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tive, lest the arrogancy of our reason should question his
power, and conclude he could not. And thus I call the
effects of nature the works of God, whose hand and
instrument she only is; and therefore, to ascribe his
actions unto her is to devolve the honour of the prin-
cipal agent upon the instrument; which if with reason
we may do, then let our hammers rise up and boast they
have built our houses, and our pens receive the honour
of our writing. I hold there is a general beauty in the
works of God, and therefore no deformity in any kind
of species of creature whatsoever. I cannot tell by what
logick we call a toad, a bear, or an elephant ugly; they
being created in those outward shapes and figures which
best express the actions of their inward forms; and
having passed that general visitation of God, who saw
that all that he had made was good, that is, conformable
to his will, which abhors deformity, and is the rule of
order and beauty. There is no deformity but in mon-
strosity; wherein, notwithstanding, there is a kind of
beauty; nature so ingeniously contriving the irregular
part, as they become sometimes more remarkable than
the principal fabrick. To speak yet more narrowly,
there was never any thing ugly or mis-shapen, but the
chaos; wherein, notwithstanding, to speak strictly, there
was no deformity, because no form; nor was it yet im-
pregnant by the voice of God. Now nature is not at
variance with art, nor art with nature; they being both
the servants of his providence. Art is the perfection of
nature. Were the world now as it was the sixth day,
there were yet a chaos. Nature hath made one world,
and art another. In brief, all things are artificial; for
nature is the art of God.

Sect. 17. - This is the ordinary and open way of his
providence, which art and industry have in good part
discovered; whose effects we may foretell without an
oracle. To foreshow these is not prophecy, but prog-
nostication. There is another way, full of meanders
and labyrinths, whereof the devil and spirits have no
exact ephemerides: and that is a more particular and
obscure method of his providence; directing the opera-
tions of individual and single essences: this we call
fortune; that serpentine and crooked line, whereby he
draws those actions his wisdom intends in a more un-
known and secret way; this cryptic and involved
method of his providence have I ever admired; nor
can I relate the history of my life, the occurrences of
my days, the escapes, or dangers, and hits of chance,
with a bezo las manos to Fortune, or a bare gramercy to
my good stars. Abraham might have thought the ram
in the thicket came thither by accident: human reason
would have said that mere chance conveyed Moses in
the ark to the sight of Pharaoh's daughter. What a
labyrinth is there in the story of Joseph! able to con-
vert a stoick. Surely there are in every man's life
certain rubs, doublings, and wrenches, which pass a
while under the effects of chance; but at the last, well
examined, prove the mere hand of God. 'Twas not
dumb chance that, to discover the fougade, or powder
plot, contrived a miscarriage in the letter. I like the
victory of '88 the better for that one occurrence which
our enemies imputed to our dishonour, and the partiality
of fortune; to wit, the tempests and contrariety of
winds. King Philip did not detract from the nation,
when he said, he sent his armada to fight with men,
and not to combat with the winds. Where there is a
manifest disproportion between the powers and forces
of two several agents, upon a maxim of reason we may
promise the victory to the superior: but when unex-
pected accidents slip in, and unthought-of occurrences
intervene, these must proceed from a power that owes
no obedience to those axioms; where, as in the writing
upon the wall, we may behold the hand, but see not
the spring that moves it. The success of that petty
province of Holland (of which the Grand Seignior
proudly said, if they should trouble him, as they did
the Spaniard, he would send his men with shovels and
pickaxes, and throw it into the sea) I cannot altogether
ascribe to the ingenuity and industry of the people, but
the mercy of God, that hath disposed them to such a
thriving genius; and to the will of his providence, that
disposeth her favour to each country in their preordinate
season. All cannot be happy at once; for, because the
glory of one state depends upon the ruin of another,
there is a revolution and vicissitude of their greatness,
and must obey the swing of that wheel, not moved by
intelligencies, but by the hand of God, whereby all
estates arise to their zenith and vertical points, accord-
ing to their predestinated periods. For the lives, not
only of men, but of commonwealths and the whole
world, run not upon a helix that still enlargeth; but
on a circle, where, arriving to their meridian, they
decline in obscurity, and fall under the horizon again.

