Francis Bacon.

The works of Francis Bacon, baron of Verulam, viscount St. Alban, and lord high chancellor of England (Volume 1) online

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make while they are in tuning their instruments,
which is nothing pleasant to hear, but yet is a cause
why the music is sweeter afterwards. So have I been
content to tune the instruments of the Muses, that
they may play that have better hands. And surely,

p a


when I set before me the condition of these times, in
which learning hath made her third visitation or circuit
in all tlie qualities thereof; as the excellency and vi-
vacity of the wits of this age ; the noble helps and
lights which we have by the travels of ancient writers;
the art of printing, which communicateth books to
men of all fortunes ; the openness of the world by na-
vigation, which hath disclosed multitudes of experi-
ments, and a mass of natural history; the leisure
wherewith these times aboimd, not employing men so
generally in civil business, as the states of Gra?cia did,
in respect of their popularity and the state of Rome in
respect of the greatness of their monarchy ; the pre-
sent disposition of these times at this instant to
I peace ; the consumption of all that ever can be said
in controversies of religion, which have so much di-
verted men from other sciences ; the perfection of your
majesty's learning, which asa phoenix may call whole vol-
lies of wits to follow you; and the inseparable propriety
of time, which is ever more and more to disclose truth ;
I cannot but be raised to this pcrsuasioUj that this
third-^^eriod of time will far surpass that of tue^Grae-
cia^^aiid Roman learning: only if men will know their
own strength, and their own weakness both ; and
take, one from the other, light of invcntTon"; and
not fire of contradiction ; and esteem of the inquisi-
tion of truth, as of an enterprise, and not as of a qua-
lity or ornament ; and employ wit and magnificence to
things of worth and excellency, and not to things vulgar
and of popular estimation. As for my labours, if any
man should please himself, or others, in the reprehen-
sion of them, they shall make that ancient and patient
request, " Verbcra, scd audi." Let men reprcliend
them, so they observe and weigh them. For the ap-
peal is lawful, though it may be it shall not be need-
ful, from the first cogitations of men to their second,
and from the nearer times to the times farther off.
Now let us come to that learning, which both_the for-
mer times were not so blessed as to know, sacred and
inspired Divinity, the sabbath and pprt of all mens la-^
hours and peregrinations. "


The prerggg,tivc of God extendeth as well to thej
reason, as to the will of man ; so that as we are toj
obey his law, tliough we find a reluctation in our will;!
so we are to believe his word, though we find a reluc->|
tation in our reason. For if we believe only that which
is agreeable to our sense, we give consent to the matter,
and not to the author, which is no more than we would
do towards a suspected and discredited witness : but
that faith which was " accounted to Abraham for righ-
teousness," was of such a point, as whereat Sarah
laughed, who therein was an image of natural reason.

Howbeit, if we will truly consider it, more worthy
it is to believe than to know as we now know. For
in knowledge man's mind suffereth from sense, but in
belief it sufFereth from spirit, such one as it holdeth
for more authorised than itself; and so suffereth from
the worthier agent. Otherwise it is of the state of
man glorified, for then faith shall cease, and " we shall
know as we are known."

Wherefore we conclude, tha^sacred theology, which
in our idiom we call divinity, is grounded only uppn
the word and oracle of JSoclj and not upon the light
of oiaiaixe /Tor it is written, " Coeli enarrant gloriam
Dei : " but it is not written, " Coeli enarrant volunta-
tem Dei : " but of that it is said, " Ad legem et tes-
timonium, si non fecerint secundum verbum istud," etc.
This holdeth not only in those points of faith which
concern the great mysteries of the Deity, of the creation,
of the redemption, but likewise those which concern
the law moral truly interpreted ; " Love your enemies :
do good to them that hate you: be like to your heavenly
Father, that suffereth his rain to fall upon the just
and unjust." To this it ought to be applauded, " Nee
vox hominem sonat," it is a voice beyond the light of
nature. So we see the heatlien poets, when they fall
upon a libertine passion, do still expostulate with laws
and moralities, as if they were opposite and malignant
to nature ; " Et quod natura remittit, Invida jura ne-
gant." So said Dendamis the Indian unto Alexan-
der's messengers ; " That he had heard somewhat of
Pythagoras, and some other of the wise men of Grsecia,



