Commentary notes can be accessed by clicking on a blue square. The Latin text can be accessed by clicking on a green square.
182. There will come a time when we are free of evils. If Jupiter has made us drink from his bitter cask today, tomorrow he’ll supply us from his sweet one, and all the sooner because we have swallowed the bitter with a calm mind. For, just as one should not grow confident amidst prosperity, so nobody should despair, no matter how disjointed his affairs seem to be. As Theocritus says, “Now Jupiter is sunny, now he rains.” When one of his three farms was taken away, Aristippus replied to somebody who said he lamented his misfortune, “Rather, you should mourn for yourself, since you only have a single farm, but I still have two.” Antony, conquered and breathing his last, consoled Cleopatra, saying that he did not regard himself as wretched because of his final catastrophe, but rather happy for his erstwhile glory, since he was by far the illustrious of men, nor was it disgraceful for a Roman general to have been defeated by a Roman general. Likewise, this same candor is to be used towards men who have been harmful to us. We should excuse their mind’s fires, which flared up suddenly, as men’s are wont to do, and regard another man’s weakness with our pity, not our anger. For “no man is wise at all times.” We must either coexist with fools or go off and live in solitude; indeed, we should have to desert ourselves if we refuse to have folly as our companion. “We should not disdain a friend’s fault any more than a father does his son’s,” says Horace. The same poet is very much of the hope that, just as “Agna’s wart delighted Balbinus,” so we will be kind and overlook other men’s failings. What are we Christians, by which I mean us pious and divine men who have professed a single mutual charity and benevolence, to do here, if the same humanity of duties is required by profane men? And in addition, it is a law, not passed by the people but by nature, that a man who expects a favor from another must employ equal grace and humanity towards him. We want much to be forgiven our infirmity, and so we must pardon much in others. Says Horace, “He who demands that his friend take no offense at his warts must forgive that man’s wens. It’s fair for a man begging for pardon to give it in his turn.” We must also think that during the act of offending us others are, as it were, formally pleading that, to the degree that our mind is nobler, our justice grant some kind of protection to their folly. If we provide this, when the man who has harmed us returns to his senses (if he is not entirely a beast), he will feel no small gratitude toward us: he will condemn his own unreason, and admire and adore our virtue for defeating his malevolence by our kindness, not our retaliation. And I imagine that what our Paul said about “heaping burning coals upon his head” is not very dissimilar, as, the greater as that man’s immoderation was in inflicting his injuries, the brighter the light of our goodness shines, since we are unashamed to do well by those who deserve otherwise and even our enemies. I have given this precept pride of place, since the goodness of our immortal Father God is most manifest therein, because He wishes His sunlight and many other blessings to be enjoyed in even by the impious. And nothing can be more glorious than to outstrip another man in performing these duties. That which is related about the philosopher Aristippus is a fine thing. After a long-running quarrel with Aeschines, he was at length overcome by the man’s goodness and paid a visit to Aeschines, admitting he was willing to reconcile and put an end to their difficulties. When Aeschines had replied that this was very welcome to him, he said, “Bear in mind that I took the lead in coming to you, although I am the elder.” Aeschines replied, “Yes, you are considerably senior to me, by which I mean you are better, since I started our quarrel and you were the first to suggest a reconciliation.”
183. Likewise, our anger often makes insults seem greater than they actually are, as is wont to happen when we perceive something through a fog. Anger arises from irritation, and is in turn prone to being irritated, especially when we think we are being held in contempt. For we all have a great appetite for praise and glory, as well as for our other advantages, and so we demand that whoever obstructs our wishes and enterprises be taken out of the way. But often this irritation arises for no good reason, at one time from an impairment of our judgment when it does not perceive another man’s intention, and at another from an awareness of some personal weakness or turpitude we would rather keep concealed. In Terence it is written, “For some reason or other, all men whose affairs are not going well are more inclined to suspicion. They are more likely to take everything said to them as insulting, and because of their impatience they are always imagining themselves to be neglected.” And as a horse with an ulcer on its back fears men who approach it, lest they touch the ulcer, and keeps using its hooves, so awareness of our turpitude creates fear and anger in us. On the other hand, a mind which is shrewd at making assessments, or has a clear conscience, or is truly great, always takes even offences in better part when it is given some reason to excuse and dissimulate them. Alexander the Great was warned by his mother in a letter that he should beware of being poisoned by his physician Philip. Nevertheless, he fearlessly drank a potion prescribed by the physician as the man looked on and then allowed him to read his mother’s letter, which was indeed a sign of a noble mind not given to rash suspicion.
184. But when we are seriously despised, we can gather well enough from the ancients that nothing is more praiseworthy than to hold contempt itself in contempt, and to join Diogenes in saying, “Some men are mocking me, but I’m not being mocked.” If some fault does adhere to us, we should not fly into a rage against those who reproach us, but rather against ourselves, for we do ourselves by far the greater disservice by allowing this fault to remain us any longer. When somebody tells us we have mud on our clothes, we are not in the habit of smearing him with mud or assaulting him with raillery, which would be the height of madness, but rather we wipe off the mud. And if we are free of blame, we should not take his reproach as if it were said against us, but rather against the person he wrongly imagines to be blameworthy. For we do not exhibit anger towards a blind man if he advises us of some blemish we do not possess. Hence there are ways of excusing all unfriendly words and deeds, and unwelcome things can be transformed into pleasantness and a certain profitability by our cleverness. In olden times, there can scarcely be found any more ingenious response than that of that noble and wise man Alexander Crighton, which is worthy of being repeated in a collection of sayings. When he had recently been sent by James King of Scots in a legation to the right puissant King François of France and had spent a handsome sum of money in that country, after his return home his enemies and detractors secretly lodged an accusation with the king that, like a wastrel, he had pawned a goodly part of his manor at Brunstane and was deeply in debt. The king disclosed this accusation to Alexander, whom he very much loved for the sweetness of his character and his prudence, which was beyond his young years. Then Alexander said, “Beware of those men who tell you these things, your majesty.” “Why so?” asked the king. He replied, “These are not backbiters and my personal enemies. Indeed, they are my closest friends, and they wish to impose on you. They are aware that I have incurred great expenses for your sake, and, not having a better plan for asking you for something on my behalf, under the pretext that I have committed a wrong they are feigning dislike of me.” The king, admiring his noble and serviceable reply, even if, as I hear, he was better informed about the affair, was nevertheless moved to generosity by this speech, and a little later Alexander received a royal grant.
185. But, to return to my subject, we are like the bilious man who immediately converts whatever he is given to eat into bile, by our sinfulness we regard everything that befalls us as to our discredit, although we should be imitating the industry of the bees, who convert even bitter juices into honey. As is said in Terence, “Human life is like a game of dice. If you don’t get the throw you need, you have to employ your art to make the best of what you have.” For Epictetus, “Every troublesome thing comes with two handles, one by which it can be carried, one by which it cannot.” We often grasp it by the one impossible to hold, casting our glance only at the bad, although our task is to reap the good from each thing. For in nature there’s nothing bad which does not have some concomitant good, as is shown by aconite, a particularly fatal poison which still has some medical properties, both for other things, and as Pliny reports, for healing faults of the eyes. In the same way, you can’t drink sea-water, yet it nourishes fish and carries ships. A fine artisan does not display the power of his effort in any single material. Thus the wise man understands how to employ every turn of fortune, whereas the fool understands how to employ none. Victims of disease are disgusted by even the best of foods, but when they are healthy they live on bread, cheese, and onions. Why? Because those who have an ardent concern for correcting their lives even make their previous lapses turn out for the good, while by reviewing the unworthy things of their previous lives they conceive a yet greater eagerness for following a different and better manner of living for the future. So we must always discover a means whereby each thing can be rendered tolerable, and, just as painters add bright colors on top of dark, so we must cover over the aspect of sad things with the joy of happy ones, and we must not imitate the custom of flies, who (according to a simile used by Plutarch) slide off a smooth mirror but grab hold of something rough or protruding and cling to it. Nor should we be like children at play, who, if you take away one of their toys, start crying and throw away the rest of them in confusion. This is also the way of dogs who gulp down whole whatever they can get in their mouths, always gaping with hope for the future. Rather, the wise man’s mind ought to be happy with what is at hand, removed from those troublesome cares which the desire for absent things creates. And the worst thing about this desire is that it is ungrateful, since it derives less pleasure from seeing the many things behind it than it is troubled by seeing few in front of it: it always begins with the end, forgetful of what has gone before. Hence we are greatly tormented by that foolish rivalry, as we fail to turn our eyes to those who trail along after us, but rather keep them fixed on those who take precedence over us in the splendor of their fortune. We, being enchained, think those who have been freed to be happy; having been freed, if we fall a trifle ill, we immediately exclaim about the happiness of the healthy; our restored health is nothing to us if prosperity is not present; our wealth enhanced, we turn ourselves to preeminent honors and ambition; having gained a principality, there still exist kings and monarchs for us to envy for occupying that pinnacle of human affairs. And at length, having obtained that position, it will not be enough for us, because there will still be wanting the government of the machinery of the entire universe and the immortality of the gods, which provides the grounds for a kind of perpetual jealousy. We therefore pay the just forfeits for our ignorance while we are always being tormented by this troublesome craving for things that are absent or belong to others, never knowing how to employ or rest content with what is at hand. As Seneca says, “we see a litter being carried by, and we don’t think about the litter-bearers.” And perhaps mankind’s heap of woes were parceled out in equal shares, we would prefer the ones we now have to one of those equal shares.
186. Enough about friendly interpretation. Now let us apply ourselves to those considerations which properly pertain to defense against pain. This pain, as I have said, does not always depend upon opinion, and so when it in some way surpasses the limits of human control, is cure must be considered more carefully. And yet I have not begun a disputation about those helps which supply remedies. For these lie beyond the pale of moral philosophy, to which I am at present restricted. So let all our deliberation be concerned with directing the enthusiasms and thoughts of the intellect that are conducive to this business. Thus two considerations are to be applied to banishing those agonies which arise from pain in particular. A third more closely concerns pain itself. So let the first be this: all pain is either prolonged, and milder, or it has periods of remission which are all the more pleasant because there is some long interval in which the course of pleasure runs unimpeded by any pain. Or it is short and excruciating. I is childish or womanish to bear with impatience something that is tolerable; or if it is constant, it will quickly be extinguished or extinguish you. And as it persists it is gradually and imperceptibly lessened and, having no more scope for growth, it either subsides or goes into a remission. And there is this about pain that increases the mind’s concern, that it is wont to bring our extinction, by which I mean our death. And so there is no profit in fearing it even a little bit. “Scorn death,” says Seneca, “and you have already surmounted the things leading up to it.” Death is scarcely to be feared, first because it is not an evil, since it is nothing else but the departure of the mind (i. e., this divine portion) from the body, and you sufficiently see what an unworthy thing this is, when bereft of the soul. At that point is necessary (unless the manner of the life just concluded was so unworthy as to rule this out) that the soul return to its origin and be borne up to the company of the immortal gods. But just as boys, when they have played too long and in too unruly a way, are afraid to return to their father out of fear of punishment, so we are in a sense dragged to God under compulsion, which certainly would not happen if we were convinced of this, which is most true, that He is not only our Father, but Goodness and Indulgence itself, if only we can induce our minds to believe this is so.
187. This fear is also useless. For when you have recovered from a disease you will not escape death, but rather delay it a few hours, and to hope for this delay is the mark of a degenerate, abject mind. Imagine that there are ten men whom the headsman is leading to their execution. Would you not turn your back on this fellow for being an ignoble coward who asked for the favor of being beheaded last, so that he could enjoy a little more space in the light of life? We certainly are not that kind, asking for adjournments and for this life to be prorogued as long as possible. But this delicate and sheltered manner of life we lead, in which we spend all our existence, which never receives any wound of fortune, and by its depraved habit has made necessities out of those superfluities, has so weakened our sinews and so weakened all our mind’s strength that we are thrown into consternation by even the slightest mention of this necessary departure. Certainly if our nature had received exercise in investigating its nature and dignity, as it should, it would have perceived the inanity of the things so fearful to the common man, and it would have performed for itself the same service that we do for children when they are frightened by masks. What do we do? We uncover our faces and show them the empty masks, so that they may learn not to fear. And whatever we fear is a mask, an empty show of evil: there is no evil save when the majesty of the mind is diminished by a degenerate love of vile things, and that order in our strivings is disrupted which He Who is the Author of all order ordains. And it is masks, not substantial things, which frightens us, no differently than children. And since I am mentioning children, we are found to be worse than children and mental defectives, for neither of those fear death.
188. But you will tell me this comes about because of ignorance. Are you not ashamed to display and exhibit the indifference to reason and wisdom that folly induces? Afterwards this too should do much to inspire us that indifferrence, that life can never be pleasant were there exists either a great fear or great loathing of death, for no good can greatly benefit its possessor if his mind is not prepared for its loss. Nothing is more sure or more self-evident than that we must soon depart this life. And if by this logic we can assure ourselves that we are destined to be despoiled of our great goods, for this reason our minds cannot be distressed. And indeed, if we consider this matter more precisely and acutely when we are in the clutches of disease or pain, this departure will seem preferable to a lengthy delay. For once we have taken our departure, the die is cast: by suffering a single death, we cease being able to die in many ways, nor must we fear death any longer. If life is prolonged, we will indeed live longer, but in constant fear of all the deaths that accidents (which are of many various kinds) can bring, and at length, after so many and so great fears vainly acquired by this extension of our life, we wretches will unquestionably have to die. And so it was acutely remarked by Augustine, “it is more slothful to chose to live a long time under the thralldom of fear of so many deaths, than to die once and henceforth have no fear.” But you will say, “This life is sweet, it is distressing to leave one’s dear ones, and all the handsome furniture of our surroundings.” You dolt, have you managed to persuade yourself that He Who bestowed this life on you when you were unaware, Who gave you so much wealth, so many endowment although you were undeserving, is not able to give you others far more excellent? If you were terribly hungry and admitted to someone’s house where a plate of bread with a little cheese or bacon is set before you, and given water or the cheapest of wine to drink, you would consider yourself treated well, if you were entirely unaware of a more elegant manner of life or had been accustomed to get by on wheaten flour and herbs while living among bramble-bushes. But after a while, when you were now habituated to dinners of this sort and were unaware of what was transacted in the rest of his household, if the master of the house chose to admit you into the dining-hall, where the most exquisite table were set, would you no be ridiculous if you were to dig in your heels and refuse to go, distrusting the man by whom you had previously been treated well enough, as it seemed to you?
189. So Socrates did well to say that this abject timidity arises from arrogance and a wrong conviction that one possesses knowledge. So why be afraid to go, unless you fancy you are going to be leaving great things behind, and are bound to discover evil things, or nothing at all, where you are going, as if the things there were not real and the things here were not shadows or dreams? There is no reason to miss your dear ones: many of them have gone before you, and the rest will follow. And there exist there many things that are destined to be far dearer to you, once you have caught sight of them. If you do not believe this, you must believe that the mind is nothing, nay, that God is nothing, although He is the One and the All. How much nobler is that exclamation of Cicero’s, “Oh that happy day when I shall depart for the company and companionship of minds, and leave this throng and this rabble!” This life is called death by profane man, and our body is the river of Lethe, by which I mean a deep slumber of oblivion. And there is no nobler argument of the mind’s excellence than this, that it that it regards as everything it sees around it, including the very stars themselves, to be humble things unworthy of itself if they lack intelligence, and itself as being like a very precious ruby or emerald set in a ring of mud or clay. And indeed the truth is not otherwise. And this mud is sometimes better molded in this ring than in that, or has a more comely coloration, but nevertheless is of that character that, unless consummate care is taken, it will imprint the foulest stains on the gem set within it. If religion would permit it, I would easily give my assent to those philosophers who maintain that our minds were thrust into our bodies as if into prisons and close custody. According to that theory, perhaps, this experience has been damaging to minds, when they were driven away from true things into shadows, even if their bodily existence created a forgetfulness of their previous life. However this may be, when on the one hand I consider the condition of this life, and on the other the mind’s dignity, I am convinced that the house (or, if you prefer, the temporary lodging) of this body is of a kind that, although in many ways it is comfortable and well-appointed, and protects us from the winds and rain without, within it is ill-furnished, corrupt and pestilent. The mind itself, if it had the option and at the outset had examined everything, would have refused to enter.
190. But since Providence had to be obeyed, it indeed did enter into this unwelcome home, but hade it preserved some memory of its erstwhile dignity, it would have been angry against Providence, that director of affairs, and employed against it those verses which Vergil placed in Aeneas’ mouth when he met Dido’s shade in the Underworld: “I left your shores unwillingly, oh queen. But the commands of the gods, which now oblige me to pass through these shadows, through these wild places and this deep night, compelled me by their injunctions.” Are we, set amidst these shadows and miseries, to entertain any doubt or hesitation when we are summoned to migrate to genuine things, to the light and to happiness? This moat is to be overleapt with eagerness, so that we may enter into that opulent city. Nobody is shut out save for the man who does not go there cheerfully; and when a man hastens with a will and with constant endeavor, even if he is set in this dark dungeon, if he aspires towards it and in some manner frees himself and separates himself from the body so that he somehow perceives how thin is the thread which binds him to it, thus, when he attains to that other life, he is a most welcome guest and is received with great applause. Not only deaths suffered for one’s nation, one’s faith, or one’s house and home, but deaths of all kinds (indeed, I could almost say the deaths of thieves on the gallows) are to some degree praiseworthy if they are met eagerly, fearlessly, and are governed by a steady judgment. If you display a mind that holds death in contempt, one little hour ennobles all your earlier life, albeit otherwise obscure. When the ordinary folk see you die, be it in your bedchamber or in public at the hands of a tyrant, they will judge you to be somehow a wretch, for they measure others by the yardstick of their own weakness. But you alone, if you are true to yourself and stoutly condemn their errors, will be more excellent than all of them taken together. For ,since each of these little fellows is timid and deceived regarding the greatest things, when an assembly of them is scraped together it is worse, unless you care to say that when there are more evils the evil is less. Therefore, just as the common run of mankind will not see and be surprised at you (or rather pity you), so the beings of heaven cannot help praising that voluntary withdrawal of a noble spirit, while the majority of mankind is so greatly quaking.
