Meditationes sacrae

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Meditationes Sacrae (1597)
by Francis Bacon
1234746Meditationes Sacrae1597Francis Bacon



God beheld all things which his hands had made, and lo they were all passing good. But when man turned him about, and took a view of the works which his hands had made, he found all to be vanity and vexation of spirit: wherefore, if thou shalt work in the works of God, thy sweat shall be as an ointment of odours, and thy rest as the sabbath of God: thou shalt travail in the sweat of a good conscience, and shalt keep holy day in the quietness and liberty of the sweetest contemplations; but if thou shalt aspire after the glorious acts of men, thy working shall be accompanied with compunction and strife, and thy remembrance followed with distaste and upbraidings; and justly doth it come to pass towards thee, O man, that since thou, which art God's work, doest him no reason in yielding him well-pleasing service, even thine own works also should reward thee with the like fruit of bitterness.


"He hath done all things well."

A true confession and applause. God when he created all things saw that every thing in particular and all things in general were exceeding good; God, the Word, in the miracles which he wrought, (now every miracle is a new creation, and not according to the first creation,) would do nothing which breathed not towards men favour and bounty: Moses wrought miracles, and scourged the Egyptians with many plagues: Elias wrought miracles, and shut up heaven, that no rain should fall upon the earth; and again brought down from heaven the fire of God upon the captains and their bands: Elizeus wrought also, and called bears out of the desert to devour young children: Peter struck Ananias, the sacrilegious hypocrite, with present death; and Paul, Elymas, the sorcerer, with blindness; but no such thing did Jesus, the Spirit of God descended down upon him in the form of a dove, of whom he said, "You know not of what spirit you are." The spirit of Jesus is the spirit of a dove; those servants of God were as the oxen of God treading out the corn, and trampling the straw down under their feet; but Jesus is the Lamb of God, without wrath or judgments; all his miracles were consummate about man's body, as his doctrine respected the soul of man: the body of man needeth these things; sustenance, defence from out ward wrongs, and medicine; it was he that drew a multitude of fishes into the nets, that he might five unto men more liberal provision: He turned water, a less worthy nourishment of man's body, into wine, a more worthy, that glads the heart of man: He sentenced the fig-tree to wither for not doing that duty whereunto it was ordained, which is, to bear fruit for men's food: He multiplied the scarcity of a few loaves and fishes to a sufficiency to victual an host of people: He rebuked the winds that threatened destruction to the seafaring men: He restored motion to the lame, light to the blind, speech to the dumb, health to the sick, cleanness to the leprous, a right mind to those that were possessed, and life to the dead. No miracle of his is to be found to have been of judgment or revenge, but all of goodness and mercy, and respecting man's body; for as touching riches he did not vouchsafe to do any miracle, save one only, that tribute might be given to Cæsar.


"The fool receiveth not the word of wisdom, except thou discover to him what he hath in his heart."

To a man of a perverse and corrupt judgment all instruction or persuasion is fruitless and contemptible, which begins not with discovery and laying open of the distemper and ill complexion of the mind which is to be recured, as a plaster is unseasonably applied before the wound be searched; for men of corrupt understanding, that have lost all sound discerning of good and evil, come possest with this prejudicate opinion, that they think all honesty and goodness proceedeth out of a simplicity of manners, and a kind of want of experience and unacquaintance with the affairs of the world. Therefore, except they may perceive that those things which are in their hearts, that is to say, their own corrupt principles, and the deepest reaches of their cunning and rottenness to be thoroughly sounded, and known to him that goes about to persuade with them, they make bin a play of the words of wisdom. Therefore it behoveth him which aspireth to a goodness (not retired or particular to himself, but a fructifying and begetting goodness which should draw on others) to know those points, which be called in the Revelation the deeps of Satan, that he may speak with authority and true insinuation. Hence is the precept, "Try all things, and hold that which is good;" which endureth a discerning election out of an examination whence nothing at all is excluded out of the same fountain ariseth that direction, "Be you wise as serpents and innocent as doves." There are neither teeth nor stings, nor venom, nor wreaths and folds of serpents, which ought not to be all known, and, as far as examination doth lead, tried: neither let any man here fear infection or pollution, for the sun entereth into sinks and is not defiled; neither let any man think that herein he tempteth God, fur his diligence and generality of examination is commanded, and God is sufficient to preserve you immaculate and pure.


