Copyright
Thomas Browne.

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

. (page 4 of 15)
Online LibraryThomas BrowneReligio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and the Letter to a Friend → online text (page 4 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


because they never heard of him. But the religion of
the Jew is expressly against the Christian, and the
Mohammedan against both; for the Turk, in the bulk
he now stands, is beyond all hope of conversion: if he
fall asunder, there may be conceived hopes; but not
without strong improbabilities. The Jew is obstinate in
all fortunes; the persecution of fifteen hundred years
hath but confirmed them in their error. They have
already endured whatsoever may be inflicted: and have
suffered, in a bad cause, even to the condemnation of
their enemies. Persecution is a bad and indirect way
to plant religion. It hath been the unhappy method of
angry devotions, not only to confirm honest religion, but
wicked heresies and extravagant opinions. It was the
first stone and basis of our faith. None can more justly
boast of persecutions, and glory in the number and
valour of martyrs. For, to speak properly, those are
true and almost only examples of fortitude. Those that
are fetched from the field, or drawn from the actions of
the camp, are not ofttimes so truly precedents of valour
as audacity, and, at the best, attain but to some bastard
piece of fortitude. If we shall strictly examine the
circumstances and requisites which Aristotle requires
to true and perfect valour, we shall find the name only
in his master, Alexander, and as little in that Roman
worthy, Julius Caesar; and if any, in that easy and
active way, have done so nobly as to deserve that name,
yet, in the passive and more terrible piece, these have
surpassed, and in a more heroical way may claim, the
honour of that title. 'Tis not in the power of every
honest faith to proceed thus far, or pass to heaven
through the flames. Every one hath it not in that full
measure, nor in so audacious and resolute a temper, as
to endure those terrible tests and trials; who, notwith-
standing, in a peaceable way, do truly adore their
Saviour, and have, no doubt, a faith acceptable in the
eyes of God.

Sect. 26. - Now, as all that die in the war are not
termed soldiers, so neither can I properly term all those
that suffer in matters of religion, martyrs. The council
of Constance condemns John Huss for a heretick;
the stories of his own party style him a martyr. He
must needs offend the divinity of both, that says he
was neither the one nor the other. There are many
(questionless) canonized on earth, that shall never be
saints in heaven; and have their names in histories and
martyrologies, who, in the eyes of God, are not so per-
fect martyrs as was that wise heathen Socrates, that
suffered on a fundamental point of religion, - the unity
of God. I have often pitied the miserable bishop
that suffered in the cause of antipodes; yet cannot
choose but accuse him of as much madness, for exposing
his living on such a trifle, as those of ignorance and
folly, that condemned him. I think my conscience will
not give me the lie, if I say there are not many extant,
that, in a noble way, fear the face of death less than
myself; yet, from the moral duty I owe to the com-
mandment of God, and the natural respect that I tender
unto the conservation of my essence and being, I would
not perish upon a ceremony, politick points, or indiffer-
ency: nor is my belief of that untractable temper as,
not to bow at their obstacles, or connive at matters
wherein there are not manifest impieties. The leaven,
therefore, and ferment of all, not only civil, but re-
ligious, actions, is wisdom; without which, to commit
ourselves to the flames is homicide, and (I fear) but to
pass through one fire into another.

Sect. 27. - That miracles are ceased, I can neither
prove nor absolutely deny, much less define the time
and period of their cessation. That they survived
Christ is manifest upon record of Scripture: that they
outlived the apostles also, and were revived at the con-
version of nations, many years after, we cannot deny, if
we shall not question those writers whose testimonies
we do not controvert in points that make for our own
opinions: therefore, that may have some truth in it, that
is reported by the Jesuits of their miracles in the Indies.
I could wish it were true, or had any other testimony
than their own pens. They may easily believe those
miracles abroad, who daily conceive a greater at home
- the transmutation of those visible elements into the
body and blood of our Saviour; - for the conversion of
water into wine, which he wrought in Cana, or, what
the devil would have had him done in the wilderness,
of stones into bread, compared to this, will scarce deserve
the name of a miracle: though, indeed, to speak pro-
perly, there is not one miracle greater than another;
they being the extraordinary effects of the hand of God,
to which all things are of an equal facility; and to
create the world as easy as one single creature. For
this is also a miracle; not only to produce effects
against or above nature, but before nature; and to
create nature, as great a miracle as to contradict or
transcend her. We do too narrowly define the power
of God, restraining it to our capacities. I hold that
God can do all things: how he should work contradic-
tions, I do not understand, yet dare not, therefore, deny.
I cannot see why the angel of God should question
Esdras to recall the time past, if it were beyond his
own power; or that God should pose mortality in that
which he was not able to perform himself. I will not
say that God cannot, but he will not, perform many
things, which we plainly affirm he cannot. This, I am
sure, is the mannerliest proposition; wherein, notwith-
standing, I hold no paradox: for, strictly, his power is
the same with his will; and they both, with all the rest,
do make but one God.

