« PreviousContinue »
It is true, that men of singular parts and humours have not been free from singular opinions and conceits in all ages; retaining something not only beside the opinion of their own church or any other, but also any particular author; which, notwithstanding a sober judgment may do without offence or heresy; for there are yet, after all the decrees of councils, and the niceties of schools, many things untouched, unimagined, wherein the liberty of an honest reason may play and expatiate with security, and far without the circle of a heresy.
As for those wingy mysteries in divinity, and airy subtleties in religion, which have unhinged the brains of better heads, they never stretched the pia mater of mine. Methinks there be not impossibilities enough in religion for an active faith; the deepest mysteries ours contains, have not only been illustrated, but maintained by syllogism, and the rule of reason. I love to lose myself in a mystery, to pursue my reason to an altitudo! It is my solitary recreation to pose my apprehension with those involved enigmas and riddles of the Trinity, with incarnation and resurrection. I can answer all the objections of Satan and my rebellious reason, with that odd resolution I learned of Tertullian, Certum est quia impossible est. (20) I desire to ex
(20) This reads like a sneer, for whatever it may have been intended. I cannot wish, however, in these notes, to institute an inquisitorial research into motives, or to extract poison out of innocent expressions, or which, properly understood, may, peradventure, be innocent. But the impression made by this passage and others, is undoubtedly unfavourable to Sir Thomas Browne, who, by employing language palpably absurd, and affecting to
ercise my faith in the difficultest point; for to credit ordinary and visible objects, is not faith, but persuasion. Some believe the better for seeing Christ's sepulchre; and when they have seen the Red Sea, doubt not of the miracle. Now, contrarily, I bless myself, and am thankful that I lived not in the days of miracles; that I never saw Christ nor his disciples. I would not have been one of those Israelites that passed the Red Sea, nor one of Christ's patients on whom he wrought his wonders: then had my faith been thrust upon me; nor should I enjoy that greater blessing pronounced to all that believe and saw not. It is an easy and necessary belief, to credit what our eye and sense hath examined: I believe he was dead and buried, and rose again; and desire to see him in his glory, rather than to contemplate him in his cenotaph or sepulchre. Nor is this much to believe; as we have reason, we owe this faith unto history: they only had the advantage of a bold and noble faith, who lived before his coming, who upon obscure prophecies, and mystical types could raise a belief, and expect apparent impossibilities.
It is true, there is an edge in all firm belief, and
think it excusable in matters of religion, seems to be actuated by an insidious purpose, such as instigated Aristotle to remark of old, that obscene pictures and statues should nowhere be found, save in the temples of those gods whose rites required them. (Polit. VII. 16.) My views, both here and elsewhere, may no doubt be wrong-I sincerely hope they may; but, in editing a work, in other respects highly able and useful, I should not be performing my duty were I to suppress such suspicions as spontaneously present themselves.-ED.
with an easy metaphor we may say, the sword of faith; but in these obscurities I rather use it in the adjunct the apostle gives it, a buckler; under which I conceive a wary combatant may lie invulnerable. Since I was of understanding to know we knew nothing, my reason hath been more pliable to the will of faith: I am now content to understand a mystery without a rigid definition, in an easy and Platonic description. That allegorical description of Hermes, (") pleaseth me beyond all the metaphysical definitions of divines: where I cannot satisfy my reason, I love to humour my fancy. I had as leave you tell me that anima est angelus hominis, est Corpus Dei, as Entelechia; Lux est umbra Dei, as actus perspicui; where there is an obscurity too deep for our reason, it is good to sit down with a description, periphrasis, or adumbration; for by acquainting our reason how unable it is to display the visible and obvious effects of nature, it becomes more humble and submissive unto the subtleties of faith; and thus I teach my haggard and unreclaimed reason to stoop unto the lure of faith. I believe there was already a tree whose fruit our unhappy parents tasted, though in the same chapter where God forbids it, it is positively said, the plants of the fields were not yet grown: for God had not caused it to rain upon the earth. (") I believe
(21) Sphæra cujus centrum ubique, circumferentia nullibi.
(22) The author of certain notes published in a former edition, refers, for a solution of this difficulty, to St. Augustin's commentary on Genesis. But I conceive that nothing more is needed than attentively to peruse the words of Scripture, which Sir
that the serpent, (if we shall literally understand it,) from his proper form and figure, made his motion on his belly before the curse. (23) I find the trial of the pucelage and virginity of women, which God ordained the Jews, is very fallible. (24) Experience and history inform me, that not only many particular women, but likewise whole nations have escaped the curse of childbirth, which God seems to pronounce upon the whole sex; yet do I
Thomas Browne grossly and palpably misrepresents. He would seem to have written carelessly, from memory; and, though he appears so positive, to have been positively ignorant of what the second chapter of Genesis contains. It is not there said that, when our first parents ate of the forbidden fruit, there was no tree in the garden on which it could have grown. On the contrary, having in the first chapter related the creation of fruittrees on the third day, and of men on the sixth, Moses here glances a second time at the events of creation, and in four verses, 4-8, recapitulates the principal events. He then gives us, in verse 8, a kind of summary statement of what is to follow; and then, at large, describes the planting of the garden of Eden, and the placing of man in it: (v. 9-17.) What difficulty there may be in all this requires some ingenuity to discover.-ED.
(23) As the Bible nowhere positively affirms that the serpent did not creep upon its belly before the curse, perhaps no great evil is likely to arise from Sir Thomas's believing that it did ; and he may be permitted to believe it accordingly.-ED.
(2) It could answer no good purpose to enter here into an examination of this question, which the annotator has himself shrunk from. Pinæus, (Opuscul. Physiolog. et Anatomic. I. 5, 6.) and Ludovicus Bonaciolus (De Fœtus Formatione, p. 150,) have taken the Scriptural view. Burton (Anatomy of Melancholy, II. 450. f.) has amassed numerous conflicting authorities; but with the learning of a mere bookworm. In our northern countries, the greatest possible uncertainty envelopes the whole subject, as the most able physiologists confess. Conf. Blumenbach, Physiol. §. 539. Virey, De La Femme, p. 72. ff.-ED.
believe that all this is true, which indeed my reason would persuade me to be false; and this I think is no vulgar part of faith, to believe a thing not only above, but contrary to reason, and against the arguments of our proper senses (25)
In my solitary and retired imagination, (Neque enim cum porticus, aut me lectulus accepit, desum mihi,) I remember I am not alone, and therefore forget not to contemplate Him and his attributes who is ever with me, especially those two mighty ones, his wisdom and eternity; with the one I recreate, with the other I confound my understanding: for who can speak of eternity without a solecism, or think thereof without an ecstacy? Time we may comprehend: it is but five days older than ourselves, and hath the same horoscope with the world; but to retire so far back as to apprehend a beginning, to give such an infinite start forwards as to conceive an end in an essence that we affirm hath neither the one nor the other, it puts my reason to St. Paul's sanctuary: my philosophy dares not say the angels can do it; God hath not made a creature
(25) Here again, as above, the author is guilty of one of two things-impiety or absurdity. He no doubt possessed a considerable share of learning and abilities; but was never able at any time of his life, least of all when, at the age of thirty, he wrote this book, to fathom the depths of human reason, and say what was above, and what was contrary to it. The histories on which he relied, on the subject discussed in the text, should have been mentioned. In the course of my own researches, which have probably lain in a different track, I have met with none worthy of the slightest credit, whose testimony could be adduced in support of his hazardous assertions.-ED.