191. But why, you ask, has not nature equipped with this attitude towards death? This contempt of life and readiness to die would not be excellent and praiseworthy for us if were taken directly from nature. Who would think it honorable to love life, chase after banquets, abound in luxury, indulge in sports, or give himself over to pleasures and sleep on a bed of feathers or roses? But these things are fine in their way. But when the mind sets itself in opposition to the sense and character of its conjoined nature, I mean that of its body, and by the study of wisdom and an indomitable concern for thinking removes itself as far as possible from the body, and by its industry has attained to that excellence and freedom in its affairs that it is not only unconcerned abut, but even regards as a benefit this divorce from nature and this abandonment of the long-accustomed appearance of things and its association with mortals, a certain divine dignity and incomparable honor shines forth. You may understand that a mind of this kind, albeit dwelling in the body, is free and unencumbered, and indeed is the body’s master. But as often as you see a man setting a high value on the things of this life and unwilling to hear about leaving it, you may understand that he is a degenerate slave, a prisoner, and sunk deep within his body. Love of this life constitutes the heaviest, hardest chains, and the man who frees himself from this love makes himself freer than even a king of kings. Nature assuredly has given us certain first-beginnings of this strength, and yet they are buried deep, and we are not very eager to excavate this notion of the truth buried deep within our minds.
DEM. So why is the mind destined to be thrust back into the body once it has become separated from it, if it receives so much difficulty from the body? For in our Scripture it is destined that bodies will be resurrected and live again, endowed with their former minds.
192 FLOR. These bodies of ours, into which our minds have ben thrust or to which they are bound, have a great deal of impurity, and indeed in a certain sense they infect the mind. But when they will be resurrected someday, they will be cleansed and possessed of a new dignity, worthy receptacles even for blessed minds. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul divinely and clearly expatiates on these things, not without great hope for those who have fixed all their hopes on Christ, the undying Son of God. But to treat of these things at greater length would be to overleap the bounds of philosophy, so let us to return things more human and humble. There is a certain common argument for scorning this life, that by extending it we bring down own ourselves a multitude of calamities, but I always shrink from those arguments which display softness, nor do I think that a man is to be reckoned among great men who seeks death out of disgust for life’s difficulties, since, as the poet says, “it is easy to scorn death amidst adversities. He does so bravely who is able to be unhappy,” but rather the man to whom it is all the same whether he lives or dies, who is equally prepared for both, “who neither dreads his final day, nor hopes for it.” And yet this is very true, that by death, that is by the transformation of our life, we set aside two genuine and great evils. For it is credible that when we have set aside this body we will no longer be base, sin against the laws of honesty, and provoke our Father by our evildoing. This is no light reason for abandoning this life, but my need to make haste grants me no space for explanation. The other evil which is discarded at death is the darkness of this dense ignorance of ours and our incomprehension of the things of the life to come. That was a noble thing which Seneca committed to the monuments of writing about Canius Julius, a right noble man, a thing worthy to be remembered as long as this world endures. Condemned to death by Caligula, he played at draughts with a friend. The centurion arrived to fetch the condemned gang, and called out Canius, together with others, to his execution. Having been summoned, he counted his tallies and said, “after I am dead, be careful not to lie and claim you won.” Then, nodding to the centurion, “you will bear witness that I was ahead.” Quickly turning to his friends, sad that they were about to lose such a great man, he said, "why are you sad? You may debae whether souls are immortal. I am about to find out." And when he was not far from the mound where such sacrifices were daily offered up to Caesar, asked by his philosopher, who was in attendance, what he was thinking, he replied “I am determined to find out whether the mind feels it is departing during such a brief moment.”
193. Did this man not number all these human fears among lunatic dreads? He seemed not only to be unafraid, but also to be mocking the tyrant. Who is not compelled to admire this carefree mind, this contempt of moral things? Moved by his example and that of other similar men, let us show ourselves a little bit brave, and let some attempt at virtue be present, until we arrive at virtue itself. There are some patients whom you cannot persuade to eat, indeed who spit out everything, unless they see others eating first. In the same way, of the things which are terrifying there is nothing that has not been surmounted in the past. The wealth of Phocion, Anaxagoras, Paulus Aemilius, Fabricus and Tubero were scorned. Marius suffered the agonies of surgery without being tied down. Mutius overcame fire, Regulus torture, and Cato death inflicted by steel. Socrates, speaking for his life, derived such confidence and spirit from his clean conscience and hope for immortality that he addressed his judges, not as an accused prisoner, but as their lord and master, and drank the poison with the same expression that he would have consumed wine. It is related that among the Indians, at their husband’s funeral there was a competition between his wives to determine who was the most dutiful, and the victor in the contest gained the prize of being permitted to mount the pyre and give herself as a funeral-offering to her husband. The custom among the Thracians was not dissimilar. Among the Gauls, a little before Caesar’s time, when the funeral rites were completed dependents and slaves would be burned along with their masters, lest anyone think that death was such a great thing, since it was voluntarily chosen by all these men. The sufferings of the Spartans are very famous. The Brahmans, philosophers among the Indians, were accustomed to anticipate the day of their death, even if they were in good health.
194. But why waste time in recalling foreign examples, when we abound in more and nobler ones here at home? Once the ardor of Christian piety was such that the savagery of human invention could devise nothing which did not fail in the face of the patience of even the most tender of virgins. How many thousands of men like Socrates and Mutius will you find in the annals of our religion? Why mention to you men like St. Laurence or St. Vincent. The virgin Thecla was exposed to wild beasts, thrown in the fire, torn apart by bulls, but released by her torturers themselves because of their amazement at her admirable tolerance. But let us ignore this broadly outspread forest of fortitude. If we cared to explore it thoroughly, we would never find our way out. Let this suffice: that it established by the patience of so many noble men that all exertions and labors, and every manner of death, can be endured without the mind’s agony and defeat. And the argument that ought to do most to inspire us to bear our sufferings nobly is that in that manner we acquire a certain similarity to Christ our Savior. For after we gain the hope of gaining with Him, and from Him, a shared reward for our sufferings, we should adopt a wholly different manner of living, no matter what our fortune or rank may be. But since this involves a wide departure from secular philosophy, I shall reserve it for its place.
FRANC. There’s no doubt that the source of that eagerness of mind in tolerating adversities that existed in our heroes was a certain power of the Holy Spirit, which is always wont to fill the minds of those men who trust in Christ lawfully and as they should, and depend upon Christ. And so, since this is now extinct, I am greatly afraid lest we are bastard, changeling, spurious Christians. But to overlook this question, it seems that this must be explained, where did those pagans obtain that lofty vigor of mind amidst terrifying conditions? For even if they are not comparable to our Christians in the quality of their cause, their numbers, or their eagerness, there should be no common explanation for their uncommon fortitude.
195. FLOR. Although that question is not untimely, it requires a more capacious explanation than my subject allows, and so you will pardon me if it is not handled as it deserves. But I shall touch on a few things which I trust you will not find to be without usefulness or pleasure, since this treatment necessarily entails a discussion of that third means of mollifying pain which I said above to pertain properly to pain itself. This virtue of excellent men, which is customarily called heroic, most clearly goes to show that Man is an animal of a wonderful kind, having two natures and compounded out of very disparate elements, and that within him is a certain element of divinity, more lofty than all mortality. One can see the same affections in individual species of animal other than Man, the same intentions and strivings which, left to their own devices, are unchanging in all circumstances. But in mankind, good God, what a variety exists, not only of opinions and enthusiasms, but even of manifest contradictions, with the result that you can say that this man and that have nothing in common save their external form, and this is why you can conclude that Man is very dissimilar to himself. The common sort are caught up in present things, money, lust, feathers, decoration of the body, and handsome eye-catching dwellings, by which they chase after pointless pleasure, and always cheerfully rest content to languish amidst these humble things. But he is quite another man before whose eyes shines the excellence of reason and the glory that resides in those things which evade the senses, who disdains wealth, mocks at honors, scorns pain, and regards life itself as a source of trouble and an object of loathing. But you cannot accuse him of being empty-headed: if you ask him about the direction of Man’s life, or the power of nature, or the course of the stars, he will give you a very suitable answer to each of your questions. And if your question is about the loftier manner of his life, you will hear from him things that bear manifest evidence of a certain divinity, so much so that you will feel you are dealing with some god rather than with a mortal. And why am I saying these things, you ask? So that you may understand that it is not strange if the better part of this monstrous union, even if for the most part it lies hidden, may occasionally give some sign of itself and by its operation may inform us that it has a different nobility as its birthright, a different origin, and a very different character than that which belongs to our bodily or animal part. But why cannot it do this equally in all men? There is commonly a twofold reason. One is the peculiar incitement of the Holy Spirit you just mentioned and truly said to be born out of the ardor of faith, which makes the mind wholly burn with a certain heavenly love and, as I imagine, scarcely feel the torches of pain when they are applied,
FRANC. So you seem to be thinking of a certain stupor which can by this means be imposed on the senses, which removes the sensation of agony. If this is conceded, the praise for tolerance does not seem to be noble, since the sense of pain is removed.
196. FLOR. I can’t clearly explain to you the way and the means by which this comes about. Yet I think that the perception of pain is greatly diminished, since the mind is wholly turned towards God, and while it is ablaze with this stronger fire it perceives less of the fires or pains applied from without. For, were their physical senses intact, how could they rejoice and show signs of that happiness and seem to themselves to be lolling on a bed of feathers or roses when they are bound to burning bundles of straw? It does not strike me as plausible that their mental tranquility could not be greatly disturbed from that violent and cruel separation as their limbs are dismembered and burned, if their power of sensation were not to some degree obstructed. And yet the praise of their fortitude is not destroyed for this reason, for it is exceedingly praiseworthy to burn with that fire of charity to the extent that you are deprived of the sensation of external things, or at least for this to be wonderfully diminished. Now in those pagans, too, who gained a famous name by their suffering of pains, there was some mental disassociation, even if it was inferior to the other kind I have just mentioned, and I will tell you in a few words what I fancy it to have been, if you will allow me a few assumptions which I think must altogether be conceded. First, all sensation must especially involve the mind. For Pliny says we see with our minds, and our eyes are some kind of receptacles that take in and transmit a thing’s visible part. So deep thought blinds a person, as his internal vision is darkened. Thus in epilepsy the eyes see nothing, since the mind is beclouded. Then too (and this is no less evident), sensation becomes blunted when the power of the mind is divided into various functions, whereas it is keener when all of this power is focused on a single sense. This is also why we hear better at night than in daytime, when the mind, caught up in other concerns and supplying its power to the eyes and other senses, is weaker regarding the ears. Hence the saying (as Aristotle remarks in his Problems), “the mind sees and the mind hears.”
197. In the third place, this must also be understood, that, just as vision and hearing are weakened by this abstraction, the same thing happens regarding touch. So this will be more fully understood, we must heed what I perceive the keenest of the Peripatetics concluded, that there are three affections when a hand is burned. The first is that which occurs when heat is diffused through the body. The second is when the appearance of heat, like a very rarified image, is received into the organ of touch. For all our sensation and cogitation occurs thanks of appearances which are imparted by things to the senses and the mind. It is not especially important whether these two activities can be disassociated from each other or not. But it appears that the former can exist without the latter, because it appears superfluous for these appearances to be created in something devoid of sensation, while it is hot. The third affection is the sensation and perception of the thing being applied per se. Experience tells us that this last can be separated from the two preceding ones, or at any rate from the second (for there are senses which do not receive an objected thing into themselves, but only its appearance, as happens in the case of vision and hearing): we often hunt for something set right before our eyes, and fail to hear someone greeting us loudly enough, which happens because the mind is distracted by some other concern or cogitation. And so in Latin and Greek we are appropriately bidden to “direct our attention.” For the moment it does not tell against my idea to inquire into whether touch is a sense that deals with appearance, it suffices that it does not perform is function when an objected thing exists within sensation at a time when the mind has gone astray, being concentrated elsewhere. This is the conclusion to be drawn, that if there is a slight separation of the mind with the result that we fail to perceive slight motions impinging on us from outside, then it follows that when the mind is more vehemently gone astray, we also fail to perceive things striking us more vigorously. But in touch deeper cogitation and mental wandering is required, since the sensations which most greatly irritate touch are acute ones. This is most true, as I say, about heat and cold, since these are not just insubstantial films of appearances, but rather things that pour themselves into the organs or sensory receptacles of touch.
198. Hence the mind must be made accustomed to withdrawing itself, when it chooses, for the keen and vehement cogitation concerning something, and this occurs far more easiliy if you adore the thing you are to think about, which must be exceedingly beautiful and lovable. Then, to the degree that the mind plunges itself deeper into contemplation, to that same degree it finds something richer upon which to feed, something sweeter in which to take delight. Thus, when it is necessary to confront dangers, some men keep their loves before their eyes, others the renown of their name, yet others something else, but everybody has something. In the same way, since there is nothing upon which you can fix your constant gaze more infinitely admirable than God, Who Himself is Beauty and Goodness, you will find the greatest delight in meditating on Him exclusively, or at least for the most part. And although you can invent no image of divinity which adequately reflects it (for this is a common characteristic of all things which lack a corporeal nature), images of His beautiful handiwork are not lacking, by which (by way of affirmation and that form of induction we call a minori) we ascend upwards towards God, and if these images create joy for us in the beholding of these shadows of things, we must regard as them as useful when it comes to the splendor of genuine things. But now I resort to a mental exercise in subtraction: if it troubles us that the delights of this present life are doomed to perish, how great is the endurance of that joy when the verdure of eternity accompanies the excellence of our delights? Then we must likewise expend no little concern in pondering the benefits which our everlasting God bestows on us and ever shall. But in the present context I have not undertaken to describe the form that this contemplation should take. I have only desired to issue you a general admonition that it greatly helps the lessening of pain to bury oneself as deeply as possible in the contemplating of something very sweet. And the power and constancy of this kind of cogitation is very much helped along by black bile: not the kind of black bile diluted with phlegm or excessively adust, but moderately condensed, which, when it subsides in temperate blood, makes the spirits (which are instruments of the rational function) exhaled to the brain by moderately condensed blood copious and long-lasting, just as fire which has taken hold of a woody material burns more fiercely and lasts longer than the fire which catches in tinder or straw.
199. This is the reason why Aristotle says that men who excel either in government, philosophy, poetry, or the arts are for the most part melancholic. They are of the kind who “are never less alone than when they are by themselves.” Such was Socrates, who was wont stand still from one sunrise to the next, remaining day and night with his eyes fixed, rapt in thought. Such likewise was Archimedes who was so plunged in his geometrical studies that he did not realize his native Syracuse had been captured and sacked. And such also was the famous painter Nicias, who was so caught up in the pleasure of painting that he forgot to eat. The Arab Avicenna, no mean philosopher and physician, reported of a certain man who could put himself in a trance whenever he wanted, and of another man who would sometimes become so deeply immersed in meditation that he would not even feel fire when it was applied to him, unless there was some subsequent pain from the burn. He would say that, when he was being scorched, he could hear the voices of bystanders as if they were coming from afar. If there is a deficiency of this kind of bile, the habit of withdrawing the mind from the body can go a certain way towards compensating for this lack. So torture is stoutly endured, for the most part some separation of the mind intervenes. The benefit of this reflection should strike nobody as incredible, since it can be learned both from Scripture and the writings of the philosophers that the power of inner imagination is wonderful, even for moving physical things. If we now have assembled all these arguments and still seem unequal and unprepared to suffer the stings of pain, let them at least obtain from us that we rest content with our own natures, and have no great need of pleasures.
DEM. Your discourse about the tolerance of pains was manly and noble, and we expect you to say something about the contempt of pleasures. For this is the opposite of lain, and is wont to ruin a great number of men.
200. FLOR. Apollo’s oracle is no truer than what you just said about pain. It is said by our Ambrose that the echineis is a little fish possessed — who’d think it? — of such power that it can make ships traveling at full sail stand still in the water. In the same way a nasty little slut or gluttony can bring to a halt what would otherwise be the most sterling characters and hold them back from their noble enterprises. But since I have said no little about this above, and since it is neither logical nor plausible that a man who has conquered pain’s agony will be overcome by pleasure, it would not be worthwhile to rehearse my criticisms of this thing any more, and the books of all the wise men are crammed with these. But I see that you will not rest content, Demetrio, if you don’t see some addition, and so I shall touch on some things in passing. And when we are criticizing pleasure, this must be our first consideration, that we are not discussing those genuine and wholesome joys produced by careful consideration of excellent things or the sense of having done our duty (for these are the fruits of virtue), but those of the grosser senses, and particularly of taste and touch, when they are unbridled. So the Epicureans taught that pleasure is the summum bonum (while applying the word “pleasure” to the mind’s honorable delights), because all things seem attracted to it with an incredible striving. But this error arises from ignorance when it comes to making distinctions. For each and every thing is designed by nature to perform its own function and operation (the eye to see, the ear to hear, the mind to understand), and none of these or similar faculties have been created so that they might be deligåhted. For delight is not a function or an activity, but rather consists of a certain kind of passive experience, like a kind of sweetness, and this proposition cannot be unclear to those with even a passing knowledge of natural history. Now we must make this assumption, that human will should never disagree with that which nature ordains, from which it immediately follows that it is not the pleasures of honorable actions, but the actions themselves, or the matters with which they are concerned, that should be pursued.
