Page images
PDF
EPUB

Epicurus: for it is -a thousand times more credible that four mutable elements, and one immutable fifth essence, duly and eternally placed, need no God, than that an army of infinite small portions, or seeds unplaced, should have produced this order and beauty without a divine marshal. The scripture saith, ** The fool hath said in his heart, there is no “ God;" it is not said, “ The fool hath thought in his heart ;" so as he rather saith it by rote to himself, as that he would have, than that he can thoroughly believe it, or be persuaded ofit; for mone deny there is a God, but those for whom it maketh that there were no God. It appeareth in nothing more, that atheism is rather in the lip than in the heart of man, than by this, that atheists will ever be talking of that their opinion, as if they fainted in it within themselves, and would be glad to be strengthened by the consent of others : nay more, you shall have atheists strive to get disciples, as it fareth with other sects ; and, which is most of all, you shall have of them that will suffer for atheism, and not recant ; whereas, if they did truly think that there were no such thing as God, why should they trouble themselves ? Epicurus is charged, that he did but dissemble for his credit's sake, when he affirmed there were blessed natures, but such as enjoyed themselves without having respect to the government of the world ; wherein they say he did temporize, though in secret he thought there was no God : but certainly he is traduced, for his words are noble and divine: “ Non Deos vulgi negare pro

** fanum ; sed vulgi opiniones Diis applicare pro** fanum." Plato could have said no more ; and, although he had the confidence to deny the administration, he had not the power to deny the nature. The Indians of the west have mames for their particular gods, though they have no name for God : as if the heathens should have had the names Jupiter, Apollo, Mars, &c. but not the word Deus, which shews that even those barbarous people have the notion, though they have not the latitude and extent of it: so that against atheists the very savages take part with the very subtlest philosophers. The contemplative atheist is rare, a Diagoras, a Bion, a Lucian perhaps, and some others; and yet they seem to be more than they are ; for that all that impugn a received religion, or superstition, are, by the adverse part, branded with the name of atheists: but the great atheistsindeed are hypocrites, which are ever handling holy things, but without feeling ; so as they must needs be eauterized in the end. The causes of atheism are, divisions in religion, if they be many ; for any one main division addeth zeal to both sides, but many divisions introduce atheism : another is, scandal ofpriests, when it is come to that which St. Bernard saith, * non est “ jam dicere, ut populus, sic sacerdos ; quia nec sic “ populus, ut sacerdos :" a thirdis, custom of profane scoffing in holy matters, which doth by little and little deface the reverence of religion ; and, lastly, learmed times, specially with peace and prosperity; for troubles and adversities do more bow men's minds to religion. They that deny a God destroy man's nobility ; for certainly man is of kin to the beast by his body; and, if he be not of kin to God by his spirit, he is a base and ignoble creature. It destroys likewise magnanimity, and the raising of human nature; for take an example of a dog, and mark what a generosity and courage he will put on when he finds himself maintained by a man, who to him is instead of a God, or ** melior natura ;" which courage is manifestly such as that creature, without that confidence of a better nature than his own, could never attain. So man, when he resteth and assureth himself upon divine protection and favour, gathereth a force and faith, which human nature in itself could not obtain ; therefore, as atheism is in all respects hateful, so in this, that it depriveth human nature of the means to exalt itself above human frailty. As it is in particular persons, so it is in nations: never was there such a state for magnanimity as Rome ; of this state hear what Cicero saith, * Quam volumus, licet, Patres con“ scripti, nos amemus, tamen nec numero Hispanos, * nec robore Gallos, nec calliditate Poenos, nec arti“ bus Græcos, nec denique hoc ipso hujus gentis et “ terræ domestico nativoque sensu Italos ipsos et “ Latinos; sed pietate, ac religione, atque hac una “ sapientia, quod Deorum immortalium numine om“ nia regi, gubernarique perspeximus omnes, gentes “ nationesque superavimus."

XVII. OF SUPERSTITION.

It were better to have no opinion of God at all, than such an opinion as is unworthy of him; for *he one is unbelief, the other is contumely: and certainly superstition is the reproach of the Deity. Plutarch saith well to that purpose: “ Surely," saith he, * I had rather a great deal men should * say there was no such man at all as Plutarch, than “ that they should say that there was one Plutarch, * that would eat his children as soon as they were ** born;" as the poets speak of Saturn: and, as the contumely is greater towards God, so the danger is greater towards men. Atheism leaves a man to sense, to philosophy, to natural piety, to laws, to reputation: all which may be guides to an outward moral virtue, though religion were not; but superstition dismounts all these, and erecteth an absolute monarchy in the minds of men: therefore atheism did never perturb states; for it makes men wary of themselves, as looking - no further, and we see the times inclined to atheism (as the time of Augustus Cæsar) were civil times: but superstition hath been the confusion of many states, and bringeth in a new * primum mobile," that ravisheth all the spheres of government. The master of superstition is the people, and in all superstition wise men follow fools; and arguments are fitted to practice, in a reversed order. It was gravely said, by some of the prelates in the council of Trent, where the doctrine of the schoolmen bare great sway, that the schoolmen were like astronomers, which did feign eccentrics and epicycles, and such engines of orbs to save the phænomena, though they knew there were no such things ; and, in like manner, that the schoolmen had framed a number of subtle and intricate axioms and theorems, to save the practice of the church. The causes of superstition are, pleasing and sensual rites and ceremonies; excess of ottward and pharisaical holiness; over great reverence of traditions, which cannot but load the church; the stratagems of prelates for their own ambition and lucre; the favouring too much of good intentions, which openeth the gate to conceits and novelties; the taking an aim at divine matters by humam, which cannot but breed mixture of imaginations: and, lastly, barbarous times, especially joined with calamities and disasters. Superstition, without a veil, is a deformed thing; for as it addeth deformity to an ape to be so like a man, so the similitude of superstition to religiom makes it the more deformed: and, as wholesome meat corrupteth to little worms, so good forms andi orders corrupt into a mumber of petty observances. There is a superstition in avoiding superstition, when men think to do best if they go furthest from the superstition formerly received; therefore care would be had that (as it fareth in ill purgings) the good be not taken away with the bad, which commonly is done when the people is the reformer.

« PreviousContinue »