The most of them were cast into prisons, impoverished by fines and costs, exiled or executed.
The little time that hangmen could snatch from professional duties was occupied in burning books.
There was no real liberty, no real education, no real philosophy, no real science – nothing but credulity and superstition. The world was under the control of Satan and the church.
The church firmly believed in the existence of witches and devils and fiends. In this way the church had every enemy within her power. It simply had to charge him with being a wizard, of holding communications with devils, and the ignorant mob were ready to tear him to pieces. So prevalent was this belief, this belief in the supernatural, that the poor people were finally driven to make the best possible terms they could with the spirit of evil. This frightful doctrine filled every friend with suspicion of his friend; it made the husband denounce the wife, children their parents, parents their children. It destroyed the amenities of humanity; it did away with justice in courts; it broke the bond of friendship; it filled with poison the golden cup of life; it turned earth into a very perdition peopled with abominable, malicious and hideous fiends. Such was the result of a belief in the supernatural; such was the result of giving up the evidence of their own senses and relying upon dreams, visions and fears. Such was the result of the attack upon the human reason; such the result of depending on the imagination, on the supernatural; such the result of living in this world for another; of depending upon priests instead of upon ourselves. The Protestants vied with Catholics; Luther stood side by side with the priests he had deserted in promoting this belief in devils and fiends. To the Catholic every Protestant was possessed by a devil; to the Protestant every Catholic was the home of a fiend. All order, all regular succession of causes and effects were known no more; the natural ceased to exist; the learned and the ignorant were on a level. The priest was caught in the net he had spread for the peasant, and Christendom became a vast madhouse, with the insane for keepers.
In those days witnesses were cross-examined with instruments of torture; the church was the arsenal of superstition; miracles, relics, angels and devils were as common as lies.
Superstition ruled the world!
That year, on Sunday, the 21st of November, a babe was born – a babe so exceedingly frail that the breath hesitated about remaining, and the parents had him baptized as soon as possible. They were anxious to save the soul of this babe, and they knew that if death came before baptism the child would be doomed to an eternity of pain. They knew that God despised an unsprinkled child. The priest – who, with a few drops of water, gave the name of Francois-Marie Arouet to this babe and saved his soul – had no idea that before him, wrapped in many folds, weakly wailing, scarcely breathing, was the one who would call himself Voltaire, the one destined to tear from the white throat of Liberty the cruel, murderous claws of the “Triumphant Beast.”