201. And since it is arranged by nature that, as often as a faculty or any other sentient thing is matched to that which suits it, it is affected with pleasure and a sweet sensation: the thing seems attracted to sweetness, although in fact it is being attracted to the thing that is sweet, not to sweetness itself. It is a question of deep subtlety whether an appetite which is not depraved can be attracted to sweetness itself, as if it were a thing somehow disjunct from the thing which engenders the sweetness. This appears to occur among the beasts, yet the situation is such regarding their very crude perception that, not relying on any distinction of what is convenient and sweet in things, the beast is attracted to the things convenient for itself. Thus sweetness is not an end, but a quality of that end, and like an inborn, inseparable condiment by the perception of which we gather that the thing presented to us belongs to the category of things that are convenient and deserving of being sought and handled by our faculty, and by the acquisition of the thing itself our sense of it is brought to perfection. Thus the purpose of the eyes is vision and that of the ears is hearing, and not that sweetness (even if it is a necessary concomitant) which we perceive by looking at the light or at flowers, or by hearing music. Had Epicurus called the acquisition of a very sweet thing a summum bonum, he would have won the day with nobody objecting. Therefore, since the discourse of the Epicureans is more soft and delicate than the power and gravity of virtue demands, and they were unwilling to lift a hand save for pleasure’s sake, they were rightfully hissed off the stage by the Stoics and Peripatetics. Jerome more chastely rested content with identifying the summum bonum as living without pain, but it would be easier to approve him if, like Diodorus, he had conjoined freedom from pain with honesty. And certainly he strikes me as having spoken more reasonably than the Stoics. For, although pain may not be one of the chief evils, it cannot coexist with the blessedness either of this life or of the life to come. For it usually impedes contemplation and the pursuit of wisdom, in which resides blessedness, because the senses are no able fitly to serve the intellect and purvey images of things to the mind for any length of time, when they are rent and oppressed by agonies.
DEM. Why is it that men sin more gravely and more often in touch and in taste than in smell, vision, and hearing?
202. FLOR. This occurs for a number of reasons, but I believe the principal one is that the delights in these are greater, which is brought about by nature’s consummate ingenuity, because the functions of these senses are the the most common and most greatly pertain to the preservation of the race, a matter with which nature is habitually most concerned. For no living being can be found which lacks the sense of touch, and among the entire class of living beings Man is possessed of the most excellent sense of touch, and again, within mankind we identify those of the best intellect and understanding by the quality of their touch. For this is proof of a good mixture of blood, from which those spirits which serve as vehicles conveying images to the brain are improved, from which thing our employment of our intellect is enhanced to no small degree. So it would be no wonder if in Man the goads to venery are particularly strong. But just as the excellence of our temperament increases our propensity to those base functions, so it serves as a help against those very things, since it advances the mind’s reflections and those mental exercises by which the truth of things is discovered. For to the degree that a man’s senses are not blunted, he most readily observes that these vulgar pleasures, which pertain to the most unrefined senses possible and are common to ourselves and the beasts, and are insignificant and short-lived, destroy deep cogitations, involve us in great indignities, and that nothing is left from them, so laboriously sought out, save for disgrace and the unpleasant stings of repentance. And so these men hedge themselves around with their gravity and sense of shame, most rigorously shutting out those low-down delights, and are careful to dissimulate their appetite for such things, if such ever arises. This is no small sign of a certain divinity in our nature, which is not created from anything corporeal and does not perish with our bodily dissolution. And furthermore, this is not to be ignored, that in Man the appetites of lust are not only incited by an abundance of secretions, enthusiasm for pleasure, or a love for perpetuating the race, but by the very grace of beauty arising from the power of lineaments, shape, and well-blended colors.
203. Man is unique among living things in understanding what order is, and therefore what beauty is. He is unique in being attracted to beauty, wherever it dwells, by some unseen force, and this happens the most when it is accompanied by handsomeness of body, keenness of intellect, sweetness of manners, and grace of speech. Here come into play those happy darts show from her eyes, heralds of a friendly heart, which give one some hope of possessing the girl. Out of these elements are compounded that thing we call grace, an unambiguous indication that the mind is in its own way perfected and corresponds to the beauty of the body. In Vergil it is said of Aeneas that he was “godlike in his face and shoulders, since his mother had herself imparted to her son beauty to his hair, a glow of youth, and a joyful charm to his eyes.” Then what happens? Quickly this formivorous animal (would that the Latin language would permit this word, for I can’t find a way to express my thought), this Man who is a glutton for beauty burns at the sight he sees, hastens towards it fruit, desiring to appropriae it and transfer it to himself. For many well-ordered things, especially when they have a share of intellect, reflect that summum bonum Who embraces within Himself all the good dispersed through this world, for whose fruit Man has been designed. And in these verses Lucretius fitly explains why we pursue this fruit to the farthest end, no matter how deeply buried or widely broadcast it may be: “Just as someone who thirsts in a dream, and cannot find the liquid with which to extinguish the fire in his limbs, he craves what is merely an apparition of water, and strives in vain, and thirsts even as he drinks in the very midst of the rushing river, so too Venus toys with lovers in the game of love, deceiving them with images, since they appropriate nothing off from this.”
204. It surpasses all the power of language to express to what degree of blindness and madness, and to how many evils Man, this divine animal, is led by this degenerate pleasure. This undoubtedly is Hesiod’s Pandora, who damages these shafts of light sent down from heaven, I mean the splendor of intellect and reason we have received; it is thanks to it that we are less than entirely rational, and always are seeking after the unseemly. Therefore this is that “great nuisance” spoken of by Jove in the same poet: “Instead of wheat, I shall grant them evil, they shall take pleasure eating their own ruination.” Examples of contempt of pleasure are countless (let me not disguise its difficulty here), of which that of Nicetas the martyr strikes me as far the most noble. At the command of the tyrant Maximinus he was bound with silken cords amidst perfumes and the delights of flowers and stretched out on a soft couch. A pretty whore lay on him, seeking to kindle his lust with every manner of blandishment and obscene touches. When nothing else occurred to this divine young man, he bit off his tongue and spat it in the woman’s face, by this scheme both torturing himself with pain and befouling the woman’s seductive countenance, opening the way for his most noble victory. “Amidst these circumstances, who will forget the evil cares love possesses?” And since we always have need of living examples of pure living, we must support our monastic chapters, I mean those societies of men free from every contagion of lust and devoting their lives to the study of holy writings. By contemplating these men, who voluntarily cut themselves off from all enjoyment of pleasure, the common man may learn wholly to abstain from illicit pleasures and indulge moderately in those that are permissible.
205. But it is not relevant to my present topic to inquire whether it is helpful to take vows and commit oneself to that more austere rule of living by a permanent obligation. To such men who have even philosophized to a moderate degree, I mean men who have weighed the worth of their nature, the Christian religion cannot but be most dear and seem most worthy. For it is always exciting us to an excellence of mind, always drumming this in our ears, that “we must seek after that which is above, not what is below and on this earth, and those who have wives should be as if they did not have them, since the appearance of this world passes, and the things in heaven are eternal.” For their saintly and secluded minds this exclusion of sexual desires is natural, so that, if the mind, still dwelling in the body, of its own free will exhibits those standards of purity to which it always clings, in a certain way it equals the dignity of the beings of heaven. And so each of us ought to strive to elevate himself to those heavenly beings, he should attempt to imitate the Saints, and continually remind himself of those words of Vergil, “I must attempt a way by which I can lift myself from this earth and fly in men’s sight as a victor.”
DEM. Certainly it would appear suitable for both to disdain pleasures and to take adversities in good part, if it were clearly agreed that both in this life and in that to come God has a concern for affairs. But I have heard that nearly all of those champions of pleasure, the Epicureans, together with Diagoras and a number of others who are either impious or deprive God of any government over mortal affairs, arguing that there is nothing in these affairs other than happenstance and fate. What about it? These same men believe in no future life, since the mind appears to be extinguished together with the body. Although I have no doubt they are most shamefully mistaken, I am awaiting a fuller treatment of these matters from you.
FLOR. Demetrio, I would gladly launch an attack against teatthaticked crew, even at present, except that a brief and threadbare treatment would not suffice for such a fertile subject, and an extensive one does not seem appropriate for this place. But if you did a good job of understanding what I have disputed above and you understand it down to your fingertips, you will discover that even if both premises were granted, I mean that minds do not survive the funeral pre and God has no concern for human affairs, nevertheless adversities are to be suffered nobly.
206. FRANC. You cannot refuse Demetrio’s request without failing in your duty. Your credit is at stake, Florence, because when you were praising the excellence of the goods of the soul because of its immortality above, you undertook to discuss this very thing later on. So rise up and attack at a mighty rush those philosophasters who set themselves in opposition to the truth, as is your wont, not relaxing your speed; lay them low and trample on them. Their inferences cannot help but be vulnerable when placed in such a bright light of the truth.
FLOR. I thank you, Francesco, for reminding me to fulfil my promise, which my lengthy spate of oratory had made me forget. And so I’ll do as he asks, but I’ll touch on both things in passing, since the speed of my discourse prevents me from doing any more. In human life, many things happen confusedly. Wicked men flourish, sinners commit their misdeeds with impunity: “crows are forgiven, but censure oppresses doves,” as the poet says. Very often power is in the hands of impious, the stupid and the cruel, and indeed if the government of religion and our holy things are entrusted to men scarcely worthy of presiding over a sheepfold. Martial writes about a certain Selius, “Selius maintains that the gods don’t exist and heaven is empty, and proves this by pointing out that he has seen himself grown rich while denying these things.”
207. In nature there are insects and other living things, and likewise some kinds of inanimate thing which appear to have been created for no purpose. Induced by these and similar comparisons, some philosophers have concluded either that God cannot see or, if He can, that He has no concern for this lower world. And this argument appears to take on weight because no man even moderately prudent would appoint a ships’ captain, or turn over a tiller to a helmsman on a tossing sea, who is of no use in nautical matters, or make a man a general in wartime who had no knowledge of military science, or wish somebody to be a charioteer who was entirely unskilled at chariot-driving. But when it comes to governing men, the hardest and noblest art of them all, what beasts do we see placed in power everywhere? Likewise what prince to whom the rule of law is dear would look on and allow things to be commanded which deserve the harshest punishment? Yet who does not see that every day terrible and criminal things are commanded? These lapses into impiety have their origin in the fact that people do not sufficiently bear in mind that they are men, and that the reasons for the operations of the divine are loftier than can be understood by any human conjecture. You cannot form a judgment of this thing, which time prevents us from considering it in its manifold nature, unless you first careful evaluate the considerations which can increase or decrease merit. For it is very easy to go astray if you only fix your eyes on a part of the cause and only a few things. Let us imagine some peasant, one-eyed and poor of sight, so has never seen any building but huts and rural shanties. Imagine he has come to the city and entered the mansion of his sovereign or some townsman which is built magnificently and with great art, in which there are many turns and twists, many confusing doorways. While he gawks at its columns, porticoes, atria, chambers, rooms, windows, ceilings, and the other things which go to make up the whole structure, if, relying on some ignorant arrogance, he were to decide that some things were built wrong, contrary to the rules of architecture, or rashly and inappropriately, for example that the space between its columns was too narrow or this window was made a trifle too high, or that door wrongly placed, would he not seem quite ridiculous?
208. But let us suppose somebody else were to come along who had healthy eyes, who was experienced in city living, and yet was no kind of expert at architecture. Surely you don’t think even he could rightly criticize the plan of the building? Or suppose he had learned a bit about architecture, but was not skilled down to his fingertips, nor grasped the architect’s plans. Is not his rashness also to be checked before it makes a mistake? Rather, we must meet with the architect himself, who had the entire plan of the project worked out in his mind before any foundation had been laid, and who has a detailed understanding of the art in all its detail. If her were given a hearing in which he could provide an accounting of his work, he would easily clear himself of blame and show what a fool a man becomes when he becomes a critic of an art he does not understand. It is a familiar proverb, “cobbler, stick to your last.” Here we have a case of men’s blindness and arrogance that is not dissimilar. God is the Architect, Master, and Governor of a huge mass of which this world is the smallest and least significant part. And just as in our constructions there must be a certain harmony between the humblest and most important features, and indeed between each single detail, thus there is nothing in this world which has no relation to something else in the unknown portion of the universe, so that of necessity that it is arranged differently than we think it should be. In music you often find two voices whose harmony has a kind of absurdity: add a third and the musical texture is perfected. Hence only its Author understands the perfect harmony of all this world in all is numbers. Only He understands why each thing is made, what its purpose is, and why it ought to be as it is and not otherwise. As Socrates says in Plato’s Hippias Major, repeating an idea of Heraclitus, “compared to God, we are monkeys.” And we are donkeys and blockheads:, when all the light of our minds is compared with the brilliance of that divine intellect, it has more of the character of darkness than even of dim lanterns. By rebuking His government we will be showing the impious and impudent face either of ignorance or sloth: should we not rather always be thinking on the inexplicable magnitude of those things with great trembling?
209. A very abundant answer to each point is not lacking, but if we pursue them in detail there will be no ending. I would praise the acumen of those men who would someday embrace this proposition with the full force of their argumentation, that it is probable that there be some place for Man, this divine animal who assuredly does not hold the last place in all this great creation, after he achieves dignity, in no ways owed to him by nature; rather, he seems cast down from it by nature’s stepmotherly hatred. There is another error about the death of minds, into which have fallen not just the sheep-like followers of Epicurus, but also Pliny, that most noble author of the Natural History. This, I fancy, is why they perceive in certain beasts, such as cranes, bees, elephants, monkeys, dogs, ants, dolphins, octopuses, and crocodiles, certain extraordinary signs of industry and cleverness, which seem like indications of rational intellect, and yet to these animals the power of immortality is not granted for this reason. So a number of these thinkers think that Man is like them, conceding him only a greater share of mind, but not a mind any more enduring or enjoying any everlasting space of time. But in a matter so often debated, with the same conclusion always been drawn and endorsed by the judgments of so many centuries and the evidences of so many learned men, once more to belabor something settled would be to retry a case already tried. Of the leading philosophers, only Aristotle appears to be doubtful and lacking in self-consistency, and yet he is a constant champion of the dignity of the intellect, for he readily perceived that something lofty exists in it at all times. There seem to be two reasons why he does not define the mind as being immortal at all points, first, because he he did not see how the mind could perform its function without the help of imagination and the senses, and second, because, since he was of the opinion that the universe is immortal, if he were to decide that minds are immortal, he would have seemed at the same time to be arguing that there was infinity of things, which would be abhorrent to nature.
210. But since the world had beginning (a thing which reason does not fail to support, although it is somewhat obscure to the philosophers), and since a man would be mistaken who, enclosed in an island, imagined that the place was inaccessible because it could no be visited afoot or on horseback (there is also seafaring, although this is unknown to our islander), Aristotle should not have been so stubborn in withholding his assent from the proposition that minds are immortal, since his very own philosophy, and indeed reason itself, supply particularly effective arguments to support this idea. There is nothing which vehemently loves or seeks out that which is not fitting for itself. For if you consider every single case, both appetite for something in the future and also quiet and sweetness when the sought-for thing is at hand, exists because of some combination of suitably agreeing things. And on the basis of personal experience everybody can perceive that the mind both recognizes and loves eternity, and shudders at and hates nothing so much as the thought of death. So by a certain obvious connection, since this appetite is set in us by nature, and our inbred sense of enduring centuries cannot be superfluous or idle, it follows that minds are things of perpetual duration. For what would be the point for God to bestow upon us both a concept of Himself and of immortality, from which by necessity flows the most burning desire: why should God merely show us these things, as if He were showing an elegant banquet to starving men but not permitting them to eat, when He would gain nothing by that means, but by granting this thing would be adding to the sum of His praise? Then too, the mind lacks all corporeality, just as the pupil of the eye lacks all coloration (for this is a feature of cognition, that that which is going to perceive something perfectly must itself be wholly free of any perceptible nature, if it is corporeal). But that which belongs to the category of Being and has no corporeal superaddition, is by necessity immortal, since all dissolution and death must result from a conflict of the qualities existing in bodies, and because of the fact that this crude matter from which bodies are made is capable of taking on other forms. Even if we grant that beasts have some form of ratiocination, certainly they possess no indications of either having a concept of, or an appetite for, immortality, and this brings it about that the space that exists between the reason in men and that which to exist in brute beasts, far from being slight, is immeasurable.
211. Hence we should have no hesitation in denying the honor of immortality to them, but of attributing it to Man. Thus their philosophy was obtuse: it consisted only in external and superficial perception, but did not perceive the inward logic of things. And yet it was easy for them to go astray because everything made up of two notably different elements, having a significant share in them both, engenders doubtful reflections, so that it is not easy to decide to which category it ought to be assigned. Such a thing, if anything else, is Man, being a kind of weaving-together and a borderline between mortal and immortal things. Nature proceeds by steps from the lowest to the highest, and again from the highest to the lowest. The highest and most purest thing is God, Who is Life and Wisdom, and yet participating in no compound nature (if it is lawful for the Lord and incomparable Master of all things to be registered in a catalogue in which there exists none else but slaves). Second to His comes the honor of those minds free of a corporeal nature, which nonetheless have a certain kind of compound quality, because there is nothing in their nature which belongs to their own essence. For this is reserved for God, that the things which we possess as qualities, belonging to the category of accidents, such as wisdom, goodness, and virtue, are in Him essences. And yet these minds are completely immortal. On the other hand, living things surpass the value of matter and inanimate things. And again, to the lowest of these things, i. e. to the rooted forms, life is indeed present, but without sensation, although some philosophers express hesitance whether plants have sensation. But Aristotle teaches that in plants there does not exist that organic temperament which could receive the appearances of things, and this, as he subtly disputes, is the beginning-point of all sensation and perception within ourselves. The second life-form consists of the beasts, who possess some kind of sensation, although at this point Aristotle expresses doubt whether that kind of sponge the Greeks called zoophytes are to be classified as plants or animals.
