Chap. X.

Of the last and common Promoter of false Opinions, the endeavours of Satan.

BUT beside the infirmities of humane Nature, the seed of Error within our selves, and the several ways of delusion from each other, there is an invisible Agent, and secret promoter without us, whose activity is undiscerned, and plays in the dark upon us; and that is the first contriver of Error, and professed opposer of Truth, the Devil. For though permitted unto his proper principles, Adam perhaps would have sinned without the suggestion of Satan: and from the transgressive infirmitives of himself might have erred alone, as well as the Angels before him: And although also there were no Devil at all, yet there is now in our Natures a confessed sufficiency unto corruption, and the frailty of our own Oeconomie, were able to betray us out of Truth, yet wants there not another Agent, who taking advantage hereof proceedeth to obscure the diviner part, and efface all tract of its traduction. To attempt a particular of all his wiles, is too bold an Arithmetick for man: what most considerably concerneth his popular and practised ways of delusions, he first deceiveth mankind in five main points concerning God and himself.

And first his endeavours have ever been, and they cease not yet to instill a belief in the mind of Man, there is no God at all. And this he principally endeavours to establish in a direct and literal apprehension; that is, that there is no such reality existent, that the necessity of his entity dependeth upon ours, and is but a Political Chymera; that the natural truth of God is an artificial erection of Man, and the Creator himself but a subtile invention of the Creature. Where he succeeds not thus high, he labours to introduce a secondary and deductive Atheism; that although men concede there is a God, yet should they deny his providence. And therefore assertions have flown about, that he intendeth only the care of the species or common natures, but letteth loose the guard of individuals, and single existencies therein: that he looks not below the Moon, but hath designed the regiment of sublunary affairs unto inferiour deputations. To promote which apprehensions, or empuzzel their due conceptions, he casteth in the notions of fate, destiny, fortune, chance, and necessity; terms commonly misconceived by vulgar heads, and their propriety sometime perverted by the wisest. Whereby extinguishing in minds the compensation of vertue and vice, the hope and fear of Heaven or Hell; they comply in their actions unto the drift of his delusions, and live like creatures without the capacity of either.

Now hereby he not onely undermineth the Base of Religion, and destroyeth the principle preambulous unto all belief; but puts upon us the remotest Error from Truth. For Atheism is the greatest falsity, and to affirm there is no God, the highest lie in Nature. And therefore strictly taken, some men will say his labour is in vain; For many there are, who cannot conceive there was ever any absolute Atheist; or such as could determine there was no God, without all check from himself, or contradiction from his other opinions. And therefore those few so called by elder times, might be the best of Pagans; suffering that name rather in relation to the gods of the Gentiles, then the true Creator of all. A conceit that cannot befal his greatest enemy, or him that would induce the same in us; who hath a sensible apprehension hereof, for he believeth with trembling. To speak yet more strictly and conformably unto some Opinions, no creature can wish thus much; nor can the Will which hath a power to run into velleities, and wishes of impossibilities, have any utinam of this. For to desire there were no God, were plainly to unwish their own being; which must needs be annihilated in the substraction of that essence which substantially supporteth them, and restrains them from regression into nothing. And if as some contend, no creature can desire his own annihilation,[1] that Nothing is not appetible, and not to be at all, is worse then to be in the miserablest condition of something; the Devil himself could not embrace that motion, nor would the enemy of God be freed by such a Redemption.

But coldly thriving in this design, as being repulsed by the principles of humanity, and the dictates of that production, which cannot deny its original, he fetcheth a wider circle; and when he cannot make men conceive there is no God at all, he endeavours to make them believe there is not one, but many: wherein he hath been so successful with common heads, that he hath led their belief thorow all the Works of Nature.

Now in this latter attempt, the subtilty of his circumvention, hath indirectly obtained the former. For although to opinion there be many gods, may seem an excess in Religion, and such as cannot at all consist with Atheism, yet doth it deductively and upon inference include the same, for Unity is the inseparable and essential attribute of Deity; and if there be more then one God, it is no Atheism to say there is no God at all. And herein though Socrates only suffered, yet were Plato and Aristotle guilty of the same Truth; who demonstratively understanding the simplicity of perfection, and the indivisible condition of the first causator, it was not in the power of Earth, or Areopagy2 of Hell to work them from it. For holding an Apodictical3 knowledge, and assured science of its verity, to perswade their apprehensions unto a plurality of gods in the world, were to make Euclide believe there were more then one Center in a Circle, or one right Angle in a Triangle; which were indeed a fruitless attempt, and inferreth absurdities beyond the evasion of Hell. For though Mechanick and vulgar heads ascend not unto such comprehensions, who live not commonly unto half the advantage of their principles; yet did they not escape the eye of wiser Minerva's, and such as made good the genealogie of Jupiters brains; who although they had divers stiles for God, yet under many appellations acknowledged one divinity: rather conceiving thereby the evidence or acts of his power in several ways and places, then a multiplication of Essence, or real distraction of unity in any one.

