Thomas Browne.

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

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credible, upon a single experiment unto the sense. I
believe that our estranged and divided ashes shall unite
again; that our separated dust, after so many pilgrim-
ages and transformations into the parts of minerals,
plants, animals, elements, shall, at the voice of God,
return into their primitive shapes, and join again to
make up their primary and predestinate forms. As at
the creation there was a separation of that confused
mass into its pieces; so at the destruction thereof there
shall be a separation into its distinct individuals. As,
at the creation of the world, all the distinct species that
we behold lay involved in one mass, till the fruitful
voice of God separated this united multitude into its
several species, so, at the last day, when those corrupted
relicks shall be scattered in the wilderness of forms, and
seem to have forgot their proper habits, God, by a power-
ful voice, shall command them back into their proper
shapes, and call them out by their single individuals.
Then shall appear the fertility of Adam, and the magick
of that sperm that hath dilated into so many millions.
I have often beheld, as a miracle, that artificial resur-
rection and revivification of mercury, how being morti-
fied into a thousand shapes, it assumes again its own,
and returns into its numerical self. Let us speak
naturally, and like philosophers. The forms of alter-
able bodies in these sensible corruptions perish not;
nor, as we imagine, wholly quit their mansions; but
retire and contract themselves into their secret and
unaccessible parts; where they may best protect them-
selves from the action of their antagonist. A plant or
vegetable consumed to ashes to a contemplative and
school-philosopher seems utterly destroyed, and the
form to have taken his leave for ever; but to a sensible
artist the forms are not perished, but withdrawn into
their incombustible part, where they lie secure from the
action of that devouring element. This is made good
by experience, which can from the ashes of a plant
revive the plant, and from its cinders recall it into its
stalk and leaves again. What the art of man can do
in these inferior pieces, what blasphemy is it to affirm
the finger of God cannot do in those more perfect and
sensible structures? This is that mystical philosophy,
from whence no true scholar becomes an atheist, but
from the visible effects of nature grows up a real
divine, and beholds not in a dream, as Ezekiel, but
in an ocular and visible object, the types of his resur-

Sect. 49. - Now, the necessary mansions of our restored
selves are those two contrary and incompatible places
we call heaven and hell. To define them, or strictly to
determine what and where these are, surpasseth my
divinity. That elegant apostle, which seemed to have
a glimpse of heaven, hath left but a negative descrip-
tion thereof; which "neither eye hath seen, nor ear hath
heard, nor can enter into the heart of man:" he was
translated out of himself to behold it; but, being re-
turned into himself, could not express it. Saint John's
description by emeralds, chrysolites, and precious stones,
is too weak to express the material heaven we behold.
Briefly, therefore, where the soul hath the full measure
and complement of happiness; where the boundless
appetite of that spirit remains completely satisfied that
it can neither desire addition nor alteration; that, I
think, is truly heaven: and this can only be in the
enjoyment of that essence, whose infinite goodness is
able to terminate the desires of itself, and the unsatiable
wishes of ours. Wherever God will thus manifest him-
self, there is heaven, though within the circle of this
sensible world. Thus, the soul of man may be in
heaven anywhere, even within the limits of his own
proper body; and when it ceaseth to live in the body it
may remain in its own soul, that is, its Creator. And
thus we may say that Saint Paul, whether in the body
or out of the body, was yet in heaven. To place it in
the empyreal, or beyond the tenth sphere, is to forget
the world's destruction; for when this sensible world
shall be destroyed, all shall then be here as it is now
there, an empyreal heaven, a quasi vacuity; when to
ask where heaven is, is to demand where the presence of
God is, or where we have the glory of that happy
vision. Moses, that was bred up in all the learning of
the Egyptians, committed a gross absurdity in philo-
sophy, when with these eyes of flesh he desired to see God,
and petitioned his Maker, that is truth itself, to a contra-
diction. Those that imagine heaven and hell neighbours,
and conceive a vicinity between those two extremes,
upon consequence of the parable, where Dives discoursed
with Lazarus, in Abraham's bosom, do too grossly con-
ceive of those glorified creatures, whose eyes shall easily
out-see the sun, and behold without perspective the
extremest distances: for if there shall be, in our glori-
fied eyes, the faculty of sight and reception of objects,
I could think the visible species there to be in as un-
limitable a way as now the intellectual. I grant that
two bodies placed beyond the tenth sphere, or in a
vacuity, according to Aristotle's philosophy, could not
behold each other, because there wants a body or
medium to hand and transport the visible rays of the
object unto the sense; but when there shall be a general
defect of either medium to convey, or light to prepare
and dispose that medium, and yet a perfect vision, we
must suspend the rules of our philosophy, and make all
good by a more absolute piece of opticks.