212. From the beasts we immediately ascend to Man, unless the Pygmies, so-called because of their stature (for in Greek a pygon is a cubit) give us some grounds for hesitation. These Pygmies give such clear signs of reason that, by the showing of the historical record, Aristotle thinks they belong to the human race, although some very learned scholars have elected to classify them among the monkeys. Man obtains the highest station among living creatures because, joining together the higher and the lower, he shares reason with the beasts, and likewise reason with the beings of heaven. This is immortal, everything else is subject to death. Who denies that an immortal mind can dwell in a mortal body, so that it might protect itself, as is taught by the disputations of the most learned men, thanks to which it is clearly proven that the very essence of divinity is everywhere present? Yet amidst such difficult questions, it is very easy to forgive those to whom a recognition of true piety has not yet arrived. But the ignorant arrogance of certain buffoons is intolerable, who, having no reverence for God and the authority of religion, issue such impious utterances and abominable speeches about the duration of minds, to the extent that the power of speech escapes and shrinks for them, and they are reduced to croaking, as if the windows are insufficiently open for their evildoing unless this pestilent and very vain persuasion that proclaims our hopes are ended along with our lives is added as a kind of appendix. We need take no account of these gentlemen: indeed, they are to be removed from the holy fellowship of men as being public plagues. For each man among them, it is always the way to value his judgment and learning not at an ounce, not at six ounces, but at an entire pound’s worth of arrogance. But look at these men’s folly. If the mind is mortal (although it cannot be), what risk do I run after I am dead from this persuasion, if in this lifetime I believe it to be immortal? I am bound by that opinion which is of no little help both in preserving Man’s dignity and in observing one’s duty. Nor is there any danger that another man will mock me on this score, since we are all destined to die. On the other hand, if the mind flourishes after death and is all the more flourishing in is understanding of things, in what danger do those men come who, relying on a false opinion, think that they need not avoid any wrongdoing while in this life, as long as they can conceal what they are doing from others? This error gains some protection from our sensory nature and this passage of time, but He in Whom we place our belief is the Author of nature, the Creator not only of time, but also of eternity. Why cannot He who once upon a time created everything when nothing yet existed bring it about that everything once again becomes entirely extinct and reduced to nothing? Therefore, although the philosophical sects teach the contrary, we must profess the teachings of Christ and keep our eyes fixed on those eternal hopes.
213. If Cicero preferred to err together with Plato rather than think aright with other philosophers, if that “He said so” sufficed for the Pythagoreans, what value ought we to place on that inconstancy of the philosophers, nay, their ignorance filled with arrogance, since our case rests on the evidence of the everlasting God? Here I am not railing against philosophy, I am only saying that it should show deference and obey religion as a handmaid or servant. “For the weapons of our warfare are notcarnal, but mighty through virtue” Let us seize upon these words, instructed by them let us march forth: “to the pulling down of strong holds, casting down imaginations,and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Here I will perhaps appear to have dilated at excessive length, but certainly, if the richness and merit of these things are weighed, I will have been seen to limit myself to a small circle within an immense field, and to have spoken too quickly and narrowly. Therefore I have promiscuously grazed and touched upon things rather than handling them, briefly summarizing the lengthy disputations of the most acute of men, which, if time permitted, I would have reported with a certain substance and in a form that the common reader could understand to ease. And so I would not wish it held against me if my discussion of this column has grown to the massy size you perceive, for this, as I imagine, has done a notable service in reducing the difficulty of these things.
214. We then arrived at the seventh column, and its inscription was:
PREFER TO BE WHAT YOU ARE RATHER THAN ANYTHING ELSE, AND THINK YOURSELF BLESSED FOR THAT REASON
Thus far it has been shown to the man who seriously seeks after tranquility that he must pursue genuine and personal goods, not false ones or ones belonging to another, and that this must be done in the absence of all excessive elation of either speech or mind, and likewise in the absence of resistance when the commands of providence must be obeyed. Now the teaching of this column demands that we only place as much faith in clinging to this kind of pursuit, and pin only as much hope on it, as we actually are, and not to regard ourselves as most blessed entirely and in every respect. On the other hand, those who snatch at these shadows and are swept away by blind frenzies, even if they strike themselves as thrice-great and most happy, are wretched. Assuredly at first sight this appears to be an incredible paradox. But when the matter has been thoroughly discussed, we will understand that we are only allowed, as Horace puts it, “for our life to surpass kings and the friends of kings, while we live under a humble roof;” and yet, even of we are imprisoned and enchained, it is entirely up to us whether we surpass the happiness of the greatest kings and are undoubtedly happy, insofar as such is possible in this life. But it is not sufficient to toss about impressive-sounding words, everything needs to be supported by compelling and manifest arguments. Although external goods are requisite for that kind of human happiness the Peripatetics define as absolute, and only a minimum of these, such as renders nature content and reason demands, our greed nonetheless grows into something immense. Horace says “happy is the the man who does not possess much,” and adds that “he who knows how to use the gods’ gifts wisely and how to endure harsh poverty, fears wrongdoing more than death.” This man “praises fortune when it remains. If it spreads its swift wings, he surrenders what it has given him, and wraps himself up in his virtue.”
215. It was not without pleasure that I read these verses of Vergil about the old man of Corycium, “who owned a few acres of abandoned soil, not fertile enough for bullocks to plow, not suited to flocks, or fit for the grape harvest, yet as he planted herbs here and there among the bushes, and white lilies round them, and vervain, and slender poppies, it equaled in his opinion the riches of kings, and, returning home late at night, he loaded his table with unbought supplies.” What about the fact that Epicurus himself, that leader of the pleasure-seeking sect, is said to “have been happy with the crops of his tiny garden?” As is said in Pliny, when Gyges, by far the wealthiest king of his times, consulted the oracle at Delphi and asked who was the happiest of mortals, he was given the response, “There is a certain Aglaus, an old man of Psophis, who in a narrow corner of Arcadia tills a farm that is small, but quite sufficient in its annual yield, and he has never left it.” As is clear from his manner of living, he was content with his lot in life, and received this benefit from his absence of greed, so that in his life he experienced a minimum of evil. And since the expression of truth ought to be free, I would venture to say that he alone is truly happy who, trusting in these sentiments, adjudges himself to be blessed and prefers no man’s fortune to his own, and indeed who would refuse to exchange his condition for that of any kings or monarchs. And this is the whole reason that he considers himself a man only in that way which he is a man. But someone will say to me, “If you would prefer to live in that condition of life, in which you lack almost everything, rather than be anyone else, and prefer your fortune to that of scepters, flattering yourself in that way, you will seem crazy and to stake a claim on a kind of beatitude only because of the error or your opinion. For nobody will be of that view save yourself, nobody will congratulate you save yourself, there will nobody who would not prefer himself to be the king of Persia, Constantinople, France or Britain, potentates who have an access to an abundance of all delights and splendor, rather than to be, like you are, a puny little fellow, uncouth, weak, squalid, unlettered, inglorious, morose, clad in rags and old age.” And let this be added, no man abounding in wealth and power will be blessed unless, like Croesus, he is pleased with himself and imagines he is blessed.
DEM. I wanted to ask you precisely these questions, and the speech was making its way from my mind to my tongue, but you have anticipated me in speaking these lines.
216. FLOR. No problem, I’ll respond as if you had put the question. Here Seneca supplies the answer: t his conviction of happiness belongs to anybody as his personal, perpetual property, nobody should seriously regard himself as fortunate who is not actually so, and such a noble possession cannot pass to an unworthy master. Nobody but the wise is forever content with what he owns, and without this contentment happiness cannot exist. All folly suffers from self-loathing, and so suffers a shipwreck of its counsels and repentance. And, just as a bilious stomach readily rejects what it has taken in, so fools quickly feel tedium for what they used to like. Hence it comes about that all their life is made up of an alternating series of satiations and dislikes. At this point your manner of life differs. For the things you have elected to pursue, I mean moderation of mind, control over your affections, worship of God, the pursuit of your dignity and liberty, your future fellowship with the beings of heaven, these are things of a kind that cannot produce either satiety or dislike. It is only corporeal things which, superficially promising sweetness, attract a deluded mind to themselves, but the mind quickly detects the fraud. And here we need not be at all troubled by the common opinion: everything is full of errors, full of blindness, full of turpitude. No vote should have any power against the obvious truth, and, taken in combination, these men should not greatly esteemed, since you understand that individually they are fools and madmen. He who relies on the error of the unlearned, low-down multitude (how many men grasp what true glory is?) is assuredly never to numbered among great men. But you are going to order your life, not in conformity with common opinion, but according to the standards of wisdom, if you are seriously striving to this rare good of tranquility. Unless you are out of your mind, you will not deny that it is better by infinite degrees to make yourself a happy man than to seem such. It is now within your power to be happy, but not to be thought such.
217. Furthermore, concerning the rich man and those people who commonly affect the gilding of their abject happiness, we should not only observe what they feel about themselves and the condition of their affairs at the moment when they are at table or at a banquet amidst throngs of flatterers and incitements to gluttony, but what they feel constantly. For that pleasure of thoughts while at dinner, created by an admiring crowd of bystanders captivated by their splendor, is a brief respite from the inward cares of their minds. And just as he is not pronounced to be healthy to whom some intermissions of his fever are granted (for diseases are wont to provide such intervals), so he is not happy to whom oblivion, but not the stable judgment of his mind, supplies at best some brief pauses from his woes. You can see many men in the marketplace whose lives are made miserable at home by a morose wife: thus there are many secret evils in kingship and wealth, and great ones at that, by which I mean the shameful and ardent burnings of many cares and desires, which cannot be extinguished by water drawn from any fountain save that of wisdom. And, to make the thing yet clearer, let us decide what man should be called blessed, insofar as blessedness can befall any man in this life. To give as brief a definition as possible, I believe he is the man who has whatever he wishes. And, if I remember correctly, Augustine added “and wishes no evil.” But that addition is unnecessary, inasmuch as a man who is bound by desire for some evils never becomes master of all he desires, since the nature of deceptive goods is such as that it agonizingly increases the mind’s thirst, rather than sweetly quenching it.
218. Why? Because if a man is base in any part, nothing truly good can belong to him. For, as the philosophers have learnedly and wisely defined it, the mutual bonding of the virtues is so intimate that if there is a defect in one, there is a defect in them all. And although it is sufficiently clear from the fourth column that a fulfillment of the mind is sought in vain from external things, and thus nobody can become happy thanks to them, nevertheless, Demetrio, since you have introduced a comparison that depends on vulgar opinion, let us see what is this happiness of the tyrant at Constantinople, I mean whether he is content with his lot. Today he possesses Egypt, Arabia, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, Thrace, Mysia, Dacia, Illyria, Dalmatia, which are very wealthy kingdoms from which he can constantly maintain armies and no small harem. Neither at its rising or at its setting does the sun see anything pertaining to the delights that he lacks. But every day he shows manifest signs of a needy mind, when he so frequently invades Pannonia with his ravagings, with barbaric cruelty doing his best to destroy with fire and sword whatever stands in his way. Nor will he be content with Pannonia, he will want to set all these Christian provinces under his yoke, nor is there any other reason why he takes delight in his dissension among our kings than that it is especially in this way that he has propagated his kingdom far and wide. If you tell me he has done such monstrous things driven by fear lest our thriving affairs might lessen his power, you will be completely admitting what I mean to say, that a tyrant’s savage heart is troubled by constant fears and anxieties.
DEM. In a poem you have recently hymned the praises of your Britain, at the end of which you touched on the dangers that threaten us at the hands of the Turks. Pray let Francesco hear what you wrote. For I think this would displease nobody, nobody but a man who is greatly displeased by Christ Himself.
219. FLOR. You frequently compel me to wander off my subject, Demetrio. But since this matter concerns religion, for which we can never be too zealous, I will oblige you. Certainly if our sovereigns had a good grasp what Christ is and what a great good He is, they would sooner abdicate their thrones than allow our enemy’s power to grow greater thanks to the squabbles of men who profess to be Christians. Our discord is what invites him, our discord is what emboldens him, what supplies him with his strength and arms. Moved by whatever zeal for Christianity I possess, while I was praising the excellent and plentiful wool produced by the southern part of Britain which men call England, among the other good features of this island, and while I was enumerating the peoples to whom it is exported, I indulged in this excursus: “It would take too long to list the neighboring kingdoms. The Arab dresses himself in this wool, as does the man whose fields are annually watered by the Nile flowing down from the peak of its lofty mountain, and dividing parched Libya in its lengthy course. The cultivated race of ancient Damascus also employs it, as do the youth of Cilicia, watered by the bright river Cydnus. The people of Thrace cover themselves with it, and those who experience the tyranny of that dregs of Turkey, who have long made trouble for the Empire of Christianity’s East. Now let there be no simple-minded dementia, by our rearming this dregs and going out of our way to invite it to rend our race and our homesteads, not otherwise than if one would hand a sword to his foe, saying, ‘be quick, and plunge this into my bowels.’ In the meantime we, unconcerned, draw swords against each other, and rejoice that this more than civil war is being fought. We are unmoved by our common holy things, nor any sense of shame, nor the harsh slaughter and deaths suffered by an allied people, nor the fact that the churches of the everlasting God that have been defiled, Christ’s honor destroyed (a sin great even to mention), piety gradually brought to ruin, the Liberal Arts driven into exile, together with the rewards of praise wherever he was the victor and gained control, nor by the tears which our enchained posterity is destined someday to shed, vainly complaining of a tyrant’s cruel government, but obliged to suffer whatever savage thing our enemy’s barbaric lust may command. Alas, how often they will curse the authors of this war, who prevent them from opposing this coming ruination, and check the Turk’s fury at its first onrush! Then they will say that these arms and these men were impious, and that we did a poor job of looking out for the welfare of our descendents.”
220. But why speak of foreign princes? The strivings of our own are pretty much the same, princes who, either failing in their delights or burning with a zeal for pointless glory, pay no heed to how miserable other men might become, as long as their own desires are satisfied. Meanwhile many thousands are lost at a stroke, and often the reward for their false praises is bought at the cost of the starvation of so many orphans’ starvation, so many widows’ tears, and the deaths of so many innocents. Consider now which is preferable: the sovereign who counts it as nothing to involve himself in turpitude, confuse heaven and earth, and destroy a great amount of humanity as long as he gets what he wants, or the sovereign who would prefer to lay down his life rather than do anything unseemly and offend against the laws of his duty. And assuredly the preferable sovereign is the happier of the two, since happiness itself is the most preferable of all things. Agis, the last king of the Spartans, was unjustly condemned by the Ephors, and said to the executioner who was weeping at the indignity of the task he was obliged to perform, “Cease lamenting my misfortune, my man, for in dying this way, contrary to my merits and contrary to the law, I am better and happier than these gentlemen who are killing me.” Having spoken these words, he himself put the noose around his neck. What spectacle is commonly deemed to be more foul than for a man to be removed in this way from life and the company of men? But this in fact bears no shame, unless it is preceded by some base cause. Otherwise this opinion is undoubtedly nothing other than a common and disgraceful error, and if we were to attempt to shape our life and manners according to it, we should never have grounds for expecting any genuine repose of mind. Here by “the common man” I do not mean that great mass of the poor, but whatever people think illiberally concerning virtue, who extol the things that concern the body and to the pleasures of this life.
221. And so as often as the brightness of life at court dazzles your eyes, as often as you see men in power accompanied by such a long train of noblemen and so variously and exquisitely clothed, do you know what you must do lest this empty appearance deceive you? I shall explain. The Roman writers relate how once Antiochus threatened Greece with his numerous army. Rumor of this huge and varied expedition had reduced everyone to astonishment: word was spread about the clouds of foot and horse, the sea hidden by the ships, the various kinds of weaponry and the unheard-of names of nations, such as Medes, Cadusii, Aelimae, spear-carriers, horsemen in armor, and mounted archers. Perceiving this, Titus Quintius, the Roman general, dispelled these vain fears with a clever and down-to-earth comparison, speaking of a certain host of his from Chalcis, a witty and elegant dinner-companion. When he had set a table with the most elegant foods, he was asked where there was so bountiful and varied quarry to be hunted at the solstice time of year. He replied, “all this meat is simple pork, but thanks to art and seasoning it takes on different appearances.” “It is the same with Antiochus’ army,” said Quintius. “all those people whose strange names frighten you are Syrians, an unwarlike and servile race.” In this same way you must think that sovereigns and their companions, hangers-on and servants, no matter how much they shine with their gold or terrify with their steel, no matter how distinguished they are by the badges of fortune, are all Syrians, by which I mean men of no account and scarcely to be numbered among the distinguished, and what they possess achieves nothing save to impress the vulgar. You must always remember these two things, that all Man’s excellence resides in his mind (for such is the case), and that nothing is to be evaluated according to popular opinion. And if you fail to remember these things you will be tripped up at every least little occasion. Of those men whom the common people admire for their happiness, there is none who is not being rent by inward cares. There is a certain outward show of happiness in their dealings, but since this happiness is not home-grown (by which I mean it does not derive from wisdom and steady reason), it cannot be genuine and enduring. For not every man who smiles keeps on rejoicing. As Seneca says, “The usefulness of cheap metals lies on the surface, but the most valuable are those which lie in deep veins, and these do the most to reward the diligent miner.” Thus the pleasure purveyed by the outward splendor of these things is only momentary, but the deep and wise reflections of the mind are genuine.
