Die philophischen schriften von Gottfried Wilheim Leibniz, vol. III
C. I. Gerhardt (ed)
pp 382-386

Date: 4 July 1706

Translated from the French

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[G III p382]

     I have received the honour of your letter along with the agreeable gift of your French translation of the Discourse on Divine Love against Mr Norris.1 The author is someone I honour infinitely, and this raises the obligation that I have to you for it, Sir, although I already have an obligation to you that I share with the public, having profited from your translation of Mr Locke's book.2 I am very much of the author's opinion, which you are now giving us in French, when she says that Reverend Father Malebranche's hypothesis about occasional causes cannot have a great influence on practice here.3 Rightly understood, when we speak in Active Theology of the question of how one should love God above all things and how much one is permitted to love creatures, it is mainly about the magnitude and direction of our affection, excited by the sight of objects, for example, how much time and attention one is permitted to give to the care of one's domestic affairs, without prejudicing the care owed to virtue and piety. And in this matter there is no point arguing about whether the pleasure that the sight of gold gives to a miser comes from the impressions that the reflected rays make on the soul by means of the animal spirits, or whether, in denying the influence of these spirits on the soul, we attribute our feeling to the impression of God on the occasion of the rays from the gold, according to Father Malebranche, or to the pre-established harmony, according to my system. This is why I have never claimed to make these kinds of applications of my system, which has many other uses and which serves to truly distinguish the soul and matter beyond what the Cartesians have known of them. It even seems that Reverend Father Malebranche allowed himself to touch upon these applications more by the vivacity of his genius, at an age when sallies [G III, p383] of wit are more passable, than by that mature reflection which is more apparent in his later writings, and especially in the one he wrote expressly on the love of God (when there was a dispute about the Maxims of the Saints),4 which he did me the honour of sending me at the time and which I would have liked you to have read, Sir, when you wrote your notice, in order to do justice to its author. This book is very good, and I must tell you something about it. Reverend Father Lamy, Benedictine, who has penetration and is well-known on account of his book, On the Knowledge of Oneself,5 wishing to treat a subject that was fashionable at the time, in the third volume of this work attacked the love of ourselves under the odious title of self-love or interested love, and to render this love even more odious he refuted what Mr Abbadie, the renowned Reformed Pastor, had said about it. But having named Reverend Father Malebranche as likewise against this kind of love, this Father thought it necessary to justify himself and even Mr Abbadie. And although he always sticks to his hypothesis that God alone is efficacious, he nonetheless speaks very reasonably about our duties in relation to creatures. I will tell you in passing, Sir, that in this same book Reverend Father Lamy has also written against my system. He says that its simplicity is dazzling, but that after examining it he found a false brilliance therein.6 Nevertheless it seemed to me very easy to answer his objections. My response was sent to those who currently have responsibility for the Journal des Savans, but it was mislaid there.7 This Father seemed upset because what the system of occasional causes immediately attributes to nothing but divine operation alone my system makes arise from our own being (albeit with God's concourse). But he does not consider that it is fitting for supreme wisdom to give to its works which are part of the natural order a nature in which everything is connected by reasons, such that someone who was perceptive enough could read the future and the past in the present, and even the state of the whole universe in the state of each part. Yet this could not happen unless there were actual subdivisions to infinity everywhere, so that everything can be affected by everything else. And by this means every soul or unity of substance, in representing its body from the beginning, is representative of the whole universe according to its capacity. So it is very far from being the case that the perceptions of the soul and the movements of the body have only an arbitrary relation, as these gentlemen think.
     I had touched upon this matter of pure love, and even explained it [G III, p384] in a few words some time before the controversy involving the Archbishop of Cambrai,8 in my preface to the Codex Juris Gentium Diplomaticus published in 1693, where I had wanted to say a few things about the sources of justice.9 There I explain this problem: how one can love God above all things and with a non-mercenary love, and yet relate everything to one's own good, in accordance with the peculiar quality of human nature. It is that to love is nothing other than to be inclined to find one's pleasure in the happiness or perfection of others, and this definition shows that to separate the love of others from one's own good is to make up something imaginary. I am also continually surprised that people argue so much about pure love without giving an intelligible definition of love. For when considering what the authors usually say about it, we find that they explain obscurum per aeque obscurum [the obscure by the equally obscure]. This is what I sought to remedy and I always took great care to give definitions. After that I show that between mercenary views and the true love which can be called pure (when it has as its basis the good of the object loved) there is as much difference as between the useful and the agreeable, that is, between what is a good only through the good effect it helps to produce, and what is a good in itself; between uti et frui, as St. Augustine rightly distinguishes in his City of God book XI, chapter 25, and elsewhere;10 and that the honourable is nothing other than what is agreeable according to reason. But I explain the whole thing more fully in the aforementioned passage, a copy of which I enclose herewith, not knowing if you would find it easily. The author of the book you translated comes close to my definition when locating love in the pleasure that the existence of the object gives us, because the existing object gives it only by its perfections. I am very much in favour of trying to correct the abuses of the mystics, but as there is sometimes something excellent mixed in with the errors and (if I dare to speak English) the nonsense, I would not want us to lose the wheat with the chaff. There is something pleasing in this expression of Mr Norris, that God cannot be loved with a love of benevolence and that the creature must not be loved by a love of desire;11 and the expression can be made good by [G III, p385] explaining benevolence by the will to obtain good for someone, and desire by a will inclined to the object without limitation or reservation, whereas temporal goods should be demanded only with restriction. But it must be admitted that this explanation of terms is not sufficiently consistent with ordinary usage. And on the contrary, as pure love is based on the felicity of God or on the pleasure of having the divine perfections in view (leaving aside the hope for other goods and the fear of evils that God can send us), it is called a love of benevolence among theologians, when applying to God the love we have for a true friend whose happiness pleases us, which is also true with regard to God, although we cannot contribute anything to his happiness; but the love based on the hope of some other pleasures that God or a friend can give us is called love of concupiscence. However, I think authors should be forgiven for expressions far removed from ordinary usage when they serve to instil a good thought, because we often lack appropriate terms. Following others, Reverend Father Malebranche, when speaking of the love of ourselves in the first letter he wrote to Father Lamy about this dispute, makes use of a distinction which sounds quite good. He says that we must love ourselves with a love of benevolence, and not with a love of complaisance, that we must tend towards our happiness but not be satisfied with ourselves, which perhaps means that we should not seek our happiness in the enjoyment and view of our own perfections, which are very small, but in those of God.
     The author of the book you translated into French is quite right to ask Mr Norris what he means when he says that we should desire only God. In my view, to desire God can be nothing other than wanting to enjoy sight of him or the knowledge of his perfections such as is necessary to be penetrated and perfected by them. And that somewhat relates to what is said on page 47 of your work, where the author falls entirely into my sense and principles, without perhaps having formulated them. It also seems that the distinction of Mr. Norris, who does not want creatures to be desired as goods but rather sought for some needs, is quite similar to the subtleties of the Stoics who did not grant that pleasure was a good and pain [G III, p386] an evil, but nonetheless found it advisable to seek one and shun the other. As for the expression of holy scripture, which wants us to love God with all our heart,12 we can actually say that it means something more than a very ardent love beyond all others. The love of God must not only surpass but also contain every other well-ordered love, since divine love alone constitutes all our happiness, all other affections having to be managed so that they help us as much as possible obtain this in practice. A mind which is accustomed to consider the goods of the earth and the wonders of God's works only as a means to know and love God, and to make him known and loved by others, will usually have no need to follow the example of Eraste or Aristarchus introduced in the Christian Conversations,13 or to use the aid of an entire withdrawal from the charms of external things, whatever his opinion of the system of occasional causes, and he will measure his relation with creatures by the power he has to make good use of them.
     But the pleasure of handling your excellent book has carried me almost beyond the limits of a letter. So I finish and beg you to pay my respects to Lady Masham. I am sincerely etc.
     Hanover, 4 July 1706


