« PreviousContinue »
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
(7) Sir Thomas Browne's war on relics might not, even now, be ill-timed, if the enemy could thus be subdued; but the keenest ridicule, and the fiercest declamation have been poured
from a fall off his horse, or a mischief from his enemies, upon the wearing those nails on his bridle, which our Saviour 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. (72) 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
on the believers in them, in vain. The disease is chronic, and will last, under some shape or other, as long as humanity itself.ED.
(72) Baldwin, it must be allowed, discovered an easy mode of paying his debts. But such devices are not uncommon among princes, who having outwitted mankind on one point, are apt to put in practice a repetition of their arts.-ED.
sit down with such a far-fetched, and ridiculous reason as Plutarch allegeth for it. (73) 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. (74) 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 delivers 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 endeavoured to write the history of their own lives; wherein Moses hath
(73) On the subject of oracles, I shall not detain the reader, my intention being fully to investigate it elsewhere. Sir Henry Blount's account, however, of the statue of Memnon, provokes a remark. That he had never seen it is clear; for, instead of being situated within "two bows'-shot" of the Pyramids, it is distant from them more than three hundred miles. The statue he describes must be the Sphynx; but even in that there is no hollow in the head above, though it is exceedingly probable that the ignorant natives told him what he relates.ED.
(74) In his oracle to Augustus.
outgone them all, and left not only the story of his life, but as some will have it, of his death also. (75)
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 question the existence of spirits: for my part, I have ever believed, and do now know, that there are witches. (76) 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, de
(75) This is absurd: the chapters of Deuteronomy, in which the death of Moses is described, are clearly an appendix by another writer.-ED.
(76) He here appears to have intended to refer to Pliny's Nat. Hist. xxx. c. 5, where "uncle Pliny," as Burton, on another occasion, denominates him, animadverts with much asperity on the debasing superstition of the emperor. "Immensum et indubitatum exemplum est falsæ artis, quam dereliquit Nero : utinam inferos potius et quoscunque de suspicionibus suis Deos consuluisset, quam lupanaribus atque prostitutis mandasset inquisitiones eas nulla profecto sacra, barbari licet, ferique ritus, non mitiora, quam cogitationes ejus fuissent." But, in fact, the wretched sinner knew not whither to turn. Imperfect as his religion was, its doctrines had still the power to reach the imperial couch, and torture the master of the world to madness. The ghost of his murdered mother perpetually haunted him he felt the scourge of the fabulous Furies, upon the members of his conscience-and their flaming torches glared for ever in his face. Therefore was it that he sought relief in magic, and employed "the wise men of the East" to call up his mother's shade, that he might appease it with superstitious rites and incantations. (Sueton. in Vit. Neron. VI. 34.)--Ed.
sire 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, (77) 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; (78) 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.
(77) I am surprised Sir Thomas should boggle at this, after confessing his belief in witchcraft.-ED.
(78) On all these varieties of madness the reader who possesses sufficient leisure and curiosity may consult Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, passim. The old man was mad himself, and therefore wrote on the subject con amore.-ED.