Sect. 18. - These must not therefore be named the
effects of fortune but in a relative way, and as we term
the works of nature. It was the ignorance of man's
reason that begat this very name, and by a careless
term miscalled the providence of God: for there is no
liberty for causes to operate in a loose and straggling
way; nor any effect whatsoever but hath its warrant
from some universal or superior cause. 'Tis not a
ridiculous devotion to say a prayer before a game at
tables; for, even in sortileges and matters of greatest
uncertainty, there is a settled and preordered course of
effects. It is we that are blind, not fortune. Because
our eye is too dim to discover the mystery of her effects,
we foolishly paint her blind, and hoodwink the pro-
vidence of the Almighty. I cannot justify that con-
temptible proverb, that "fools only are fortunate;" or
that insolent paradox, that "a wise man is out of the
reach of fortune;" much less those opprobrious epithets
of poets, - "whore," "bawd," and "strumpet." 'Tis, I con-
fess, the common fate of men of singular gifts of mind, to
be destitute of those of fortune; which doth not any way
deject the spirit of wiser judgments who thoroughly
understand the justice of this proceeding; and, being
enriched with higher donatives, cast a more careless
eye on these vulgar parts of felicity. It is a most un-
just ambition, to desire to engross the mercies of the
Almighty, not to be content with the goods of mind,
without a possession of those of body or fortune: and
it is an error, worse than heresy, to adore these com-
plimental and circumstantial pieces of felicity, and un-
dervalue those perfections and essential points of happi-
ness, wherein we resemble our Maker. To wiser desires
it is satisfaction enough to deserve, though not to enjoy,
the favours of fortune. Let providence provide for fools:
'tis not partiality, but equity, in God, who deals with us
but as our natural parents. Those that are able of body
and mind he leaves to their deserts; to those of weaker
merits he imparts a larger portion; and pieces out the
defect of one by the excess of the other. Thus have we
no just quarrel with nature for leaving us naked; or to
envy the horns, hoofs, skins, and furs of other creatures;
being provided with reason, that can supply them all.
We need not labour, with so many arguments, to con-
fute judicial astrology; for, if there be a truth therein,
it doth not injure divinity. If to be born under Mer-
cury disposeth us to be witty; under Jupiter to be
wealthy; I do not owe a knee unto these, but unto
that merciful hand that hath ordered my indifferent
and uncertain nativity unto such benevolous aspects.
Those that hold that all things are governed by fortune,
had not erred, had they not persisted there. The
Romans, that erected a temple to Fortune, acknow-
ledged therein, though in a blinder way, somewhat of
divinity; for, in a wise supputation, all things begin
and end in the Almighty. There is a nearer way to
heaven than Homer's chain; an easy logick may con-
join a heaven and earth in one argument, and, with less
than a sorites, resolve all things to God. For though
we christen effects by their most sensible and nearest
causes, yet is God the true and infallible cause of all;
whose concourse, though it be general, yet doth it sub-
divide itself into the particular actions of every thing,
and is that spirit, by which each singular essence not
only subsists, but performs its operation.

Sect. 19. - The bad construction and perverse com-
ment on these pair of second causes, or visible hands of
God, have perverted the devotion of many unto atheism;
who, forgetting the honest advisoes of faith, have lis-
tened unto the conspiracy of passion and reason. I
have therefore always endeavoured to compose those
feuds and angry dissensions between affection, faith,
and reason: for there is in our soul a kind of trium-
virate, or triple government of three competitors, which
distracts the peace of this our commonwealth not less
than did that other the state of Rome.

