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Religio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and the Letter to a Friend online

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upon the difference of an opinion, or be angry with his
judgment for not agreeing with me in that from which,
perhaps, within a few days, I should dissent myself. I
have no genius to disputes in religion: and have often
thought it wisdom to decline them, especially upon a
disadvantage, or when the cause of truth might suffer
in the weakness of my patronage. Where we desire to
be informed, 'tis good to contest with men above our-
selves; but, to confirm and establish our opinions, 'tis
best to argue with judgments below our own, that the
frequent spoils and victories over their reasons may
settle in ourselves an esteem and confirmed opinion of
our own. Every man is not a proper champion for
truth, nor fit to take up the gauntlet in the cause of
verity; many, from the ignorance of these maxims, and
an inconsiderate zeal unto truth, have too rashly charged
the troops of error and remain as trophies unto the
enemies of truth. A man may be in as just possession
of truth as of a city, and yet be forced to surrender; 'tis
therefore far better to enjoy her with peace than to
hazard her on a battle. If, therefore, there rise any
doubts in my way, I do forget them, or at least defer
them, till my better settled judgment and more manly
reason be able to resolve them; for I perceive every
man's own reason is his best OEdipus, and will, upon a
reasonable truce, find a way to loose those bonds where-
with the subtleties of error have enchained our more
flexible and tender judgments. In philosophy, where
truth seems double-faced, there is no man more para-
doxical than myself: but in divinity I love to keep the
road; and, though not in an implicit, yet an humble
faith, follow the great wheel of the church, by which I
move; not reserving any proper poles, or motion from
the epicycle of my own brain. By this means I have
no gap for heresy, schisms, or errors, of which at pre-
sent, I hope I shall not injure truth to say, I have no
taint or tincture. I must confess my greener studies
have been polluted with two or three; not any begotten
in the latter centuries, but old and obsolete, such as
could never have been revived but by such extravagant
and irregular heads as mine. For, indeed, heresies perish
not with their authors; but, like the river Arethusa,
though they lose their currents in one place, they rise
up again in another. One general council is not able
to extirpate one single heresy: it may be cancelled for
the present; but revolution of time, and the like aspects
from heaven, will restore it, when it will flourish till it
be condemned again. For, as though there were metemp-
psychosis, and the soul of one man passed into another,
opinions do find, after certain revolutions, men and
minds like those that first begat them. To see our-
selves again, we need not look for Plato's year:* every
man is not only himself; there have been many
Diogenes, and as many Timons, though but few of that
name; men are lived over again; the world is now as
it was in ages past; there was none then, but there hath
been some one since, that parallels him, and is, as it
were, his revived self.

Sect. 7. - Now, the first of mine was that of the
Arabians; that the souls of men perished with their

* A revolution of certain thousand years, when all things
should return unto their former estate, and he be teaching
again in his school, as when he delivered this opinion.
bodies, but should yet be raised again at the last day:
not that I did absolutely conceive a mortality of the
soul, but, if that were (which faith, not philosophy,
hath yet thoroughly disproved), and that both entered
the grave together, yet I held the same conceit thereof
that we all do of the body, that it rise again. Surely it
is but the merits of our unworthy natures, if we sleep
in darkness until the last alarm. A serious reflex upon
my own unworthiness did make me backward from
challenging this prerogative of my soul: so that I
might enjoy my Saviour at the last, I could with
patience be nothing almost unto eternity. The second
was that of Origen; that God would not persist in his
vengeance for ever, but, after a definite time of his
wrath, would release the damned souls from torture;
which error I fell into upon a serious contemplation of
the great attribute of God, his mercy; and did a little
cherish it in myself, because I found therein no malice,
and a ready weight to sway me from the other extreme
of despair, whereunto melancholy and contemplative
natures are too easily disposed. A third there is, which
I did never positively maintain or practise, but have
often wished it had been consonant to truth, and not
offensive to my religion; and that is, the prayer for the
dead; whereunto I was inclined from some charitable
inducements, whereby I could scarce contain my prayers
for a friend at the ringing of a bell, or behold his corpse
without an orison for his soul. 'Twas a good way,
methought, to be remembered by posterity, and far
more noble than a history. These opinions I never
maintained with pertinacity, or endeavoured to inveigle
any man's belief unto mine, nor so much as ever
revealed, or disputed them with my dearest friends; by
which means I neither propagated them in others nor
confirmed them in myself: but, suffering them to flame
upon their own substance, without addition of new
fuel, they went out insensibly of themselves; therefore
these opinions, though condemned by lawful councils,
were not heresies in me, but bare errors, and single
lapses of my understanding, without a joint depravity
of my will. Those have not only depraved under-
standings, but diseased affections, which cannot enjoy a
singularity without a heresy, or be the author of an
opinion without they be of a sect also. This was the
villany of the first schism of Lucifer; who was not
content to err alone, but drew into his faction many
legions; and upon this experience he tempted only Eve,
well understanding the communicable nature of sin, and
that to deceive but one was tacitly and upon consequence
to delude them both.