Sect. 50. - I cannot tell how to say that fire is the
essence of hell; I know not what to make of purgatory,
or conceive a flame that can either prey upon, or purify
the substance of a soul. Those flames of sulphur, men-
tioned in the scriptures, I take not to be understood of
this present hell, but of that to come, where fire shall
make up the complement of our tortures, and have a
body or subject whereon to manifest its tyranny. Some
who have had the honour to be textuary in divinity are
of opinion it shall be the same specifical fire with ours.
This is hard to conceive, yet can I make good how even
that may prey upon our bodies, and yet not consume
us: for in this material world, there are bodies that
persist invincible in the powerfulest flames; and though,
by the action of fire, they fall into ignition and liquation,
yet will they never suffer a destruction. I would gladly
know how Moses, with an actual fire, calcined or burnt
the golden calf into powder: for that mystical metal of
gold, whose solary and celestial nature I admire, ex-
posed unto the violence of fire, grows only hot, and
liquefies, but consumeth not; so when the consumable
and volatile pieces of our bodies shall be refined into a
more impregnable and fixed temper, like gold, though
they suffer from the action of flames, they shall never
perish, but lie immortal in the arms of fire. And
surely, if this flame must suffer only by the action of
this element, there will many bodies escape; and not
only heaven, but earth will not be at an end, but
rather a beginning. For at present it is not earth, but
a composition of fire, water, earth, and air; but at that
time, spoiled of these ingredients, it shall appear in a
substance more like itself, its ashes. Philosophers that
opinioned the world's destruction by fire, did never
dream of annihilation, which is beyond the power of
sublunary causes; for the last and proper action of that
element is but vitrification, or a reduction of a body into
glass; and therefore some of our chymicks facetiously
affirm, that, at the last fire, all shall be crystalized and
reverberated into glass, which is the utmost action of
that element. Nor need we fear this term, annihilation,
or wonder that God will destroy the works of his crea-
tion: for man subsisting, who is, and will then truly
appear, a microcosm, the world cannot be said to be
destroyed. For the eyes of God, and perhaps also of
our glorified selves, shall as really behold and contem-
plate the world, in its epitome or contracted essence, as
now it doth at large and in its dilated substance. In
the seed of a plant, to the eyes of God, and to the under-
standing of man, there exists, though in an invisible
way, the perfect leaves, flowers, and fruit thereof; for
things that are in posse to the sense, are actually existent
to the understanding. Thus God beholds all things,
who contemplates as fully his works in their epitome
as in their full volume, and beheld as amply the whole
world, in that little compendium of the sixth day, as
in the scattered and dilated pieces of those five before.

Sect. 51. - Men commonly set forth the torments of hell
by fire, and the extremity of corporal afflictions, and
describe hell in the same method that Mahomet doth
heaven. This indeed makes a noise, and drums in
popular ears: but if this be the terrible piece thereof, it
is not worthy to stand in diameter with heaven, whose
happiness consists in that part that is best able to com-
prehend it, that immortal essence, that translated divinity
and colony of God, the soul. Surely, though we place
hell under earth, the devil's walk and purlieu is about
it. Men speak too popularly who place it in those
flaming mountains, which to grosser apprehensions re-
present hell. The heart of man is the place the devils
dwell in; I feel sometimes a hell within myself;
Lucifer keeps his court in my breast; Legion is revived
in me. There are as many hells as Anaxagoras
conceited worlds. There was more than one hell
in Magdalene, when there were seven devils; for every
devil is an hell unto himself, he holds enough of
torture in his own ubi; and needs not the misery of cir-
cumference to afflict him: and thus, a distracted con-
science here is a shadow or introduction unto hell here-
after. Who can but pity the merciful intention of those
hands that do destroy themselves? The devil, were it
in his power, would do the like; which being im-
possible, his miseries are endless, and he suffers most
in that attribute wherein he is impassible, his im-

