve of its being stormed.” Yet he by whom a quiet doctrine and a quiet life are considered happiness, will find that happiness no where better secured to him, than under a Roman Catholic despot; and as even under him power is too much divided, no where better than under the absolute sway of the church herself.

But when liberty ventures to displace anything in that systematical building, dilapidation instantly threatens on all sides; and at length, it is difficult to say how much of it will keep upright. Hence the extraordinary distraction, the civil as well as ecclesiastical disturbances, at the time of the Reformation, and the obvious perplexity of the preachers and reformers themselves, whenever they had to fix the extent of rights and privileges. It was not only practically difficult, to keep within bounds the multitude let loose from their trammels, but even as to theory, we find the writings of those times full of vague and wavering ideas; whenever the ascertaining the limits of ecclesiastical power is of the question. The despotism of the Roman church was abolished; but what other form was to be substituted for it? Even now, in our enlightened times, the text books of canon-law, could not be freed of that undeterminatedness. The clergy will not or cannot give up their claim to a regular constitution, and yet no one rightly knows in what it is to consist. Doctrinal differences are to be adjusted, yet no supreme judge is recognised; an independent church is still referred to, yet no one knows where it is to be found; claims to authority and rights are proffered, yet no one can shew who is to exercise and uphold them!

Thomas Hobbes lived at a period, when fanaticism blended with inordinate love of liberty, no longer knew any bounds, and was about (as at last it did,) to bring royal authority under its foot, and entirely subvert the constitution of the realm. Disgusted with civil broils, and by nature fond of a tranquil and contemplative life, he looked on peace and safety as the greatest of blessings, no matter how procured; and those desiderata he thought were to be found only in the unity and indivisibility of the highest authority in the state. Accordingly he judges most advisable for the public good, that every thing, even men’s opinions of right and wrong, should be under the superintendence of the civil authorities. And in order to do so with the greater convenience, he assumed that man has, naturally, a right to all nature endowed him with the faculty of; that a state of nature is a state of general confusion and uproar, a war of all against all, in which every one may do whatever he can do, and in which might constitutes right. That deplorable state lasted until mankind agreed upon putting a term to their misery, by foregoing as far as public safety was concerned, right and might, and place both in the hands of a chief magistrate elected by themselves; and henceforward whatever that magistrate ordered, was right.

Hobbes either had no taste for civil freedom, or wished it to be quashed altogether, rather than have it thus abused. But that he might reserve to himself freedom of thinking, of which he made more practice than any one else, he had recourse to a sly turn. According to his system, all right is grounded on power, and all engagement on fear. Now God being infinitely superior in power to the civil magistrate, God’s rights, too, must be infinitively above the magistrate’s, and the fear of God engage us to duties which are not to yield to fear of the magistrate. This, however, must be understood of internal religion, in which alone the philosopher was interested: external religion he entirely subjected to the dictates of the civil magistrate; and every innovation in religious matters without his authority, is not only high treason, but even sacrilege. The collisions which must arise between internal and external religion, he seeks to remove by the most subtle distinctions; and although there yet remain behind so many openings which betray the weakness of the union, one cannot help admiring the ingenuity with which he strives to give cogency to his system.

There is, in the main, much truth in all Hobbes’s positions; and the absurd conclusions to which they lead, flow merely from the extravagant mode in which he expounds them, either from a love of the paradox, or in compliance with the taste of his times. Nor were the ideas of the law of nature, in part, sufficiently clear in those days; and Hobbes deserves as highly of moral philosophy, as Spinoza does of metaphysics; his ingenious deviation occasioned inquiry. The ideas of right and duty, power and engagement, were further developed; men learned to distinguish more correctly between physical and moral power, between violence and qualification; and these distinctions they so intimately united with the language, that, at present, the refutation of Hobbes’s system seems to be in the nature of common sense, and, as it were, in that of the language. This is a property of all moral truths; when they are elucidated, they instantly are so imbibed by the language of conversation, and become so united with men’s daily notions, that they will be intelligible to the meanest understanding; and we wonder how we could have stumbled before on such a level ground. But we do not consider the expenditure at which that path was cut through the wilderness.