222. Do you want a further glimpse of the degree to which you will surpass those fictitious joys, if you follow the scheme of pursuits I have described? You will bode forth the wisdom of our mind, and indeed you will enjoy that which they seek throughout their life with their vain effort. You will take delight in what is your own, you will not greatly covet that which belongs to another; finding contentment in your scarcity of external goods, you will begrudge no man his wealth, prefer no man to yourself because of his external goods, since greatness of mind, and an excellent one at that, cannot exist without internal ones. One of those fellows is troubled about some insignificant woman, hoping that he will be tranquil once he has possessed her. Another imagines he will be well off and happy when he has increased his estate to a hundred sesterces: as he imagines, this will allow him to spend a few hours at church, then go home and give himself over to delights. A third thinks that he will be godlike when he has increased his power. And why are they toiling away at all of these things, if not so that they might live their life peacefully and without disturbance? You are already enjoying which they are seeking with all that effort. They are always in a state of suspense, worried about tomorrow. You, carefree about all things, have in your mind a steadily-flowing fountain of wealth and sweetness. You live today, you are happy today, and, having transcended the limits of time, you don’t imagine time matters to you. You aren’t waiting to become a magistrate or for your estate to increase, no blind madness for beauty holds you in is grip. In sum, you aren’t waiting to become happy, since you know that happiness is procured, not by the things they are seeking, but by things you already possess at home. How much better are you, who have already gained your harbor and rest at your longed-for mooring with furled sails, than those men who, still tossed about on the heaving sea, are destined never to find a port! “Do you want to know what makes us so eager for the future?” asks Seneca. “It is because nobody is self-sufficient.” So what I wish for you is contempt of all the things that your parents hoped you would have in abundance. “When Alexander looked in the barrel and saw its great inhabitant, he perceived how much more excellent was this man who desired nothing than the man who demanded the whole world for himself, fated to endure perils as great as his deeds.”
223. Among those personages, some are not lacking who acknowledge their miseries and are willing to admit to them in private, compelled by the very force of reason. But partially because of their proud nature, which shrinks from seeming to have been mistaken, and partially because of their weakness and being bound by the shackles of affections and habits, they prefer to join the many in basely erring rather than joining a few in exhibiting wisdom with great prudence and happiness. No doubt they prefer to seem great than to be such, and pay the penalties of inward torments because they persist in their immoderate love of these external things. Meanwhile you must consider in detail the value of your heaps of happiness. You are free of fears, and likewise free of a guilty conscience. Being free, you are a slave to nobody save Him Whom we all serve. You are aware of your very excellent dominion, since you are not at all dependent on fortune and control your affections as you will. They fear they might lose what they possess, you carry around all our possessions with yourself, I mean within your mind. Bias, asked what was the most carefree thing in life, gave the response that it is a clear conscience. Those pangs of an bad conscience are constant household furies that men cannot wholly dismiss, as they would like. But you, seeing you are harboring nothing base in your mind, will you not rejoice in your awareness of such a fine thing? In the past, entire armies have suffered want of food, have lived on the roots of grass, and have undergone unspeakable famine for the sake of somebody else’s false kingdom: should we not do the same for a kingdom that is genuine and our own? “He will forever be a slave who does not know how to get by on a little.”
224. What abject slaves they often become, what indignity they swallow, who expect these enhancements of fortune! You are obliged to run about in accordance with another man’s will, to spend wakeful nights, to flatter, and often to perform unworthy services so as to obtain some favor from a sneering patron. I had a patron once at court, a bishop; as a young man I was very captivated by his false splendor and placed myself under his protection and tutelage. But when I perceived that I would have to be a constant beggar and endure many tediums for the sake of God knows what reward of fortune, I was perhaps induced by some barbaric pride and scorned to bear those base doldrums, unworthy of a free man, any longer, and I straightway began to feel contempt for those miseries and disdain their profit. Something which is bought dearly by entreaties is most basely purchased by flatteries. And Cicero said that the desire for glory is to avoided, for it destroys the mind’s freedom, something for which all great-minded men should contend. It compels us to live behind a mask, to become suppliants, and to adopt other men’s countenances while we fear to be recognized for what we are. And meanwhile many things occur which strip us bare, and it takes all a man’s diligence not to be found out, so that all will go well, with the result that, as Seneca says, “assuredly life lived behind a mask is neither pleasant nor secure, nor is the life of those who live according to the will of others.” Here I do not wish to recount how indignant are those servitudes of life, and what an abject and ruinous thing it is to “endure Amaryllis’ dire wrath and proud haughtiness.” Briefly, ever sordid affection reduces us to the same disgraceful, wretched servitude, but the reflection of wisdom and the contempt of fortune (and consequently of the body) makes us masters of our affairs. In the same way, I won’t waste words in describing the pleasure one receives when he sees he has the mental power, not just to scorn the luxury and pride of this life and all that the common herd admire, but also not to suffer any collapse in his mind, but rather to rise up all the higher, if he understands he must presently die. But, for some reason I fail to understand, we are never content with the private evidence of our mind, but are always seeking external praises. If the thing itself were to rule out any doubt that wise contempt of fortune is by far finest thing, it would be the mark of prudence to take refuge in the counsels of the wise.
225. But everything I have said about greatness of mind is clearer than light itself, so that there is no need to seek out external evidence of our excellence, if we unmistakably perceive that strength of mind which we so greatly praise to exist in ourselves. While in those sands of Libya, Cato did not bother to visit the oracle Ammon, saying, “What do you bid me ask, Labienus? Whether I should prefer to die under arms than witness a kingdom being established oveer us? Can any power harm a good man? And does fortune work its harm when virtue opposes it? Is it enough to wish to be praised, and is the honorable never increased by success? I understand these things, and for this reason Ammon has no interest for me.” Everything is more praiseworthy which is done without boasting, which is done without the people as its witness, and virtue has no theater greater than one’s own conscience. Princes and dukes famed for there deeds regard glory as the reward for their accomplishments. Now, when it is a very nobler victory to conquer oneself and one’s affections than to triumph over others by doing them harm, if you are content with your expression of contempt of others and your awareness of having done fine things, if you assiduously cultivate the honest, you will have bested those conquerors of all the nations by a long chalk. For it a more praiseworthy thing by far to weaken and destroy that conspiracy of the affections then to send the entire world, from the rising of the sun to Cadiz, under your yoke. It is well said by Plutarch, “the lover rejoices in his beloved without a witness, and the solitary miser surveys the gold in his chest, not without pleasure.” From which we readily gather that we are fools if we are not content with our conscience, the fairest of all things. The beings of heaven are never lacking as spectators, and we should be much more concerned about pleasing them than even the wisest of mortals. But, not to belabor this point any longer, this is briefly to be laid down as a law, that no man is truly worthy of praise who is especially eager for human praise. We must likewise be on our guard, as I said above, about developing a zeal for praise, inasmuch as whenever you desire to be seen and be praised, you make your seat beside that proud devil on the north-wind, and impiously stake a kind of a claim of equality with the Almighty. By these means you will become blessed and the condition of your mind will be like that above the sphere of the moon, where everything is serene. During the winter, when storms are most turbulent, halcyons (a species of bird) live exactly as they do when the sea is calm, and in this same way, thanks to the benefit of a tranquil mind, you will be little disturbed by fortune’s savagery, and indeed from your own fountain perennial streams of genuine pleasure will flow for you, with which your mind will be abundantly and sweetly watered.
226. DEM. So you do think virtues are to be pursued?
FLOR. No I don’t, Demetrio, but I do believe those things are to be pursued from which virtues take their being, not the virtues which put out the light of the mind, but those that assist and perfect reason, those which are worthy of Man, and those which we share with the beings of heaven and which impart that likeness to divinity and excellence.
DEM. Yes, that man justly rejoices who perceives himself to have arrived at dignity of mind which wisdom generously bestows. But it seems to contradicts the precepts of the wise that any man should fancy himself great or blessed, for they think that being pleased with oneself is a property of arrogance or folly. Why? Because one of your columns has proclaimed LET NO MAN THINK OF HIMSELF WITH BOASTFULNESS.
227. FLOR. People are said to be pleased with themselves when, for some good of fortune or the body or because of the endowments of their intellect they demand preference over others and in some way look down on them. But the man I want to be happy about his affairs places himself in opposition to mankind, is unconcerned about being held in contempt, and does not regard endowments of fortune or the body to be his own. He believes himself to be great if he appears least to himself, even if he excels in intellectual endowments. For he knows that everything comes from God, and credits everything to Him. Nor is this to be done in a spirit of modesty, so that you ignore the fact that you are recipient of these divine gifts. Quite to the contrary, these are to be valued greatly, but in such a way that all the praise of its greatness be understood to belong to Him in Whom they have their source. Nor do you scorn men, but rather their manifest turpitude, and this you are entirely free to do. You should feel compassion for their errors and greatly desire them to have a share of that divine bounty because of which you (to use the popular expression) rejoice in the Lord. Why? Because, for the reasons I have given above, the man who pleases himself must of necessity very often displease himself. But I am speaking of an enduring and constant peace, which cannot accrue to any man but the wise. And this is the reason that they are never at rest, because all arrogance arises from some form of folly. Now you see how it is that this column, too, contains nothing difficult, since nothing should be dearer, more welcome, or sweeter to the mind than to be as excellent and happy as possible.
228. At last we came to the eighth and final column, which had this inscription, which struck me as complex:
EXERCISE, INTERCOURSE, AND MOST OF ALL BEING ON GUARD AGAINST YOURSELF
All precepts, no matter how wholesome and apposite for guiding one’s life, are without point if they do not convey some utility. Why have citharns and lutes hanging on your bedroom walls if you are not going to employ them? I have said something above about the power of habit, so here it will suit me to be brief. To make a beginning, if the things we do or suffer against our will are rendered easy by experience quickly gained, what other than consummate ability is to be expected when you undertake something with real enthusiasm? Now we have decided above that each man should have an ardent desire for self-improvement, and it has been shown by arguments clearer than daylight itself which and how this should be done. Therefore this alone remains, that we put our powers to the test and put this science of living well (by which I mean living honestly) into action. The way for us is familiar and lies open, we have made up our minds to start, and now it is a matter of no difficulty to demonstrate that we cannot plead weakness as an excuse. What manner of life is as dangerous or troublesome as that of seamen? And yet you can find fellows who can’t be lured away from that way of life by any blandishments. Those condemned to be chained oarsmen in galleys are indignant during their first days and visibly glum, but then, thanks to the benefit of time’s passage and experience, you can see the same men brought to a certain resignation. Gladiators (barbarians and condemned felons) who endure blows in the arena don’t even groan when hit by boxers’ fists, but men unaccustomed to exercise issue disgraceful wails at the slightest touch. In the mountains, hunters sleep in snow and suffer themselves to be scorched in the daytime. It is said about the beasts of Libya that if you take them elsewhere, even if the heat is at its most scorching, they are not wont to drink. But in the winter they drink more copiously, because in the parched sands where they were reared they were unaccustomed to finding water in the summer. As Ovid says, “What is harder than rock? What is softer than water? Yet hard rock is hollowed out by soft water.”
229. If we believe Pliny, there are places where you can find rocks eroded by the feet of ants. Steel shines when used, but rusts away from disuse. The proper conclusion is, as the proverb has it, “practice is all-powerful,” I mean nothing is so arduous that it cannot be conquered constancy and persistence, and be rendered familiar. As Seneca has it, there are no affections so savage that they cannot be tamed by discipline. Men have forbidden themselves laughter, sex, wine, and all liquor. Yet others have learned to scurry over the thinnest ropes, lift weights scarcely within the range of human strength, and dive to immense depths of the sea without any need for breathing. There are many other things in which perseverance overcomes every impediment, and shows that there is no difficulty when the mind itself has chosen to apply its patience. “a hard oak is overcome by a man’s blows.” Nature created Demosthenes a stammerer, and he could pronounce the first letter of the art he was studying, but by industry he overcame his natural impediments, so that everyone regarded him as by far the best of Greece’s orators. Let us therefore put wisdom’s precepts into practice, and, since such great rewards are offered, I mean a certain divine excellence that can be ours, let us not be ashamed to apply that same effort that many men tolerate for the sake of things of no value. Let us wage war against our natures, and let us, who have lost so often, make the experiment of finding out what it is to win. Let us control our desires. Let us love to be held in scorn, as long as turpitude is not the reason, and when we encounter any adversity let us cheerfully embrace it as an opportunity to exercise our mind’s powers and make ourselves great and excellent men. Plutarch is not amiss in encouraging us to put this doctrine into practice, citing the example of the Thebans. When once they defeated the Spartans, previously thought to be invincible, henceforth they were never overcome by them. And indeed, in proportion to the ardor of our experience in putting our strength to the test, that facility which habit supplies will be hastened on, since it is acutely argued by the philosophers whether a single action can create a habit. Do you wish to learn what you should do in the meantime, while you are transforming philosophical reflections into manners of living? Philosophize. I mean genuinely, seriously, and in fact, not only in words. It will behoove us to pursue this work of philosophizing until the ends of our lives, if we wish to be truly men.
DEM. In your view, therefore, all men should philosophize, without discrimination. But I had imagined those men to be philosophers who had acquired proficiency in Greek and Latin for the sake of understanding and being able to discuss ethics and all about nature, but you seem to be assigning this concept to a way of life.
230. FLOR. Men of that kind, as long as they make a public demonstration of the wisdom stored up in their minds by their life’s actions as well as their words, are undoubtedly the most excellent kind by far. But if they openly indulge their affections, they are philosophasters and indeed the most harmful of men, for the common run of folks are easily corrupted by observing them, since on account of their learning turpitude acquires something of authority. The most useful part of philosophy is the art of living. And so, just as it is particularly unworthy for a man who claims to be a grammarian to speak barbarously, so it is very disgraceful for a professor of the art of living to go astray in his own life. Diogenes said that such men are similar to “those who prefer paintings of landscapes to the real thing.” And yet it will not be right to rail against philosophy because of the turpitude of certain literary men. Not all tilled fields bear fruit. And philosophy herself will rail against you much sooner, if you do not come forth from the shade of studies into the arena of actions. But what are we to say about those who profess a certain imitation of divinity and who all but want to be deemed saints, but are equipped either with bogus learning or with none at all, and by the thoroughly bad examples of their lives encourage the crowd of rascals, always prone to evildoing, to hold their course? So you may consider yourself to be the best of orators when you persuade yourself to do as you should, and likewise you may consider yourself to be a philosopher when you are zealous for yourself and transform the precepts you understand about an honest mind into manners of life. “Is it not a crime,” asks Menedemus, “to give advice to others and be wise in public, but not to be able to help yourself?” Just as some foods retain their solid nature for a long time and sit undigested in the stomach, but when they have been digested are turned into blood and strength, thus the things we read are to be digested so that they are not just stored up in our memories, but are turned into manners of living. As Seneca says, the degree of your progress is not so much to be measured in your speech and writing as in the reduction of your desires.
231. For if your ardor for glory cools down, if you do less to indulge your desires, if your hunger for gold is calmed, and if you are not as troubled as usual at being held in scorn, these are signs of a mind now healed by philosophy, are at least taking great strides towards health. This is the richest fruit of philosophical studies, if we perceive ourselves daily improving, if the mind is constantly rendered more moderate and cured. As was well said by Epictetus, “ Sheep show their shepherd how happy were the pastures in which they grazed, not by coughing up the grass they ate, but by their succulent meat, and copious milk and wool.” In the same way, we should demonstrate the great studies in which we have been engaged, not by ambitious disputations, letters redolent of Ciceronian eloquence, or books which show the acumen of an Aristotle, but by the constant modesty of all our lives. The man ignorant of this, even if he has read six hundred books by Aristotle, or the same number by Plato and Cicero, is not to be reckoned a great philosopher any more than that fellow who owns a great number of lutes and has read much about music, but who has no skill at plucking string is to be deemed a musician. On the other hand, the man who employs wisdom’s precepts, even if he is a craftsman or a farmer, is undoubtedly a philosopher. Indeed a totally unlettered man, if he swept up by love of Christ and heavenly things, is a first=rate theologian. If this absence, it avails nothing at all to be versed in the most subtle disputations about divinity. Somebody not inappropriately said that a man who gains nothing from lengthy reading but an arid and sterile understanding is only like a painter who represents the lineaments of a handsome woman, whereas a man ignorant of studies of this kind but nonetheless pious is like a man who falls head over heels in love with the beauty, with no need for closer examination. Therefore this thing I called philosophizing (which is living wisely) is truly to play the man. So this kind of philosophizing is common to all who dare call themselves men.
232. A more detailed explanation of these things perhaps demands that something be said here about those powers which are capable of becoming habituated. For there are some faculties which you would try in vain to reduce to obedience: belonging to these are the powers of digestion and regurgitation, or the appetite for nourishment, somce by no effort can you prevent your stomach from growling. These pertain to the soul they call vegetative. Albeit the functions of the senses are natural (for the eye naturally sees when something colored is presented to it in light), yet this presentation of suitable things is within Man’s power, as is also an intermission of the function, since we have the ability to shut our eyes or block our ears. And even after these things have been presented, the intellect naturally gives its assent to those sentiments whose truth is self-evident, and yet the will can direct thought elsewhere and can in a sense govern itself. Therefore every power of the soul can be imbued with habit, and its functioning is subject to our free will and volition. According to Aristotle, reason is governor to the animal appetite only in courtesy, inasmuch as its motions arise even against our wills. And yet, as I have shown above, these admit discipline, and so the appetite has a share of the virtues and is colored by certain habits, both depraved and morally upright. Likewise regarding the limbs of the body, as far as motion goes, it concedes mastership to the mind, and so we are rightly criticized if we misuse them. When a large quantity of neat wine has been drunken, it is not in our power to prevent some degree of intoxication to ensue, because we have now come down to the entirely natural functions and those belonging to the vegetative faculty. And yet it was previously our choice whether to move the cup to our mouth, or drink from it once it had been.