Sect. 28. - Therefore, that miracles have been, I do
believe; that they may yet be wrought by the living, I
do not deny: but have no confidence in those which are
fathered on the dead. And this hath ever made me
suspect the efficacy of relicks, to examine the bones,
question the habits and appertenances of saints, and
even of Christ himself. I cannot conceive why the
cross that Helena found, and whereon Christ himself
died, should have power to restore others unto life. I
excuse not Constantine from a fall off his horse, or a
mischief from his enemies, upon the wearing those nails
on his bridle which our Saviour bore upon the cross in
his hands. I compute among piae fraudes, nor many
degrees before consecrated swords and roses, that which
Baldwin, king of Jerusalem, returned the Genoese for
their costs and pains in his wars; to wit, the ashes of
John the Baptist. Those that hold, the sanctity of their
souls doth leave behind a tincture and sacred faculty
on their bodies, speak naturally of miracles, and do not
salve the doubt. Now, one reason I tender so little
devotion unto relicks is, I think the slender and doubt-
ful respect which I have always held unto antiquities. For
that, indeed, which I admire, is far before antiquity;
that is, Eternity; and that is, God himself; who, though
he be styled the Ancient of Days, cannot receive the
adjunct of antiquity, who was before the world, and
shall be after it, yet is not older than it: for, in his
years there is no climacter: his duration is eternity;
and far more venerable than antiquity.

Sect. 29. - But, above all things, I wonder how the
curiosity of wiser heads could pass that great and indis-
putable miracle, the cessation of oracles; and in what
swoon their reasons lay, to content themselves, and sit
down with such a far-fetched and ridiculous reason as
Plutarch allegeth for it. The Jews, that can believe
the supernatural solstice of the sun in the days of
Joshua, have yet the impudence to deny the eclipse,
which every pagan confessed, at his death; but for
this, it is evident beyond all contradiction: the devil
himself confessed it.* Certainly it is not a warrant-
able curiosity, to examine the verity of Scripture by the
concordance of human history; or seek to confirm the
chronicle of Hester or Daniel by the authority of Meg-
asthenes or Herodotus. I confess, I have had an un-
happy curiosity this way, till I laughed myself out of
it with a piece of Justin, where he delivers that the
children of Israel, for being scabbed, were banished
out of Egypt. And truly, since I have understood the
occurrences of the world, and know in what counterfeit-
ing shapes and deceitful visards times present represent
on the stage things past, I do believe them little more
than things to come. Some have been of my own
opinion, and endeavoured to write the history of their
own lives; wherein Moses hath outgone them all, and
left not only the story of his life, but, as some will have
it, of his death also.

Sect. 30. - It is a riddle to me, how the story of
oracles hath not wormed out of the world that doubtful
conceit of spirits and witches; how so many learned

* In his oracle to Augustus.

