Of the Causes of Common Errors.

THE First and Father-cause of common Error, is, The common infirmity of Human Nature; of whose deceptible condition, although perhaps there should not need any other eviction, than the frequent Errors we shall our selves commit, even in the express declarement hereof: yet shall we illustrate the same from more infallible constitutions, and persons presumed as far from us in condition, as time, that is, our first and ingenerated forefathers. From whom as we derive our Being, and the several wounds of constitution; so, may we in some manner excuse our infirmities in the depravity of those parts, whose Traductions were pure in them, and their Originals but once removed from God. Who notwithstanding (if posterity may take leave to judg of the fact, as they are assured to suffer in the punishment) were grosly deceived, in their perfection; and so weakly deluded in the clarity of their understanding, that it hath left no small obscurity in ours, How error should gain upon them.

For first, They were deceived by Satan; and that not in an invisible insinuation, but an open and discoverable apparition, that is, in the form of a Serpent; whereby although there were many occasions of suspition, and such as could not easily escape a weaker circumspection, yet did the unwary apprehension of Eve take no advantage thereof. It hath therefore seemed strange unto some, she should be deluded by a Serpent, or subject her reason to a beast, which God had subjected unto hers. It hath empuzzled the enquiries of others to apprehend, and enforced them unto strange conceptions, to make out, how without fear or doubt she could discourse with such a creature, or hear a Serpent speak, without suspition of Imposture. The wits of others have been so bold, as to accuse her simplicity, in receiving his Temptation so coldly; and when such specious effects of the fruit were Promised, as to make them like God; not to desire, at least not to wonder he pursued not that benefit himself. And had it been their own case, would perhaps have replied. If the tast of this Fruit maketh the eaters like Gods, why remainest thou a Beast? If it maketh us but like Gods, we are so already. If thereby our eyes shall be opened hereafter, they are at present quick enough, to discover thy deceit; and we desire them no opener, to behold our own shame. If to know good and evil be our advantage, although we have Free-will unto both, we desire to perform but one; We know ’tis good to obey the commandment of God, but evil if we transgress it.

They were deceived by one another, and in the greatest disadvantage of Delusion, that is, the stronger by the weaker: For Eve presented the Fruit, and Adam received it from her. Thus the Serpent was cunning enough, to begin the deceit in the weaker, and the weaker of strength, sufficient to consummate the fraud in the stronger. Art and fallacy was used unto her; a naked offer proved sufficient unto him: So his superstruction was his Ruine, and the fertility of his Sleep an issue of Death unto him. And although the condition of Sex, and posteriority of Creation, might somewhat extenuate the Error of the Woman: Yet was it very strange and inexcusable in the Man; especially, if as some affirm, he was the wisest of all men since; or if, as others have conceived, he was not ignorant of the Fall of the Angels, and had thereby Example and punishment to deterr him.

They were deceived from themselves, and their own apprehensions; For Eve either mistook, or traduced the commandment of God: Of every Tree of the Garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the Tree of knowledg of good and evil thou shalt not eat: for in the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.[1] Now Eve upon the question of the Serpent, returned the Precept in different terms: You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest perhaps you die.[2] In which delivery, there were no less than two mistakes, or rather additional mendacities; for the Commandment forbad not the touch of the Fruit; and positively said, Ye shall surely die: but she extenuating, replied, ne fortè moriamini, lest perhaps ye die. For so in the vulgar translation it runneth, and so it is expressed in the Thargum or paraphrase of Jonathan.[3] And therefore although it be said, and that very truely, that the Devil was a lyer from the beginning, yet was the Woman herein the first express beginner: and falsified twice, before the reply of Satan. And therefore also, to speak strictly, the sin of the Fruit was not the first Offence: They first transgressed the Rule of their own Reason; and after the Commandment of God.

They were deceived through the Conduct of their Senses, and by Temptations from the Object it self; whereby although their intellectuals had not failed in the Theory of truth, yet did the inservient and brutal Faculties controll the suggestion of Reason: Pleasure and Profit already overswaying the instructions of Honesty, and Sensuality perturbing the reasonable commands of Vertue. For so it is delivered in the Text: That when the Woman saw, that the Tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant unto the eye, and a Tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof and did eat.[4] Now hereby it appeareth, that Eve, before the Fall, was by the same and beaten way of allurements inveigled, whereby her posterity hath been deluded ever since; that is, those three delivered by St. John,[5] The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life: Wherein indeed they seemed as weakly to fail, as their debilitated posterity, ever after. Whereof notwithstanding, some in their imperfection, have resisted more powerful temptations; and in many moralities condemned the facility of their seductions.

