The Essays of Montaigne/Book I/Chapter XXXI

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The Essays of Montaigne by Michel de Montaigne, translated by Charles Cotton
Chapter XXXI. That a man is soberly to judge of the divine ordinances.

Chapter XXXI. That a man is soberly to judge of the divine ordinances.[edit]

The true field and subject of imposture are things unknown, forasmuch as,
in the first place, their very strangeness lends them credit, and
moreover, by not being subjected to our ordinary reasons, they deprive us
of the means to question and dispute them: For which reason, says Plato,
—[In Critias.]—it is much more easy to satisfy the hearers, when
speaking of the nature of the gods than of the nature of men, because the
ignorance of the auditory affords a fair and large career and all manner
of liberty in the handling of abstruse things. Thence it comes to pass,
that nothing is so firmly believed, as what we least know; nor any people
so confident, as those who entertain us with fables, such as your
alchemists, judicial astrologers, fortune-tellers, and physicians,

                         "Id genus omne."

          ["All that sort of people."—Horace, Sat., i. 2, 2.]

To which I would willingly, if I durst, join a pack of people that take
upon them to interpret and control the designs of God Himself, pretending
to find out the cause of every accident, and to pry into the secrets of
the divine will, there to discover the incomprehensible motive, of His
works; and although the variety, and the continual discordance of events,
throw them from corner to corner, and toss them from east to west, yet do
they still persist in their vain inquisition, and with the same pencil to
paint black and white.

In a nation of the Indies, there is this commendable custom, that when
anything befalls them amiss in any encounter or battle, they publicly ask
pardon of the sun, who is their god, as having committed an unjust
action, always imputing their good or evil fortune to the divine justice,
and to that submitting their own judgment and reason. 'Tis enough for a
Christian to believe that all things come from God, to receive them with
acknowledgment of His divine and inscrutable wisdom, and also thankfully
to accept and receive them, with what face soever they may present
themselves. But I do not approve of what I see in use, that is, to seek
to affirm and support our religion by the prosperity of our enterprises.
Our belief has other foundation enough, without going about to authorise
it by events: for the people being accustomed to such plausible arguments
as these and so proper to their taste, it is to be feared, lest when they
fail of success they should also stagger in their faith: as in the war
wherein we are now engaged upon the account of religion, those who had
the better in the business of Rochelabeille,—[May 1569.]—making great
brags of that success as an infallible approbation of their cause, when
they came afterwards to excuse their misfortunes of Moncontour and
Jarnac, by saying they were fatherly scourges and corrections that they
had not a people wholly at their mercy, they make it manifestly enough
appear, what it is to take two sorts of grist out of the same sack, and
with the same mouth to blow hot and cold. It were better to possess the
vulgar with the solid and real foundations of truth. 'Twas a fine naval
battle that was gained under the command of Don John of Austria a few
months since—[That of Lepanto, October 7, 1571.]—against the Turks;
but it has also pleased God at other times to let us see as great
victories at our own expense. In fine, 'tis a hard matter to reduce
divine things to our balance, without waste and losing a great deal of
the weight. And who would take upon him to give a reason that Arius and
his Pope Leo, the principal heads of the Arian heresy, should die, at
several times, of so like and strange deaths (for being withdrawn from
the disputation by a griping in the bowels, they both of them suddenly
gave up the ghost upon the stool), and would aggravate this divine
vengeance by the circumstances of the place, might as well add the death
of Heliogabalus, who was also slain in a house of office. And, indeed,
Irenaeus was involved in the same fortune. God, being pleased to show
us, that the good have something else to hope for and the wicked
something else to fear, than the fortunes or misfortunes of this world,
manages and applies these according to His own occult will and pleasure,
and deprives us of the means foolishly to make thereof our own profit.
And those people abuse themselves who will pretend to dive into these
mysteries by the strength of human reason. They never give one hit that
they do not receive two for it; of which St. Augustine makes out a great
proof upon his adversaries. 'Tis a conflict that is more decided by
strength of memory than by the force of reason. We are to content
ourselves with the light it pleases the sun to communicate to us, by
virtue of his rays; and who will lift up his eyes to take in a greater,
let him not think it strange, if for the reward of his presumption, he
there lose his sight.

               "Quis hominum potest scire consilium Dei?
               Aut quis poterit cogitare quid velit Dominus?"

     ["Who of men can know the counsel of God? or who can think what the
     will of the Lord is."—Book of Wisdom, ix. 13.]