Again, To render our errors more monstrous (and what unto miracle sets forth the patience of God,) he hath endeavoured to make the world believe, that he was God himself; and failing of his first attempt to be but like the highest in Heaven, he hath obtained with men to be the same on Earth. And hath accordingly assumed the annexes of Divinity, and the prerogatives of the Creator, drawing into practice the operation of miracles, and the prescience of things to come. Thus hath he in a specious way wrought cures upon the sick: played over the wondrous acts of Prophets, and counterfeited many miracles of Christ and his Apostles. Thus hath he openly contended with God, and to this effect his insolency was not ashamed to play a solemn prize with Moses;[4] wherein although his performance were very specious, and beyond the common apprehension of any power below a Deity; yet was it not such as could make good his Omnipotency. For he was wholly confounded in the conversion of dust into lice. An act Philosophy can scarce deny to be above the Power of Nature, nor upon a requisite predisposition beyond the efficacy of the Sun. Wherein notwithstanding the head of the old Serpent was confessedly too weak for Moses hand, and the arm of his Magicians too short for the finger of God.

Thus hath he also made men believe that he can raise the dead, that he hath the key of life and death, and a prerogative above that principle which makes no regression from privations. The Stoicks that opinioned the souls of wise men dwelt about the Moon, and those of fools wandred about the Earth, advantaged the conceit of this effect; wherein the Epicureans, who held that death was nothing, nor nothing after death, must contradict their principles to be deceived. Nor could the Pythagorian or such as maintained the transmigration of souls give easie admittance hereto: for holding that separated souls successively supplied other bodies, they could hardly allow the raising of souls from other worlds, which at the same time, they conceived conjoyned unto bodies in this. More inconsistent with these Opinions, is the Error of Christians, who holding the dead do rest in the Lord, do yet believe they are at the lure of the Devil: that he who is in bonds himself commandeth the fetters of the dead, and dwelling in the bottomless lake, the blessed from Abrahams bosome, that can believe the real resurrection of Samuel: or that there is any thing but delusion in the practice of Necromancy5 and popular raising of Ghosts.

He hath moreover endeavoured the opinion of Deity, by the delusion of Dreams, and the discovery of things to come in sleep, above the prescience of our waked senses. In this expectation he perswaded the credulity of elder times to take up their lodging before his temple, in skins of their own sacrifices:[6] till his reservedness had contrived answers, whose accomplishments were in his power, or not beyond his presagement. Which way, although it hath pleased Almighty God, sometimes to reveal himself, yet was the proceeding very different. For the revelations of Heaven are conveyed by new impressions, and the immediate illumination of the soul, whereas the deceiving spirit, by concitation of humours, produceth his conceited phantasms, or by compounding the species already residing, doth make up words which mentally speak his intentions.

But above all he most advanced his Deity in the solemn practice of Oracles, wherein in several parts of the World, he publikely professed his Divinity; but how short they flew of that spirit, whose omniscience, they would resemble, their weakness sufficiently declared. What jugling there was therein, the Orator7 plainly confessed, who being good at the same game himself, could say that Pythia Philippised.[8] Who can but laugh at the carriage of Ammon unto Alexander, who addressing unto him as a god, was made to believe, he was a god himself?[9] How openly did he betray his Indivinity unto Crœus, who being ruined by his Amphibology, and expostulating with him for so ungrateful a deceit, received no higher answer then the excuse of his impotency upon the contradiction of fate, and the setled law of powers beyond his power to controle![10] What more then sublunary directions, or such as might proceed from the Oracle of humane Reason, was in his advice unto the Spartans in the time of a great Plague; when for the cessation thereof, he wisht them to have recourse unto a Fawn, that is in open terms, unto one Nebrus,11 a good Physitian of those days? From no diviner a spirit came his reply unto Caracalla, who requiring a remedy for his Gout, received no other counsel then to refrain cold drink; which was but a dietetical caution, and such as without a journey unto Æsculapius, culinary prescription and kitchin Aphorisms might have afforded at home. Nor surely if any truth there were therein, of more then natural activity was his counsel unto Democratus; when for the Falling-sickness he commended the Maggot in a Goats head. For many things secret are true: sympathies and antipathies are safely authentick unto us, who ignorant of their causes may yet acknowledge their effects. Beside, being a natural Magician he may perform many acts in ways above our knowledge, though not transcending our natural power, when our knowledge shall direct it. Part hereof hath been discovered by himself, and some by humane indagation: which though magnified as fresh inventions unto us, are stale unto his cognition. I hardly believe he hath from elder times unknown the verticity of the Loadstone; surely his perspicacity discerned it to respect the North, when ours beheld it indeterminately. Many secrets there are in Nature of difficult discovery unto man, of easie knowledge unto Satan; whereof some his vain glory cannot conceal, others his envy will not discover.