Sect. 52. - I thank God, and with joy I mention it, I
was never afraid of hell, nor ever grew pale at the
description of that place. I have so fixed my contempla-
tions on heaven, that I have almost forgot the idea of
hell; and am afraid rather to lose the joys of the one,
than endure the misery of the other: to be deprived of
them is a perfect hell, and needs methinks no addition
to complete our afflictions. That terrible term hath
never detained me from sin, nor do I owe any good
action to the name thereof. I fear God, yet am not
afraid of him; his mercies make me ashamed of my
sins, before his judgments afraid thereof: these are the
forced and secondary method of his wisdom, which he
useth but as the last remedy, and upon provocation; -
a course rather to deter the wicked, than incite the
virtuous to his worship. I can hardly think there was
ever any scared into heaven: they go the fairest way to
heaven that would serve God without a hell: other
mercenaries, that crouch unto him in fear of hell, though
they term themselves the servants, are indeed but the
slaves, of the Almighty.

Sect. 53. - And to be true, and speak my soul, when I
survey the occurrences of my life, and call into account
the finger of God, I can perceive nothing but an abyss
and mass of mercies, either in general to mankind, or in
particular to myself. And, whether out of the prejudice
of my affection, or an inverting and partial conceit of
his mercies, I know not, - but those which others term
crosses, afflictions, judgments, misfortunes, to me, who
inquire further into them than their visible effects, they
both appear, and in event have ever proved, the secret
and dissembled favours of his affection. It is a singular
piece of wisdom to apprehend truly, and without passion,
the works of God, and so well to distinguish his justice
from his mercy as not to miscall those noble attributes;
yet it is likewise an honest piece of logick so to dispute
and argue the proceedings of God as to distinguish even
his judgments into mercies. For God is merciful unto
all, because better to the worst than the best deserve;
and to say he punisheth none in this world, though it
be a paradox, is no absurdity. To one that hath com-
mitted murder, if the judge should only ordain a fine,
it were a madness to call this a punishment, and to re-
pine at the sentence, rather than admire the clemency
of the judge. Thus, our offences being mortal, and
deserving not only death but damnation, if the goodness
of God be content to traverse and pass them over with
a loss, misfortune, or disease; what frenzy were it to
term this a punishment, rather than an extremity of
mercy, and to groan under the rod of his judgments
rather than admire the sceptre of his mercies! There-
fore to adore, honour, and admire him, is a debt of
gratitude due from the obligation of our nature, states,
and conditions: and with these thoughts he that knows
them best will not deny that I adore him. That I
obtain heaven, and the bliss thereof, is accidental, and
not the intended work of my devotion; it being a
felicity I can neither think to deserve nor scarce in
modesty to expect. For these two ends of us all, either
as rewards or punishments, are mercifully ordained and
disproportionably disposed unto our actions; the one
being so far beyond our deserts, the other so infinitely
below our demerits.

Sect. 54. - There is no salvation to those that believe
not in Christ; that is, say some, since his nativity, and,
as divinity affirmeth, before also; which makes me
much apprehend the end of those honest worthies and
philosophers which died before his incarnation. It is
hard to place those souls in hell, whose worthy lives do
teach us virtue on earth. Methinks, among those many
subdivisions of hell, there might have been one limbo
left for these. What a strange vision will it be to see
their poetical fictions converted into verities, and their
imagined and fancied furies into real devils! How
strange to them will sound the history of Adam, when
they shall suffer for him they never heard of! When
they who derive their genealogy from the gods, shall
know they are the unhappy issue of sinful man! It is
an insolent part of reason, to controvert the works of
God, or question the justice of his proceedings. Could
humility teach others, as it hath instructed me, to con-
template the infinite and incomprehensible distance be-
twixt the Creator and the creature; or did we seriously
perpend that one simile of St Paul, "shall the vessel say
to the potter, why hast thou made me thus?" it would
prevent these arrogant disputes of reason: nor would
we argue the definitive sentence of God, either to heaven
or hell. Men that live according to the right rule and
law of reason, live but in their own kind, as beasts do
in theirs; who justly obey the prescript of their natures,
and therefore cannot reasonably demand a reward of
their actions, as only obeying the natural dictates of
their reason. It will, therefore, and must, at last
appear, that all salvation is through Christ; which
verity, I fear, these great examples of virtue must con-
firm, and make it good how the perfectest actions of
earth have no title or claim unto heaven.