As reason is a rebel unto faith, so passion unto reason.
As the propositions of faith seem absurd unto reason,
so the theorems of reason unto passion and both unto
reason; yet a moderate and peaceable discretion may
so state and order the matter, that they may be all
kings, and yet make but one monarchy: every one
exercising his sovereignty and prerogative in a due
time and place, according to the restraint and limit of
circumstance. There are, as in philosophy, so in
divinity, sturdy doubts, and boisterous objections,
wherewith the unhappiness of our knowledge too
nearly acquainteth us. More of these no man hath
known than myself; which I confess I conquered, not
in a martial posture, but on my knees. For our en-
deavours are not only to combat with doubts, but
always to dispute with the devil. The villany of that
spirit takes a hint of infidelity from our studios; and,
by demonstrating a naturality in one way, makes us
mistrust a miracle in another. Thus, having perused
the Archidoxes, and read the secret sympathies of
things, he would dissuade my belief from the miracle
of the brazen serpent; make me conceit that image
worked by sympathy, and was but an Egyptian trick,
to cure their diseases without a miracle. Again, having
seen some experiments of bitumen, and having read far
more of naphtha, he whispered to my curiosity the fire
of the altar might be natural, and bade me mistrust a
miracle in Elias, when he intrenched the altar round
with water: for that inflamable substance yields not
easily unto water, but flames in the arms of its an-
tagonist. And thus would he inveigle my belief to
think the combustion of Sodom might be natural, and
that there was an asphaltick and bituminous nature in
that lake before the fire of Gomorrah. I know that
manna is now plentifully gathered in Calabria; and
Josephus tells me, in his days it was as plentiful in
Arabia. The devil therefore made the query, "Where
was then the miracle in the days of Moses?" The
Israelites saw but that, in his time, which the natives
of those countries behold in ours. Thus the devil
played at chess with me, and, yielding a pawn, thought
to gain a queen of me; taking advantage of my honest
endeavours; and, whilst I laboured to raise the struc-
ture of my reason, he strove to undermine the edifice of
my faith.

Sect. 20. - Neither had these or any other ever such
advantage of me, as to incline me to any point of in-
fidelity or desperate positions of atheism; for I have
been these many years of opinion there was never any.
Those that held religion was the difference of man from
beasts, have spoken probably, and proceed upon a prin-
ciple as inductive as the other. That doctrine of
Epicurus, that denied the providence of God, was no
atheism, but a magnificent and high-strained conceit of
his majesty, which he deemed too sublime to mind the
trivial actions of those inferior creatures. That fatal
necessity of the stoicks is nothing but the immutable
law of his will. Those that heretofore denied the
divinity of the Holy Ghost have been condemned but
as hereticks; and those that now deny our Saviour,
though more than hereticks, are not so much as atheists:
for, though they deny two persons in the Trinity, they
hold, as we do, there is but one God.

That villain and secretary of hell, that composed that
miscreant piece of the three impostors, though divided
from all religions, and neither Jew, Turk, nor Christian,
was not a positive atheist. I confess every country hath
its Machiavel, every age its Lucian, whereof common
heads must not hear, nor more advanced judgments too
rashly venture on. It is the rhetorick of Satan; and
may pervert a loose or prejudicate belief.

Sect. 21. - I confess I have perused them all, and can
discover nothing that may startle a discreet belief; yet
are their heads carried off with the wind and breath of
such motives. I remember a doctor in physick, of
Italy, who could not perfectly believe the immortality
of the soul, because Galen seemed to make a doubt
thereof. With another I was familiarly acquainted, in
France, a divine, and a man of singular parts, that on
the same point was so plunged and gravelled with three
lines of Seneca,* that all our antidotes, drawn from


