Frederick the Great Quote On Christianity

  • This quote is new to me, but it appears well sourced. I say that because: (1) It is certainly a reasonable thing for an admirer of Lucretius, like Frederick the Great is known to have been, to say. I too am an admirer of Lucretius, and I think the same thing most every day! Further, (2) it comes quoted from what I understand to be a reputable text (Niall Ferguson's "Civilization, the West and the Rest"). If anyone has evidence that indicates that this quote is spurious, please post and I'll retract point (2).

    Further, if anyone knows the exact source, please post that too. Obviously this is a translation so it would be good to know the name of the translator too. Presumably from wherever this comes, there is more of interest.…epage&q=imbeciles&f=false

  • Cassius

    Changed the title of the thread from “Frederick the Great Quote” to “Frederick the Great Quote On Christianity”.
  • Hi Cassius, interesting find. I searched on Wikiquote and that quote is found under the attributed quotes tab. Hence, as of yet we do not, definitively, know if he made those remarks in conversation or his writings.

    Thank you for leading me to learn about Frederick the great. I know very little of him and had no idea he knew of Lucretius.

    I searched a few other quotes of his about Christianity and some of them were in his correspondences with Voltaire. This is a neat historical find Cassius!



    Joy to the World!

  • While trying unsuccessfully to source the quote, the search - mostly under…drich-ii-von-preussen-185 -

    showed that the quote adequately describes his strong disagreement with Christian metaphysics.

    He regarded the claim that Jesus was the son of God a misinterpretation of the New Testament and knew about the increasing distortion of the belief in early Christian history and the oppression of other religions and denominations after Christianism's power grab.

    What is relevant in the broader context is that he agreed largely with Christian ethics, which he regarded as instrumental to have loyal citizens, was within Prussia for main stream Protestants the equivalent of the Pope and was in general tolerant to any religious group.

    He would interfere when he got the impression that a group tried to oppress other religious groups, had a negative effect on the economy or sided with Prussia's rival Austria.

  • Thank you Martin. That book I linked originally had a cite but it was not visible for free. I will dig further because I hate passing spurious quotes. If I find anything I will report back.

  • Martin I have made some progress.

    The first cite is to this work:

    65. Clark, Iron Kingdom, p. 187.

    That is a cite to:

    Clark, Christopher, Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600–1947 (London, 2006)

    There, in Iron Kingdom, I find:

    "Throughout his life, Frederick displayed a remarkable disregard for the conventional pieties of his era. He was vehemently irreligious: in the Political Testament of 1768, he described Christianity as ‘an old metaphysical fiction, stuffed with miracles, contradictions and absurdities, which was spawned in the fevered imaginations of the Orientals and then spread to our Europe, where some fanatics espoused it, some intriguers pretended to be convinced by it and some imbeciles actually believed it.’9"

    That reference is as follows:


    Does that help? We may now be at a a dead end on that "Political Testament" but maybe not (?)

  • I have only been able to trace this attribution to the same source (Niall Feguson's "Civilization, the West and the Rest")

    That being said, Frederick II of Prussia provides us with a few fun quips:

    "I think it better to keep a profound silence with regard to the Christian fables, which are canonized by their antiquity and the credulity of absurd and insipid people." (Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great [New York: Brentano's, 1927], trans. Richard Aldington, letter 37 from Frederick to Voltaire, June 1738)

    "Neither antiquity nor any other nation has imagined a more atrocious and blasphemous absurdity than that of eating God. — This is how Christians treat the autocrat of the universe." (Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great [New York: Brentano's, 1927], trans. Richard Aldington, letter 215 from Frederick to Voltaire, 19 March 1776)

  • The quote is not included in the free on-line excerpt of what seems to be the political testament of 1768 but a number of books contain that testament. During may time-out in Germany, I can search for it in the library of Cologne, which was an independent city state until Napoleon and became part of Prussia after Napoleon's defeat and therefore should have some books on Prussia and its kings in the library.

  • Wow that sounds like a lot of trouble but if you are so inclined when you have the chance, that would be great. Maybe we can group-source this and perhaps if someone has library access to a PDF download we could eventually get it that way. One thing I really miss about being in a university town is good access to a library with on-line resources.

  • Cassius, that's a fear of mine. One day, I will graduate and no longer have access to scholarly works, free of charge that is. I dread the day, it's coming, unless of course I continue on in pursuit of a PhD, then post-doctoral work and get married in and to the ivory tower :S

    Good news, the book is located a few floors from me. I'm going to retrieve it now. I'll see if there's a credible reference we can follow to verify the quote.

    Joy to the World!

  • Okay, I just checked. The book is not in the stacks. I checked the code, I rummaged through the shelves like a city racoon does one's trash. Searched and searched but nothing came up. I asked the librarian to help and he believes it may've been either just taken by someone (not very likely) or it was improperly shelved.

    On the positive note, in that section I found many other interesting books and took out a book entitled: A Buddhist History of the West by David R. Loy. I checked the index to see if Epicurus/Epicureanism is mentioned and wasn't disappointed :)

    Joy to the World!

  • Thank you Oscar! i am sort of thinking that something like this is on PDF somewhere in some collection to which the universities subscribe, but for which they charge exorbitant rates to non-students. I know I was able to find the Stanley translation of Gassendi that way at my university library. It wasn't in JSTOR but it was in some sort of generic antique document collection.

    (Of course it goes probably without saying that Martin would have no issue with the original German, if we can find it, even though that would be next to useless to me personally.)

  • At last, I found the book. Okay, it's in German and French. Do I really need to confirm your long-held suspicions about us Canadians only pretending to be bilingual?! lol French Canadians rarely speak English and it's even rarer for Anglo-Canadians to speak Francais ;) My Deutsch is not all that bad, but I'll leave this to Martin.

    Below I've attached images of the two pages in question (ueber die religion)

    For some reason I can't upload the image here, I'll put it in the gallery.

    Joy to the World!

  • As mentioned in the reply to one Image, the quote is there. At first sight, the translation seems to be accurate.