Sect. 55. - Nor truly do I think the lives of these, or
of any other, were ever correspondent, or in all points
conformable, unto their doctrines. It is evident that
Aristotle transgressed the rule of his own ethicks;
the stoicks, that condemn passion, and command a man
to laugh in Phalaris's bull, could not endure without a
groan a fit of the stone or colick. The scepticks, that
affirmed they knew nothing, even in that opinion con-
fute themselves, and thought they knew more than all
the world beside. Diogenes I hold to be the most vain-
glorious man of his time, and more ambitious in refus-
ing all honours, than Alexander in rejecting none. Vice
and the devil put a fallacy upon our reasons; and,
provoking us too hastily to run from it, entangle and
profound us deeper in it. The duke of Venice, that
weds himself unto the sea, by a ring of gold, I will
not accuse of prodigality, because it is a solemnity of
good use and consequence in the state: but the philoso-
pher, that threw his money into the sea to avoid avarice,
was a notorious prodigal. There is no road or ready
way to virtue; it is not an easy point of art to dis-
entangle ourselves from this riddle or web of sin. To
perfect virtue, as to religion, there is required a panoplia,
or complete armour; that whilst we lie at close ward
against one vice, we lie not open to the veney of
another. And indeed wiser discretions, that have the
thread of reason to conduct them, offend without a
pardon; whereas under heads may stumble without
dishonour. There go so many circumstances to piece
up one good action, that it is a lesson to be good, and
we are forced to be virtuous by the book. Again, the
practice of men holds not an equal pace, yea and often
runs counter to their theory; we naturally know what
is good, but naturally pursue what is evil: the rhetorick
wherewith I persuade another cannot persuade myself.
There is a depraved appetite in us, that will with
patience hear the learned instructions of reason, but
yet perform no further than agrees to its own irregular
humour. In brief, we all are monsters; that is, a com-
position of man and beast: wherein we must endeavour
to be as the poets fancy that wise man, Chiron; that is,
to have the region of man above that of beast, and sense
to sit but at the feet of reason. Lastly, I do desire with
God that all, but yet affirm with men that few, shall
know salvation, - that the bridge is narrow, the passage
strait unto life: yet those who do confine the church
of God either to particular nations, churches, or
families, have made it far narrower than our Saviour
ever meant it.

Sect. 56. - The vulgarity of those judgments that wrap
the church of God in Strabo's cloak, and restrain it
unto Europe, seem to me as bad geographers as Alex-
ander, who thought he had conquered all the world,
when he had not subdued the half of any part thereof.
For we cannot deny the church of God both in Asia
and Africa, if we do not forget the peregrinations of
the apostles, the deaths of the martyrs, the sessions of
many and (even in our reformed judgment) lawful
councils, held in those parts in the minority and
nonage of ours. Nor must a few differences, more re-
markable in the eyes of man than, perhaps, in the
judgment of God, excommunicate from heaven one an-
other; much less those Christians who are in a manner
all martyrs, maintaining their faith in the noble way
of persecution, and serving God in the fire, whereas
we honour him in the sunshine.

'Tis true, we all hold there is a number of elect, and
many to be saved; yet, take our opinions together, and
from the confusion thereof, there will be no such thing
as salvation, nor shall any one be saved: for, first, the
church of Rome condemneth us; we likewise them;
the sub-reformists and sectaries sentence the doctrine of
our church as damnable; the atomist, or familist, re-
probates all these; and all these, them again. Thus,
whilst the mercies of God do promise us heaven, our
conceits and opinions exclude us from that place. There
must be therefore more than one St Peter; particular
churches and sects usurp the gates of heaven, and turn
the key against each other; and thus we go to heaven
against each other's wills, conceits, and opinions, and,
with as much uncharity as ignorance, do err, I fear, in
points not only of our own, but one another's salvation.

