10 March 2015
The Lame Leading the Blind
Leaders are the most important people in our society. They are the ones who are supposed to lead us to betterment by their example. In his novella, Candide, Voltaire uses the direct characterization of some powerful religious leaders of the 18th Century to target a serious flaw in the religious status quo. He highlights the blatant hypocrisy of powerful and oppressive religious leaders, in an effort to enlighten members of the church and discredit major religions as a viable or sanctified institution to follow. He effectively orchestrates his argument by exposing the horrible offenses being committed by ordained Church leaders, such as The Pope, The Franciscan Priest, and The Grand Inquisitor. These characters contradict the fundamental Catholic theological morals and laws that they themselves preach, judge, and persecute the Church’s members based on.
Voltaire introduces the Old Woman to the readers in order to shed light on the hypocrisy of the Pope and the Franciscan Priest. In sharing her life story with Candide and Cunegonde, the Old Woman says, “’I am the daughter of Pope Urban X and the Princess of Palestrina’” (35). One of the most core beliefs and teachings of the Catholic Church is against the sin of premarital sex. Then how is it that the Pope, who is never married, could have a daughter and yet be a righteous and Holy man? In fact, the Pope is given power over the whole entire Catholic Church because he is supposed to be the most righteous and Holy man of all. Yet he does not abide by the same beliefs and rules he preaches to the people. Furthermore, as a leader of the Church he makes vows of celibacy when he became a priest, which he broke when he had sex. Priests all take vows in order to become righteous leaders of the church, particularly the vow of poverty. Yet when Candide finds his valuable jewels missing, the Old Woman says, “’I strongly suspect a reverend Franciscan Father who slept in the same inn as us in Badajoz’” (34). The Franciscan Priest, a man who is revered and empowered because he lives a just and humble life, indeed stole the jewels for his own benefit. His actions contradict everything he is supposed to be about. The commandments he teaches, that thou shall not steal, and his vow to a life of poverty have clearly not been the central focus of his life. In the story, not only is a humble Franciscan Priest a hypocrite leader to the people he preaches to, the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church, is also a hypocrite leader for the entire Church. Voltaire tries to get readers to think about how and why church members continue to follow these corrupt, hypocritical leaders. He pulls back the curtains on the truth behind the lies that are being covered up by oppression.
During Candide’s time, the Catholic Reformation is underway. In an effort to expel wrongdoing in the Church, the Inquisition set out and questioned the faith and purity of church members. This was perhaps the most cruel and violent campaign ever undertaken in religious history. But Voltaire highlights a whole new level of hypocrisy when the reader meets the Grand Inquisitor. Cunegonde tells Candide all that has happened to her since they were separated, and recounts her time with the Grand Inquisitor saying: “The Grand Inquisitor noticed me one day at Mass; he eyed me a great deal, and sent word to me that he had secret affairs to speak to me about. I was taken to his palace, I informed him of my birth; he pointed out to me how much it was beneath my rank to belong to an Israelite. On his behalf it was proposed to Don Issachar to yield me to His Lordship” (31). When the Inquisitor questions Church members, if their answers are not to his liking or in line with the beliefs of the Church they will likely be killed. The irony that surrounds this character is so apparent because the Grand Inquisitor will kill anyone if they practice their faith...
Cited: Voltaire, Donald Murdoch Frame, Voltaire, and Voltaire. "Candide." Candide, Zadig, and Other Stories. New York: Signet Classic, 1981. N. pag. Print.
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