Hobbes himself must have been sensible, in more than one respect, of the inadmissible results to which his extravagant positions immediately led. If, by nature, men be bound to no duty whatsoever, then they are not even under the obligation of keeping their compacts. If, in a state of nature, there be no engagements but what are founded on fear and powerlessness, then compacts will stand good only as long as they are supported by fear and powerlessness; then have mankind, by compacts, not advanced a step nearer to security, and still find themselves in the primitive state of universal warfare. But if compacts are to stand good, man must, by nature, and without compacts or agreements, not be qualified to act against a compact entered into by him of his own free will; that is, he must no be allowed to do so, even if he could; he must not have the moral power, even if he have the physical. Right and Might are, therefore, two different things; and in a state of nature too, they were hetreogeneous ideas. Hobbes, furthermore, prescribes to the highest authorities in the state, strict rules not to insist on any thing which may be contrary to the subject’s welfare. For although that authority have not to account for its acts and deeds to mortal man, it has to the supreme Judge of the world, who sufficiently revealed to us his will about this. Hobbes is very ample on this; and, every thing considered, less indulgent to the gods of the earth, than his system would lead one to expect. But may not that fear of the Almighty, which is to bind sovereigns and potentates to certain duties to their subjects, become, in the state of nature, a source of engagement to every individual man as well? And so there would still be a solemn law of nature, which Hobbes, however, will not admit of. Thus may, in our days, any tyro in the law of nature, gain a triumph over Thomas Hobbes, which he would have to thank that philosopher for, after all.

Locke, who also lived at that period of main confusion, sought to protect liberty of conscience in another manner. In his letters on education, he puts down as a basis, the definition, that the state is a society of men united for the purpose of conjointly promoting their temporal welfare. Hence it follows, that the state has no business at all to concern itself about the citizens’ persuasions regarding their eternal happiness; and that it is to tolerate every one who conducts himself civilly well, that is, who offers no obstruction to the temporal happiness of his fellow-citizens. The state, in its quality of state, is not to take notice of difference of religion. For religion, of itself, has not, of necessity, an influence in temporal affairs; and its being connected with them, depends entirely on the will of man.

Very good! If the dispute admit of being decided by a mere definition of words, I do not know a more convenient one; and if, by it, his turbulent contemporaries had let themselves be talked out of their intolerance, honest Locke himself would not have had to wander so many times into exile. “But,” said they, “what should prevent us from promoting our spiritual welfare as well? Indeed, what reason have we to confine the object of social life to temporal affairs only? If mankind can at all promote their future felicity by public institutions, is it not naturally their duty to do so? Are they not in reason bound to congregate and form a social union also for that purpose? Since, then, it is so; and the state, in its quality of state, will act in secular affairs only, the question arises: to whom are we to commit the care of spiritual affairs? To the church? There we are, all of a sudden, again on the very spot from which we started! State and Church; care of temporal affairs, care of spiritual affairs, civil and ecclesiastical power. The former stands in the same relation to the latter, as the importance of temporal affairs to the importance of spiritual. The state, therefore, is subordinate to the church, and must give way in cases of collision. And now resist, who can, Cardinal Bellarmin, and his redoubtable train of arguments, to prove that the head of the church, in his quality of God’s vice-gerent on earth, has, on behalf of the Lord, the stewardship of every thing temporal; and, therefore, at least, indirectly, a Regale of all goods and minds in this world; that all secular realms are under the dominion of that spiritual Potentate, and bound to follow his directions, as to changing their form of government, deposing their kings, and putting others in their stead; because very often, the eternal salvation of the state cannot be consummated in any other manner; besides many other maxims of his order, which Bellarmin lays down with so much subtilty, in his book, De Romane Pontifice. Of all that has been opposed to the Cardinal’s sophism, in very bulky tomes, nothing appears to hit the mark, as long as the state gives the care of eternity entirely out of its hands.