heads should so far forget their metaphysicks, and
destroy the ladder and scale of creatures, as to question
the existence of spirits; for my part, I have ever be-
lieved, and do now know, that there are witches. They
that doubt of these do not only deny them, but spirits:
and are obliquely, and upon consequence, a sort, not of
infidels, but atheists. Those that, to confute their in-
credulity, desire to see apparitions, shall, questionless,
never behold any, nor have the power to be so much as
witches. The devil hath made them already in a heresy
as capital as witchcraft; and to appear to them were
but to convert them. Of all the delusions wherewith
he deceives mortality, there is not any that puzzleth
me more than the legerdemain of changelings. I do
not credit those transformations of reasonable creatures
into beasts, or that the devil hath a power to transpeciate
a man into a horse, who tempted Christ (as a trial of his
divinity) to convert but stones into bread. I could
believe that spirits use with man the act of carnality;
and that in both sexes. I conceive they may assume,
steal, or contrive a body, wherein there may be action
enough to content decrepit lust, or passion to satisfy
more active veneries; yet, in both, without a possibility
of generation: and therefore that opinion, that Anti-
christ should be born of the tribe of Dan, by conjunc-
tion with the devil, is ridiculous, and a conceit fitter
for a rabbin than a Christian. I hold that the devil
doth really possess some men; the spirit of melancholy
others; the spirit of delusion others: that, as the devil
is concealed and denied by some, so God and good
angels are pretended by others, whereof the late defec-
tion of the maid of Germany hath left a pregnant
example.

Sect. 31. - Again, I believe that all that use sorceries,
incantations, and spells, are not witches, or, as we term
them, magicians. I conceive there is a traditional
magick, not learned immediately from the devil, but
at second hand from his scholars, who, having once the
secret betrayed, are able and do empirically practise
without his advice; they both proceeding upon the
principles of nature; where actives, aptly conjoined to
disposed passives, will, under any master, produce their
effects. Thus, I think, at first, a great part of philosophy
was witchcraft; which, being afterward derived to one
another, proved but philosophy, and was indeed no
more than the honest effects of nature: - what invented
by us, is philosophy; learned from him, is magick.
We do surely owe the discovery of many secrets to the
discovery of good and bad angels. I could never pass
that sentence of Paracelsus without an asterisk, or an-
notation: "ascendens* constellatum multa revelat quaeren-
tibus magnalia naturae, i.e. opera Dei." I do think that
many mysteries ascribed to our own inventions have
been the corteous revelations of spirits; for those noble
essences in heaven bear a friendly regard unto their
fellow-nature on earth; and therefore believe that
those many prodigies and ominous prognosticks, which
forerun the ruins of states, princes, and private persons,
are the charitable premonitions of good angels, which
more careless inquiries term but the effects of chance
and nature.

Sect. 32. - Now, besides these particular and divided
spirits, there may be (for aught I know) a universal and
common spirit to the whole world. It was the opinion
of Plato, and is yet of the hermetical philosophers.
If there be a common nature, that unites and ties the

* Thereby is meant our good angel, appointed us from our
nativity.

scattered and divided individuals into one species, why
may there not be one that unites them all? However,
I am sure there is a common spirit, that plays within
us, yet makes no part in us; and that is, the spirit of
God; the fire and scintillation of that noble and mighty
essence, which is the life and radical heat of spirits, and
those essences that know not the virtue of the sun; a fire
quite contrary to the fire of hell. This is that gentle
heat that brooded on the waters, and in six days hatched
the world; this is that irradiation that dispels the mists
of hell, the clouds of horror, fear, sorrow, despair; and
preserves the region of the mind in serenity. Whatso-
ever feels not the warm gale and gentle ventilation of
this spirit (though I feel his pulse), I dare not say he
lives; for truly without this, to me, there is no heat
under the tropick; nor any light, though I dwelt in
the body of the sun.

"As when the labouring sun hath wrought his track
Up to the top of lofty Cancer's back,
The icy ocean cracks, the frozen pole
Thaws with the heat of the celestial coal;
So when thy absent beams begin t'impart
Again a solstice on my frozen heart,
My winter's o'er, my drooping spirits sing,
And every part revives into a spring.
But if thy quickening beams a while decline,
And with their light bless not this orb of mine,
A chilly frost surpriseth every member.
And in the midst of June I feel December.
Oh how this earthly temper doth debase
The noble soul, in this her humble place!
Whose wingy nature ever doth aspire
To reach that place whence first it took its fire.
These flames I feel, which in my heart do dwell,
Are not thy beams, but take their fire from hell.
Oh quench them all! and let thy Light divine
Be as the sun to this poor orb of mine!
And to thy sacred Spirit convert those fires,
Whose earthly fumes choke my devout aspires!"


