Sämtliche schriften und briefe series I volume 4
Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften (ed)
pp 388-389

Date: 16/26 November 1685

Translated from the French

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Background: In Leibniz's letter to the Landgrave of 20 August 1685,1 he sketched out a possible path to reunite Catholics and Lutherans, whereby Lutherans would be obliged to accept the primacy and jurisdiction of the Pope but not all the articles and anathemas of the Council of Trent, instead offering to submit themselves to a new Council that both sides would accept as legitimate and ecumenical (something Leibniz suggested was not the case with the Council of Trent). On 10/20 September 1685, the Landgrave informed Leibniz that he had received his letter while he (the Landgrave) was in Rheims.2 The Landgrave responded more fully on 6/16 October 1685 with a letter that was fiercely critical of Leibniz's suggestions.3 The following letter is Leibniz's response to the Landgrave's criticisms.

[A I 4, 388]

     I have just received the latest package from Your Serene Highness containing the rest of the second part of the report of your journey along with a few other significant pieces, for which I thank you very humbly. I believe I have replied to everything that was in the previous ones, except for Mr Arnaud’s printed letters (which I want to read with application) and a page about [A I 4, 389] the letter of mine received in Rheims, which I must not pass over entirely in silence. I admit that this response greatly surprised me. And my correspondences would be quite regrettable if they served only to give a bad opinion of me. I would like to know what I have ever said or written that could make me accused of unbelief about articles which, thank God, are beyond dispute. As these kinds of judgements would be damaging, especially if others came to know of them, I had reason to be surprised, especially since they are without any foundation. As for the matter itself, treated in the letter received in Rheims, the response strayed from the question. It attacks me quite needlessly, since I do not express my views there and speak only ad hominem, especially since very learned people and even people of authority on both sides are of these views, and more than is thought. So it’s not a question the truth, or of the difficulties which can be found in practice due to the whims of people, but of what can be decided in theory, ex hypothesi; setting aside the advantages which one side or the other believes it has, and considering only what one or the other can say salvis suis principiis [without harming their own principles] and could even grant or forego in a necessity, when it is a matter of procuring great goods or preventing great evils. But one would have to examine the matter as a theologian, in a spirit detached from prejudices. The problem is that even the greatest individuals sometimes find it difficult to stick to this fairness, which they demand of others; and unfortunately it happens that far from taking advantage of the intentions of those who have the same goal as us, we get in each other’s way when they do not choose precisely the path we believe to be the best, as if a part of the besiegers, angered by the fact that their allies chose a different attack from theirs, wanted to destroy and overcome their efforts. I had written the aforementioned letter on the occasion of [your] trip to France, believing that by speaking to a few able and moderate theologians, their view could be learned in a form of conversation, since there is hardly a question more curious or more important to propose on these matters, and it is not suitable to be treated in letters. What I am experiencing now teaches me that only too well, such that it remains for me only to beg Your Royal Highness to prevent the matter from going any further, since I see that it can be taken in such an odious way.
      As for the Council of Trent, it is evident from public documents that it was not yet recognized as ecumenical in France immediately after the death of Henri IV. If it has been since, I don’t know. But I admit that the clergy for their part have always acted as if it was, and strived to achieve its goal indirectly. I believe that the same thing could be said even in Germany, because I do not know whether the authority of the clergy alone is sufficient for such a reception, which I am saying not to discredit the Council of Trent, which no doubt deserves to be esteemed, but because it is a truth of fact.


1. A I 4, 370-375.
2. A I 4, 376-377.
3. A I 4, 377-379.

© Lloyd Strickland 2021