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purposes of religious teaching would have been sealed
against Christ. As a hakim, Christ obtained that
unlimited freedom of intercourse with the populace,
which, as a religious proselytizer, he never could have
obtained. Here, therefore, and perhaps by the very
earliest exemplification of the serpent's wisdom and
foresight engrafting itself upon the holy purposes of
dovelike benignity, Christ kept open for himself (and
for his disciples in times to come) the freedom of public
communication, and the license of public meetings.


Once announcing himself, and attesting his own mis-
eion as a hakim, he could not be rejected or thwarted
as a public oracle of truth and practical counsel to hu-
man weakness. This explains, what else would have
been very obscure, the undue emphasis which Christ
allowed men to place upon his sanatory miracles. His
very name in Greek, viz., ii,aiig, presented him to men
under the idea of the healer ; but then, to all who com-
prehended his secret and ultimate functions, as a healer
of unutterable and spiritual wounds. That usurpation,
by which a very trivial function of Christ's public min-
istrations was allowed to disturb and sometimes to
eclipse far grander pretensions, carried with it so far an
erroneous impression. But then, on the other hand,
seventy-fold it redeemed that error, by securing (which
nothing else could have secured) the benefit of a per-
petual passport to the religious missionary : since,
once admitted as a medical counsellor, the missionary,
the hakim, obtained an unlimited right of intercourse.
If medical advice, why not religious advice ? And
subsequently, by the continuance of the same medical
gifts to -the apostles and their successors, all exercised
the same powers, and benefited by the same privileges
as hakims.


Note 1. Page 148.

' Brew crowds about him :' — As connected with these crowds,
I have elsewhere noticed, many years ago, the secret reason
which probably governed our Saviour in cultivating the charac-
ter and functions of a hakim, or physician. Throughout the
whole world of civilization at that era [», oixovuiv)], whatever
might be otherwise the varieties of the government, there was
amongst the ruling authorities a great jealousy of mobs and
popular gatherings. To a grand revolutionary teacher, no
obstacle so fatal as this initial prejudice could have offered itself.
Already, in the first place, a new and mysterious body of truth,
having vast and illimitable relations to human duties and pros-
pects, presented a tield of indefinite alarm. That this truth
should in the second place publish itself, not through books and
written discourses, but orally, by word of mouth, and by personal
communication between vast mobs and the divine teacher —
already that, as furnishing a handle of influence to a mob-leader,
justified a preliminary alarm. But then, thirdly, as furnishing a
plea for bringing crowds together, such a mode of teaching must
have crowned the suspicious presumptions against itself. One
peril there was at any rate to begin with — the peril of a mob :
that was certain. And, secondly, there was the doctrine taught :
which doctrine was mysterious and uncertain ; and iu that un-
certainty lay another peril. So that, equally through what was
fixed and what was doubtful, there arose that ' fear cf change '
which by authentic warrant ' perplexes monarchs.'


Note 2. Page 150.
♦ Under Herod the Great and his father :' — It was a tradition
which circulated at Rome down to the days of the Flavian family,
that the indulgence conceded to Judea by the imperial policy from
Augustus downwards, arose out of the following little diplomatic
secret : — On the rise of the Parthian power, ambassadors had
been sent to Antipater, the father of Herod, offering the Parthian
alliance and support. At the same moment there happened to
be at Jerusalem a Roman agent, having a mission from the
Roman Government with exactly the same objects. The question
was most solemnly debated, for it was obvious, that ultimately
this question touched the salvation of the kingdom, since to
accept an alliance with either empire, would be to insure the
bitter hostility of the other. AVith that knowledge fully before
his mind, Antipater made his definitive election for Rome. The
case transpired at Rome — the debate, and the issue of the
debate — and eventually proved worth a throne to the Ilerodian
family ; for the honor of Rome seemed to be concerned in
supporting the man who, in this sort of judgment of Paris,
had solemnly awarded the prize of superiority to the remoter

Note 3. Page 151.