"If I have rejoiced at the overthrow of him that hated me, or took pleasure when adversity did befall him."

The detestation or renouncing of Job. For a man to love again where he is loved, it is the charity of publicans contracted by mutual profit and good offices; but to love a man's enemies is one of the cunningest points of the law of Christ, and an imitation of the divine nature. But yet again, of this charity there be divers degrees; whereof the first is, to pardon our enemies when they repent: of which charity there is a shadow and image, even in noble beasts; for of lions, it is a received opinion that their fury and fierceness ceaseth towards any thing that yieldeth and prostrateth itself. The second degree is, to pardon our enemies, though they persist, and without satisfactions and submissions. The third degree is, not only to pardon and forgive, and forbear our enemies, but to deserve well of them, and to do them good: but all these three degrees either have or may have in them a certain bravery and greatness of the mind rather than pure charity; for when a man perceiveth virtue to proceed and flow from himself, it is possible that he is puffed up and takes contentment rather in the fruit of his own virtue than in the good of his neighbours; but if any evil overtake the enemy from any other coast than from thyself, and thou in the inwardest motions of thy heart be grieved and compassionate, and dost noways insult, as if thy days of right and revenge were at the last come; this I interpret to be the height and exaltation of charity.


"Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof."

There ought to be a measure in worldly cares, otherwise they are both unprofitable, as those which oppress the mind and astonish the judgment, and profane, as those which savour of a mind which promiseth to itself a certain perpetuity in the things of this world; for we ought to be day's men and not to-morrow's men. considering the shortness of our time; and as he saith, "Laying hold on the present day;" for future things shall in heir turns become presents, therefore the care of the present sufficeth: and yet moderate cares (whether they concern our particular, or the commonwealth, or our friends) are not blamed. But herein is a two fold excess; the one when the chain or thread of our cares, extended and spun out to an over great length, and unto times too far off, as if we could bind the divine providence by our provisions, which even with the heathen, was always found to be a thing insolent and unlucky; for those which did attribute much to fortune, and were ready at hand to apprehend with alacrity the present occasions, have for the most part in their actions been happy; but they who in a compass, wisdom, have entered into a confidence that they had belayed all events, have for the most part en countered misfortune. The second excess is, when we dwell longer in our cares than is requisite for due deliberating or firm resolving; for who is there amongst us that careth no more than sufficeth either to resolve of a course or to conclude upon an impossibility, and doth not still chew over the same things, and tread a maze in the same thoughts, and vanisheth in them without issue or conclusion: which kind of cares are most contrary to all divine and human respects.


"Better is the sight of the eye, than the apprehension of the mind."

Pure sense receiving every thing according to the natural impression, makes a better state and government of the mind, than these same imaginations and apprehensions of the mind; for the mind of man hath this nature and property even in the gravest and most settled wits, that from the sense of every particular, it doth as it were bound and spring forward, and take hold of other matters, foretelling unto itself that all shall prove like unto that which beateth upon the present sense; if the sense be of good, it easily runs into an unlimited hope, and into a like fear, when the sense is of evil, according as is said

"The oracles of hopes doth oft abuse."

And that contrary,

"A froward soothsayer is fear in doubts."

But yet of fear there may be made some use; for it prepareth patience and awaketh industry,

"No shape of ill, comes new or strange to me,
All sorts set down, yea, and prepared be."