and that he held them for excellent men : but that
they had a fault, which was, that they had in too great
reverence and veneration a thing they called law and
manners."' So it must be confessed. that a great part
of the law moral is of that perfection, whereun to the
^ig^jSO^itjirJS-c^^^^^t-^spdre,: how then is it, that man
is said to have, by the light and law of nature, some
notions and conceits of virtue and vice, justice and
wrong, good and evil ? Thus : because the light of
nature is used in two several senses ; the one, that
which springeth from reason, sense, induction, argu-
ment, according to the laws of heaven and earth ; the
other, that which is imprinted upon the spirit of man
by an inward instinct, according to the law of con-
science, which is a sparkle of the purity of his first
estate : in which latter sense only he is participant of
some light and discerning touching the perfection of
the moral law : but how ? Sufficient to check the
vice, but not to inform tlie duty. So then the doc-
trine of religion, as well moral as mystical, is nof tb1)e
attainHO)utri5yiRs^piratioJft.^^^ God.

The use, notwithstanding, of reason, in spiritual
things, and^"We" latitude thereof, is very great" and ge-
neral ; for it is not for nothing that the apostle calleth
religion our reasonable service of God, insomuch as
the very ceremonies and figures of the old law were
full of reason and signification, much . more than the
ceremonies of idolatry and magic, that are full of non-
significants and surd characters. But most especially
the Christian faith, as in all things, so in this, de-
serveth to be highly magnified, holding and preserving
the golden mediocrity in this point, between the law of
the heatlien, and the lavv of iVIahomet, which have
embraced the two extremes. For the religion of the
heathen had no constant belief or confession, but left
all to tlic liberty of argument ; and the religion of
Mahomet, on the other side, interdicteth argument
altogether : the one having the very face of error, and
the other of imposture ; whereas the faith doth both
admit and reject disputation witli difference.

Thcjnsej)njjijinan m^^^ in religion is of two sorts:


the former, in the conception and apprehension of the
^y^?t'?!'i:?^9^^^^t^ "'^ revealed ; thq other, in the mfer-
ring and deri\iiig of doctrine and dirqctiou thereupon?
The former extendeth to tlie mysteries themselves ;
but how ? By way of illustration, and not by way of
argument. The latter consisteth indeed of probation
and argument. In the former, we see, God vouch-
safeth to descend to our capacity, in the expressing of
his mysteries in sort as may be sensible unto us ; and
doth graft his revelations and holy doctrine upon the
notions of our reason, and applieth his inspirations to
open our understanding, as the form of the key to the
ward of the lock. For the latter, there is allowed us
an use of reason and argument, secondary and re-
spective, although not original and absolute. For after
the articles and principles of religion are placed and
exempted from examination of reason, it is then per-
mitted unto us to make derivations and inferences
from, and according to the analogy of them, for our
better direction. In nature this holdeth not, for both
the principles arc examinable by induction, though not
by a medium or syllogism ; and, besides, those princi-
ples or first positions have no discordance with that
reason, which draweth down and deduceth the infe-
rior positions. But yet it holdeth not in religion alone,
but in many knowledges, both of greater and smaller
nature, namely, wherein there are not only posita but
placita ; for in such there can be no use of absolute
reason : we see it familiarly in games of wit, as chess,
or the like ; the draughts and first laws of the game
are positive, but how ? merely ad placitum, and not
examinable liy reason : but then how to direct our
play thereupon with best advantage to win the game,
is artificial and rational. 80 in human laws, there be
many grounds and maxims, which are placita Juris,
positive upon authority, and not upon reason, and
therefore not to be disputed : but what is most just,
not absolutely, but relatively and according to those
maxims, that affordeth a long field of disputation. Such
therefore is that secondary reason, which hath place in
divinity, which is grounded upon the placets of God.




De usu
in divjnis.


Here therefore I note this dcficience, that there hath
not been, to my understaiidmg, sufficiently hic[uired
and handled the true limits and use of reason in spi-
ritual things, as a kind of divine dialectic : wliicH for "
that it is not done, it seemeth to me a thing' usual, by
pretext of true conceiving that which is revealed, to
search and mine into that which is not revealed, and,
by pretext of enucleating inferences and contradicto-
ries, to examine that whicli is positive : the one sort
falling into the error of Nicodemus, demanding to
have things made more sensible tlian it pleaseth God
to reveal them, " Quomodo possit homo nasci cum sit
senex ? " the other sort into the error of the disciples,
which were scandalized at a shew of contradiction,
" Quid est hoc, quod dicit nobis ? IModicum et non
videbitisme, etiterum modicum, et videbitis me," etc.