Again, Such is the mysterie of his delusion, that although he labour to make us believe that he is God, and supremest nature whatsoever, yet would he also perswade our beliefs, that he is less then Angels or men; and his condition not onely subjected unto rational powers, but the actions of things which have no efficacy on our selves. Thus hath he inveigled no small part of the world into a credulity of artificial Magick: That there is an Art, which without compact commandeth the powers of Hell; whence some have delivered the polity of spirits, and left an account even to their Provincial Dominions: that they stand in awe of Charms, Spels, and Conjurations; that he is afraid of letters and characters, of notes and dashes, which set together do signifie nothing, not only in the dictionary of man, but the subtiler vocabulary of Satan. That there is any power in Bitumen, Pitch, or Brimstone, to purifie the air from his uncleanness; that any vertue there is in Hipericon12 to make good the name of fuga Dæmonis, any such Magick as is ascribed unto the Root Baaras by Josephus,[13] or Cynospastus by Ælianus, it is not easie to believe; nor is it naturally made out what is delivered of Tobias, that by the fume of a Fishes liver, he put to flight Asmodeus.[14] That they are afraid of the pentangle of Solomon,15 though so set forth with the body of man, as to touch and point out the five places wherein our Saviour was wounded, I know not how to assent. If perhaps he hath fled from holy Water, if he cares not to hear the sound of Tetragrammaton,16 if his eye delight not in the sign of the Cross; and that sometimes he will seem to be charmed with words of holy Scripture, and to flie from the letter and dead verbality, who must onely start at the life and animated interiours thereof: It may be feared they are but Parthian flights, Ambuscado retreats, and elusory tergiversations: Whereby to confirm our credulities, he will comply with the opinion of such powers, which in themselves have no activities. Whereof having once begot in our minds an assured dependance, he makes us relie on powers which he but precariously obeys; and to desert those true and only charms which Hell cannot withstand.

Lastly, To lead us farther into darkness, and quite to lose us in this maze of Error, he would make men believe there is no such creature as himself: and that he is not only subject unto inferiour creatures, but in the rank of nothing. Insinuating into mens minds there is no Devil at all, and contriveth accordingly, many ways to conceal or indubitate his existency. Wherein beside that, he annihilates the blessed Angels and Spirits in the rank of his Creation; he begets a security of himself, and a careless eye unto the last remunerations. And therefore hereto he inveigleth, not only Sadduces and such as retain unto the Church of God: but is also content that Epicurus, Democritus, or any Heathen should hold the same. And to this effect he maketh men believe that apparitions, and such as confirm his existence are either deceptions of sight, or melancholly depravements of phansie. Thus when he had not onely appeared but spake unto Brutus; Cassius the Epicurian was ready at hand to perswade him, it was but a mistake in his weary imagination, and that indeed there were no such realities in nature.[17] Thus he endeavours to propagate the unbelief of Witches, whose concession infers his co-existency; by this means also he advanceth the opinion of total death, and staggereth the immortality of the soul; for, such as deny there are spirits subsistent without bodies, will with more difficulty affirm the separated existence of their own.

Now to induce and bring about these falsities, he hath laboured to destroy the evidence of Truth, that is the revealed verity and written Word of God. To which intent he hath obtained with some to repudiate the Books of Moses, others those of the Prophets, and some both: to deny the Gospel and authentick Histories of Christ; to reject that of John, and to receive that of Judas; to disallow all, and erect another of Thomas. And when neither their corruption by Valentinus and Arrius, their mutilation by Marcion, Manes, and Ebion could satisfie his design, he attempted the ruine and total destruction thereof; as he sedulously endeavoured, by the power and subtilty of Julian, Maximinus, and Dioclesian.

But the longevity of that piece, which hath so long escaped the common fate, and the providence of that Spirit, which ever waketh over it, may at last discourage such attempts; and if not make doubtful its Mortality, at least indubitably declare; this is a stone too big for Saturns mouth, and a bit indeed Oblivion cannot swallow.

And thus how strangely he possesseth us with Errors may clearly be observed, deluding us into contradictory and inconsistent falsities; whilest he would make us believe, That there is no God. That there are many. That he himself is God. That he is less then angels or Men. That he is nothing at all.