Sect. 8. - That heresies should arise, we have the
prophecy of Christ; but, that old ones should be
abolished, we hold no prediction. That there must
be heresies, is true, not only in our church, but also in
any other: even in the doctrines heretical there will be
superheresies; and Arians, not only divided from the
church, but also among themselves: for heads that are
disposed unto schism, and complexionally propense to
innovation, are naturally indisposed for a community;
nor will be ever confined unto the order or economy of
one body; and therefore, when they separate from
others, they knit but loosely among themselves; nor
contented with a general breach or dichotomy with
their church, do subdivide and mince themselves almost
into atoms. 'Tis true, that men of singular parts and
humours have not been free from singular opinions and
conceits in all ages; retaining something, not only
beside the opinion of his own church, or any other, but
also any particular author; which, notwithstanding, a
sober judgment may do without offence or heresy; for
there is yet, after all the decrees of councils, and the
niceties of the schools, many things, untouched, un-
imagined, wherein the liberty of an honest reason may
play and expatiate with security, and far without the
circle of a heresy.

Sect. 9. - As for those wingy mysteries in divinity,
and airy subtleties in religion, which have unhinged
the brains of better heads, they never stretched the pia
mater of mine. Methinks there be not impossibilities
enough in religion for an active faith: the deepest
mysteries our contains have not only been illustrated,
but maintained, by syllogism and the rule of reason. I
love to lose myself in a mystery; to pursue my reason
to an O altitudo! 'Tis my solitary recreation to pose
my apprehension with those involved enigmas and
riddles of the Trinity - with incarnation and resurrec-
tion. I can answer all the objections of Satan and my
rebellious reason with that odd resolution I learned of
Tertullian, "Certum est quia impossibile est." I desire
to exercise my faith in the difficultest point; for, to
credit ordinary and visible objects, is not faith, but
persuasion. Some believe the better for seeing Christ's
sepulchre; and, when they have seen the Red Sea,
doubt not of the miracle. Now, contrarily, I bless
myself, and am thankful, that I lived not in the days
of miracles; that I never saw Christ nor his disciples.
I would not have been one of those Israelites that
passed the Red Sea; nor one of Christ's patients, on
whom he wrought his wonders: then had my faith been
thrust upon me; nor should I enjoy that greater blessing
pronounced to all that believe and saw not. 'Tis an
easy and necessary belief, to credit what our eye and
sense hath examined. I believe he was dead, and
buried, and rose again; and desire to see him in his
glory, rather than to contemplate him in his cenotaph
or sepulchre. Nor is this much to believe; as we have
reason, we owe this faith unto history: they only had
the advantage of a bold and noble faith, who lived
before his coming, who, upon obscure prophesies and
mystical types, could raise a belief, and expect apparent