Upon this I have insisted the more, in regard of the
great and blessed use thereof; for this point, well
laboured and defined of, would, in my judgment, be
an opiate to stay and bridle not only the vanity of cu-
rious speculations, wherewith the schools labour, but
the fury of controversies, wherewith the Church labour-
eth. For it cannot but open mens eyes, to see that
many controversies do merely pertain to that which is
either not revealed, or positive, and that many others
do grow upon weak and obscure inferences or deriva-
tions ; which latter sort, if men would revive the
blessed stile of that great doctor of the Gentiles, would
be carried thus ; Ego, own Dominus ; and again.
Secundum coiuiliuvi nieum ; in opinions and counsels,
and not in positions and oppositions. But men are
now over-ready to usurp the stile, Non ego, sed Do7Jii-
nus ; and not so only, but to bind it with the thun-
der and denunciation of curses and anathemas, to the
terror of those which have not sufficiently learned out
of Solomon, that " tlic causeless curse shall not come."

Divinit}^ hath two principal J^nirts ; the inatte r in.
formecT or revealed, and the nature of th^iiitbrmatioii
or revelation : and with the latter we will begin, be-
cause it hath most colicrence with that wliicli we have
now last handled. 'J'lie nature of the informiition^n-
pisteth of three brandies ; the limits of the inform a-


tion, tlic sufficiency of the information, and the ac-
qiiirhig qrj^btaining tlic information. Unto the limits
of tlie information helong these considerations; how far
forth particular persons continue to be inspired; liow far
fortli the (yhurch is inspired ; and how far forth reason
may be used : the last point whereof I have denoted as
deficient. Unto the sufHciency of the information belong
two considerations : what points of religion are funda-
mental, and what perfective, being matter of farther
building and perfection upon one and the same foun-
dation ; and again, how the gradations of light, ac-
cording to the dispensation of times, are material to
the sufHciency of belief.

Here again I may rather give it in advice, than note Dc gradi-
it as deficient, that the points fundamental, and the j'n civJufe'*
points of farther perfection, only ought to be with piety i)e«.
and wisdom distinguished ; a subject tending to much
like end, as that I noted before ; for as that other
were likely to abate the number of controversies, so
this is like to abate the heat of many of them. We
see Moses when he saw the Israelite and the jEgyp-
tian fight, he did not say, " Why strive you? " but
drew his sword, and slew the Egyptian : but when
he saw the two Israelites fight, he said, " You are bre-
thren, why strive you ? " If the point of doctrine be
an ^Egyptian, it must be slain by " the sword of the
Spirit," and not reconciled : but if it be an Israelite,
though in the wrong, then, " AVhy strive you ? " We
see of the fundamental points, our Saviour penneth
the league thus ; " He that is not with us, is against
us ; " but of points not fundamental, thus ; " He that
is not against us, is with us." So we see the coat of
our Saviour was entire without seam, and so is the doc-
trine of the Scriptures in itself; but the garment of
the Church was of divers colours, and yet not divided:
we see the chaff may and ought to be severed Ironi
the corn in the car, but the tares may not be pulled
up from the corn in the field. So as it is a thing of
great use well to define, what, and of what latitude
those points are, which do make men merely aliens and
disincorporate from the Uhurch of God.

For the obtaining of the infornuitiou, it resteth upon


the true and soimd interpretation of the Scriptures,
which are the fountains of the water of Hfe. The in-
terpretations of the Scriptures are of two sorts : me-
thodical, and sokite or at large. For this divine water,
which excelleth so much that of Jacob's well, is drawn
forth much in the same kind, as natural water useth
to be out of wells and fountains ; either it is first
forced up into a cistern, and from thence fetched and
derived for use ; or else it is drawn and received in
buckets and vessels immediately where it springeth.
The former sort whereof, though it seem to be the
more ready, yet, in my judgment, is more subject to
corrupt. This is that method which hath exhibited
unto us the scholastical divinity, whereby divinity hath
been reduced into an art as into a cistern, and the
streams of doctrine or positions fetched and derived
from thence.