Sect. 33. - Therefore, for spirits, I am so far from
denying their existence, that I could easily believe, that
not only whole countries, but particular persons, have
their tutelary and guardian angels. It is not a new
opinion of the Church of Rome, but an old one of
Pythagoras and Plato: there is no heresy in it: and if
not manifestly defined in Scripture, yet it is an opinion
of a good and wholesome use in the course and actions
of a man's life; and would serve as an hypothesis to salve
many doubts, whereof common philosophy affordeth no
solution. Now, if you demand my opinion and meta-
physicks of their natures, I confess them very shallow;
most of them in a negative way, like that of God; or
in a comparative, between ourselves and fellow-creatures:
for there is in this universe a stair, or manifest scale, of
creatures, rising not disorderly, or in confusion, but with
a comely method and proportion. Between creatures of
mere existence and things of life there is a large dispro-
portion of nature: between plants and animals, or creatures
of sense, a wider difference: between them and man, a
far greater: and if the proportion hold on, between man
and angels there should be yet a greater. We do not
comprehend their natures, who retain the first definition
of Porphyry; and distinguish them from ourselves by
immortality: for, before his fall, man also was im-
mortal: yet must we needs affirm that he had a different
essence from the angels. Having, therefore, no certain
knowledge of their nature, 'tis no bad method of the
schools, whatsoever perfection we find obscurely in our-
selves, in a more complete and absolute way to ascribe
unto them. I believe they have an extemporary know-
ledge, and, upon the first motion of their reason, do
what we cannot without study or deliberation: that
they know things by their forms, and define, by speci-
fical difference what we describe by accidents and pro-
perties: and therefore probabilities to us may be
demonstrations unto them: that they have knowledge
not only of the specifical, but numerical, forms of in-
dividuals, and understand by what reserved difference
each single hypostatis (besides the relation to its species)
becomes its numerical self: that, as the soul hath a
power to move the body it informs, so there's a faculty
to move any, though inform none: ours upon restraint
of time, place, and distance: but that invisible hand
that conveyed Habakkuk to the lion's den, or Philip to
Azotus, infringeth this rule, and hath a secret convey-
ance, wherewith mortality is not acquainted. If they
have that intuitive knowledge, whereby, as in reflection,
they behold the thoughts of one another, I cannot
peremptorily deny but they know a great part of ours.
They that, to refute the invocation of saints, have denied
that they have any knowledge of our affairs below,
have proceeded too far, and must pardon my opinion,
till I can thoroughly answer that piece of Scripture,
"At the conversion of a sinner, the angels in heaven
rejoice." I cannot, with those in that great father,
securely interpret the work of the first day, fiat lux, to
the creation of angels; though I confess there is not
any creature that hath so near a glimpse of their nature
as light in the sun and elements: we style it a bare
accident; but, where it subsists alone, 'tis a spiritual
substance, and may be an angel: in brief, conceive light
invisible, and that is a spirit.

Sect. 34. - These are certainly the magisterial and
masterpieces of the Creator; the flower, or, as we may
say, the best part of nothing; actually existing, what
we are but in hopes, and probability. We are only that
amphibious piece, between a corporeal and a spiritual
essence; that middle form, that links those two to-
gether, and makes good the method of God and nature,
that jumps not from extremes, but unites the incom-
patible distances by some middle and participating
natures. That we are the breath and similitude of God,
it is indisputable, and upon record of Holy Scripture:
but to call ourselves a microcosm, or little world, I
thought it only a pleasant trope of rhetorick, till my
near judgment and second thoughts told me there was
a real truth therein. For, first we are a rude mass, and
in the rank of creatures which only are, and have a dull
kind of being, not yet privileged with life, or preferred
to sense or reason; next we live the life of plants, the
life of animals, the life of men, and at last the life of
spirits: running on, in one mysterious nature, those five
kinds of existencies, which comprehend the creatures,
not only of the world, but of the universe. Thus is
man that great and true amphibium, whose nature is
disposed to live, not only like other creatures in divers
elements, but in divided and distinguished worlds; for
though there be but one to sense, there are two to reason,
the one visible, the other invisible; whereof Moses
seems to have left description, and of the other so
obscurely, that some parts thereof are yet in controversy.
And truly, for the first chapters of Genesis, I must con-
fess a great deal of obscurity; though divines have, to
the power of human reason, endeavoured to make all
go in a literal meaning, yet those allegorical interpreta-
tions are also probable, and perhaps the mystical method
of Moses, bred up in the hieroglyphical schools of the
Egyptians.