Sect. 10. - 'Tis true, there is an edge in all firm belief,
and with an easy metaphor we may say, the sword of
faith; but in these obscurities I rather use it in the
adjunct the apostle gives it, a buckler; under which I
conceive a wary combatant may lie invulnerable. Since
I was of understanding to know that we knew nothing,
my reason hath been more pliable to the will of faith:
I am now content to understand a mystery, without a
rigid definition, in an easy and Platonic description.
That allegorical description of Hermes* pleaseth me
beyond all the metaphysical definitions of divines.
Where I cannot satisfy my reason, I love to humour
my fancy: I had as lieve you tell me that anima est
angelus hominis, est corpus Dei, as [Greek omitted]; - lux est
umbra Dei, as actus perspicui. Where there is an
obscurity too deep for our reason, 'tis good to sit down
with a description, periphrasis, or adumbration; for,
by acquainting our reason how unable it is to display
the visible and obvious effects of nature, it becomes
more humble and submissive unto the subtleties of faith:
and thus I teach my haggard and unreclaimed reason
to stoop unto the lure of faith. I believe there was
already a tree, whose fruit our unhappy parents tasted,
though, in the same chapter when God forbids it, 'tis

* "Sphaera cujus centrum ubique, circumferentia nullibi."
positively said, the plants of the field were not yet
grown; for God had not caused it to rain upon the
earth. I believe that the serpent (if we shall literally
understand it), from his proper form and figure, made
his motion on his belly, before the curse. I find the
trial of the pucelage and virginity of women, which God
ordained the Jews, is very fallible. Experience and
history informs me that, not only many particular
women, but likewise whole nations, have escaped the
curse of childbirth, which God seems to pronounce upon
the whole sex; yet do I believe that all this is true,
which, indeed, my reason would persuade me to be
false: and this, I think, is no vulgar part of faith, to
believe a thing not only above, but contrary to, reason,
and against the arguments of our proper senses.

Sect. 11. - In my solitary and retired imagination
("neque enim cum porticus aut me lectulus accepit, desum
mihi"), I remember I am not alone; and therefore forget
not to contemplate him and his attributes, who is ever
with me, especially those two mighty ones, his wisdom
and eternity. With the one I recreate, with the other
I confound, my understanding: for who can speak of
eternity without a solecism, or think thereof without
an ecstasy? Time we may comprehend; 'tis but five
days elder than ourselves, and hath the same horoscope
with the world; but, to retire so far back as to appre-
hend a beginning, - to give such an infinite start for-
wards as to conceive an end, - in an essence that we
affirm hath neither the one nor the other, it puts my
reason to St Paul's sanctuary: my philosophy dares not
say the angels can do it. God hath not made a creature
that can comprehend him; 'tis a privilege of his own
nature: "I am that I am" was his own definition unto
Moses; and 'twas a short one to confound mortality,
that durst question God, or ask him what he was. In-
deed, he only is; all others have and shall be; but, in
eternity, there is no distinction of tenses; and therefore
that terrible term, predestination, which hath troubled
so many weak heads to conceive, and the wisest to ex-
plain, is in respect to God no prescious determination of
our estates to come, but a definitive blast of his will
already fulfilled, and at the instant that he first decreed
it; for, to his eternity, which is indivisible, and alto-
gether, the last trump is already sounded, the reprobates
in the flame, and the blessed in Abraham's bosom. St
Peter speaks modestly, when he saith, "a thousand
years to God are but as one day;" for, to speak like a
philosopher, those continued instances of time, which
flow into a thousand years, make not to him one moment.
What to us is to come, to his eternity is present; his
whole duration being but one permanent point, without
succession, parts, flux, or division.

Sect. 12. - There is no attribute that adds more diffi-
culty to the mystery of the Trinity, where, though in a
relative way of Father and Son, we must deny a priority.
I wonder how Aristotle could conceive the world eternal,
or how he could make good two eternities. His simili-
tude, of a triangle comprehended in a square, doth some-
what illustrate the trinity of our souls, and that the
triple unity of God; for there is in us not three, but a
trinity of, souls; because there is in us, if not three dis-
tinct souls, yet differing faculties, that can and do subsist
apart in different subjects, and yet in us are thus united
as to make but one soul and substance. If one soul
were so perfect as to inform three distinct bodies, that
were a pretty trinity. Conceive the distinct number of
three, not divided nor separated by the intellect, but
actually comprehended in its unity, and that a per-
fect trinity. I have often admired the mystical way of
Pythagoras, and the secret magick of numbers. "Be-
ware of philosophy," is a precept not to be received in
too large a sense: for, in this mass of nature, there is
a set of things that carry in their front, though not in
capital letters, yet in stenography and short characters,
something of divinity; which, to wiser reasons, serve as
luminaries in the abyss of knowledge, and, to judicious
beliefs, as scales and roundles to mount the pinnacles
and highest pieces of divinity. The severe schools shall
never laugh me out of the philosophy of Hermes, that
this visible world is but a picture of the invisible, where-
in, as in a portrait, things are not truly, but in equivocal
shapes, and as they counterfeit some real substance in
that invisible fabrick.

