Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 461
Michel de Montaigne begins his “apology” by explaining that he translated Raymond Sebond’s work from Spanish into French at his father’s request. The defense of Catholic values seemed important to him in part because it was written in the early years of Protestant challenges, which might later prove to be like a contagious illness (“distemper”) among lower-class, uneducated people (“the vulgar”). The man who gave it to his father
recommended it to him for a very useful book, and proper for the time wherein he gave it to him; which was when the novel doctrines of Luther began to be in vogue, and in many places to stagger our ancient belief: wherein he was very well advised, wisely, in his own reason, foreseeing that the beginning of this distemper would easily run into an execrable atheism, for the vulgar, not having the faculty of judging of things . . . after having once been inspired with the boldness to despise and control those opinions which they had before had in extreme reverence, such as those wherein their salvation is concerned. . . throw all other parts of their belief into the same uncertainty. . . .
Sebond set out to show how reason and faith are compatible, as human beings (“man”) have reason only because God gave it to them. Montaigne agrees and points out that people owe it to God by using every part of ourselves to revere him, but they should not make the mistake of thinking that they are responsible for the gift of reason.
We do not satisfy ourselves with serving God with our souls and understandings only, we moreover owe and render him a corporal reverence, and apply our limbs and motions, and external things to do him honour; we must here do the same, and accompany our faith with all the reason we have, but always with this reservation, not to fancy that it is upon us that it depends. . . .
Montaigne, encouraging humility, cautions us that we are ill-equipped to explain the success of evaluate human beings if we separate them from the divine spark that created them. What role does reason alone serve in enabling humans to function in the world? It would be better, he implies, to take a cold, hard look at ourselves.
Let him [any human] make me understand, by the force of his reason, upon what foundations he has built those great advantages he thinks he has over other creatures. . . . Can any thing be imagined so ridiculous, that this miserable and wretched creature, who is not so much as master of himself, but subject to the injuries of all things, should call himself master and emperor of the world, of which...
(The entire section contains 652 words.)
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