' Of the populace in Jer7isalem : ^ — Judas, not less than the
other apostles, had doubtless been originally chosen, upon the
apparent ground of superior simplicity and unworldliness, or
else of superior zeal in testifying his obedience to the wishes of
his Master. But the other eleven were probably exposed to no
special temptation : Judas, as the purse-bearer, was. His
official duty must have brought him every day into minute and
circumstantial communication with an important order of men,
viz., petty shop-keepers. In all countries alike, these men fulfil
a great political function. Beyond all others, they are brought
into the most extensive connection with the largest stratum by
far in the composition of society. They receive, and with dread-
ful fidelity they give back, all Jacobinical impulses. They know
thoroughly in what channels, under any call arising for action,
these impulses are at any time moving. They are always kept

NOTES. 175

np au courant of the interior councils and ultimate objects of the
most national, and, in one sense, the most powerful body in the
■whole community. Consciousness, which such men always have,
of deep incorruptible fidelity to their mother-land, and to her
interests, however ill understood, ennobles their politics, even
when otherwise base. They are corrupters in a service that
never can be utterly corrupt. They have therefore a power to
win attention from virtuous men ; and, being known to speak a
representative language, they would easily, in a land so agitated
and unreconciled, so wild, stormy, and ignorant as Judea, kindle
in stirring minds the most worldly contagions as to principle and
purpose : on the one hand, kept through these men in vital sym-
pathy with the restless politics of the insurrectionist populace —
on the other, hearing a sublime philosophy that rested for its
key-note upon the advent of vast revolutions among men — what
wonder that Judas should connect his daily experience by an
imaginary synthesis ?

Note 4. Page 156.
• JVb medical explanation .- ' — In neutral points, having no
relation to morals or religious philosophy, it is not concealed by
the scriptural records themselves, that even inspired persons
made grave mistakes. All the apostles, it is probable, or with
the single exception of St. John, shared in the mistake about the
second coming of Christ, as an event immediately to be looked
for. With respect to diseases, again, it is evident that the apos-
tles, in common with all Jews, were habitually disposed to read
in them distinct manifestations of heavenly wrath. In blind-
ness, for instance, or, again, in death from the fall of a tower,
they read, as a matter of course, a plain expression of tiic divine
displeasure pointed at an individual. That they should even
pause so far as to make a doubt whether the individual or his
parents were the object of this displeasure, arose only from the
absolute coercion to so much reserve as this which was contin-
ually obtruding itself in the cases where innocent infants were
the sufferers. This, in fact, was a prejudice inalienable from
tlieir Jewish training ; and as it would unavoidably lead often-
times to judgments not only false but also uucharitable, it re-


ceiveil, on more occasions than one, a stern rebuke from Christ
himself. In the same spirit, it is probable that the symptoms
attending death were sometimes erroneously reported as preter-
natural, when, in fact, such as every hospital could match.
The death of the first Hei-od was regarded by the early Christians
universally as a judicial expression of God's wrath to the author
of the massacre at Bethlehem, though in reality the symptoms
were suoli as often occur in obstinate derangements of the ner-
vous system. Indeed, as to many features, the malady of the
Fi'enuh king, Charles IX., whose nervous system had been shat-
tered by the horrors of the St. Bartholomew massacre, very
nearly resembled it ; with such differences as might be looked
for between an old, ruined constitution, such as Herod's, and
one so youtiiful as that of Charles. In the Acts of tlie Apostles,
again, the grandson of Herod (Herod Agrippa) is evidently sup-
posed to have died by a judicial and preternatural death, whereas
apparently one part of his malady was the morbus pedicalaris —
cases of which 1 have myself circumstantially known in persons
of all ranks ; one, for instance, being that of a countess enor-
mously rich, and the latest a female servant.

Note 5. Page 157.
' Profound ; ' — In measuring which, however, the reader
must not allow himself to be too much biassed by the English
phrase, ' son of perdition.^ This, and the phrase which we
translate ' damnation,' have been alike colored unavoidably by
the particular intensity of the feeling associated with our Eng-
lish use of the words. Now, one great difficulty in translating
is to find words that even as to mere logical elements correspond
to the original text. Even that is often a trying problem. But
to find also such words as shall graduate and adjust their depth
of feeling to the scale of another language, and that language a
dead language, is many times beyond all reach of human skill.