Sect. 57. - I believe many are saved who to man
seem reprobated, and many are reprobated who in the
opinion and sentence of man stand elected. There will
appear, at the last day, strange and unexpected examples,
both of his justice and his mercy; and, therefore, to
define either is folly in man, and insolency even in the
devils. These acute and subtile spirits, in all their
sagacity, can hardly divine who shall be saved; which
if they could prognostick, their labour were at an end,
nor need they compass the earth, seeking whom they
may devour. Those who, upon a rigid application of
the law, sentence Solomon unto damnation, condemn
not only him, but themselves, and the whole world;
for by the letter and written word of God, we are with-
out exception in the state of death: but there is a pre-
rogative of God, and an arbitrary pleasure above the
letter of his own law, by which alone we can pretend
unto salvation, and through which Solomon might be as
easily saved as those who condemn him.

Sect. 58. - The number of those who pretend unto
salvation, and those infinite swarms who think to pass
through the eye of this needle, have much amazed me.
That name and compellation of "little flock" doth not
comfort, but deject, my devotion; especially when I
reflect upon mine own unworthiness, wherein, accord-
ing to my humble apprehensions, I am below them all.
I believe there shall never be an anarchy in heaven;
but, as there are hierarchies amongst the angels, so shall
there be degrees of priority amongst the saints. Yet is
it, I protest, beyond my ambition to aspire unto the
first ranks; my desires only are, and I shall be happy
therein, to be but the last man, and bring up the rear
in heaven.

Sect. 59. - Again, I am confident, and fully persuaded,
yet dare not take my oath, of my salvation. I am, as it
were, sure, and do believe without all doubt, that there
is such a city as Constantinople; yet, for me to take
my oath thereon were a kind of perjury, because I hold
no infallible warrant from my own sense to confirm
me in the certainty thereof. And truly, though many
pretend to an absolute certainty of their salvation, yet
when an humble soul shall contemplate our own un-
worthiness, she shall meet with many doubts, and sud-
denly find how little we stand in need of the precept of
St Paul, "work out your salvation with fear and trem-
bling." That which is the cause of my election, I hold to
be the cause of my salvation, which was the mercy and
beneplacit of God, before I was, or the foundation of the
world. "Before Abraham was, I am," is the saying of
Christ, yet is it true in some sense if I say it of myself;
for I was not only before myself but Adam, that is, in
the idea of God, and the decree of that synod held from
all eternity. And in this sense, I say, the world was
before the creation, and at an end before it had a
beginning. And thus was I dead before I was alive;
though my grave be England, my dying place was
Paradise; and Eve miscarried of me, before she con-
ceived of Cain.

Sect. 60. - Insolent zeals, that do decry good works
and rely only upon faith, take not away merit: for,
depending upon the efficacy of their faith, they enforce
the condition of God, and in a more sophistical way do
seem to challenge heaven. It was decreed by God that
only those that lapped in the water like dogs, should
have the honour to destroy the Midianites; yet could
none of those justly challenge, or imagine he deserved,
that honour thereupon. I do not deny but that true
faith, and such as God requires, is not only a mark or
token, but also a means, of our salvation; but, where
to find this, is as obscure to me as my last end. And
if our Saviour could object, unto his own disciples and
favourites, a faith that, to the quantity of a grain of
mustard seed, is able to remove mountains; surely that
which we boast of is not anything, or, at the most, but
a remove from nothing.

This is the tenour of my belief; wherein, though
there be many things singular, and to the humour of
my irregular self, yet, if they square not with maturer
judgments, I disclaim them, and do no further favour them
than the learned and best judgments shall authorize them.


Sect. 1. - Now, for that other virtue of charity, without
which faith is a mere notion and of no existence, I have
ever endeavoured to nourish the merciful disposition
and humane inclination I borrowed from my parents,
and regulate it to the written and prescribed laws of
charity. And, if I hold the true anatomy of myself, I
am delineated and naturally framed to such a piece of

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Online LibraryThomas BrowneReligio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and the Letter to a Friend → online text (page 6 of 15)