Testament of Jean Meslier: The Undercover Atheist Priest

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 27, 2010 in Reviews

meslier_testamentJean Meslier (1664-1729) served as a Catholic priest for 40 years, but after his death was discovered to have written the very first book-length philosophical essay promoting atheism.

I’m blogging my way through the book. See the index for all posts.


So what was it like for Meslier to live a lie?

I would always rather have openly shown the contempt I had [for politics and religion], if it had been permitted to me to speak according to my inclination and sentiments.

And so, although I was easily led in my youth to the ecclesiastical state to please my parents… nevertheless I can truthfully say that the… prospects of the fat payments of the ministry never brought me to love the duty of a profession so full of errors and impostures… I hated even more the mocking and clownish attitude of those other gentlemen who only think of having a good time with the large incomes of their good benefices and who among themselves cheerfully mock the mysteries, maxims, and the vain and deceitful ceremonies of their religion, and who even mock the simplicity of those who believe… Just look at the popes (Julius III, Leo X) who themselves mocked their dignity and the other (Boniface VIII) who said, joking with his friends, “Ah! How rich we are from this fable of Christ!”

…I do not believe, my dear friends, that I have ever given you reason to think that I shared these sentiments. On the contrary, you could have noticed several times that I was completely opposed to them and I was extremely sensitive to your pains. You could have noticed that I was not very attached to that pious lucre of the payments of the ministry, since I often neglected and abandoned it when I could have profited from it…

And with respect to the false and fabulous myserties of your religion… you could have easily noticed that I hardly devoted myself to the bigotry and I hardly thought much about maintaining you in it or of advising you to practice it… I have had the displeasure of seeing myself in this annoying obligation of acting and speaking entirely against my own sentiments; I have had the displeasure of keeping you in the stupid errors, the vain superstitions, and the idolatries that I hated, condemned, and detested to the core.

But I declare to you that I was never without pain and extreme loathing for what I was doing. That is also why I totally hated all the vain functions of my ministry, and particularly all the idolatrous and superstitious celebrations of masses, and the vain and ridiculous administrations of sacraments that I had to do for you. I cursed them thousands of times to the core when I had to do them, and particularly when I had to do them with a little more attention and solemnity than normal when I saw you come to your churches… to hear with a little more devotion what they make you believe to be the word of God…

But as [I must] keep silent at present, I will at least, in a way, speak to you after my death.1

I’m sure by now you see why this could be called an ‘Atheist’s Sermon.’ Or, as Michael Onfray called it, ‘The War Song of an Atheist Priest.’

  1. Testament, pages 39-42. []

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