Sect. 35. - Now for that immaterial world, methinks
we need not wander so far as the first moveable; for,
even in this material fabrick, the spirits walk as freely
exempt from the affection of time, place, and motion, as
beyond the extremest circumference. Do but extract
from the corpulency of bodies, or resolve things beyond
their first matter, and you discover the habitation of
angels; which if I call the ubiquitary and omnipresent
essence of God, I hope I shall not offend divinity: for,
before the creation of the world, God was really all
things. For the angels he created no new world, or
determinate mansion, and therefore they are everywhere
where is his essence, and do live, at a distance even, in
himself. That God made all things for man, is in some
sense true; yet, not so far as to subordinate the creation
of those purer creatures unto ours; though, as minister-
ing spirits, they do, and are willing to fulfil the will of
God in these lower and sublunary affairs of man. God
made all things for himself; and it is impossible he
should make them for any other end than his own glory:
it is all he can receive, and all that is without himself.
For, honour being an external adjunct, and in the
honourer rather than in the person honoured, it was
necessary to make a creature, from whom he might re-
ceive this homage: and that is, in the other world,
angels, in this, man; which when we neglect, we forget
God, not only to repent that he hath made the world,
but that he hath sworn he would not destroy it. That
there is but one world, is a conclusion of faith; Aristotle
with all his philosophy hath not been able to prove it:
and as weakly that the world was eternal; that dispute
much troubled the pen of the philosophers, but Moses
decided that question, and all is salved with the
new term of a creation, - that is, a production of some-
thing out of nothing. And what is that? - whatsoever
is opposite to something; or, more exactly, that which
is truly contrary unto God: for he only is; all others
have an existence with dependency, and are something
but by a distinction. And herein is divinity conformant
unto philosophy, and generation not only founded on
contrarieties, but also creation. God, being all things,
is contrary unto nothing; out of which were made all
things, and so nothing became something, and omneity
informed nullity into an essence.

Sect. 36. - The whole creation is a mystery, and par-
ticularly that of man. At the blast of his mouth were
the rest of the creatures made; and at his bare word
they started out of nothing: but in the frame of man
(as the text describes it) he played the sensible operator,
and seemed not so much to create as make him. When
he had separated the materials of other creatures, there
consequently resulted a form and soul; but, having
raised the walls of man, he was driven to a second and
harder creation, - of a substance like himself, an incor-
ruptible and immortal soul. For these two affections
we have the philosophy and opinion of the heathens,
the flat affirmative of Plato, and not a negative from
Aristotle. There is another scruple cast in by divinity
concerning its production, much disputed in the German
auditories, and with that indifferency and equality of
arguments, as leave the controversy undetermined. I
am not of Paracelsus's mind, that boldly delivers a re-
ceipt to make a man without conjunction; yet cannot
but wonder at the multitude of heads that do deny
traduction, having no other arguments to confirm their
belief than that rhetorical sentence and antimetathesis
of Augustine, "creando infunditur, infundendo creatur."
Either opinion will consist well enough with religion:
yet I should rather incline to this, did not one objection
haunt me, not wrung from speculations and subtleties,
but from common sense and observation; not pick'd
from the leaves of any author, but bred amongst the
weeds and tares of my own brain. And this is a con-
clusion from the equivocal and monstrous productions
in the copulation of a man with a beast: for if the soul
of man be not transmitted and transfused in the seed of
the parents, why are not those productions merely
beasts, but have also an impression and tincture of
reason in as high a measure, as it can evidence itself in
those improper organs? Nor, truly, can I peremptorily
deny that the soul, in this her sublunary estate, is
wholly, and in all acceptions, inorganical: but that,
for the performance of her ordinary actions, is required
not only a symmetry and proper disposition of organs,
but a crasis and temper correspondent to its operations;


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryThomas BrowneReligio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and the Letter to a Friend → online text (page 4 of 15)