In this men have sought three things, a summary
brevity, a compacted strength, and a complete perfec-
tion ; whereof the two first they fail to find, and the
last they ought not to seek. For as to brevity, we see,
in all summary methods, while men purpose to abridge,
they give cause to dilate. For the sum, or abridg-
ment, by contraction becometh obscure : the obscurity
requireth exposition, and the exposition is deduced into
large commentaries, or into common places and titles,
which grow to be more vast than the original writ-
ings, whence the sum was at first extracted. So, we
see, the volumes of the schoolmen are greater much
than the first writings of the fathers, whence the mas-
ter of the sentences made his sum or collection. So,
in like manner, the volumes of the modern doctors of
the civil law exceed those of the ancient jurisconsults,
of which Trebonian compiled the digest. So as this
course of sums and commentaries is that which doth
infallibly make tlie body of sciences more immense in
quantity, and more base in substance.

And for strength, it is true, that knowledges re-
duced into exact methods have a show of strength, in
that eacli part seemeth to support and sustain the
other ; but this is more satisfactory than substantial :


like unto buildings which stand by architecture and
compaction, whicli are more subject to ruin, than those
that are built more strong in their several parts, thougli
less compacted. But it is plain, that the more you
recede from your grounds, the weaker do you conclude:
and as in nature, tlie more you remove yourself from
particulars, tlie greater peril of error you do incur ; so
mucli more in divinity, the more you recede from the
Scriptures, by inferences and consequences, the more
weak and dilute are your positions.

And as for perfection, or completeness in divinity,
it is not to be sought ; which makes this course of
artificial divinity the more suspect. For he that will
reduce a knowledge into an art, will make it round and
uniform : but, in divinity, many things must be left
abrupt and concluded with this : " O altitude sapien-
tiae et scientiaB Dei ! quam incomprehensibilia sunt
judicia ejus, et non investigabiles viae ejus?" So
again the apostle saith, " Ex parte scimus ; " and to
have the form of a total, where there is but matter for
a part, cannot be without supplies by supposition and
presumption. And therefore I conclude, that the true
use of these sums and methods hath place in institu-
tions or introductions preparatory vmto knowledge ;
but in them, or by deducement from them, to handle
the main body and substance of a knowledge, is in all
sciences prejudicial, and in divinity dangerous.

As to the interpretation of the Scriptures solute
and at large, there have been divers kinds introduced
and devised ; some of them rather curious and unsafe,
than sober and warranted. Notwithstanding, thus
much must be confessed, that the Scriptures being
given by inspiration, and not by human reason, do
differ from all other books in the author ; which by
consequence doth draw on some difference to be used
by the expositor. For the inditer of them did know
four things which no man attains to know ; which are,
the mysteries of the kingdom of glory, tlie perfection
of the laws of nature, the secrets of the heart of man,
and the future succession of all ages. For as to tlie
first, it is said, " He that presseth into the light, shall


be oppressed of the glory." And again, " No man
shall see my face and live." To the second, " When
he prepared the heavens I was present, when by law
and compass he enclosed the deep." To the third,
" Neither was it needful that any should bear witness
to him of man, for he knew well what was in man."
And to the last, " From the beginning are known to
the Lord all his works."

From the former of these two have been drawn cer-
tain senses and expositions of Scriptures, which had
need be contained within the bounds of sobriety ; the
one anagogical, and the other philosophical. But as
to the former, man is not to prevent his time, " Vi-
demus nunc per speculum in aenigmate, tunc autem
facie adfaciem ;" wherein, nevertheless, there seemeth
to be a liberty granted, as far forth as the polishing of
this glass, or some moderate explication of this enig-
ma. But to press too far into it, cannot but cause a
dissolution and overthrow of the spirit of man : for in
the body there are three degrees of that we receive into
it, aliment, medicine, and poison ; whereof aliment is
that which the nature of man can perfectly alter and
overcome ; medicine is that which is partly converted
by nature, and partly convertcth nature ; and poison
is that which worketh wholly upon nature, without
that, that nature can in any part work upon it : so in
the mind, whatsoever knowledge reason cannot at all
work upon and convert, is a mere intoxication, and
indangereth a dissolution of the mind and under-