Note G. Page 158.
' The family of Christ ; ' for the reader must not forget that
the original meaning of the Latin word familia was the sum
total of iha famuli. Hence, whenever it is said in an ancient

' NOTES. 177

classic that such or such a man had a large family, or that he
was kind to his family, or was loved by his family, always we
are to understand not at all his wife and children, but the train
and retinue of his domestic slaves. Now, the relation of the
Apostles to their Master, and the awfulness of their dependency
upon him, which represented a golden chain suspending the
whole race of man to the heavens above, justified, in the first
place, that form of expression which should indicate the humility
and loyalty that is owned by servants to a lord j whilst, on the
other hand, the tenderness involved in the relations expressed
by the English word family, redressed what would else have
been too austere in the idea, and recomposed the equilibrium
between the two forces of reverential awe and of childlike love
which arc equally indispensable to the orbicular perfection of
Christian duty.

Note 7. Page 159.
'Crafty ways : ' — Otherwise, it must naturally occur to every
reader — What powers could Judas furnish towards the arrest of
Jesus beyond what the authorities in Jerusalem already possess-
ed ? But the bishop suggests that the dilemma was this : —
By day it was unsafe to seize him, such was the veneration of
the populace for his person. If done at all, it must be done
during the darkness. But, precisely during those hours, Christ
withdrew into solitudes known only to his disciples. So that to
corrupt one of these was the preliminary step to the discovery of
that secret.

Note 8. Page 159.

Viz., St. Matthew. Upon which the bishop notices the error
which had crept into the prevailing text of Jeremias instead of
Zecharias. But in the fourth century, some copies had already
corrected this reading ; which, besides, had a traditional excuse
in the proverbial saying that the spirit of Jeremiah had settled
and found a resting-place in Zecharias.

Note 9. Page 1G3.
'Possibilities : ' — Qutere, whether the true reading is not more
probably ' passibilities, ' i. «., liabilities to suffering.



Hume's argument against miracles is simply this: —
Every possible event, however various in its degree of
credibility, must, of necessity, be more credible when
it rests upon a sufficient cause lying within the field of
what is called nature, than when it does not : more
credible when it obeys some mechanical cause, than
when it transcends such a cause, and is miraculous.

Therefore, assume the resistance to credibility, in
any preternatural occurrence, as equal to x, and the
very ideal or possible value of human testimony as
no more than x, in that case, under the most favor-
able circumstances conceivable, the argument for and
against a miracle will be equal ; or, expressing the
human testimony by x, affected with the affirmative
sign [-j-x] ; and expressing the resistance to credibil-
ity on the other side of the equation, by x, affected
with the negative sign [ — .r], the two values will, in
algebraical language, destroy each other, and the re-
sult will be = 0.

But, inasmuch as this expresses the value of human
testimony in its highest or ideal form, a form which is
never realized in experience, the true result will be

180 ON home's argument

different, — there will always be a negative result m
— y ; much or little according to the circumstances,
but always enough to turn the balance against believ-
ing a miracle. •

' Or in other words,' said Hume, popularizing his
argument, ' it will always be more credible that the
reporter of a miracle should tell a falsehood, or should
himself have been the dupe of appearances, than that
a miracle should have actually occurred — that is, an
infraction of those natural laws (any or all) which
compose what we call experience. For, assume the
utmost disinterestedness, veracity, and sound judgment
in the witness, with the utmost advantage in the cir-
cumstances for giving full play to those qualities ; even
in such a case the value of affirmative testimony could,
at the very utmost, be equal to the negative value on
the other side the equation : and the result would be,
to keep my faith suspended in equilibrio. But in any
real case, ever likely to come before us, the result will
be worse ; for the affirmative testimony will be sure to
fall in many ways below its ideal maximum ; leaving,
therefore, for the final result a considerable excess to
the negative side of the equation.

Section II.

Of the Argument as affected by the Covekt Limitations
under whicu it is presented.