Sect. 13. - That other attribute, wherewith I recreate
my devotion, is his wisdom, in which I am happy; and
for the contemplation of this only do not repent me that
I was bred in the way of study. The advantage I have
therein, is an ample recompense for all my endeavours,
in what part of knowledge soever. Wisdom is his most
beauteous attribute: no man can attain unto it: yet
Solomon pleased God when he desired it. He is wise,
because he knows all things; and he knoweth all things,
because he made them all: but his greatest knowledge
is in comprehending that he made not, that is, himself.
And this is also the greatest knowledge in man. For
this do I honour my own profession, and embrace the
counsel even of the devil himself: had he read such a
lecture in Paradise as he did at Delphos,* we had
better known ourselves; nor had we stood in fear to

* [Greek omitted] "Nosce teipsum."
know him. I know God is wise in all; wonderful in
what we conceive, but far more in what we comprehend
not: for we behold him but asquint, upon reflex or
shadow; our understanding is dimmer than Moses's
eye; we are ignorant of the back parts or lower side
of his divinity; therefore, to pry into the maze of his
counsels, is not only folly in man, but presumption
even in angels. Like us, they are his servants, not his
senators; he holds no counsel, but that mystical one of
the Trinity, wherein, though there be three persons,
there is but one mind that decrees without contradic-
tion. Nor needs he any; his actions are not begot
with deliberation; his wisdom naturally knows what's
best: his intellect stands ready fraught with the super-
lative and purest ideas of goodness, consultations, and
election, which are two motions in us, make but one in
him: his actions springing from his power at the first
touch of his will. These are contemplations meta-
physical: my humble speculations have another method,
and are content to trace and discover those expressions
he hath left in his creatures, and the obvious effects of
nature. There is no danger to profound these mys-
teries, no sanctum sanctorum in philosophy. The world
was made to be inhabited by beasts, but studied and
contemplated by man: 'tis the debt of our reason we
owe unto God, and the homage we pay for not being
beasts. Without this, the world is still as though it
had not been, or as it was before the sixth day, when as
yet there was not a creature that could conceive or say
there was a world. The wisdom of God receives small
honour from those vulgar heads that rudely stare about,
and with a gross rusticity admire his works. Those
highly magnify him, whose judicious enquiry into his
acts, and deliberate research into his creatures, return
the duty of a devout and learned admiration. There-

Search while thou wilt; and let thy reason go,
To ransom truth, e'en to th' abyss below;
Rally the scatter'd causes; and that line
Which nature twists be able to untwine.
It is thy Maker's will; for unto none
But unto reason can he e'er be known.
The devils do know thee; but those damn'd meteors
Build not thy glory, but confound thy creatures.
Teach my endeavours so thy works to read,
That learning them in thee I may proceed.
Give thou my reason that instructive flight,
Whose weary wings may on thy hands still light.
Teach me to soar aloft, yet ever so,
When near the sun, to stoop again below.
Thus shall my humble feathers safely hover,
And, though near earth, more than the heavens discover.
And then at last, when homeward I shall drive,
Rich with the spoils of nature, to my hive,
There will I sit, like that industrious fly,
Buzzing thy praises; which shall never die
Till death abrupts them, and succeeding glory
Bid me go on in a more lasting story.

And this is almost all wherein an humble creature
may endeavour to requite, and some way to retribute
unto his Creator: for, if not he that saith, "Lord, Lord,
but he that doth the will of the Father, shall be saved,"
certainly our wills must be our performances, and our
intents make out our actions; otherwise our pious labours
shall find anxiety in our graves, and our best endeavours
not hope, but fear, a resurrection.