But hope seemeth a thing altogether unprofitable; for to what end serveth this conceit of good. Consider and note a little if the good fall out less than thou hopest; good though it be, yet less be cause it is, it seemeth rather loss than benefit through thy excess of hope; if the good prove equal and proportionable in event to thy hope, yet the flower thereof by thy hope is gathered; so as when it comes the grace of it is gone, and it seems used, and therefore sooner draweth on satiety; admit thy success prove better than thy hope, it is true a gain seems to be made: but had it not been better to have gained the principal by hoping for nothing, than the increase by hoping for less; and this is the operation of hope in good fortunes, but in misfortunes it weakeneth all force and vigour of the mind; for neither is there always matter of hope, and if there be, yet if it fail but in part, it doth wholly overthrow the constancy and resolution of the mind; and besides, though it doth carry us through, yet it is a greater dignity of mind to bear evils by fortitude and judgment, than by a kind of absenting and alienation of the mind from things present to things future, for that it is to hope. And therefore it was much lightness in the poets to fain hope to be as a counter-poison of human diseases, as to mitigate and assuage the fury and anger of them, whereas in deed it doth kindle and enrage them, and causeth both doubling of them and relapses. Notwithstanding we see that the greatest number of men give themselves over to their imaginations of hope and apprehensions of the mind in such sort, that ungrateful towards things past, and in a manner unmindful of things present, as if they were eve children and beginners, they are still in longing for things to come. "I saw all men walking under the sun, resort and gather to the second person, which was afterwards to succeed: this is an evil disease, and a great idleness of the mind."

But perhaps you will ask the question, whether it be not better, when things stand in doubtful terms, to presume the best, and rather hope well than distrust; especially seeing that hope doth cause a greater tranquillity of mind?

Surely I do judge a state of mind which in all doubtful expectations is settled and floateth not; and doth this out of a good government and composition of the affections, to be one of the principal supporters of man's life: but that assurance and repose of the mind, which only rides at anchor upon hope, I do reject as wavering and weak; not that it is not convenient to foresee and presuppose out of a sound and sober conjecture, as well the good as the evil, that thereby we may fit our actions to the probabilities and likelihoods of their event, so that this be a work of the understanding and judgment, with a due bent and inclination of the affection: but which of you hath so kept his hopes within limits, as when it is so, that you have out of a watchful and strong discourse of the mind set down the better success to be in apparency the more likely; you have not dwelt upon the very muse and forethought of the good to come, and giving scope and favour unto your mind, to fall into such cogitations as into a pleasant dream; and this it is which makes the mind light, frothy, unequal, and wandering; wherefore all our hope is to be bestowed upon the heavenly life to come: but here on earth the purer our sense's from the infection and tincture of imagination, the better and wiser soul.

"The sum of life to little doth amount,
And therefore doth forbid a longer count."


"I demand mercy, and not sacrifice."

All the boasting of the hypocrite is of the works of the first table of the law, which is of adoration and duty towards God; whereof the reason is double, both because such works have a greater pomp and demonstration of holiness, and also because they do less cross their affections and desires; therefore the way to convict hypocrites, is to send them from the works of sacrifice to the works of mercy, whence cometh that saying:

"This is pure and immaculate religion with God the Father, to visit orphans and widows in their tribulations:" and that saying, " He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen."

Now there is another kind of deeper and more extravagant hypocrisy; for some, deceiving themselves, and thinking themselves worthy of a more near access and conversation with God, do neglect the duties of charity towards their neighbour, as inferior matters, which did not indeed cause originally the beginning of a monastical life, (for the beginnings were good,) but brought in that excess and abuse which are followed after, for it is truly said, "That the office of praying is a great office in the church:" and it is for the good of the church that there be consorts of men freed from the cares of this world, who may with daily and devout supplications and observances solicit the Divine Majesty for the causes of the church. But unto this ordinance, that other hypocrisy is a nigh neighbour; neither is the general institution to be blamed, but those spirits which exalt themselves too high to be refrained; for even Enoch, which was said to walk with God, did prophesy, as is delivered unto us by Jude, and did endow the church with the fruit of his prophesy which he left: and John Baptist, unto whom they did refer as to the author of a monastical life, travelled and exercised much in the ministry both of prophesy and baptizing; for as to these others, who are so officious towards God, to them belongeth that question, "If thou do justly what is that to God, or what profit doth he take by thy hands?" Wherefore the works of mercy are they which are the works of distinction, whereby to find out hypocrites. But with heretics it is contrary; for as hypocrites, with their dissembling holiness towards God, do palliate and cover their injuries towards men; so heretics, by their morality and honest carriage towards men, insinuate and make a way with their blasphemies against God.


"Whether we he transported in mind it is to Godward;
Or whether we be sober it is to youward."