Such is the Argument : and, as the first step towards
investigating its sanity and its degree — its kind of
force, and its quantity of force, we must direct our
attention to the following fact, viz., that amongst three


separate conditions under which a miracle (or any
event whatever} might become known to us, Hume's
argument is applied only to one. Assuming a miracle
to happen (for the possibility of a miracle is of
course left open throughout the discussion, since any
argument against that would at once foreclose every
question about its communicability), — then it might
happen under three several sets of circumstances, in
relation to our consciousness. 1st, It might happen in
the presence of a single witness — that witness not
being ourselves. This case let us call Alpha. 2dly,
It might happen in the presence of many witnesses, —
witnesses to a vast amount, but still (as before) our-
selves not being amongst that multitude. This case let
us call Beta. And 3dly, It might happen in our own
presence, and fall within the direct light of our own
consciousness. This case let us call Gamma.

Now these distinctions are important to the whole
extent of the question. For the 2d case, which is the
actual case of many miracles recorded in the New
Testament, at once cuts away a large body of sources
in which either error or deceit could lurk^ Hume's
argument supposes the reporter of the miracle to be a
dupe, or the maker of dupes — himself deluded, or
wishing to delude othe"rs. But, in the case of the
thousands fed from a few loaves and small fishes, the
chances of error, wilful or not wilful, are diminished
in proportion to the number of observers ; * and Hume's

*'Ia proportion to the number of observers.' — Perhaps,
however, on the part of Hume, some critical apologist will say
— ' Doubtless he was aware of that ; but still the reporters of

182 ON Hume's argument

inference as to the declension of the affirmative .r,
in relation to the negative x, no longer applies, or, if
at all, with vastly diminished force. With respect to
the 3d case, it cuts away the whole argument at once
in its very radix. For Hume's argument applies to the
communication of a miracle, and therefore to a case
of testimony. But, wherever the miracle falls within
direct personal cognizance, there it follows that no
question can arise ahout the value of human testimony.
The affirmative x, expressing the value of testimony,
disappears altogether ; and that side of the equation is
possessed by a new quantity (viz., ourselves — our
own consciousness) not at all concerned in Hume's

Hence it results, that of three possible conditions
under which a miracle may be supposed to offer itself
to our knowledge, two are excluded from the view of
Hume's argument.

Section III.
Wheiuer tue second of these Conditions is not expressly


It may seem so. But in fact it is not. And (what
is more to the purpose) wo are not at liberty to con-
sider it any accident that it is not. Hume had his

reasons. Let us take all in proper order : 1st, that it

^ I

the miracle were few. No matter how many were present, the
witnesses for us are but the Evangelists.' Yes, certainly, the
Evangelists ; and let us add, all those contemporaries to whom
the Evangelists silently appealed. These make up the ' multi-
tude ' contemplated in the second case.


seems so ; 2dly, that in fact it is not so ; and Sdly,
that is no accident, but intentional.

1st. Hume seems to contemplate such a case, the
case of a miracle witnessed and attested by a multitude
of persons, in the following imaginary miracle which
he proposes as a basis for reasoning. Q«een Elizabeth,
as every body will remember who has happened to read
Lord Monmouth's Memoirs, died on the night between
the last day of 1603 and the first day of 1603 : this
could not be forgotten by the reader, because, in fact,
Lord M., who was one of Her Majesty's nearest rela-
tives (being a younger son of her first cousin Lord
Hunsdon), obtained his title and subsequent prefermen*-
as a reward for the furious ride he performed to Edin
burgh (at that time at least 440 miles distant from Lon-
don), without taking off" his boots, in order to lay the
earliest tidings of the great event at the feet of her
successor. In reality, never did any death cause so
much posting day and night over the high roads of
Europe. And the same causes which made it so in-
teresting has caused it to be the best dated event in
modern history ; that one which could least be shaken
by any discordant evidence yet discoverable. Now,
says Hume, imagine the case, that, in spite of all this
chronological precision — this precision, and this no-
toriety of precision — Her Majesty's court physicians
should have chosen to propagate a story of her res-
urrection. Imagine that these learned gentlemen should
have issued a bulletin, declaring that Queen Elizabeth
had been met in Greenwich Park, or at Nonsuch, on
May-day of 1603, or in Westminster, two years after, by
the Lord Chamberlain when detecting Guy Faux — let

184 ON Hume's argument

them even swear it before twenty justices of the peace ;
I for one, says Hume, am free to confess that I would
not believe them. No, nor, to say the truth, would we ;
nor would we advise our readers to believe them.

