In Voltaire’s Essay on Toleration, he discuses the “Calas Affair” one of the most influential controversies during the eighteenth century. Voltaire argues from the point of reason against the religious eccentric masses that condemned an innocent man to torture and death. Voltaire disagreed with the lack of evidence in the trial, the influence of mass religious hysteria, and the obvious wrongful killing of an innocent man. The justice system in Toulouse like much of France was heavily influenced by the aristocracy and after the revocation of The Edict of Nantes, France had taken a step back in the fight for religious tolerance. Voltaire’s need was to identify the wrong doing in the trial and bring religious tolerance to trials and to have an emphasis on reason over religious persecution.
The eighteenth century was a time of change; the Protestant Reformation had awakened a time of religious consciousness that affected all aspects of society. In the case of Jean Calas, his religion was used against him and ended in his torture and death. Voltaire like many enlightened thinkers argued from the point of reason and science over mass hysteria and religious persecution of anti-Catholics. The first rumor of Calas murdering his son over his unconfirmed conversion to Catholicism was recorded by Voltaire to be spread by the masses. In his essay he stated, “The cry was soon repeated on all sides; some adding that the deceased was to have abjured Protestantism on the following day, and that the family and young Lavaisse had strangled him out of hatred of the Catholic religion. In a moment all doubt had disappeared”(4). Voltaire argues that the first indication of guilt was offered by the Catholic masses who assumed th...
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...masses superstitions, hatred and lack of guilt in condemning Calas to death. Voltaires personal repulsion with this case fed his writings against the French courts system and furthered his search for justice.
Voltaire’s account of Jean Calas murder and trial give insight into French society and judicial system in the mid eighteenth century. His writings fueled those in society to think beyond religious intolerance to give reason a chance. The account of Jean Calas was just one of many injustices that happened during this era of turmoil and religious frustrations. Voltaire begs his reader to question society and the masses and look for reason and science to explain the events occurring around them. The Enlightenment period was full of injustices and religious fanaticism, but with writers like Voltaire some began to question the authority of the church and its laws.
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