This is the true image and true temper of a man, and of him that is God's faithful workman; his carriage and conversation towards God is full of passion, of zeal, and of tramisses; thence proceed groans unspeakable, and exultings likewise in comfort, ravishment of spirit and agonies; but contrariwise, his carriage and conversation towards men is full of mildness, sobriety, and appliable demeanour. Hence is that saying, "I am become all things to all men," and such like. Contrary it is with hypocrites and impostors, for they in the church, and before the people, set themselves on fire, and are carried as it were out of themselves, and becoming as men inspired with holy furies, they set heaven and earth together; but if a man did see their solitary and separate meditations and conversation whereunto God is only privy, he might, towards God, find them not only cold and without virtue, but also full of ill-nature and leaven; "Sober enough to God, and transported only towards men."


"Avoid profane strangeness of words, and oppositions of knowledge falsely so called."
"Avoid fond and idle fables."
"Let no man deceive you by high speech."

There are three forms of speaking, which are as it were the style and phrase of imposture: the first kind is of them, who as soon as they have gotten any subject or matter do straight cast it into an art, inventing new terms of art, reducing all into divisions and distinctions; thence drawing assertions or positions, and so framing oppositions of questions and answers. Hence issueth the cobwebs and clatterings of the schoolmen.

The second kind is of them, who out of the vanity of their wit (as church poets) do make and devise all variety of tales, stories, and examples; whereby they may lead men's minds to a belief, from whence did grow the legends and infinite fabulous inventions and dreams of the ancient heretics.

The third kind is of them who fill men's cares with mysteries, high parables, allegories, and illusions; which mystical and profound form many of the heretics also made choice of. By the first kind of these, the capacity and wit of man is fettered and entangled; by the second, it is trained on and inveigled; by the third, it is astonished and enchanted; but by every of them the while it is seduced and abused.


"The fool hath said in his heart there is no God."

First, it is to be noted, that the Scripture saith, "The fool hath said in his heart, and not thought in his heart;" that is to say, he doth not so fully think it in judgment, as he hath a good will to be of that belief; for seeing it makes not for him that there should be a God, he doth seek by all means accordingly to persuade and resolve himself, and studies to affirm, prove, and verify it to himself as some theme or position: all which labour, notwithstanding that sparkle of our creation light, whereby men acknowledge a Deity burneth still within; and in vain doth he strive utterly to alienate it or put it out, so that it is out of the corruption of his heart and will, and not out of the natural apprehension of his brain and conceit, that he doth set down his opinion, as the comical poet saith, "Then came my mind to be of mine opinion," as if himself and his mind had been two divers things; therefore the atheist hath rather said, and held it in his heart, than thought or believed in his heart that there is no God; secondly, it is to be observed, that he hath said in his heart, and not spoken it with his mouth. But again you shall note, that this smothering of this persuasion within the heart cometh to pass for fear of government and of speech amongst men; for, as he saith, "To deny God in a public argument were much, but in a familiar conference were current enough:" for if this bridle were removed, there is no heresy which would contend more to spread and multiply, and disseminate itself abroad, than atheism: neither shall you see those men which are drenched in this frenzy of mind to breathe almost any thing else, or to inculcate even without occasion any thing more than speech tending to atheism, as may appear in Lucrecius the epicure, who makes of his invectives against religion as it were a burden or verse of return to all his other discourses; the reason seems to be, for that the atheist not relying sufficiently upon himself, floating in mind and unsatisfied, and enduring within many faintings, and as it were fails of his opinion, desires by other men's opinions agreeing with his, to be recovered and brought again; for it is a true saying, "Whoso laboureth earnestly to prove an opinion to another, himself distrusts it:" thirdly, it is a fool that hath so said in his heart, which is most true; not only in respect that he hath no taste in those things which are supernatural and divine; but in respect of human and civil wisdom: for first of all, if you mark the wits and dispositions which are inclined to atheism, you shall find them light, scoffing, impudent, and vain; briefly of such a constitution as is most contrary to wisdom and moral gravity.

Secondly, amongst statesmen and politics, those which have been of greatest depths and compass, and of largest and most universal understanding, have not only in cunning made their profit in seeming religious to the people, but in truth have been touched with an inward sense of the knowledge of Deity, as they which you shall evermore note to have attributed much to fortune and providence.

Contrariwise, those who ascribed all things to their own cunning and practices, and to the immediate, and apparent causes, and as the prophet saith, "Have sacrificed to their own nets," have been always but petty counterfeit statesman, and not capable of the greatest actions.