1. [Damaris Masham], Discours sur l'Amour divin, trans. Pierre Coste (Amsterdam: Pierre de Coup, 1705). This is a French translation of [Damaris Masham], A Discourse concerning the Love of God (London: Awnsham and John Churchil, 1697).
2. Namely, John Locke, Essai philosophique concernant l'entendement humain, où l'on montre quelle est l'etendue de nos connoissances certaines, et la manière dont nous y parvenons, trans. Pierre Coste (Amsterdam: Henri Schelte, 1700).
3. "For it will be found to amount to the same thing in regard of us, and our Obligation to desire them [sc. creatures], whether they are Efficient, or Occasional causes, of our pleasing Sensations." [Masham], A Discourse concerning the Love of God, 30.
4. Nicolas Malebranche, Traittè de l'Amour de Dieu (Lyon, 1697).
5. François Lamy, De la connoissance de soi-même (Paris, 1699, 2ed).
6. See the relevant extract of Lamy's book in Leibniz's New System, trans. and ed. Woolhouse and Francks (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 149.
7. Leibniz's reply was written in 1704 and eventually published in 1709: "Reponse de M. Leibnitz aux Objections que l'Auteur du Livre de la Connoissance de soy-même, a faites contre le Systeme de l'Harmonie pré-établie," Journal des savants (1709), 275-81. English translation in Leibniz's New System, 165-170.
8. 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.
9. "Preface to the Diplomatic Code of People's Rights" (1693), in A IV 5, 48-79. Partial English translation in SLT 149-152.
10. "I am well aware that 'fruit' and 'enjoyment' are properly used with reference to one who enjoys, and 'use' with reference to a user, the difference clearly being that we are said to enjoy something which gives us pleasure in itself, without reference to anything else, whereas we 'use' something when we seek it for some other purpose. Hence we should use temporal things, rather than enjoy them, so that we may be fit to enjoy eternal blessings, unlike the wicked, who want to enjoy money, but to make use of God, not spending money for God, but worshipping God for money. In spite of this distinction, the accepted conventions of language allow us to 'make use' of 'fruits' and to 'enjoy' the 'use' of things; for 'fruits' are also properly the 'fruits of the earth', and we all 'make use' of them in this temporal life." Saint Augustine, City of God, trans. Henry Bettenson, ed. G. R. Evans (London: Penguin, 2003), 458-459 (XI.25).
11. See letter VIII of John Norris, Letters concerning the Love of God Between the Author of the Proposal to the Ladies and Mr. John Norris, wherein his Late Discourse, Shewing that it Ought to be Intire and Exclusive of All Other Loves, is Further Cleared and Justified (London: Samuel Manship, 1695), 151-175, especially 155-166.
12. See Deuteronomy 6.5; Matthew 22.37; Mark 12.30; Luke 10.27.
13. See Nicolas Malebranche, Conversations chrétiennes dans lesquelles on justifie la vérité de la religion et de la morale de Jésus-Christ (Mons: Gaspard Migeot, 1677).

© Lloyd Strickland 2018