233. But this disputation does not have such great usefulness that it deserves to be drawn out here, particularly when the requirements of the typesetter’s shop take precedence over the fluency of my pen, so that I am obliged to hurry through even the things that do appear necessary. Let us therefore eagerly shift our attention to the use of preceptors, so that these fine ambitions might eventually lead us to the steadiness of habit. Euripides says that “God willingly helps those who exert themselves.” In the words of the same poet it is said that nobody is ever ennobled by the pleasures and delights of this life, “but rather that efforts beget nobility.” If in any subject to which we have devoted ourselves the trouble of effort disappears, our glory for being honorable will be enduring. On the other hand, if we have made some base choice, the will we have been seeking immediately disappears, and a permanent brand is burnt into us and adheres forever, if there is no transformation in our pursuits. This is the reason why I cannot sufficiently wonder at the silliness of those voluptuaries who desire some sweetness to arise in their minds from the recollection of their prior pleasure. If this is taken to pertain to the body, then what, pray, pleasure can exist for me when my folly comes to mind, and I think on how basely I was deceived when I embraced shadows as if they were things? But, on the other hand, this brings the mind singular pleasure when it sees it is always condemning those to which the helpless, heedless common people are attracted, and does so with ease, if it sees that it is never deceived, but with a steady judgment belittles those things whose appearance imposed upon common folk. Likewise judgment penetrates no little into their inmost parts and sees that nothing genuine is present; that the common folk only go as far as the surface and do not see the grief and filth lurking beneath the prettily painted exterior. It will likewise be of no little profit in this study of philosophy if a person would administer himself a daily quiz in what he has learned, like a pedagogue or schoolmaster, and always be thinking “How did I philosophize today? What did I learn? What impulse did I conquer? Did I resist my desire? Was I patient in tolerating an insult?” If he perceives that he has made progress, he may rejoice, he may pat himself on the head, he may give himself the apple that schoolboys get when they do well in their recitation, and he may say to himself, “Congratulations, you’re a man. Continue, but do so in a way that it may be understood that all the praises His from Who alone all manner of praise proceeds.” But if he sees he has suffered a lapse, he can blush, rail against himself, and make no end of his chiding until he promises himself that for the future he will be a brave and useful man.
234. It is likewise conducive if each of us, when he arises every day, first offers his pious prayer to God, and then places before his eyes whatever might occur, be these enticements of pleasures or pangs of pain, and think to himself, “Today I will perhaps come to a place where masks are so artfully constructed that they thought to be as good as actual things, where the torches of desire are going to be kindled, where there will be no enticement lacking. What shall I do? I’ll abstain, I’ll be a philosopher, I’ll preserve my dignity. It is also possible that today my dearest will be taken from me, that my money-chests will be rifled, or indeed that I may be dragged off to prison and death. What shall I do" I’ll be a philosopher, I’ll embody philosophy’s precepts, I’ll endure with nobility, I shall in fact be greater than all those men who imagine whatever is free of turpitude to be wretched, I shall give an exhibition of a noble mind with the beings of heaven looking on.” And indeed the mind ought to be busy with these thoughts, so that nothing might befall unexpectedly. For by this means one becomes carefree, when remedies are readied and prepared against every eventuality. It is said that Demosthenes was in the habit of going up to statues and asking them for something. Asked why he did this, he replied that in this way he was learning to be unmoved if he failed to get what he wanted from men.
235. These preliminary exercises in virtue I have mentioned are scarcely to be scorned, and it is diligently to be borne in mind that while the external appearances of things provoke us to desire, reason’s counterattack must be as swift as possible, nor must we grant these provocations the time to forestall us in gaining control of the entryways to the mind, before reason can block these passages with the precepts of wisdom. When you see a great beauty, you must immediately think, “this is a mask, the flower of beauty that lasts but a day; she is mud with covered over with a fair gilding.” For if such thoughts do not readily occur, the mind is meanwhile wounded and imbibes a kind of sweet poison, the beclouded mind weakens, and the situation becomes dangerous, for then you will abandon these evil joys less willingly and with greater effort. It is the same regarding frightening things, for if we do not immediately snatch up wisdom’s shield things appear unbearable. Therefore “Resist the first symptoms. For medicine is prepared too late when the evils have gathered strength thanks to lengthy delays.” When you have become accustomed for some time to manage yourself in this way, the sweetness of your affairs will be wonderful thanks to this swift dexterity.
236. The next thing you need to see to is that we choose upright companions, for we turn out to be the same sort of people as those with whom we live. Aristotle gives a quotation from Theognis, “for good things come from good things.” There is nearly no place not marked by the footprints of rascals. All things are full of villains, and (as Plutarch shows by many example) many diseases of the mind as well as the body are transmitted to us unawares. Therefore, as says Seneca, “our health is not just fostered by where we live and the nature of the climate, but also the health of weak minds is helped by living amidst a throng of better ones.” For even beasts lose much of their native savagery by living alongside men. And just as men who spends a great deal of time in the sunlight take on its coloration, although that’s not the reason they came outdoors, so the companionship of good men rubs off something of probity on us even if we don’t feel it. If we carefully avoid a place where the air is pestilent and infects the body, with how much greater care should those places and those associations be avoided from which we can expect nothing but the corruption of our morals? Even if encouragements are added to the examples they set, many good men can scarcely reform one wicked man. So what is likely to happen if improbity is confirmed by the example of a countless multitude? Nature has created us prone to imitate bad deeds, and so we think nothing base which we see to be commonly done. We are unashamed to cheat another, to undermine somebody else’s chastity, to stain a man’s reputation, to take revenge on insults with savagery, or to commit crime in order to enhance our estate. Any why, pray tell? Indeed, not because we dare openly proclaim that these things are not evil, but because this is what is commonly done, and so we have no fear of being blamed, as if we should depend on men’s opinion and the manifest error of the common folk can be preferred to the eternal dignity of things. Thus we ought to be very concerned about selecting those with whom we live, or who we set up as models for our imitation. Hang me if you often don’t find even in an ounce of a man in those fellows who profess to be Christians or even demand to be regarded as gods on earth. Just as in this part they are egregious, so in another they will conduct themselves most basely.
237. So we shall always consort with those who can make us better men, or whom we can assist with our help. All licentious associations are greatly to be shunned, all shows, banquets of wantons, and even private friendships which can inflict some blemish on us. What is madder than to seek out those who can corrupt you, since we encounter them everywhere? And how many a man goes out to join crowds and banquets and comes home a worse man than he was when he left? Even for minds already reinforced by an earnest life, there is great danger because of this folly of ours, which shines forth in luxury and fine appointments. So what’s the profit here for those who are weak, and those who can’t even dream what virtue is? But a somewhat more orderly mind will not cease to philosophize and reap the benefit even when it catches sight of those futile joys. It weighs how ridiculous and abject the common folk are, what trifling things it delights in, and it will increase and reinforce its resolve, gaining a profit of wisdom from other men’s folly. If we are not men such as can refresh their minds, wearied by life’s necessary cares, by contemplation of this handsome universe or reading history books, let us at least resort to relaxations which offer entirely no danger to the mind’s integrity. We should stroll about with prudent men, we must speak of useful things, our witticisms must be free of both turpitude and offence, all our employments of life must smack of the moderation stored up in our mind. That which Seneca bequeathed in his writings will perhaps be of use, that we must always imagine that some grave man is present as an inspector of our deeds and thought, some Cato, Scipio or Laelius, in whose presence we would blush to err. Better yet, if virtue has so much reverence and authority in your eyes, that you fear for yourself even in the absence of a witness, that you make yourself such that you will not dare sin with yourself the onlooker. Then you can bid adieu to your pedagogue, you yourself having been promoted to the ranks of the wise and the teachers. And if you are some leader and teacher of the people, you can scarcely hide yourself in a corner, except temporarily for the sake of divine contemplation. Let the common people learn how to live not just from your discourse, but also from our manners; otherwise, even if you conceal yourself you give some hint of your secret turpitude. O happy are those whose life is such in all its ways that it does not fear the sunlight! But this is far more splendid, for the purity and dignity of your thoughts, to be so constant that you would not refuse to have it written on your forehead what you are thinking, for if the secrets within your breast were revealed you would be revealed as more admirable, even if you are as ignored as Silenus, while on the other hand there are others who shine on the outside, but if their minds (and the mind is truly the man) were to be examined with keen and clear eyes, would be scornfully rejected by everyone.
238. These are wholesome and magnificent arguments for bridling one’s desire. But by far the best argument for avoiding turpitude is this reason, that we not displease Him (I mean God) from Whom we receive everything that pleases us. If we are to consider those who are secular, if you desire not only to polish your language but to enrich your mind with virtue, in my opinion among the Greeks Plato, Plutarch and Xenophon are to be read, and Cicero and Seneca among the Romans. Aristotle discusses nature with art and method. Pliny has written at length about natural history, without any methodical doctrine. But for the moment we are inquiring into moral philosophy. The works of the older of our own writers are to be preferred, for they breathe a spirit somehow akin to Christianity and rely on a certain erudite simplicity, and yet I often find method wanting in to them. The more recent writers (who are innumerable) possess a certain method and plenty of acumen, but they are marked by great triteness and very often ambitiously show off their wit in silly, frivolous things. If ever they handle sacred subjects, there is no fire in them, no surge of oratory such as would kindle the reader to a love of these things. Virtually all their discourse is taken from Aristotle alone, barbarously understood. My early steps were consumed in learning their sophisms, and would that a goodly portion of that time had been devoted to learning Greek and Latin! From that lack of concern I see I am deficient in the supports necessary for the man who wishes to be successfully engaged in the study of literature. But I like those books I now have to hand, Francesco, those of Augustine’s De Civite Dei.
239. Erasmus of Rotterdam was a man of most happy intellect, a capacious memory, and wide reading. He was most learned in both languages, and if he had imbibed a little more philosophy and had been a little more precise in the purity of his Latin style, our age would not have seen anything comparable to his writings, at least in my opinion. He was a singular artist in the molding of civic and Christian manners. A few months ago I saw here at Lyon, not without pleasure, William Paget, the legate of the most puissant King of England, a young man in years but very mature in intellect and wisdom. He was wholly immersed in the reading of Seneca, taking delight in him alone, which certainly is proof of very genuine judgment, inasmuch as in all respects Seneca is a very grave author. But it would be an immense task to state your opinion about individual authors. When you have surveyed everything, only the reading of sacred writings is useful. Imagine you have sixty queens, eighty concubines, and countless serving girls, I mean that you have all the wealth of learning and eloquence which secular writers supply. Yet only reflection on Scripture ought to serve as “My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her.” The English Bishop of Rochester, a man most learned in theology, who would have been a complete model of perfection had he not stubbornly opposed his sovereign (who was most devoted to him, as I perceive many to think), once confessed to me, as I visited him on my way from France to London, that he greatly wondered what was the will of divine Providence that the Lutherans were by far the best steeped in Scripture and yet were heretics. But it surpasses my powers to form a judgment about these things. In my view the greatest store is to be set on the authority of the Church.
240. But I must now restrain this excursus, especially because I shall soon have to speak about sacred matters. Let us now consider this, why we need to be on our guard against ourselves most of all. We have ready at hand the reflection that nobody is harmed save by himself. There would be no enemy invasions or attacks, no matter how heavy, unless pent up within us were domestic enemies, who by some enduring pacts were conspiring with our external foes for our destruction. Within us lie hidden the savage beasts of our desires, and if we are not constantly on our guard against them, we shall immediately be rent asunder. For on this edge of this forest we have drunk from the cups of Circe, the source of frequent transformation of men into beasts. They often find things at which to spring, and when they do so immoderately they choke us by their very sallies, and therefore require handling with singular art and dexterity. When for the sake of a journey we are mounted on a horse prone to sudden slips and stumbles on hillocks, we handle the reins with greater care, especially if the road is rough. When we are in the field and the enemy is nearby, or at home when the fraud of thieves or a band of robbers threatens us, we maintain our wakefulness with greater diligence. When our ship has gaping seams, we bail harder, and we always take the most care at that point where the danger is the greatest, lest any damage is done. So what are we to do when our enemies are stationed not only around us, but also inside us where we cannot fend them off with a moat or drive them away from our camp? They constantly live among us, until our final burial. It is not within our power to defeat and eradicate them wholly, and to pacify them or render them milder deserves not just to be rewarded with an ovation, but with a genuine triumph. If we must travel through wastes or forests where wild beasts lie in wait for us, how many precautions would we take lest we become their prey? And when ones far more savage are caged within us, will we not avoid them all the more earnestly? True, they grant us some rare interval of relief, as fevers are wont do, and they seem gentle and tame until their prey is shown them. In Plato’s Phaedrus Socrates says he wants to examine himself and see whether he was “a monster more complicated and swollen passion than Typhon (Typhon, of the race of the Titans, was a particularly cruel man, and it is storied that poison-bearing animals were created from his blood), or a creature of a gentler and simpler sort, to whom nature has given a diviner and lowlier destiny.”
241. If you wish this to be explained in more everyday terms, consider this. You see a great amount of money, varied and precious furniture, and a number of servants, all belonging to some wealthy man: soon a wolf will burst forth from its lair of the desires and head for its prey. You see the beauty and graces of a handsome woman: here a wild pig of lust will be aroused and furiously hasten to gain her. You imagine you have been insulted or have received an injury from someone: at this point a lion will spring out of his lair and prepare himself for revenge with a roar. You enter into a contract with some man in which good faith must be displayed: here a deceitful fox will insinuate itself and want to work some fraud for its own advantage. You have some uncommon endowment of mind or body, or at least so it seems: here a peacock will proudly admires its tail and wish to be seen and praised. Some other man gains a profit instead of you, or is given precedence in some praise: here a dog which doesn’t get its reward, or robin which fails to get its worm, will make a show of its indignation. Some serious difficulty or danger in doing your duty manifests itself: here a deer or rabbit will want to turn tail. And there are a number of other beasts which need to be carefully penned in, nay, enchained, unless we prefer to be enchained by them. Hidden away in the recesses of the mind, they unremittingly rob of us of our moderation, our wisdom, and our virtues. When, seeing a man talking to himself, somebody said, “Be careful not to speak with a villain,” he both perceived and spoke with great wisdom. For in this war, both difficult and constant, there is no single means of ambush or attack. The lion’s anger rages openly, and when our mind’s impulse is temporarily set aside, on our own initiative we return to a semblance of imperturbability. But the flattering Sirens of lusts and praise, like so many hyenas which (wonderful to relate) feign human speech and, learning the shepherds’ names within the sheepfolds, call them forth and render them asunder, constantly deceive us with a certain friendly appearance; indeed, we deceive ourselves, and cannot endure to speak the truth to our very own selves.
242. You doubt me? Daily usage and experience will convince you of the constancy of the ambushes we set for ourselves, and yet, because we are constantly involved with ourselves, or rather are uninvolved with ourselves because of our lack of application (I mean because we neglect the care of ourselves), we fail to appreciate this. Mark how this can happen and be perceived. As Pausanias tells us, a fair Athenian courtesan named Phryne asked her lover Praxiteles, a most excellent sculptor, to give her the best product of his art and talent. He agreed and promised to do so, and allowed her to choose one. But when she had perceived that he was concealing which was the best, she bribed a servant to go to Praxiteles when he was abroad in the city and tell him his house had burned down, although this was not the truth. Praxiteles only asked if his Satyr and Cupid had survived the fire, from which it was clear that he was not greatly concerned about the others. Soon Phryne met him and told him everything was safe and sound at home, and, by that means discovering which statue was his masterpiece, she took the Cupid. But why tell you this, you ask? When we are distracted and allow the mind to think what it will, we can steal up on ourselves unawares and evaluate what things the mind delights to think about. If you are curious how elegantly or frugally some neighbor is in his dining habits, visit him unexpectedly while he is at his table. And what will we find? We are always wrapped up in those thoughts which concern our profit, our glory, or some pleasure of ours: if the subject of such thought is not properly ours, it is in any event sufficient that it pertains to ourselves.
243. “Let this man praise me and I’ll seem to be a great man. From this thing or from that my name will come to my sovereign’s attention. If that happens to me, that woman whose favor I am courting will make a fuss over me. When I have gained this thing, I shall live a happy life. By this means I’ll be reckoned the leading man of my rank. I delight in the praise of the Scotsmen, their criticism offends me. If the Christians would join their forces and create two or three armies, the strongest one should march through Pannonia against Constantinople, another (a naval one) should possess the Ionian Sea and besiege the Thracian Bosporus. Let the third be landed in Syria or Cilicia. Would that Caesar would disappear to heaven or Hell!” “How does this matter to me?” you will ask. I am a Scotsman and some sort of a Christian: were I not, I should have a different train of thought. And it strikes me as likely that other men are assailed by similar reflections. Our self-love is so constantly wakeful that, rightly or wrongly, it busily magnifies and expands itself. So in this respect how shall we protect ourselves from ourselves? Let our memory keep vigil, let our reason be ready at hand, and let each man tell himself, “Oh how much more handsome you’d be if you didn’t think you were handsome! Won’t you go hide yourself, since you expect that you should strike men as a somebody, when you are a nobody? How fine a thing is it to want to please fools or whores? Why are you arrogant, you thing of mud and ash? To what fragile hopes are you taking refuge, when you see how much effort it takes to gain wealth or men’s favor? Thoh shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” The ferocity of our beasts needs to be restrained and mitigated by thoughts of this kind. And as soon as reason leaves off using castigations such as these, the beasts immediately return to their true character, and “even if you drive off nature with pitchfork,” as the man says, “it always comes back.” Our former trains of thought come back, willy-nilly, and in my mind I always am happier to entertain my secret desires than thoughts which concern true seemliness and the glory of our everlasting God. Therefore each one of us should declare perpetual war and carry on the struggle against himself continually, always stimulating, arousing, and admonishing himself, for “weeds that need to be burned off always spring up in neglected fields.” And this perhaps entails hatred of our soul, if we desire it to be saved, as is taught in the Gospel. We must especially live according to the rule that we must especially strive to domesticate whichever of the beasts is most untamed in us, be it the lion, the wolf, or the pig. I mean, we must very cleverly sniff out which depravity of character runs the wildest in us, and work the most on shoring up that part, as defenders of cities do for their weaker parts. As Seneca says, we must conduct an inquest over ourselves, playing the part, now of the prosecutor, now of the judge, now of the defending advocate, and we should not always be concerned about offending ourselves.
DEM. And other men have their beasts, just as we have ours.
