An Apology for Raymond Sebond is widely regarded as the greatest of Montaigne's essays: a supremely eloquent expression of Christian scepticism. An empassioned defence of Sebond's fifteenth-century treatise on natural theology, it was inspired by the deep crisis of personal melancholy that followed the death of Montaigne's own father in 1568, and explores contemporary Christianity in prose that is witty and frequently damning. As he searches for the true meaning of faith, Montaigne is heavily critical of the arrogant tendency of mankind to create God in its own image, and offers his personal reflections on the true role of man, the need to eschew personal arrogance, and the vital importance of faith if we are to understand our place in the universe. Wise, perceptive and remarkably informed, this is one of the true masterpieces of the essay form.
Michel Eyquem, Seigneur de Montaigne, was born in 1533, the son and heir of Pierre, Seigneur de Montaigne (two previous children dying soon after birth). He was brought up to speak Latin as his mother tongue and always retained a Latin turn of mind; though he knew Greek, he preferred to use translations. After studying law he eventually became counselor to the Parlement of Bordeaux. He married in 1565. In 1569 he published his French version of the Natural Theology of Raymond Sebond; his Apology is only partly a defense of Sebond and sets skeptical limits to human reasoning about God, man and nature. He retired in 1571 to his lands at Montaigne, devoting himself to reading and reflection and to composing his Essays (first version, 1580). He loathed the fanaticism and cruelties of the religious wars of the period, but sided with Catholic orthodoxy and legitimate monarchy. He was twice elected Mayor of Bordeaux (1581 and 1583), a post he held for four years. He died at Montaigne (1592) while preparing the final, and richest, edition of his Essays.