Considered in another light, it is, in the strictest sense neither consonant with truth, nor does it tend to the good of man, when we cut time so clean off eternity. In the main, eternity will never fall to the share of man, his eternity is merely perpetual time; his time never ends, and is, therefore, an actual and integral part of his perduration. It is confounding ideas to oppose his temporal welfare to his eternal felicity. And this confounding of ideas is not without practical consequences. It puts the sphere of human abilities out of its proper place, and strains man’s powers beyond the limits set to them by Providence with such infinite wisdom. On the dark path on which man is to walk here on earth,” (if I may be allowed to quote from my own writings) ‘just as much light is provided, as he wants for to make the next step. More would only dazzle, and every side-light bewilder him.” It is essential that man should be constantly reminded, that with death there is not a complete end of him; on the contrary, an interminable futurity awaits him, to which his earthly life is only a preparation; the same as all through Nature every present is a preparation for a future. The rabbins liken this life to a lobby, in which we are to fit ourselves in the manner we wish to appear in the inner-room. Then take heed you no longer put this life as the opposite of futurity, and lead men to think that their true welfare in this world is not all one with their eternal welfare in the next; that it is one thing to be mindful of our happiness here, another of our happiness there, and that we may continue to enjoy the former while neglecting the latter. The short-sighted man who has to walk along a narrow path, finds his station and horizon displaced by those sort of insinuations, is in danger of getting dizzy, and of stumbling on level ground. How many a one dares not venture to partake of the present bounties of Providence, for fear he should be mulcted of an equal portion in the life to come? How many a one has turned out a bad citizen on earth, in hopes of thereby becoming so much the better a one of heaven?

I sought to obtain a clear and distinct view of the ideas of church and state, of their reciprocal influence, and on the happiness of civil life, by the following contemplations. When man becomes aware that out of society, he is as unable to discharge his duty to himself, and to the author of his existence as those to his neighbour, and thus can no longer continue in that lone condition without feeling his wretchedness, he is bound to instantly leave it, and join his species in a state of society, in order to supply their common wants by mutual aid, and promote the public good by joint measures. But the public good embraces the future as well as the present, the spiritual as well as the temporal. Unless we discharge our duties, we must not look for happiness either now or hereafter, either on earth or in heaven. Now, to truly discharge our duties, two things are required; namely, action and persuasion. By action is performed what duty bids, while persuasion causes it to flow from the true source, that is, to be performed from pure motives.

Action and persuasion are therefore required for the perfection of man, and it behoves society to take every possible care of both by their joint endeavours, that is, by giving the actions of its members a tendency to the public good, and by occasioning persuasions which engender such actions. The one is the governing, the other the training of civilized man. It is on grounds that man is led to either; to actions, by motivating; to persuasions, by evidential grounds. Hence society is bound to regulate both so as to make them coincide for the public good.

The grounds which lead man to rational actions and persuasions, rest partly on the relations of men to each other, partly on their relations to their creator and preserver. Those pertain to the state, these to religion. So far as men’s actions and persuasions may be made subservient to public utility, on grounds arising from their relations to each other, they are an object fit for the civil government; but so far as they are assumed to spring from the relations of man to God, they come under the cognizance of the church, the synagogue, or the mosque. We meet in so many text-books of canon-law as it is called, with grave enquiries: whether Jews, heretics, and misbelievers, may not respectively constitute churches? Considering the immense prerogatives, which the thing called Church is wont to usurp, the question is not so absurd, as it must appear to an unbiassed reader. With me, however, the difference of names, as may be supposed, is of no great consequence. All such public institutions for the cultivation of man, as refer to his relations to God, I call Church; and those which refer to his relations to man, I call State. By the cultivation of man, I mean the endeavouring to manage both action and persuasion, so as to make them jointly conduce to happiness; say, training and governing man.