Sect. 14. - There is but one first cause, and four second
causes, of all things. Some are without efficient, as
God; others without matter, as angels; some without
form, as the first matter: but every essence, created or
uncreated, hath its final cause, and some positive end
both of its essence and operation. This is the cause I
grope after in the works of nature; on this hangs the
providence of God. To raise so beauteous a structure
as the world and the creatures thereof was but his art;
but their sundry and divided operations, with their pre-
destinated ends, are from the treasure of his wisdom.
In the causes, nature, and affections, of the eclipses of
the sun and moon, there is most excellent speculation;
but, to profound further, and to contemplate a reason
why his providence hath so disposed and ordered their
motions in that vast circle, as to conjoin and obscure
each other, is a sweeter piece of reason, and a diviner
point of philosophy. Therefore, sometimes, and in some
things, there appears to me as much divinity in Galen
his books, De Usu Partium, as in Suarez's Meta-
physicks. Had Aristotle been as curious in the enquiry
of this cause as he was of the other, he had not left
behind him an imperfect piece of philosophy, but an
absolute tract of divinity.

Sect. 15. - Natura nihil agit frustra, is the only indis-
putable axiom in philosophy. There are no grotesques
in nature; not any thing framed to fill up empty cantons,
and unnecessary spaces. In the most imperfect creatures,
and such as were not preserved in the ark, but, having
their seeds and principles in the womb of nature, are
everywhere, where the power of the sun is, - in these is
the wisdom of his hand discovered. Out of this rank
Solomon chose the object of his admiration; indeed,
what reason may not go to school to the wisdom of bees,
ants, and spiders? What wise hand teacheth them to
do what reason cannot teach us? Ruder heads stand
amazed at those prodigious pieces of nature, whales,
elephants, dromedaries, and camels; these, I confess,
are the colossus and majestick pieces of her hand; but
in these narrow engines there is more curious mathe-
maticks; and the civility of these little citizens more
neatly sets forth the wisdom of their Maker. Who
admires not Regio Montanus his fly beyond his eagle;
or wonders not more at the operation of two souls in
those little bodies than but one in the trunk of a cedar?
I could never content my contemplation with those
general pieces of wonder, the flux and reflux of the sea,
the increase of Nile, the conversion of the needle to the
north; and have studied to match and parallel those in
the more obvious and neglected pieces of nature which,
without farther travel, I can do in the cosmography of
myself. We carry with us the wonders we seek without
us: there is all Africa and her prodigies in us. We
are that bold and adventurous piece of nature, which
he that studies wisely learns, in a compendium, what
others labour at in a divided piece and endless volume.

Sect. 16. - Thus there are two books from whence I
collect my divinity. Besides that written one of God,
another of his servant, nature, that universal and publick
manuscript, that lies expansed unto the eyes of all.
Those that never saw him in the one have discovered
him in the other; this was the scripture and theology
of the heathens; the natural motion of the sun made
them more admire him than its supernatural station did
the children of Israel. The ordinary effects of nature
wrought more admiration in them than, in the other,
all his miracles. Surely the heathens knew better how
to join and read these mystical letters than we Christians,
who cast a more careless eye on these common hiero-
glyphics, and disdain to suck divinity from the flowers
of nature. Nor do I so forget God as to adore the name
of nature; which I define not, with the schools, to be
the principle of motion and rest, but that straight and
regular line, that settled and constant course the wisdom
of God hath ordained the actions of his creatures, accord-
ing to their several kinds. To make a revolution every
day is the nature of the sun, because of that necessary
course which God hath ordained it, from which it cannot
swerve but by a faculty from that voice which first did
give it motion. Now this course of nature God seldom
alters or perverts; but, like an excellent artist, hath so
contrived his work, that, with the self-same instrument,
without a new creation, he may effect his obscurest
designs. Thus he sweeteneth the water with a word,
preserveth the creatures in the ark, which the blest of
his mouth might have as easily created; - for God is
like a skilful geometrician, who, when more easily, and
with one stroke of his compass, he might describe or
divide a right line, had yet rather do this in a circle or
longer way, according to the constituted and forelaid
principles of his art: yet this rule of his he doth some-
times pervert, to acquaint the world with his preroga-

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Online LibraryThomas BrowneReligio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and the Letter to a Friend → online text (page 2 of 15)