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I cannot but wonder with what exception the Samaritans could confine their belief to the Pentateuch, 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 ethnic superstition, and so easily seduced to the idolatry of their neighbors, 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 oft transform themselves, not unto several shapes of Christianity, and of the same species, but unto more unnatural and contrary forms, of Jew and Mahometan; that from the name of Savior 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 proportion; 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 because they never heard of him. But the religion of the Jews is expressly against the Christian; and the Mahometan 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 Jews are 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 valor 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 valor and 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 valor, we shall find the name only in his master, Alexander, and as little in that Roman worthy, Julius Cæsar; 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 honor of that title. It is 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, or in so audacious and resolute a temper, as to endure those terrible tests and trials; who, notwithstanding, in a peaceable way do truly adore their Savior, and have, no doubt, a faith acceptable in the eyes of God.
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 heretic; 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 perfect 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 commandment of God, and the natural respects that I tender unto the conservation of my essence and being, I would not perish upon a ceremony, politic points, or indifferency. 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 religious actions, is wisdom; without which, to commit ourselves to the flames is homicide, and, I fear, but to pass through one fire into another. 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 the record of Scripture; that they outlived the Apostles also, and were revived at the conversion 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 Savior. For the conversion of water into wine, which he wrought in Cana, or what the devil would have had him do in the wilderness, of stones into bread, compared to this, will scarce deserve the name of a miracle. Though, indeed, to speak properly, 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 contradictions 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 God cannot, but he will not perform many things, which we plainly affirm he cannot: this I am sure is the mannerliest proposition, wherein, notwithstanding, 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.
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 relics, to examine the bones, question the habits and appurtenances 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 Savior bore upon the cross in his hands. I compute among piæ fraudes, nor many degrees before consecrated swords and roses, that which Baldwin, King of Jerusalem, returned the Genoese for their cost and pains in his war, 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 solve the doubt. Now, one reason I tender so little devotion unto relics is, I think, the slender and doubtful respect 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.
But above all things I wonder how the curiosity of wiser heads could pass that great and indisputable 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 warrantable 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 Megasthenes or Herodotus. I confess I have had an unhappy curiosity this way, till I laughed myself out of it with a piece of Justin, where he deliv. ers 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 shapes and deceitful vizards times present represent on the stage things past, I do believe them little more than things to come. Some have been of my opinion, and endeavored 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.
It is a riddle to me how this story of oracles hath not wormed out of the world that doubtful conceit of spirits and witches; how so many learned heads should so far forget their metaphysics, and destroy the ladder and scale of creatures, as to ques. tion the existence of spirits: for my part, I have ever believed, 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 incredulity, desire to see apparitions, shall questionless never behold any, nor have the power to be so much as witches. The devil hath 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 Antichrist should be born of the tribe of Dan, by conjunction 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 defection of the maid of Germany hath left a pregnant example.
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 magic, not learned immediately from the devil, but at second-hand from his scholars, who, having once the secret betrayed, are able, and do empirically practice without his advice, they 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 part of philosophy was witchcraft, which being afterward derived to one another, proved but philosophy, and was indeed no more but the honest effects of nature. What invented by us is philosophy, learned