* "Post mortem nihil est, ipsaque mors nihil, mors individua
est noxia corpori, nec patiens animae. . . . Toti morimur
nullaque pars manet nostri."
both Scripture and philosophy, could not expel the
poison of his error. There are a set of heads that can
credit the relations of mariners, yet question the testi-
monies of Saint Paul: and peremptorily maintain the
traditions of AElian or Pliny; yet, in histories of Scrip-
ture, raise queries and objections: believing no more
than they can parallel in human authors. I confess
there are, in Scripture, stories that do exceed the fables
of poets, and, to a captious reader, sound like Gara-
gantua or Bevis. Search all the legends of times past,
and the fabulous conceits of these present, and 'twill be
hard to find one that deserves to carry the buckler unto
Samson; yet is all this of an easy possibility, if we con-
ceive a divine concourse, or an influence from the little
finger of the Almighty. It is impossible that, either
in the discourse of man or in the infallible voice of
God, to the weakness of our apprehensions there should
not appear irregularities, contradictions, and antino-
mies: myself could show a catalogue of doubts, never
yet imagined nor questioned, as I know, which are not
resolved at the first hearing; not fantastick queries or
objections of air; for I cannot hear of atoms in divinity.
I can read the history of the pigeon that was sent out of
the ark, and returned no more, yet not question how
she found out her mate that was left behind: that
Lazarus was raised from the dead, yet not demand
where, in the interim, his soul awaited; or raise a law-
case, whether his heir might lawfully detain his inherit-
ance bequeathed upon him by his death, and he, though
restored to life, have no plea or title unto his former
possessions. Whether Eve was framed out of the left
side of Adam, I dispute not; because I stand not yet
assured which is the right side of a man; or whether
there be any such distinction in nature. That she was
edified out of the rib of Adam, I believe; yet raise no
question who shall arise with that rib at the resurrection.
Whether Adam was an hermaphrodite, as the rabbins
contend upon the letter of the text; because it is con-
trary to reason, there should be an hermaphrodite
before there was a woman, or a composition of two
natures, before there was a second composed. Likewise,
whether the world was created in autumn, summer, or
the spring; because it was created in them all: for,
whatsoever sign the sun possesseth, those four seasons
are actually existent. It is the nature of this luminary to
distinguish the several seasons of the year; all which it
makes at one time in the whole earth, and successively in
any part thereof. There are a bundle of curiosities, not
only in philosophy, but in divinity, proposed and discussed
by men of most supposed abilities, which indeed are not
worthy our vacant hours, much less our serious studies.
Pieces only fit to be placed in Pantagruel's library, or
bound up with Tartaratus, De Modo Cacandi.*

Sect. 22. - These are niceties that become not those
that peruse so serious a mystery. There are others
more generally questioned, and called to the bar, yet,
methinks, of an easy and possible truth.

'Tis ridiculous to put off or down the general flood
of Noah, in that particular inundation of Deucalion.
That there was a deluge once seems not to me so great
a miracle as that there is not one always. How all the
kinds of creatures, not only in their own bulks, but
with a competency of food and sustenance, might be
preserved in one ark, and within the extent of three
hundred cubits, to a reason that rightly examines it,
will appear very feasible. There is another secret, not
contained in the Scripture, which is more hard to com-

* In Rabelais.

prehend, and put the honest Father to the refuge of a
miracle; and that is, not only how the distinct pieces
of the world, and divided islands, should be first planted
by men, but inhabited by tigers, panthers, and bears.
How America abounded with beasts of prey, and
noxious animals, yet contained not in it that necessary
creature, a horse, is very strange. By what passage
those, not only birds, but dangerous and unwelcome
beasts, come over. How there be creatures there
(which are not found in this triple continent). All
which must needs be strange unto us, that hold but one
ark; and that the creatures began their progress from
the mountains of Ararat. They who, to salve this,
would make the deluge particular, proceed upon a
principle that I can no way grant; not only upon the
negative of Holy Scriptures, but of mine own reason,
whereby I can make it probable that the world was as
well peopled in the time of Noah as in ours; and
fifteen hundred years, to people the world, as full a
time for them as four thousand years since have been
to us. There are other assertions and common tenets
drawn from Scripture, and generally believed as Scrip-
ture, whereunto, notwithstanding, I would never betray
the liberty of my reason. 'Tis a paradox to me, that
Methusalem was the longest lived of all the children of
Adam; and no man will be able to prove it; when,
from the process of the text, I can manifest it may be
otherwise. That Judas perished by hanging himself,
there is no certainty in Scripture: though, in one
place, it seems to affirm it, and, by a doubtful word,
hath given occasion to translate it; yet, in another
place, in a more punctual description, it makes it im-
probable, and seems to overthrow it. That our fathers,
after the flood, erected the tower of Babel, to preserve
themselves against a second deluge, is generally opin-
ioned and believed; yet is there another intention of
theirs expressed in Scripture. Besides, it is improbable,
from the circumstance of the place; that is, a plain in
the land of Shinar. These are no points of faith; and
therefore may admit a free dispute. There are yet
others, and those familiarly concluded from the text,
wherein (under favour) I see no consequence. The
church of Rome confidently proves the opinion of
tutelary angels, from that answer, when Peter knocked
at the door, "'Tis not he, but his angel;" that is, might
some say, his messenger, or somebody from him; for so
the original signifies; and is as likely to be the doubtful
family's meaning. This exposition I once suggested to
a young divine, that answered upon this point; to
which I remember the Franciscan opponent replied no
more, but, that it was a new, and no authentick inter-
pretation.

