Sämtliche schriften und briefe series I, volume 17
Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften (ed)
Date: 15/25 May 1699
Translated from the French
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MIND, BODY AND SOUL
FREE WILL AND NECESSITY
POLITICS, LAW AND ETHICS
LEIBNIZ TO MARIE DE BRINON
[A I 17, p198]
The honour that I have, Madam, of your acquaintance and commerce, is of such worth to me that I wish I were able to merit and preserve it by something better than that which my letters can furnish.
Our admirable Queen continues to be happy. May God make this be so for a long time, and also that her happiness spreads to the general public. In fact her marriage could not have taken place in a better constellation than that of the general peace, in which one could apply this phrase PEACE EVERYWHERE, found on a medal of Gallienus or Galliene, which is now the subject of a great dispute among the antique dealers of France, in which I am hardly interested, any more than I am in the one which has stirred among the genealogists of Paris, namely whether a certain title, by virtue of which the de Bouillon gentlemen claim to descend in a direct male line from the ancient counts of Auvergne, is genuine or just supposed. For my part, I always have a tendency to believe the good things as long as no one proves [A I 17, p199] that they are wrong. Regarding disputes, I am delighted that the one that existed between Mr de Meaux and Mr de Cambrai has finished.1 I wrote a long time ago to a friend who asked me for my opinion, saying that I was not in a position to judge to the bottom of the matter, but that I would always have a great opinion of the soundness of Mr de Meaux and of the integrity of Mr de Cambrai. The outcome appears to have confirmed my conjecture. It seems that pleasure is essentially part of the notion of love, so that the one who truly loves with a pure love places his pleasure in the good, happiness and perfection of the other. Thus pure love can be detached from our mercenary interests, but not from our good. And consequently it is evident from this definition of love that to love God above all things with a pure love or benevolence, is for one to place his principal pleasure, that is to say his happiness, in the good, happiness, perfection or glory of God.
You are right, Madam, to say that the certainty of salvation is found neither in your religion nor in ours, because one can be damned in both of them. And Madam the Electress says very plausibly that it is not religion (understood by itself) which saves us, but deep faith accompanied by charity. Even several of your doctors claim that one is saved by charity even if one utterly ignores the articles of faith.
You are also right to say that your church can be good, although it has bad children, so long as it does not itself authorize that which is malicious. Whether it does so or not, is a matter which I do not enter into, and as I said above, I always have a tendency to excuse, to accept the good part of it, and to view in a good way that which is susceptible to such a view. I do not regret this at all, although because of it I have more often than not displeased one side or the other. Ours has been angry that I did not see the Antichrist in you, and yours was not satisfied that I strongly and ardently defended our side against the imputation of heresy. In a word, I will always be delighted if your gentlemen furnish us with means to excuse your church, and if they leave a small door open [A I 17, p200] for peace or reunion, which posterity will be able to take advantage of, assuming our time is not sufficiently fortunate for that. It would be very reasonable, in fact, that we make the most of the reign of two princes as great and as wise as the Emperor and the King, both of whom have good intentions for that very thing. And to speak with Mr Pelisson,2 one cannot see what that holds. The death of this excellent man has not been one of the lesser obstacles. For my part, I have two maxims: one, to make use of everything in order to contribute towards some good, the other to be perfectly content when I am not successful, being persuaded that in the latter case it is for the best, as currently God does not want it. I do my part so long as there is hope, and I am pleased with his part when there is hope no longer.
I approve of the Apology that Mr Arnauld has made for certain Catholics in England.3 But he was wise not to touch on others, and above all to not to speak of the Gunpowder Plot, which is only too real, but that has got nothing to do with your Church.
Miss de Scudéry4 was kind enough to inform me that she is thinking of publishing an anthology of certain poems by the late Mr Pelisson with a summary of his life. I am delighted about this, however I wrote to her that I wish her to be able to offer memoirs of her own for a long time yet.
The Queen of the Romans demeaned herself to make a word of reply for the tokens of my enthusiasm, I have grounds to thank her for that, and what you have written to her subject will provide the best and the most agreeable part of my letter.
Madam the Electress5 is at present a few leagues from here, in a hunting house of the Duke of Celle, where the Princess of Ostfrise is also staying, but [A I 17, p201] who has fallen ill with pleurisy. It is believed that the Elector will come there also, and even the Bishop of Osnabruck, for the place is not too far away. The piety of this young prince is to be praised highly. The Ecclesiastics of some countries need such an example, and the seculars also. You have a living example of the greatest and the most edifying kind in the Abbess of Maubuisson.6 God takes care to contrast the virtue and the goodness of some persons of this elevation with the corruption of the century, as a kind of a barrier. Thus the church and the public find themselves interested in her conservation and long life. I would wish for it even if the interest of her admirable sister would not be found attached to that of the public. I wish also that both of them will enjoy for a long time a person as precious as you, and I am sincerely, Madam, your very humble and very obedient servant.
1. Leibniz is referring to the dispute between François Fénelon (Archbishop of Cambrai) and Jacques Bénigne Bossuet (Bishop of Meaux) over disinterested love, which occurred between 1697 and 1699 following the publication of Fénelon's Explication des Maximes des Saints [Explanation of the Maxims of the Saints] (1697). The dispute was finally halted on 12 March 1699 by the condemnation of Fénelon's book by Pope Innocent XII.
2. Paul Pelisson-Fontanier (1624-1693), Court Historian to Louis XIV and one of Leibniz's correspondents.
3. Antoine Arnauld, Apologie pour les Catholiques (Liège, 1681-2).
4. Madeleine de Scudéry (1607-1701), novelist and correspondent of Leibniz between 1697-1699.
5. Electress Sophie.
6. Louise, Abbess of Maubisson, was the sister of Electress Sophie. Marie de Brinon was Louise's secretary.
© Lloyd Strickland 2003