244. FLOR. What about it? For that reason our war needs to be redoubled, not called off. And, although we must always fear more from our own beasts than from those of other men, nevertheless wars and upheavals arise when each man competes with hatred for the common prize of wealth, honors, or amours. So you yourself are a beast, and the men around you, even those who claim to be the most wise, carry around beasts in their hearts. I admit you may see many men who appear entirely tame, whose speech is very pleasant, whose aspect is friendly, and who promise to defer to you in all things, but this will only last as long as the prize has not been displayed towards which each man’s beast particularly drives him. Call them squalid and stingy in their expenditures: they won’t say anything, for perhaps they take no delight in being praised for their generosity. Call them ignoble or stupid, or try to damage or take away that which they seriously love: the beast of wrathfulness or arrogance or a beast of some other kind will quickly reveal itself. For it is not subdued, but only checked for a while by a little fear or shame, as long as it has not decided whether it is advantageous to come out or not. For poisonous snakes can safely be handled when they are frozen with cold, and in the same way we do not always reveal our evil ways, but only when the means and opportunity are present. You may see some man displaying the bashfulness of a virgin, but this will change to wanton lustfulness if, in the absence of witnesses, the ability of slaking his lust is granted him. Another speaks modestly of himself and displays a hatred of the pursuit of glory even in the books he writes, and yet perhaps gains prestige from those very volumes in which he seems to renounce it. So you must not put your trust in appearances: man is a complex animal, full of deception, falsity and spirit, and harmony between his tongue and his heart is a rare thing. In the opinion of Aristotle, a wicked man is the most dangerous living thing, because he is armed with the weapons of reason and intellect, which he easily abuses to gain his criminal desires. Therefore we are never in a greater throng of men than when we are alone, and we must always keep a very close watch on ourselves lest, while we are hastening towards the dwelling-places of tranquility, this crew of beasts cruelly rend and delay us while we are on our way.
245. Such, I imagine was the meaning of these inscriptions, and from them I gathered that that philosopher I originally imagined to belong to the sect of Democritus had received a better schooling and had inclined to the doctrine of Socrates. After that inspection of things, I seemed to enter the temple itself, in which there was an incredible appearance and sweetness of things. I had triumphed over fortune, my fear of death had been removed, I had fed myself on the contemplation of nature, in security I had observed the throng of mortals who had been vainly struggling along rough and winding, circuitous roads (which at first sight had appeared to be pleasant and flat) to arrive at the same building I had entered. And who would not be brought to that happy citadel of tranquility by an ardent and constant zeal for self-improvement? This particularly applies to the man who understands what are is own genuine goods, and all of Man’s dignity depends on his mind, who seeks repose from within himself, who does not depend on popular opinion, who voluntarily performs that which is necessary to be done, who, amidst this excellence of things, does not regret his lot, and who is so cautious as he goes through this life and, since no man is harmed save by himself, is on guard against no man more carefully than against himself. And yet, amidst such a wealth and abundance of good things, to be frank, I began to feel the lack of something and to entertain private fears that this was not the true, supreme place of perfect tranquility.
FRANC. Amidst such a great Iliad of good things, as they say, what more could you expect? Be careful not to go astray from the precepts written on the columns, beware that you have not yet been wholly able to bridle your desires, take care lest by your own fault your are borne from the tranquil sea onto a reef. Surely that old man did not deceive you or fill you with some false hope? Be sure not to show yourself an ingrate towards the man who brought you from the bounding main into harbor. If you slander his doctrine as defective, all the philosophers’ sects will bring suit against you.
246. I’m very indebted to the old man, I admit, since nobody is endowed with such a happy nature that he can arrive at tranquility without wisdom’s precepts. But I’ll go ahead and tell you the reason for my hesitation. You must continue to hear me as attentively as you have in the past. When I had come into the temple, it seemed to me that the old man wanted to go somewhere else. When I seized him and begged him in the name of his humanity that he wholly eradicate whatever scruples still remained in my mind, and that he cap off the benefit he had already conferred on me, which I confessed was great, with a certain addition. Then he asked me my meaning, and I immediately began to speak as follows: “I gladly acknowledge that your good deserts towards me are great, old man, I can’t deny it. But since it is the mark of a noble mind that it wishes to become further indebted to a man to whom it already has a obligation, at the moment I had no hesitation in holding you back a little as you were going off somewhere else, so that this great benefit, whose foundations, you have already laid, might by your help be brought to completion. Within this temple there are indeed many appearances of tranquility, but my mind harbors certain hesitations concerning matters that are assuredly no trifles, and if these are not removed, I cannot rest in tranquility with an easy mind. I am shown that you aren’t unwilling to grant my wish because I am familiar with your candor, having experienced your kindness. And your profession of wisdom leads me to believe that you will be compliant, since it seems to promise and undertake to share its concept of truth with all earnest inquirers. My hesitations are of this kind: I don’t deny that I am so moved by the force of your arguments that I greatly incline to that persuasion that attributes the provision of all things to God and proclaims the immortality of minds. But since nearly the entire edifice of your teaching rests on these foundations, my ears desire to hear something more fully. Your conclusions do not seem so lucid that nothing can be said by way of contradiction. Furthermore, it strikes me that a certain hope and recognition of things seems entirely necessary for tranquility. Why has God desired there to be such a great cloudiness of our intellect that we cannot clearly see what is destined for us after this brief life of ours, and know whether our mind, soon bound to perish, is going to survive for eternal life? And if it does survive, where is it bound to migrate and how is it to be regarded? It seems to me that it is far more important for our minds to have an understanding of this than of the courses of the stars, or the powers of nature, or to know the demonstrations of the learned disciplines down to our fingertips. Certainly the mere dignity of virtue, excellent though is it, does not by itself seem sufficiently adequate and effective for the creation of tranquility.
247. “Unless this deep reflection on nature, which Man’s proper function, is present, our condition is always damaged and defective in is most important part. Indeed, virtue can coexist with sorrow and pain, but wisdom’s meditations cannot. Now, since this life of ours is exposed to various pains and woes, by which we are called away from that noble enterprise of reflection as long as we live here, and, if the soul does not survive once breathed forth, we appear to be mocked by nature, since we are created for an end we are fated never to achieve. Perhaps the Stoics will call me soft and unreasonable, since I do not reckon not having existed and not going to exist as one and the same, and for not thinking that this single moment time is all that pertains to myself. They argue that for someone to desire that any part of himself survive is for a mortal to demand the condition of the immortals. They forbid us to weep, and this is how they encourage the mind of a failing man: ‘cease hoping to sway the god’s fates with your prayers.’ Oh what a poverty-stricken consolation! Are we then only created by nature for these commotions, turpitudes, and iniquities? Indeed if there is a man endowed with such equanimity, or rather such hardness of heart, that he regards not having been and not going to be as the same thing, and his eyes are not bewitched by the freshness of eternity, or offended by the darkness of these things here, let him rejoice in his good, he certainly is not going to have me for a rival. If you ask me why I should do this, even if no other response occurred to me (although I have no lack of responses), I should say along with Socrates, ‘the daemon prevents this.’ But suppose we concede it is agreed that minds are eternal, and this matter is beyond all controversy. At this point there crops up another concern, and no mean one at that: it is entirely probable that punishment will be inflicted on those who did not stand by their duty while they lived on this earth. And how many a man is there who will either pay God the gratitude that is His due or exhibit the kindness towards others that he should? And indeed, who is there, if he could be examined inwardly and, as they say, inside his skin, who would not be found to be most foul, and who is not deserving of all extreme punishments?.”
248. Then the old man, who struck me as reluctant to enter into a lengthy explanation, responded briefly, “Your complaint seems to me to have two parts: the one pertains to our darkness and weak understanding of things worthy of the soul and divine government, and the other seeks a kind of assured and indubitable hope about what transpires when this life is through. For you are not wrong in thinking that peace of mind cannot exist in the absence of clear understanding and hope regarding such great matters. The power of the human intellect is not so great that, as long as it dwells within the body, it can gain a precise understanding of the soul or of itself. For Man is possibly the world’s greatest miracle, since two things, one the most worthy or all and the other the most abject, are closely conjoined. And so it is not strange if the mind, fenced in by the body’s shadows, fails to see itself clearly. If you are indignant about this, you should be indignant that you are a man. God wished our tribe of living things to be such that it understands much, but is also quite ignorant about much, and that it grasps much only by opinion and conjecture. There has been no lack of men of my order who have spoken a great deal about the condition and affairs of the dead, but since their arguments are not as clear and well-established as you desire, I shall readily ignore them. I therefore certainly agree with you about that this, that there is something of disease and defect in nature. Philosophy supplies some sort of a remedy, and has led you thus far (where not very many have arrived), where it has nothing greater or richer to offer. If this does not strike you as sufficient, I pray you to excuse me, think of the good I have done you, and don’t demand from me things of which I am inexperienced and ignorant. For even philosophers are human.”
249. The old man departed, and this immediately came to mind. God is Lord of the sciences. So I quickly turned my eyes and mind to heaven, since I could have no hope for noting more from nature, and I humbly and worshipfully prayed to our everlasting God that he would show me the way which lead to tranquil peace. Or, to be more truthful, He took the lead in inspiring me to take refuge in Himself. Indeed, before I had made this decision the deus ex machina, as they say, brought me aid. So quickly another and higher hill revealed itself, on which stood a building which (and this I had previously thought impossible) surpassed the appearance and magnificence of the previous one. Such was the transformation of this vision that, as noble as the previous things were, I seemed to be led from some dim, or rather pitch-black, cave to the daylight and the sight of the bright sun. I should be in vain if I were to attempt to describe the building’s appearance to you. No human eloquence is so great that it could match the dignity of these things. A narrow path led up to it, which was being trodden save for those that the divine will had specifically directed there. When I had come close to its doorway, I saw a man in whose countenance shone forth a certain heavenly majesty. Somehow terrified by the magnitude of these things, I began to retreat. But he, not awaiting any greeting or question from me, bade me be of good cheer. He told me he had seen and heard everything that had befallen me at the lower temple. “Your philosopher correctly told you that God wanted there to be a certain tribe of living things which is ignorant of much, knowledgeable about much, and relies on opinion about much. But it must be added that some of the things of which he is ignorant are of a kind that, even if they can be known and are to our advantage to know them, this is nonetheless impossible by means of the natural powers of our intellect. Rather, there is need for the special illumination of a celestial kind of knowledge. God wished this part, so necessary to understand, to retain its hidden character, lest sometimes, thanks to the puffed-up nature of the mind, we transgress the limits of human modesty. If there is any natural endowment that can make Man pleased with himself, it is his excellence of intellect, for everything else is shared with the beasts.
250. “If Man is already so proud when he is cast in this darkness of intellect, what would he do if all nature’s secrets were known and understood by reason? Excellence of understanding contains much danger, unless that understanding is so excellent that, when a judgment is to be made either in general or about particular details, it can be deceived in no respect at all, and this befalls no man without some uncommon assistance of God. So God, not unaware how prone we are to neglect Himself, wished that, after He gave us understanding, there would be a great deal of defect in our nature, not just that we would lack the strength to keep to the path leading to health and salvation, but also that the path itself would be unknown to us, so that in the end, thanks to experience and trial, we would understand that He is everything, as He is, and that in comparison we are nothing. If anybody knows this path of salvation, it is by God’s grace; if we lack it, this our fault and not God’s. For in the upright itself there is nothing oblique. So come, stop your complaints, since you are about to receive an assured knowledge and hope of all things which are necessary to procure salvation and tranquility.” I perceived I was so excited by his speech that I thought that I had found a true master and guide for discovering tranquility. He bade me read the inscription over the doorway:
BLESSED ARE THEY THAT DWELL IN YOUR HOUSE
251. “Here,” he said, “is the place you seek. It is said by that particularly noble prophet, ‘And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.’ That famous, holy king of Jerusalem preferred to dwell in it for a single day rather than live for ten thousand years in your darkness. He preferred to be lowly here rather than cling to the pinnacle of power among evildoers, such as all men are. And to achieve this thing which you have not gained by your lengthy twistings and turnings and your long search, you only have need of those two precepts you see written on the two columns alongside the doorway.” The first of these was:
and the second was:
For God has ordained that immediately and of necessity there come from these all the fruit of duty and piety, nay, that perfect happiness will doubtless flow from them. Meanwhile he perceived that I was anxiously turning over something in my mind, and bade me fearlessly say what I was thought. Encouraged by his urging, I asked what was the meaning of that KNOW THYSELF, since all the precepts of the previous columns appeared to be embraced by it.
252. “The self-knowledge preached here,” he said, “conceals an inner meaning, which you have already heard. These philosophies of yours are many in number, and often disagree with each other. This rule of nature only bids you to discount the external gifts of fortune and the goods of the body, and devote yourself entirely to philosophy, which is intended to improve you in learning and the virtues. And indeed this form of education is not entirely degenerate. But mine contains something loftier. ‘This is no small thing you should store up deep in your senses.’ Here you are being taught not only to acknowledge that your every good is from God alone (do not think I am merely repeating familiar things), but also that the infirmity and corruption of your nature is such that that even the duties you perform are no duties at all, your justice is in a certain sense injustice, and your very virtues are vices. In sum, whatever has its source in you yourself, no matter how fair it seems to you or to the common run of mankind, is not of a sort that you could defend in a trial, if God should deal with you according to His supreme justice. Hence it is that the noble prophet Isaiah compared our justice to the rag of a menstruating woman. Hence it is that I have often inculcated the principle that there is nothing good in our flesh, and that the entire substance of our life is so vitiated that without special divine aid it cannot produce anything which God would adjudge deserving of any eternal reward. And since ‘if the jug is not completely clean, whatever you pour into it goes sour,’ it comes about that even our pious affections and honest actions, to which we are inspired by the urging of the Holy Spirit (I am speaking as if I still lived among you) acquires something of deceit or sloth. For this perverse self-love of ours, which we imbibe so deeply, almost constantly compels us to refer whatever we do to some utility or praise of our own, so that we cheat God of His due glory. It likewise brings it about that we are overcome by a certain idle languor regarding Him, Whom alone we ought to embrace without limit. Who among us in his duties displays the eagerness we often exhibit in achieving our profane desires?
253. “Rightly, therefore, it was said by Job, that singular model of endurance, ‘I am afraid of all my sorrows, I know that Thou wilt not hold me inn ocent. Behold, He putteth no trust in His saints; yea, the heavens are not clean in His sight. How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay? Though I were righteous, yet would I not answer, but I would make supplication to my judge.’ No more telling evidence could be given against me than if I were to attempt to prove my own innocent. It is impossible for him not to be guilty who even to a small degree professes or thinks himself to be innocent. Therefore wherever you turn you discover you are nothing but filth, vice, infirmity, sin, and thoroughly deserving of hatred. You must to look to God for all your help, all your salvation and dignity. ‘Hath not the potter power over the clay, or the same lump to make on vessel unto honour? and another unto dishonour?.’ When I hear these words I think of Paul of Tarsus, undoubtedly the most learned interpreter and stoutest champion of the Christian philosophy by far.”
FRANC. Now, as it it seems, “you are walking on fires hidden beneath treacherous ash.” You are treating a contentious subject, wonderfully controversial in our times. For while you are thus deprecating our powers and claim a certain impurity in our duties, you seem to share the opinion of who take away even the consideration of good merit from our actions. So you, who are always urging us to revere the authority of the Church, should be careful how orthodox these statements are, and I do not say this because I am unaware of your piety and integrity, but if you ever say something of the kind in public, there could be certain envious and malicious fellows ready to take everything in bad part. Therefore it seems that for the present you need not only to be carefully on your guard, but also to exercise a religious care in deprecating impiety.
254. FLOR. I’m grateful to you for the favor of that admonition. But what need have I of such anxious caution when I’m handling things which appear to reside in the recognition of our shared religion, and that it profits even a common craftsman to know? For I am involved in this cause with such moderation and reverence for the authority of the Church that my discourse could offend nobody but an impious man or a fool. If I am only to have a consideration for an evil or envious reader, I should never say or write anything, since there’s never an occasion wanting for clever malice. But (to return to what I began to say), if somebody considers the general thrust of my discourse, he will find that it offers reason for enhancing, not diminishing, the grounds for merit in honest actions. For it is possibility that divine goodness, because it is divine (which means immeasurable great), looks out for the good of our duties, no matter how imperfect (as I have said them all to be), and regards them as meritorious and worthy of praise and reward. But I think I am scarcely able to detect my merit in anything, since we are ordered by Him Whose power is sinful to deny, that, having done all our duty, we should acknowledge we are unprofitable servants. Nor did He at all desire that we have one thing on our tongue and another in our heart, employing a kind of false modesty. Therefore the confidence that arises from our works or accomplishments, no matter how noble, is to be abandoned, let us throw ourselves wholly on God. Let Him be our sacred anchor, let us rely only on His goodness and mercy, let us place ourselves entirely under His protection and tutelage, nor let us divide the praise for our salvation, so that we assign one portion to God, and claim another for ourselves.
255. Since this is sinful, what are we to think about those men who are not embarrassed to boast and crow about their merits, as if these will survive them? And so we need not be concerned about entering into any pacts or contracts with God by which He will be obliged to reward the labors we have undertaken on His behalf. For His memory is not so weak that there is any danger He won’t remember, nor is His will so avaricious that He will want to cheat us out of our efforts. Let us have no fear that He will stand by His promises, for He will enrich us not only with greater promises than we deserve, but indeed with greater ones than we can imagine. I don’t deny that men can be inspired to greater effort by hope of reward. And yet I don’t imagine that any man who is even slightly noble will not prefer labors freely performed to mercenary ones, and set a higher value on that duty which looks to no self-advantage than on that done in exchange for some pleasure or inspired by some pay. It suffices us therefore to have recourse to no other pact than what He promised long ago: blessedness for those would embrace His Son in that faith from which flow forth the duties of charity. But this is not to rely on one’s own merits, but rather on Christ. Therefore let us always deprecate our own praises and abandon our self-reliance. Let us admit we are not only deserving of loathing, but that we owe our salvation to Him to Whom we cling, to Christ. And indeed (to finish this discourse off in a few words), there is no finer rationale for earning good merit than if we always admit, even after performing what we should (although I hardly know if this ever occurs), that we deserve either nothing at all, or a least a scourging. Would that this were not the case! God takes delight only in this modesty of mind.