Again, they might, for ought we know, be still deceived in the unbelief of their Mortality, even after they had eat of the Fruit: For, Eve observing no immediate execution of the Curse, she delivered the Fruit unto Adam: who, after the tast thereof, perceiving himself still to live, might yet remain in doubt, whether he had incurred Death; which perhaps he did not indubitably believe, until he was after convicted in the visible example of Abel. For he that would not believe the Menace of God at first, it may be doubted whether, before an ocular example, he believed the Curse at last. And therefore they are not without all reason, who have disputed the Fact of Cain: that is, although he purposed to do mischief, whether he intended to kill his Brother; or designed that, whereof he had not beheld an example in his own kind. There might be somewhat in it, that he would not have done, or desired undone, when he brake forth as desperately, as before he had done uncivilly, My iniquity is greater than can be forgiven me.[6]

Some nicities I confess there are which extenuate, but many more that aggravate this Delusion; which exceeding the bounds of this Discourse, and perhaps our Satisfaction, we shall at present pass over. And therefore whether the Sin of our First Parents were the greatest of any since; whether the transgression of Eve seducing, did not exceed that of Adam seduced; or whether the resistibility of His Reason, did not equivalence the facility of her Seduction; we shall refer it to the Schoolman; Whether there was not in Eve as great injustice in deceiving her husband, as imprudence in being deceived her self; especially, if foretasting the Fruit, her eyes were opened before his, and she knew the effect of it, before he tasted of it; we leave it unto the Moralist. Whether the whole relation be not Allegorical, that is, whether the temptation of the Man by the Woman, be not the seduction of the rational and higher parts by the inferiour and feminine faculties: or whether the Tree in the midst of the Garden, were not that part in the Center of the body, in which was afterward the appointment of Circumcision in Males, we leave it unto the Thalmudist. Whether there were any Policy in the Devil to tempt them before the Conjunction, or whether the Issue before tentation, might in justice have suffered with those after, we leave it unto the Lawyer. Whether Adam foreknew the advent of Christ, or the reparation of his Error by his Saviour; how the execution of the Curse should have been ordered, if, after Eve had eaten, Adam had yet refused. Whether if they had tasted the Tree of life, before that of Good and Evil, they had yet suffered the curse of Mortality: or whether the efficacy of the one had not over-powred the penalty of the other, we leave it unto GOD. For he alone can truly determine these, and all things else; Who as he hath proposed the World unto our disputation, so hath he reserved many things unto his own resolution; whose determination we cannot hope from flesh, but must with reverence suspend unto that great Day, whose justice shall either condemn our curiosities, or resolve our disquisitions.

Lastly, Man was not only deceivable in his Integrity, but the Angels of light in all their Clarity. He that said, He would be like the highest did Erre, if in some way he conceived himself so already: but in attempting so high an effect from himself, he mis-understood the nature of God, and held a false apprehension of his own; whereby vainly attempting not only insolencies, but impossibilities, he deceived himself as low as Hell. In brief, there is nothing infallible but GOD, who cannot possibly Erre. For things are really true as they correspond unto His conception; and have so much verity as they hold of conformity unto that Intellect, in whose Idea they had their first determinations. And therefore being the Rule, he cannot be Irregular; nor, being Truth it self, conceavably admit the impossible society of Error.


* [My or others’ notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}.

1 [Gen. 2:16-17]

2 [Gen. 3:2-4. The original injunction was given to Adam before Eve’s existence; thus a third possibility, other than mistake or traduction on Eve’s part, is that Adam mistook or traduced the commandment. This might be why the serpent chose Eve, who had not, after all, had the word straight, as it were, from the horse’s mouth. Browne later refers to this possibility in chapter IV.]

3 [Or Targum: one of the Aramaic “translations” (perhaps more accurately paraphrase with commentary) of parts of the Old Testament. The Targum attributed to Jonathan, or Targum Yerusalmhi, is now usually called the Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan. Estimates of its date vary; internal references place parts of it as early as the 2nd century B.C.; Jerome quotes (or seems to quote) one of its paraphrases, which places it no later than the 4th century. A Latin translation by Cristopher Cartwright was published in 1648 as Electa Thargumico-rabbinica: sive, Annotationes in Genesin. Ex triplici Thargum, seu Chaldaîcâ paraphrasis, nempe Onkeli Hierosolymitanâ, & Jonathanis; item ex R. Salomone, & Aben Ezrâ, aliísque Hebraeis pariter ac Hebraìzantibus excerptae, &c.

A note in the Penguin edition of selected works of Browne states that the Vulgate “in fact” has moriamur. Some versions do have moriamini. It is to be remembered that “the Vulgate” refers to a number of hybrids of the two Jeromean translations.]

4 [Gen. 3:6]

5 [1 John 2:16: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”]

6[Gen. 4:13; not, as Browne notes in Chapter II, the AV translation, which has “My punishment is greater than I can bear”.]

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