Sämtliche schriften und briefe series I, volume 14
Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften (ed)
pp 161-165

Date: 29 September/9 October 1698

Translated from the French

Note - the portion of this text that is included in my Shorter Leibniz Texts is not included here.

View this translation in PDF format (22k)

Back to Shorter Leibniz Texts

Back to home page

Search texts by category:



[A I 14, p161]

29 September 1698
     Copy of my letter to Mr Morell


     ...Here are the lines by the Duke of Nevers in favour of Mr de Cambrai against Mr de Meaux and Abbé de la Trappe. He takes the contrary view to our Father Nicaise, who is always in favour of the winning side, whereas Mr de Nevers is always in favour of those to whom the court is opposed. Victrix causa diis placuit, sed victa Catoni.1 The problem is that Mr de Nevers did not use to pass for a Cato. Mr de Cambrai's last book has won over many people who previously condemned him...2
     My remonstrations, which I made on several occasions, in order that we should take advantage of the passage of the Czar for the good of religion, have come to nothing: the fact is that there is a lack of disinterested love. Men are usually quietists, when their material interests are not involved. I admire the devout, whose zeal shows itself through works of charity, but there are few true devout people; and among the devout themselves there are only a few who possess fervour and wisdom at the same time. The majority of men have neither [A I 16 p162] one nor the other, and even mystics are very often stubborn rather than enlightened. I fear that those who say that they experience a je ne sais quoi that they are unable to express, are dazzled by the false glimmers of the imagination which they take for the lights of the Holy Spirit. It is their practice which provides the means of discerning their minds: ex fructibus eorum cognoscetis eos.3 I believe that complete renunciation of oneself is nothing other than preferring the common good or (which is the same thing) the glory of God to one's own particular interest; everything else is just playing with words. This renunciation does not require passivity but rather activity, in order to try to do as much good as is possible. Odi homines ignava opera, philosopha sententia.4 I have known people who, in their own way, had thrown themselves into devotion through a principle of laziness, and they called this a renunciation of themselves. It was just self-love hidden under a beautiful veil. You put it very well, Sir, when you say that a soul that truly loves God above all things could not be damned, and those who think such a thing possible have a false idea of heaven and hell.


As for knowing what true reason is, I answer that this is not difficult, and that it would be in men's power to follow it, if only they were willing to allow themselves the patience, but they [A I 16, p163] want to judge per saltum.5 It is only a matter of proceeding in an orderly way, and to postulate nothing without being certain of it by experience or by proof; and not content oneself with any proof if it is not good in form, and if the matter does not contain propositions that have already been proved in their turn by experience or by some other proof. And when there is no way of having decisive proofs, one is obliged to assess the degrees of probability, and to follow what is most probable and most certain. When one rails against reason, as some good people do, this is a sure sign that one is not sufficiently instructed in it. Reason is the natural voice of God, and it is only through reason that the revealed voice of God should be justified, in order that our imagination or some other illusion not deceive us. Otherwise, sua cuique Deus fit dira cupido.6 However there is quite a bit of difference between reason and erudition or studies; reason is nothing other than knowledge of the truth which proceeds by order. But studies quite often only fill the imagination and the memory with chimeras, or with particularities scarcely appropriate to enlighten the mind. Knowledge of important truths should also be distinguished from knowledge of Scholastic quibbles, which often do not signify anything, or at least serve no purpose. Even if there were neither public revelation nor scripture, men, following the internal natural lights (that is, reason), to which the assistance of the light of the Holy Spirit would not be lacking if needed, would not fail to attain the true beatitude. But as men misuse their reason, the public revelation of the Messiah has been necessary. Since you admire the thoughts of Boehme so much, Sir, and since so many other enlightened people do so as well, I would very much like to know his dogmas in brief; because in the present situation of my occupations, it is almost impossible for me to read the works of this author, to gather its good bits which are well dispersed and hidden in obscure locutions. I admit to you that manners of speech, like those you have reported of Boehme where he calls God das auge des Ungrundes, da sich der unerforschliche will in einem Spiegel zu seiner selbst erkantniss fasset,7 hardly satisfy me. These are metaphorical expressions which one can interpret as one sees fit, and I want proper and distinct expressions. I am also afraid that everything people say about salt, sulphur, and mercury as the principles of things is nothing but [A I 16, p164] games of metaphors. The will is not the first source; it is completely the opposite: it naturally follows the knowledge of the good. I would rather support those who recognize in God as well as in any other mind three formalities: power, knowledge and will, for every action of a mind requires posse,8 scire,9 and velle.10 The primitive essence of every substance consists in power; it is this power within God that makes him exist necessarily, and everything that exists must emanate from this. Next comes the light, or wisdom, which understands all the possible ideas and all the eternal truths. The last complement is love, or the will, which chooses from among the possibles what is best, and this is the origin of contingent truths or the actual world. Thus the will is born when power is determined by wisdom. In my opinion, this trinity is more distinct and more solid than the one concerning salt, sulphur and mercury, which only comes from a misunderstood chemistry. The sun could not be the centre of the universe, because there is an infinity of suns at least as great and as beautiful as ours. And this knowledge is one of the most important and most necessary for combating the paganism founded on the false opinion of the excellence of the sun, as Macrobius demonstrated, and even to refute those who think that God is the soul of the world and that this soul has its throne in the sun. This idea of God is too ignoble, and comes from not sufficiently knowing the greatness of his works. Minds are not subtle bodies, because minds and souls are unities, and bodies are multitudes. I think, it is true, that every created mind and every soul is always accompanied by an organized body, from which they are never entirely detached, not even by death. Unities could not perish, but aggregates perish through dissolution. If I had the choice, I would rather be for what you report about Jane Leade, following Origen and others, than for what you attribute to Boehme. I remember well, Sir, what I wrote to you on the salt source known by Baron Helmont; if you examine my words, you will see that he does not place it near Zurich but further afield. He has given me a copy of his book on the beginning of Genesis.11 He is also of the opinion of Origen. I remember he told me that Mr Wetstein of Amsterdam published it in Latin, based on an English edition. [A I 16, p165] There is also one in German. It contains several very good thoughts, but it also has some for which I do not see the evidence: particularly his metempsychosis. Besides, I admire him a lot for a number of reasons. I am...


1. 'The cause of the conqueror pleases the gods, but that of the conquered pleases Cato.' Lucan, Pharsalia I.128.
2. Fénelon, Réponse de M. l'archevéque de Cambray à l'ecrit de M. l'évéque de Meaux intitulé: Relation sur le quietisme (1698).
3. 'by their fruits shall you know them.' Matthew 7.20.
4. 'I hate men whose behaviour is lazy while their ideas are philosophical.' Pacuvius, Tragoediae frag. 348. See also Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights XIII.8.4.
5. 'by a leap'.
6. 'each man's fierce passion becomes his God'. Virgil, Aeneid IX.185
7. 'the eye of the ungrounded, since the inscrutable will apprehends itself in a mirror for its self-awareness'.
8. [it] 'to be able'.
9. 'to know.
10. 'to will'.
11. F. M. van Helmont, Quaedam praemeditatae cogitationes (1697).

© Lloyd Strickland 2004
With gratitude to Elizabeth Vinestock for advice and suggestions