Chap. XII.

Of the Cessation of Oracles.

THAT Oracles ceased or grew mute at the coming of Christ, is best understood in a qualified sense, and not without all latitude, as though precisely there were none after, nor any decay before. For (what we must confess unto relations of Antiquity) some pre-decay is observable from that of Cicero urged by Baronius; Cur isto modo jam oracula Delphis non eduntur, non modo nostra ætate, sed jam diu, ut nihil possit esse contemptius. That during his life they were not altogether dumb, is deduceable from Suetonius in the life of Tiberius, who attempting to subvert the Oracles adjoyning unto Rome, was deterred by the Lots or chances which were delivered at Preneste.[1] After his death we meet with many; Suetonius reports, that the Oracle of Antium forewarned Caligula to beware of Cassius, who was one that conspired his death.[2] Plutarch enquiring why the Oracles of Greece ceased,[3] excepteth that of Lebadia: and in the same place Demetrius affirmeth the Oracles of Mopsus and Amphilochus were much frequented in his days. In brief, Histories are frequent in examples, and there want not some even to the reign of Julian.

What therefore may consist with history, by cessation of Oracles with Montacutius we may understand their intercision, not abscission or consummate desolation; their rare delivery, not total dereliction, and yet in regard of divers Oracles, we may speak strictly, and say there was a proper cessation. Thus may we reconcile the accounts of times, and allow those few and broken divinations, whereof we read in story and undeniable Authors. For that they received this blow from Christ, and no other causes alledged by the heathens, from oraculous confession they cannot deny; whereof upon record there are some very remarkable. The first that Oracle of Delphos delivered unto Augustus.

Me puer Hebræus Divos Deus ipse gubernans
Cedere sede jubet, tristemq; redire sub orcum;
Aris ergo dehinc tacitus discedito nostris.

An Hebrew child, a God all gods excelling,
To hell again commands me from this dwelling.
Our Altars leave in silence, and no more
A Resolution e're from hence implore.

A second recorded by Plutarch, of a voice that was heard to cry unto Mariners at the Sea, Great Pan is dead; which is a relation very remarkeable, and may be read in his Defect of Oracles.[4] A third reported by Eusebius in the life of his magnified Constantine, that about that time Apollo mourned, declaring his Oracles were false, and that the righteous upon earth did hinder him from speaking truth.[5]And a fourth related by Theodoret, and delivered by Apollo Daphneus unto Julian upon his Persian Expedition, that he should remove the bodies about him before he could return an answer, and not long after his Temple was burnt with lightning.[6]

All which were evident and convincing acknowledgements of that Power which shut his lips, and restrained that delusion which had reigned so many Centuries. But as his malice is vigilant, and the sins of men do still continue a toleration of his mischiefs, he resteth not, nor will he ever cease to circumvent the sons of the first deceived. And therefore expelled from Oracles and solemn Temples of delusion, he runs into corners, exercising minor trumperies, and acting his deceits in Witches, Magicians, Diviners, and such inferiour seducers. And yet (what is deplorable) while we apply our selves thereto, and affirming that God hath left to speak by his Prophets, expect in doubtfull matters a resolution from such spirits; while we say the devil is mute, yet confess that these can speak; while we deny the substance, yet practise the effect and in the denied solemnity maintain the equivalent efficacy; in vain we cry that Oracles are down; Apollos Altar still doth smoak; nor is the fire of Delphos out unto this day.

Impertinent it is unto our intention to speak in general of Oracles, and many have well performed it. The plainest of others was that of Apollo Delphicus recorded by Herodotus, and delivered unto Cræsus; who as a trial of their omniscience sent unto distant Oracles; and so contrived with the Messengers, that though in several places, yet at the same time they should demand what Cræsus was then doing. Among all others the Oracle of Delphos only hit it, returning answer, he was boyling a Lamb with a Tortoise, in a brazen vessel, with a cover of the same metal. The stile is haughty in Greek, though somewhat lower in Latine.

Æquoris est spatium & numerus mihi notus arenæ,
Mutum percipio, fantis nihil audio vocem.
Venit ad hos sensus nidor testudinis acris,
Quæ semel agninâ coquitur cum carne labete,
Aere infra strato, & stratum cui desuper as est.

I know the space of Sea, the number of the sand,
I hear the silent, mute I understand.
A tender Lamb joyned with Tortoise flesh,
Thy Master King of Lydia now doth dress.
The scent thereof doth in my nostrils hover
From brazen pot closed with brazen cover.

Hereby indeed he acquired much wealth and more honour, and was reputed by Cræsus as a Diety: and yet not long after, by a vulgar fallacy he deceived his favourite and greatest friend of Oracles into an irreparable overthrow by Cyrus.[7] And surely the same success are likely all to have that rely or depend upon him. 'Twas the first play he practised on mortality; and as time hath rendred him more perfect in the Art, so hath the inverterateness of his malice more ready in the execution. 'Tis therefore the soveraign degree of folly, and a crime not only against God, but also our own reasons, to expect a favour from the devil; whose mercies are more cruel than those of Polyphemus; for he devours his favourites first, and the nearer a man approacheth, the sooner he is scorched by Moloch. In brief, his favours are deceitfull and double-headed, he doth apparent good, for real and convincing evil after it; and exalteth us up to the top of the Temple, but to humble us down from it.


* [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 [Tiberius lxiii; Cicero De divinatione II.lvii.117.]

2 [Caligula lvii]

3 [De defectu oraculorum]

4 [To be exact, the voice cried out to one mariner, by name.]

5 [Eusebius, Life of Constantine, II.50].

6 [Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, III.6]

7 [On this story and more on oracles in general, see the miscellany tract On Oracles.]

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