2dly. Here, therefore, it would seem as if Hume
were boldly pressing his principles to the very utter-
most — that is, were challenging a miracle as unten-
able, though attested by a multitude. But, in fact, he
is not. He only seems to do so ; for, if no number of
witnesses could avail anything in proof of a miracle,
why does he timidly confine himself to the hypothesis
of the queen's physicians only coming forward ? Why
not call in the whole Privy Council .'' — or the Lord
Mayor and Common Council of London — the Sheriffs
of Middlesex — and the Twelve Judges? As to the
court physicians, though three or four nominally, vir-
tually they are but one man. They have a common
interest, and in two separate ways they are liable to a
suspicion of collusion: first, because the same motives
which act upon one probably act upon the rest. In
this respect, they are under a common influence ; sec-
ondly, because, if not the motives, at any rate the
physicians themselves, act upon each other. In this
respect, they are under a reciprocal influence. They
are to be reasoned about as one individual.

3dly. As Hume could not possibly fail to see all this,
we may be sure that his choice of witnesses was not
accidental. In fact, his apparent carelessness is very
discreet management. His object was, under the fic-
tion of an independent multitude, to smuggle in a virtual
unity ; for his court physicians are no plural body in
effect and virtue, but a mere pleonasm and a tautology.


And in good earnest, Hume had reason enough for
his caution. How much or how Httle testimony would
avail to establish a resurrection in any neutral* case
few people would be willing to pronounce off-hand,
and, above all, on a fictitious case. Prudent men, in
such circumstances, would act as the judges in our
English courts, who are always displeased if it is at-
tempted to elicit their opinions upon a point of law by
a proposed fiction. And very reasonably ; for in these
fictitious cases all the little circumstances of reality are
wanting, and the oblique relations to such circum-
stances, out of which it is that any sound opinion can
be formed. We all know very well what Hume is
after in this problem of a resurrection. And his case
of Queen Elizabeth's resurrection being a perfectly
fictitious case, we are at liberty to do any one of three
different things : — either simply to refuse an answer ;
or, 2dly, to give such an answer as he looks for, viz.,
to agree with him in his disbelief under the supposed
contingency ; without, therefore, offering the slightest
prejudice to any scriptural case of resurrection : i. e.,
wc might go along with him in his premises, and yet
balk him of his purpose ; or, 3dly, we might even join
issue with him, and peremptorily challenge his verdict
upon his own fiction. For it is singular enough, that a
modern mathematician of eminence (Mr. Babbage) has
expressly considered this very imaginary question of a
resurrection, and he pronounces the testimony of seven

* By a neutral case is meant, 1st, cue in ■which there is no
previous reason from a great doctrine requiring such an event
for its support, to expect a resurrection ; 2dly, a case belonging
to a period of time in which it is fully believed that miraculous
agency has ceased.

186 ON Hume's argument

witnesses, competent and veracious, and presumed to
have no bias, as sufficient to establish such a miracle.
Strip Hume's case of the ambiguities already pointed
out: — suppose the physicians really separate and inde-
pendent witnesses — not a corporation speaking by one
organ — it will then become a mere question of degree
between the philosopher and the mathematician —
seven witnesses ? or fifty ? or a hundred ? For though
none of us (not Mr. Babbage, we may be sure) seriously
believes in the possibility of a resurrection occurring in
these days, as little can any of us believe in the possi-
bility that seven witnesses, of honor and sagacity (but
say seven hundred) could be found to attest such an
event when not occurring.

But the useful result from all this is, that Mr. Hume
is evidently aware of the case Beta, (of last Sect.) as a
distinct case from Alpha or from Gamma, though he
affects blindness : he is aware that a multitude of com-
petent witnesses, no matter whether seven or seven
hundred, is able to establish that which a single witness
could not; in fact, that increasing the number of wit-
nesses is able to compensate increasing incredibility in

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Online LibraryThomas De QuinceyTheological essays and other papers (Volume 1) → online text (page 13 of 22)