Nor hath he onely by those wiles depraved the conception of the Creator, but with such Riddles hath also entangled the Nature of our Redeemer. Some denying his Humanity, and that he was one of the Angels, as Ebion; that the Father and Son were but one person, as Sabellius. That his body was phantastical, as Manes, Basilides, Priscillian, Jovinianus; that he only passed through Mary, as Utyches and Valentinus. Some denying his Divinity; that he was begotten of humane principles, and the seminal son of Joseph; as Carpocras, Symmachus, Photinus: that he was Seth the Son of Adam, as the Sethians: that he was less then Angels, as Cherinthus: that he was inferiour unto Melchisedec, as Theodotus: that he was not God, but God dwelt in him, as Nicholaus: and some embroyled them both. So did they which converted the Trinity into a Quaternity, and affirmed two persons in Christ, as Paulus Samosatenus: that held he was Man without a Soul, and that the Word performed that office in him, as Apollinaris: that he was both Son and Father, as Montanus: that Jesus suffered, but Christ remained impatible, as Cherinthus. Thus he endeavours to entangle Truths: And when he cannot possibly destroy its substance, he cunningly confounds its apprehensions; that from the inconsistent and contrary determinations thereof, consectary impieties, and hopeful conclusions may arise, there's no such thing at all.


* [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 [E.g., Aquinas; and cf. Browne in Hydriotaphia, Chapter V.]

2 Areopagus the severe court of Athens.

3 Demonstrative.

4 [In Exodus 7 and 8, wherein various miracles of God are countered by similar "tricks" of the Egyptian priests, until the last miracle, which causes the priests (but not Pharoah) to acknowledge the hand of God.]

5 Divination by the dead.

6 [According to Pausanius; the questioners slept on the skins of the animals they had sacrificed, and the oracle came to them in their dreams.]

7 Demosthenes.

8 [That is, her prophecies fawned on Philip.]

9 [Although Alexander seems to have been among the first to laugh, or at least to disbelieve, according to Plutarch, Alexander 28.6.]

10 [See the Miscellany Tract On Oracles for more on Croesus and the question of oracles in general.]

11 Nebros, in Greek, a Fawn.

12 St. Iohns wort, so called by Magicians [now considered by many a natural antidepressant: plus ça change...]

[13] [Josephus Bel.]

[14] [Tobit 8.2-3.]

15 3 triangles intersected and made of five lines. [Notes 12 and 15 are all together in one marginal note, unreferenced in the text of 1672.]

16 Implying Iehovah, which in Hebrew consisteth of four letters.

17 [According to Plutarch, Brutus, 36-37; in the "Dryden" translation (which is by Mr. Duke):

Thus one night before he passed out of Asia, he was very late all alone in his tent, with a dim light burning by him, all the rest of the camp being bushed and silent; and reasoning about something with himself and very thoughtful, he fancied some one came in, and, looking up towards the door, he saw a terrible and strange appearance of an unnatural and frightful body standing by him without speaking. Brutus boldly asked it, "What are you, of men or gods, and upon what business come to me?" The figure answered "I am your evil genius, Brutus; you shall see me at Philippi." To which Brutus, not at all disturbed, replied, "Then I shall see you."

As soon as the apparition vanished, he called his servants to him, who all told him that they had neither heard any voice nor seen any vision. So then he continued watching till the morning, when he went to Cassius, and told him of what he had seen. He, who followed the principles of Epicurus's philosophy, and often used to dispute with Brutus concerning matters of this nature, spoke to him thus upon this occasion: "It is the opinion of our sect, Brutus, that not all that we feel or see is real and true; but that the sense is a most slippery and deceitful thing, and the mind yet more quick and subtle to put the sense in motion and affect it with every kind of change upon no real occasion of fact; just as an impression is made upon wax; and the soul of man, which has in itself both what imprints, and what is imprinted on, may most easily, by its own operations, produce and assume every variety of shape and figure. This is evident from the sudden changes of our dreams; in which the imaginative principle, once started by any trifling matter, goes through a whole series of most diverse emotions and appearances. It is its nature to be ever in motion, and its motion is fantasy or conception. But besides all this, in your case, the body, being tired and distressed with continual toil, naturally works upon the mind and keeps it in an excited and unusual condition. But that there should be any such thing as supernatural beings, or, if there were, that they should have human shape or voice or power that can reach to us, there is no reason for believing; though I confess I could wish that there were such beings, that we might not rely upon our arms only, and our horses and our navy, all which are so numerous and powerful, but might be confident of the assistance of gods also, in this our most sacred and honourable attempt." With such discourses as these Cassius soothed the mind of Brutus. But just as the troops were going on board, two eagles flew and lighted on the first two ensigns, and crossed over the water with them, and never ceased following the soldiers and being fed by them till they came to Philippi, and there, but one day before the fight, they both flew away.

This page is dedicated to the memory of Boo the Cat.

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