Montaigne's Essays/Book I/Chapter XXXI

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Things unknowne are the true scope of imposture and subject of Legerdemaine: forasmuch as strangenesse it selfe doth first give credit unto matters, and not being subject to our ordinarie discourses, they deprive us of meanes to withstand them. To this purpose, said Plato, 'it is an easier matter to please, speaking of the nature of the Gods than of men: For the Auditors ignorance lends a faire and large cariere and free libertie, to the handling of secret hidden Matters. Whence it followeth that nothing is so firmly beleeved as that which a man knoweth least; nor are there people more assured in their reports than such as tell us fables, as Alchumists, Prognosticators, Fortune-tellers, Palmesters, Physitians, id genus omne, 'and such like.' To which, if I durst, I would joyne a rable of men that are ordinarie interpreters and controulers of Gods secret desseignes, presuming to finde out the causes of every accident, and to prie into the secrets of Gods divine will, the incomprehensible motives of his works. And howbeit the continuall varietie and discordance of events drive them from one corner to another, and from East to West, they will not leave to follow their bowle, and with one small pensill drawe both white and blacke. There is this commendable observance in a certaine Indian nation, who if they chance to be discomfited in any skirmish or battel, they publikely beg pardon of the Sunne, who is their God, as for an unjust action, referring their good or ill fortune to divine reason, submitting their judgement and discourses unto it. It suffiseth a Christian to beleeve that all things come from God, to receive them from his divine and inscrutable wisdome with thanksgiving, and in what manner soever they are sent him, to take them in good part. But I utterly disalow a common custome amongst us, which is to ground and establish our religion upon the prosperitie of our interprises. Our beleefe hath other sufficient foundations, and need not be authorized by events. For the people accustomed to these plausible arguments, and agreeing with his taste, when events sort contrarie and disadvantageous to their expectation, they are in hazard to waver in their faith. As in the civil warres, wherein we are now for religions sake. those which got the advantage at the conflict of Rochelabeille, making great joy and bone-fires for that accident, and using that fortune as an assured approbation of their faction: when afterward they come to excuse their disaster of Mont-contour and Jarnac, which are scourges and fatherly chastisements: if they have not a people wholy at their mercy, they will easily make him perceive what it is to take two kinds of corne out of one sacke: and from one and the same mouth to blow both hot and cold. It were better to entertaine it with the true foundations of veritie. It was a notable Sea battel which was lately gained against the Turkes under the conduct of Don John of Austria. But it hath pleased God to make us at other times both see and feele other such, to our no small losse and detriment. To conclude, it is no easie matter to reduce divine things unto our ballance, so they suffer no impeachment: And he that would yeeld a reason why Arrius and Leo his Pope, chiefe Principals and maine supporters of this heresie, died both at several times of so semblable and so strange deaths (for being forced through a violent belly-ache to goe from their disputations to their close-stoole, both suddenly yeelded up their ghosts on them), and exaggerate that divine vengeance by the circumstance of the place, might also adde the death of Heliogabalus unto it, who likewise was slaine upon a privie. But what? Ireneus is found to be engaged in like fortune: Gods intent being to teach us that the good have some thing else to hope for, and the wicked somewhat else to feare, than the good or bad fortune of this world: He manageth and applieth them according to his secret disposition: and depriveth us of the meanes thereby foolishly to make our profit. And those that according to humane reason will thereby prevaile doe but mocke themselves. They never give one touch of it, that they receive not two for it. S. Augustine giveth a notable triall of it upon his adversaries. It is a conflict no more decided by the armes of memorie than by the weapons of reason. A man should be satisfied with the light which it pleaseth the Sunne to communicate unto us by vertue of his beames; and he that shall lift up his eies to take a greater within his body, let him not thinke it strange if for a reward of his over-weening and arrogancie he loseth his sight. Quis hominum potesi scire consiliun Dei? aut quis poterit cogitare, quid velit dominus?(1 Wisd. ix. 13. ) Who amongst men can know Gods counsell, or who can thinke that God will doe?