Lastly, this I dare affirm in knowledge of nature, that a little natural philosophy, and the first entrance into it, doth dispose the opinion to atheism; but on the other side, much natural philosophy and wading deep into it, will bring about men's minds to religion; wherefore atheism every way seems to be combined with folly and ignorance, seeing nothing can can be more justly allotted to be the saying of fools than this, "There is no God"


"You err, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God"

This canon is the mother of all canons against heresy; the causes of error are two; the ignorance of the will of God, and the ignorance or not sufficient consideration of his power; the will of God is more revealed by the Scriptures, and therefore the precept is, "Search the Scriptures;" the will of God is more revealed by the creatures, and therefore the precept is, "Behold and consider the creatures:" so is the fulness of the power of God to be affirmed, as we make no imputation to his will; so is the goodness of the will of God to be affirmed, as we make no derogation from his power: therefore true religion seated in the mean betwixt superstition, with superstitious heresies on the one side, and atheism with profane heresies on the other; superstition, rejecting the light of the Scriptures, and giving itself over to ungrounded traditions, and writings doubtful and not canonical, or to new revelations, or to untrue interpretations of the Scriptures, themselves do forge and dream many things of the will of God, which are strange and far distant from the true sense of the Scriptures; but atheism and theomachy rebelleth and mutinieth against the power of God, giving no faith to his word which revealeth his will, upon a discredit and unbelief of his power to whom all things are possible. Now, those heresies which spring out of this fountain seem more heinous than the other; for even in civil governments it is held an offence in a higher degree to deny the power and authority of a prince than to touch his honour and fame. Of these heresies which derogate from the power of God, beside plain atheism, there are three degrees, and they all have one and the same mystery; for all antichristianity worketh in a mystery, that is, under the shadow of good, and it is this, to free and deliver the will of God from all imputation and aspersion of evil. The first degree is of those who make and suppose two principles contrary and fighting one against the other, the one of good, the other of evil.

The second degree is of them to whom the majesty of God seems too much wronged, in setting up and erecting against him another adverse and oppose principle, namely, such a principle as should be active and affirmative, that is to say, cause or fountain of any essence or being; therefore rejecting all such presumption, they do nevertheless bring in against God a principal negative and privative, that is a cause of not being and subsisting, for they will have it to be an inbred proper work, and nature of the matter and creature itself, of itself to turn again and resolve into confusion and nothing, not knowing that it is an effect of one and the same omnipotency to make nothing of somewhat as to make somewhat of nothing. The third degree is, of those who abridge and restrain the former opinion only to those human actions which partake of sin, which actions they will have to depend substantively and originally, and without any sequel or subordination of causes upon the will, and make and set down and appoint larger limits of the knowledge of God than of his power, or rather of that part of God's power, (for knowledge itself is a power whereby he knoweth,) than of that by which he moveth and worketh, making him foreknow some things idle, and as a looker on, which he doth not predestinate nor ordain: not unlike to that devise which Epicurus brought into Democritus' opinion, to take away destiny, and make way to fortune, to wit; the start and slip of Attemus, which always of the wiser sort was rejected as a frivolous shift: but whatsoever depends not of God, as author and principle by inferior links and degrees, that must needs be in place of God, and a new principle, and a certain usurping God; wherefore worthily is that opinion refused as an indignity and derogation to the majesty and power of God, and yet it is most truly affirmed, that God is not the author of evil, not because he is not author, but because not as of evil.


"Thou shalt protect them in thy tabernacle from the tradition of tongues."

The contradiction of tongues doth everywhere meet with us out of the tabernacle of God, therefore whithersoever thou shall turn thyself thou shalt find no end of controversies except thou withdraw thyself into that tabernacle. Thou wilt say it is true, and that it is to be understood of the unity of the church; but hear and note; there was in the tabernacle the ark, and in the ark the testimony or tables of the law: what dost thou tell me of the husk of the tabernacle without the kernel of the testimony: the tabernacle was ordained for the keeping and delivering over from hand to hand of the testimony. In like manner the custody and passing over of the Scriptures is committed unto the church, but the life of the tabernacle is the testimony.