But for the latter, it hath been extremely set on foot
of late time by the school of Paracelsus, and some
others, that have pretended to find the truth of all
natural pliiloso})hy in the Scriptures ; scandalizing and
traducing all other pliilosophy as heathenisli and pro-
fane. But there is no such enmity between (tocI's
word and his works ; neither do they give honoiu- to
the Scriptures, as they suppose, but much embasc
them. F(>r to seek heaven and cartli in tlie word ot
God, whereof it is said, " heaven and earth shall pass,
but my word shall not pass," is to seek temporary


things amongst eternal ; and as to seek divinity in
philosophy, is to seek the living amongst tlie dead ; so
to seek philosophy in divinity, is to seek the dead
amongst the living ; neither are the pots or lavers,
whose place was in the ontward part of the temple, to
be sought in the holiest place of all, where the ark of
the testimony was seated. And again, the scope or
purpose of the Spirit of God is not to express matters
fif nature in the Scriptures, otherwise than in passage,
and for apjilication to man's capacity, and to matters
moral or divine. And it is a true rule, " Auctoris
aliud agentis parva auctoritas : " for it were a strange
conclusion, if a man should use a similitude for orna-
ment or illustration sake, borrowed from nature or his-
tory, according to vulgar conceit, as of a basilisk, an
unicorn, a centaur, a Briareus, an Hydra, or the like,
that therefore he must needs be thought to affirm the
matter thereof positively to be true. To conclude
therefore, these two interpretations, the one by re-
duction or enigmatical, the other philosophical or phy-
sical, which have been received and pursued in imita-
tion of the rabbins and cabalists, are to be confined
with a " noli altum sapere, sed time."

But the two latter points, known to God, and un-
known to man, touching the secrets of the heart, and
the successions of time, do make a just and sound dif-
ference between the manner of the exposition of the
Scriptures and all other books. For it is an excellent
observation which hath been made upon the answers
of our Saviour Christ to many of the questions which
were pro})ounded to him, how tliat they are imperti-
nent to the state of the question demanded ; the rea-
son whereof is, because not being like man, which
knows man's thoughts by his words, but knowing man's
thoughts immediately, he never answered their words
but their thoughts : much in the like manner it is with
the Scriptures, which being written to the thoughts
of men, and to the succession of all ages, with a fore-
sight of all heresies, contradictions, differing estates
of the Church, yea, and particularly of the elect, are
not to be interpreted only according to the latitude of


the proper sense of the place, and respectively towards
that present occasion, whereupon the words were ut-
tered, or in precise congruity or contexture with the
words before or after, or in contemplation of the prin-
cipal scope of the place ; but have in themselves, not
only totally or collectively, but distributively in clauses
and words, infinite springs and streams of doctrine to
water the Church in every part : and therefore as the
literal sense is, as it were, the main stream or river, so
the moral sense chiefly, and sometimes the allegorical
or typical, are they whereof the Church hath most use:
not that I wish men to be bold in allegories, or indul-
gent or light in allusions ; but that I do mucli condemn
that interpretation of the Scripture, which is only
after the manner as men use to interpret a profane

In this part, touching the exposition of jthe Scrij)-
tures, I can report no deficience ; but by way of re-
membrance, this I will add, in perusing books of di-
vinity, I find many books of controversies, and many
of common places, and treatises, a mass of positive
divinity, as it is made an art ; a number of sermons and
lectures, and many prolix commentaries upon the
Scriptures, with harmonies and concordances: but that
form of writing in divinity, which in my judgment is
of all others most rich and precious, is positive divi-
nity, collected upon particular texts of Scriptures in
brief observations, not dilated into common places ;
not chasing after controversies ; not reduced into me-
thod of art ; a thing abounding in sermons, which will
vanish, but defective in books which will remain, and
a thing wherein this age excelleth. For I am per-
suaded, and I may speak it, with an " Absit invidia
verbo," and no ways in derogation of antiquity, but
as in a good emulation between the vine and the olive.

Online LibraryFrancis BaconThe works of Francis Bacon, baron of Verulam, viscount St. Alban, and lord high chancellor of England (Volume 1) → online text (page 27 of 52)