On the first day of November in 1755, which is regarded as All Saints Day, in Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal, a pernicious earthquake struck the city and killed nearly fifteen thousand people. The survivors of this catastrophe began searching for an explanation of this event. Since this catastrophe occurred at the very time when Western thinkers were beginning to question the traditional idea that everything was an act of God and attempted to discover logical reasons for every event that occurred, it seemed there would be no one better to answer the survivors’ questions than enlightened intellectuals such as Voltaire, Diderot, Hume, and D’Holbach. These philosophes typically believed that the earthquake was not an act of God. Several other respected figures of the eighteenth century expressed their ideas about the disaster, including a Roman Catholic priest, Gabriel Malagrida, a Jesuit, and John Wesley, who was an influential English Protestant leader. The ideas expressed in Malagrida’s pamphlet (Doc.1) and Wesley’s sermon (Doc. 2) can be conceived as old-fashioned when compared to those expressed by the philosophes. Malagrida and Wesley attempt to explain the earthquake by claiming it was an act of God against the sinful people, and do not use any scientific logic or reasoning whatsoever.

In Gabriel Malagrida’s pamphlet, entitled “An Opinion on the True Cause of the Earthquake”, he condemns the people of Lisbon and claims that it was their sins that caused the earthquake. “…the cause of death of so many people…and of the flames…are your abominable sins,” (Doc. 1). He also deems it “scandalous” (Doc.1) to believe that the event was of natural causes. These ideas are not taken with surprise, since Malagrida was a devout Catholic Jesuit. The Catholic church was the leading opposition towards the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. They were against any scientific discoveries and believed that everything was and always would be an act of God, and that logic and reasoning were heretic. These views are shown in Malagrida’s pamphlet, where he not only claims that it was not a natural event, but that it would be foolish to think that it was.

Another deeply religious individual, John Wesley, also attempted to explain the event according to his religious views, in his sermon “Some Serious Thoughts Occasioned by the Late Earthquake at Lisbon“. Wesley also condemns the people of Lisbon (like Malagrida), and begins by citing examples of great losses of life up until the event occurred, and claimed that the earthquake was just like the others. He believes that God has begun to take vengeance upon the people for their sins, and states that the people of Lisbon are barbaric, which makes Lisbon the perfect place for God to strike. “If so, it is not surprising, he should begin there, where so much blood has been poured on the ground like water!…as well as barbarous manner,” (Doc. 2) Wesley speaks of the blood in reference to the Portuguese Inquisition, an attempt by the Catholics to rid Portugal of heretics. He also states that if the people believe in God, then they should believe that the earthquake was an act of God. It is not surprising that Wesley believes that God meant for the event to happen, since he is a devout Protestant preacher, and was against the Catholic church and its reforms, but it is somewhat surprising that he feels this way towards the event since the Protestants in the eighteenth century were typically “pro-science”.

In many ways, it is not surprising that the ideas expressed in the documents by Gabriel Malagrida and John Wesley, who were both deeply religious, conformed to the views of their respected religions at the time. Malagrida, a Jesuit, was against all forms of scientific reason and logic and believed everything was determined by God, and Wesley, a Protestant, was opposed to the Catholics and their Inquisition that occurred in Lisbon, and stated that God was taking his vengeance upon them.