Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Letter XXXV
Usbek to Gemchid, his Cousin, Dervish of the glorious Monastary of Tauris
WHAT is your opinion, sublime dervish, of the Christians? Do you think that at the day of judgment, like the unbelieving Turks, who are to serve the Jews for asses, they will be hurried off at the gallop into hell? I am well aware that their abode will not be with the prophets, and that the great Hali’s mission was not to them. But, do you think they will be condemned to everlasting punishment because they have not been fortunate enough to find mosques in their country? Will God chastise them for failing to practice a religion which He has withheld from their knowledge? I may tell you, I have often examined these Christians; I have questioned them to find out if they had any idea about the great Hali, who was the most perfect of all men, and it is certain that they have never even heard of him.  1
  They are not like those infidels whom our holy prophets put to the sword, because they refused to believe in the miracles of Heaven: they are like those unfortunates who lived in the darkness of idolatry, before the divine light illuminated the face of our great prophet.  2
  Besides, an examination of their religion reveals the presence of some rudiments of our doctrines. I have often admired the secret workings of Providence, which seems in this way to have prepared them for a general conversion. One book of their learned men, entitled “Polygamy Triumphant,” 1 of which I have heard, proves that polygamy is enjoined upon Christians. Their baptism is an emblem of our ablutions; and their only error consists in ascribing to that first ablution an efficacy which enables them to omit all others. Their priests and friars pray, like ours, seven times a day. They hope to inherit a paradise where, by means of the resurrection of the body, they will enjoy a thousand delights. Like us also, they have appointed fasts, and times of mortification, by which they hope to move the divine clemency. They worship good angels, and are in dread of evil ones. They believe in miracles which God works by means of His servants. They recognize, as we do, their own unworthiness, and the need they have for an intercessor with God. Throughout their religion I find traces of Mohammedanism, although there is no word of Mohammed. It has been well said, that truth will break through the darkest clouds. The day is hastening when the Eternal will behold upon the earth none but true believers. Time, which devours all, will make away even with error. Men will be astonished to find themselves all under the same standard: everything, the law itself will be accomplished; and the godly will be taken from the earth, and carried to the mansions of the blest.

  PARIS, the 20th of the moon of Zilhage, 1713.
Note 1. The full title of the book to which Usbek alludes is, Polygamia, triumphatrix, id est discursus politicus de polygamia, auctore Theophilo Aletheo, cum notis Athanasii Vincentii, omnibus antipolygamis, ubique locorum, terrarum, insularum, pagorum, urbium, modeste et pie opposita. It was printed in Holland, probably in Amsterdam, although the name of a Swedish town appears on the title-page. Had it not suited Montesquieu’s purpose to refer to it, the very name of the book would now be unknown except to a few specialists, as it is dull and uninteresting. [back]

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