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A CONFESSION OF FAITH.
BACON's religious creed might, if we were left without special information concerning it, be gathered with tolerable accuracy from his general works. For though the passages which relate especially to matters theological are few and short, his theory of the relation between the Creator and the Creatures, the Word and the Works, is incorporated with all his views, and forms an essential part of his theory of the world. Nor is it merely that the moral and sentimental element of religion is strong in him,-trust, love, reverence, submission; sense of the presence of an inspiring, governing, protecting, judging God, whose will is law, and in the pleasing and displeasing of whom right and wrong, good and evil, have (for man) their being,-together with recognition of the life of Christ on earth as the highest exposition and interpretation of that will; but the entire scheme of Christian theology, — creation, temptation, fall, mediation, election, reprobation, redemption,-is constantly in his thoughts; underlies everything; defines for him the limits of the province of human speculation; and as often as the course of enquiry touches at any point the boundary-line, never fails to present itself. Nor is it by any means a formal creed reserved for solemn occasions and forbidden to mix with week-day thoughts and businesses; but being accepted without any reserve or misgiving as the ultimate explanation of everything, there is hardly any occasion or any kind of argument into which it does not at one time or another incidentally introduce itself. Fortunately however it is not from such incidental allusions that we are left to gather his creed. We have it here set forth by himself distinctly and completely in all its parts: an
articulate Confession of Faith; not transcribed from the catechism, but digested and reproduced in a form of his own; in which the several parts of the scheme are exhibited in logical coherency, and presented in a light as satisfactory perhaps to the understanding as the case admits, a case in which that which is to be comprehended is infinite, and that which is to comprehend, finite.'
This Confession was first printed in the Remains (1648) with a title stating that it was written by Bacon "about the time he was solicitor general;" afterwards in the Resuscitatio by Rawley, who merely says that he composed it many years before his death. But in the manuscript from which the text is here taken (Harleian MSS. 1893. fo. 1.), -a copy in the hand of one of Bacon's own servants, and the oldest I have met with, it is headed "a Confession of Faith by Mr Bacon;" from which we may certainly conclude that it was written before he was knighted; that is before the summer of 1603; how long before, I know of no data for determining.
To criticise the theology of it would be beyond my province. But if any one wishes to read a summa theologia digested into seven pages of the finest English of the days when its tones were finest, he may read it here.
"Les idées Chrétiennes y sont traduites" (says M. Charles de Rémusat, than whom no man has studied Bacon with a more sincere desire to understand him,) "sous une forme aussi rationelle qu'il est possible de le faire sans les alterer. Rien n'est outré, rien n'est attenué. Le mystère y est rendu intelligible jusqu'au point où il cesserait d'être un mystère. Ce n'est pas une adhésion verbale à un pur formulaire, mais la déduction d'une croyance réfléchie, et, suivant nous, un monument des plus propres à frapper les esprits les moins dociles à toute inspiration Chrétienne." -Bacon: sa Vie, son Influence, et sa Philosophie, p. 152.
There are three other MSS. in the British Museum: one (Addit. 4263. fo. 111.) which seems to have belonged to Dr. Rawley, and is partly in his hand, headed A Confession of the Faith, by Fr. Bacon; and two others (Harl. 6828. fo. 1., and Addit. 211. fo. 82.), transcripts by hands comparatively modern, which are headed respectively Sr Fran. Bacon, his Confession of his faith and, A Confession of the faith, written by Francis Lord Viscount St Albans at (sic) or before he was Solicitor Generall. The older MS. which I have followed has apparently been the original of all three. In almost every case where the Resuscitatio varies from it,-and certainly in every case which is at all material,-all the other MSS. agree with it.