Sect. 23. - These are but the conclusions and fallible
discourses of man upon the word of God; for such I do
believe the Holy Scriptures; yet, were it of man, I
could not choose but say, it was the singularest and
superlative piece that hath been extant since the creation.
Were I a pagan, I should not refrain the lecture of it;
and cannot but commend the judgment of Ptolemy, that
thought not his library complete without it. The
Alcoran of the Turks (I speak without prejudice) is an
ill-composed piece, containing in it vain and ridiculous
errors in philosophy, impossibilities, fictions, and vanities
beyond laughter, maintained by evident and open so-
phisms, the policy of ignorance, deposition of universities,
and banishment of learning. That hath gotten foot by
arms and violence: this, without a blow, hath dis-
seminated itself through the whole earth. It is not
unremarkable, what Philo first observed, that the law
of Moses continued two thousand years without the
least alteration; whereas, we see, the laws of other
commonwealths do alter with occasions: and even those,
that pretended their original from some divinity, to
have vanished without trace or memory. I believe,
besides Zoroaster, there were divers others that writ
before Moses; who, notwithstanding, have suffered the
common fate of time. Men's works have an age, like
themselves; and though they outlive their authors, yet
have they a stint and period to their duration. This
only is a work too hard for the teeth of time, and cannot
perish but in the general flames, when all things shall
confess their ashes.

Sect. 24. - I have heard some with deep sighs lament
the lost lines of Cicero; others with as many groans
deplore the combustion of the library of Alexandria;
for my own part, I think there be too many in the
world; and could with patience behold the urn and
ashes of the Vatican, could I, with a few others, recover
the perished leaves of Solomon. I would not omit a
copy of Enoch's pillars, had they many nearer authors
than Josephus, or did not relish somewhat of the fable.
Some men have written more than others have spoken.
Pineda quotes more authors, in one work,* than are
necessary in a whole world. Of those three great inven-
tions in Germany, there are two which are not without
their incommodities, and 'tis disputable whether they
exceed not their use and commodities. 'Tis not a melan-
choly utinam of my own, but the desires of better heads,
that there were a general synod - not to unite the incom-
patible difference of religion, but, - for the benefit of


* Pineda, in his "Monarchia Ecclesiastica," quotes one
thousand and forty authors.
learning, to reduce it, as it lay at first, in a few and solid
authors; and to condemn to the fire those swarms and
millions of rhapsodies, begotten only to distract and
abuse the weaker judgments of scholars, and to maintain
the trade and mystery of typographers.

Sect. 25. - I cannot but wonder with what exception
the Samaritans could confine their belief to the Penta-
teuch, or five books of Moses. I am ashamed at the
rabbinical interpretation of the Jews upon the Old
Testament, as much as their defection from the New:
and truly it is beyond wonder, how that contemptible
and degenerate issue of Jacob, once so devoted to ethnick
superstition, and so easily seduced to the idolatry of
their neighbours, should now, in such an obstinate and
peremptory belief, adhere unto their own doctrine,
expect impossibilities, and in the face and eye of the
church, persist without the least hope of conversion.
This is a vice in them, that were a virtue in us; for
obstinacy in a bad cause is but constancy in a good:
and herein I must accuse those of my own religion; for
there is not any of such a fugitive faith, such an unstable
belief, as a Christian; none that do so often transform
themselves, not unto several shapes of Christianity, and
of the same species, but unto more unnatural and contrary
forms of Jew and Mohammedan; that, from the name
of Saviour, can condescend to the bare term of prophet:
and, from an old belief that he is come, fall to a new
expectation of his coming. It is the promise of Christ,
to make us all one flock: but how and when this union
shall be, is as obscure to me as the last day. Of those
four members of religion we hold a slender propor-
tion. There are, I confess, some new additions; yet
small to those which accrue to our adversaries; and
those only drawn from the revolt of pagans; men but
of negative impieties; and such as deny Christ, but


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Online LibraryThomas BrowneReligio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and the Letter to a Friend → online text (page 3 of 15)