256. But I see that I am not keeping due order in my intended disputation, since I am perhaps saying things now that should have been reserved for later. But the loss is slight, let us now return to Paul, who says that everything is wrapped up and bound by sin, everything is befouled by turpitude, so that God’s goodness and mercy might be all the more glorious. Who is wont to confer so many and such great things on us, although we have deserved the very worst. Our infirmity now stands revealed, we must seek a remedy. And we grasp some beginnings of health when we have acknowledged our disease. We must therefore take refuge someplace where we can find help for our infirmity. And where we must take our refuge was shown by that second column, which spoke of acknowledging God. For He is both the Father and he Salvation of all things. But, since we can never know him well enough by means of our own resources, and, if we did know him, our indignity is such is that we would not be admitted to His presence if we approached Him, but rather (as we have deserved) we should be damned to perpetual imprisonment for the evil examples we have set, we have need of some guide and gracious advocate who might reconcile the King and Father of the universe to our offence, and by whose guidance and auspices our entire case might be settled. Therefore on the architrave joining the two columns I saw the image of a divine young man, His head covered with a crown of thorns, His side, hands and feet bearing the scars of penetrations, and His entire body apparently spattered with blood. And over His head hung this verse, as if coming from heaven:
THIS IS MY BELOVED SON, IN WHOM I HAVE BEEN GLORIFIED. HEAR HIM
and under His feet was another:I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE
257. I instantly recognized him as the Savior of our race, Jesus. Then Paul resumed his speech, in this way: “This is the Son of the everlasting, almighty Father, to the propagation of Whose Gospel alll my zeal was devoted after I was chosen for this task. He is greatly deformed by His preachers of your age, with the result that He is less loved and so many errors and calamities have been brought into the world. Because of ignorance of your philosophers, He is ‘they way of peace they have not known, there is no fear of God before their eyes.’ In Him alone is salvation for every man that believes. Through Him is our easy way to the Father, He is the one who has reconciled us to His Father's grace, ‘for He is our peace, Who hath made both one.’ As says the great prophet Isaiah, ‘the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.’ He is the stem and the stern of our salvation. It is He who commanded ‘that we should not fear those who kill this body, and have no means of harming us further. He was the first to raise the banner of immortality,’ and taught that after these brief woes there is a place for us in heaven where we may blessedly enjoy eternal life. For thanks to Him our sins are assuredly forgiven and we are lifted up to that eternal home, as long as our ardent faith joins us to Him. Therefore He is a treasury of wisdom and divine goodness. I have now shown him to you, embrace Him, enjoy Him. He is the surest and shortest way to enduring tranquility, if you are wise, you should constantly keep to His path. Soon will come those boundless joys of your future life, and meanwhile, filled with most assured hope, you must steadfastly await that which is fated to be with a cheerful mind, fearing no threats in this world or in the life to come. Indeed, ‘if the shattered world should collapse, its ruins would fall on him unafraid.’” Having said these things, he withdrew within the temple. And I awoke from my dream, but lay there a while brooding on such great things, scarcely in my right wits for joy, and to the best of my ability I thanked our immortal God for having condescended to show me His son.
258. FRANC. These things proclaimed about Christ are very noble. But since the means of tranquility appear to depend on assured reason, you will oblige us if you explain in greater detail those things that pertain to rendering us assured. Nobody can doubt the truth of the things taught by God, Who is Truth itself. But how can I convince myself that Christ’s teaching comes from God? For not all men are satisfied that this is as the Church defines it, for the man who is a little more curious will ask how the Church came to agree on this. Then, granted that Christ’s teaching comes from God, it is not a part of that teaching that I shall be saved, except with this added condition, that I shall be saved as long as I cling to Christ with that ardent faith. But this does not seem to be within my power, since it is something bestowed as a divine gift; and, just as I am given this gift by God, someday He may take it away. And yet in Scripture it is not said that I am doomed to lapse in my faith. I hear that in Dialectic, if the premises of an argument are unsound, the conclusion fails. Add to this what Solomon said, “no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them,” and that everything in the future remains uncertain. So my convictions are wavering, and the flukes of this anchor are not tenacious enough to keep my ship from drifting. And although I certainly don’t doubt what I profess, I take special delight in the course of that oratory which seems happily conjoin to piety with erudition.
259. FLOR. I am not eager to indulge in that kind of disputation, nor do I gladly initiate a debate with anyone about these matters. Not unwillingly do I cleave to the principles of our forefathers: these are turbulent times, and mankind is easily provoked, if ever it was. But since a guest cannot adhere to the customs of his own city, and the things you wish me to handle are of the kind with which every man who professes himself a Christian ought to be familiar and have stored up in his mind, I will oblige you. As it seems to me, five things clearly go to show that the mystery of the Christian religion truly has its origin in God: divine inspiration, the authority of the Church, the life of Christ Himself, the nature of His teaching, and those prodigious works He performed which are called miracles. Now I shall tell you something about each of these in passing. And if they cannot achieve this individually, surely when taken in combination they will abundantly engender faith. Experience teaches us well enough that every one of our strivings takes a downward course, contrary to what the dignity of our nature demands. Therefore it is the operation of the divine spirit which lifts us up to acknowledge itself and to love itself, and we not unfitly call this inspiration, about which it was said by Christ Himself, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” To this likewise pertains that statement in The Acts of the Apostles, “and as many as wee ordained to eternal life believed.” This is the best argument and most unassailable grounds for our conviction. No philosophical apodeixis, or sight of our eyes, or experience of our touch exists which can so powerfully elicit the mind’s assent as does that divine impulse, as often as it chooses to kindle and excite a man to faith, even in a faith in things otherwise not apparent. Let him who doubts this consider that indomitable steadfastness of those heroes of ours we call martyrs, and he will see that they were not “a reed shaken with the wind.” To this likewise pertain the words of Paul, filled with greatness and certitude: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
260. Next the consensus of the Church, i.e. of so many men excellent in every manner of wisdom, which has existed from its beginning down to this very day, ought to be of no little weight. For not only has the unlettered mass of men, or some old women, embraced this teaching (as some impious men have complained), but also consummate intellects thoroughly versed in every kind of philosophers, and if a person wants this told in fuller detail let him consult those writers who have compiled a catalogue of the famous men of our religion. But here I will not omit this, that no arrogant man, no matter how he may excel in his intellect, is capable of Christian erudition. This prudence is hidden from the wise, but revealed to little children. And yet this is no indication of that our doctrine is abject or absurd, but rather of its loftiness, inasmuch is its purity is so great that it does not accrue to that soul which is contaminated by that foul and unworthy taint which is pride. For nothing deters God from granting us salvation so much as that inflation and pride of intellect born from our opinion of our own wisdom. And so a man will not enter the kingdom of heaven, unless, having been converted from his opinion of his own greatness, he is rendered childlike. Julian, that king of the Roman Empire, partially out of his lust for power and partly because of pride his intellect, defected from Christ and was wont to boast, Christians have nothing to offer us but that mere “you must believe.” But he who considers the three latter items of my five-part division will discover that what that holiest of kings and equally excellent prophet said was most true, “Thy testimonies are very sure.”
261. I cannot supply proper proofs for such tenets of our religion as that glorious Trinity, the virgin birth, the combination of human nature and divinity in Christ, the general resurrection of the dead, and a few other articles of that kind, and yet it is easy to show that they are worthy of undoubting belief. And yet I shall speak briefly, both because my plan requires only a compendium, and because the quickness of your intellectual ability is greater than to require me (as they say) to place pre-chewed food in your mouths. In the first place, the proposition that Christ’s life was free of sin is too free of doubt to require proof. There was nothing in his life (unlike that of most philosophers) calculated to be a mere show of piety. Nothing was not most chaste, moderate; there was nothing prideful, unworthy, straying from common custom, except when it was enacted otherwise because of its share of divine honor; everything was plain, simple, and filled with humanity and mercy. And so the Pharisees, who wished to appear pious to the common folk because they differed from them in their worship and ceremonies, were no little angry at Christ because, contrary to their own practice, He consorted and ate with publicans and sinners. And Simon was indignant that Christ allowed His feet to be washed by a wanton and infamous harlot, who, however, had first tearfully renounced her uncleanness. And since everything praiseworthy in life is summed up in those two words, endure and abstain, which is to be understood as meaning endure adversities and abstain from illicit things, read the history-books and see if any man’s manner of life was comparable to His. Only His easiness with the common man was held against Him by wicked and arrogant men, which He embraced either so as not to deter anybody from hope of salvation by living an austere manner of life, or so as to show that the piety that makes us pleasing in God’s sight is not located in solitude or in some harsh and strange way of life. The entire manner of His affairs was filled with a certain most honest simplicity, and the more closely you examine Him the more admirable He always seems. O thrice, four times blessed to whom it is given to behold the excellence of that divine young man!
262. But I restrain myself. “Not if I had a hundred tongues and a hundred mouths” could I equal in my speech the least part of those virtues with which the whole of His life was adorned. Let us therefore abandon this part and pass on to doctrine. For here the enemy of piety attacks us more urgently. Briefly put, this is comprised of three parts. The first consists of precepts for living, the second to the end of goods, and the third certain mysteries pertaining to Man’s salvation. What is there to be said about the precepts of living enjoined by Him? How much equity, humanity and holiness shines forth throughout them all! No matter how ingenious they may be, there detractors can find nothing to criticize there. He wanted us to live soberly, justly, and piously, and to deserve well not only of our friends, but also our enemies, to bear insults with fortitude, and employ humanity even towards those who treat us in an unfriendly manner. Furthermore, see what He established concerning the end of good things: the summum bonum, namely a clear and ever-enduring knowledge of God, the First Cause of things, to which is added association with the purified and reformed body. But here too there can be no place for philosophers’ cavils. Perhaps they will shrink from the Cross itself, saying that it is either unbecoming or ridiculous that a man Who is called the Son of God should be raised on a cross, and that men’s hoped-for felicity should depend on this thing, so ignoble in appearance. I am loaded down under the weight of the responses I could make here, and their immensity must be contracted into a narrow circle. And, lest you imagine I am waging battle with weapons that are more glittering than effective, accept this hypothetical syllogism, which I fancy to be unanswerable. For the dialecticians teach that it is a powerful form of argumentation when an major premise is nullified by the negation of its minor premise. If Antonius is a perfect orator, he is skilled at philosophy: but Antonius is not skilled at philosopher: therefore he is not a perfect orator. And in this case the minor premise is to be corroborated, for thus I reason. If Christ falsely claimed to be the Son of God, he would be the most outrageous liar and worst of men who ever have lived since the world’s beginning: but our Christ is not a man of this kind: therefore He did not falsely claim to be God. The minor premise is clearly correct, because it is the worst of all imaginable sins to stake a false claim on divine glory. If someone, captivated by the beauty and utilities of the sun (and these are not few or insignificant), is induced by his human ignorance to worship it as if it were some god, this is execrable impiety and that extreme wrongdoing we call idolatry. So what kind of sin would it be for a man to falsely commend himself to mortals as a god to be worshipped?
263. There have been some barbarian kings, and likewise Roman emperors, who impiously managed to have statues erected for themselves and desired to be numbered among the gods, but these were manifestly impious and ridiculous men, and they were not regarded by anybody as what they demanded to be. Mohamed only claimed to be a prophet. But for a man to profess there is only one God, the Father and King of all, and that he is that God, being of the same subject as the Father, and to assiduously preach this and have a care that it be published throughout the world, this would be a thing of what sin, of what impiety! Were Christ not genuine, how much would he have been offending divine majesty? If you took all the other misdeeds committed since the beginning of the world and combined, them, they would amount to nothing in comparison with this. But Christ did this, He has a care that it be done, and He will continue to have it as long as the world endures. Now I must proceed to the refutation of that which follows from the minor premise, by which I mean I must show that He was not the worst of mortals, but rather uncontrovertibly the best. Is it probable that God, at Whose will all this world is governed, would have tolerated such lunacy and impiety? Why did I say “tolerated?” Would He have displayed many manifest signs of His infinite power to confirm such pernicious sin, one that touched upon Himself, and would He have assisted such a bold and arrogant misrepresentation? Observe Christ now issuing commands to the winds and the sea, now raising the dead from their tombs, now restoring sight to the blind and health to the ailing. Why did I speak of Christ? Observe His disciples, abject and insignificant men, who seem to have had government over nature itself. Did not Peter’s very shadow drive out diseases? These were greater and more manifest things than that any imposture or false appearance of the miraculous could have been at work. Then too, the divine testimony by which Christ’s very divinity was declared is clear, both in other passages of Scripture and in that one where it is said, “But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins, then saith he to the sick of the palsy, Arise.” Surely God did not purposefully choose to deceive us by the evidence of this false statement, and Truth was not pleased to cheat us by a lie? And then consider the great success with which this proclamation of Christ’s divinity has flourished down to this very day, which would have been impossible given the extraordinary nature of the things taught by our religion, particularly had men in high places resisted. Thus God would not have aided Him, nor so powerfully confirmed His cause, if He was the worst of men and the spokesman of such bold-faced impiety.
264. So now let us set aside the contents of the minor premise and agree on our original proposition, that Christ did not falsely claim Himself to be God. But so that the goodness both of His life and of Christian teaching may be a little more clear to us, let me introduce a few familiar comparisons, and short ones at that. But by way of preparation let me quote Cicero’s dictum that virtue which renders us grateful is the mother of all the rest. Hence we are pious towards our parents, hence we are good citizens and serve our nation well, hence we are pious and worshipful, all which things are fruits and duties of a grateful mind. Cicero also said, “I for my part regard nothing as more proper for a man than to feel himself under an obligation, not just for a benefit conferred, but for an indication of good will. And nothing is so inhuman, so monstrous, as savage, as to conduct yourself, I shall not say so that you are unworthy of a benefit conferred, but rather so that you are surpassed by it.” Hence that saying of Seneca, “You have pronounced every imprecation when you have called a man an ingrate.” Now imagine that your father has gone abroad on a journey at a time when you are still crying in your crib. He has provided an ample patrimony for your support, and even in his absence has taken every care that at every age of life you will be so trained for excellence that nothing will be lacking in you pertaining either to usefulness or glory. Surely you don’t think that, when you are somewhat older and have come into possession of the goods your father’s care had provided for you, you will rest content with its enjoyment and not be gripped by any desire for getting to know your father (for you know that he was still alive), and not rather feel uncommon gratitude to him for showing himself such a kindly father? Here’s another example: imagine that you have a numerous family of kinsman and that they all depend on yourself, and you are wholly lacking in the wherewithal to feed them. Yet every morning while you are sleeping a sum of money is placed under your pillow adequate for your family’s honorable support. Wouldn’t you be extremely curious to discover the source of this kindness, and repay the man responsible with as liberal a reward as you could?
265. Our Father is still living, indeed He is immortal and eternal, and for us He is the source, not just of a handful of gold, but of whatever good we ever receive. And we very ungrateful men have neither acknowledged Him nor made any attempt to do so. Only Christ has given us a means of acknowledging Him. Therefore it is far more just, even if Christ were not God, for divine honors to be accorded to Him than to Ceres, Minerva, Bacchus, Apollo and the Muses, whom superstitious, or rather impious antiquity did not shrink from attributing divine honors, believing them to be responsible for crops, the olive, the vine, medicine and the arts. And here there is no need to provide a catalogue of all the ways in which God helps us, and of all the pleasures which we receive in our eyes or mind, and yet we see nothing with our eyes or our mind that we would rather be than men. Would we not therefore be guilty of the worst of sin if we were found to be ungrateful towards Him who is responsible for them? And at this point, while my pen runs very swiftly towards its ending-point, there comes to mind a a common but rarely-noticed form of folly. If you are burning with great thirst or afflicted by the worst pain, and you find someone who can immediately remove all your pain by pouring some liquid in your mouth or on our wound, or by administering some remedy, would you fe7el gratitude towards him, not only until the present benefit were felt and the pain passed away, but even after its departure? Tell me, Demetrio, is what I say likely?
DEM. Indeed it is. For undying gratitude is reasonable for a kindness, particularly such a great one.
FLOR. What if the pain were of a kind that it would be constant unless it were constantly bathed? Would he therefore deserve less gratitude since he continues to be of service and merciful, and bathes it continually?
DEM. Quite the contrary, he deserves to be regarded as if he were some god present in the flesh.
266. FLOR. Now see how sinfully these greatest gifts of God have lost their value in our sight because they are perpetual, and are now regarded, not as gifts, but something owed us by nature. I delight in this beautiful appearance of nature, but since I am able to enjoy this pleasure whenever I wish, in a sense I discount its value. If my eyesight were taken away, then I would finally understand how much pleasure there is in vision. Life, too, is very sweet, but because its course is continual, the kindness of its author goes unperceived. Likewise, since this gift of Christ which makes us welcome in the sight of our Father is so great that nothing can be compared to it, so noble that it cannot be denied, we must confess that such great goodness cannot emanate from evil, indeed that there is divine goodness in Him, by Whose work alone it has been brought about that we are welcome, which means good, which means divine. Concerning His teaching, it was therefore well said by Paul, “For our exhortatioan was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile.” Let us therefore leave this subject, as one that is conceded and proven, that Christ is God, and that nothing can be contained in His teaching that is not most true.
267. Now I come to that other part of your argument, Francesco, where you said “I can’t convince myself about eternal salvation, and I can’t know for sure that I am pleasing in God’s sight, since this bears the stipulation that it is only true as long as I persevere in that requisite ardor of faith, and of this I cannot be certain.” At this point I am tormented by concern lest I have handled these matters too unskillfully or obscurely, and lest my discourse appears unworthy of the quiet attention you have been giving it. And since an orderly distinction of things often sheds greater illumination, I shall give my response as five pronouncement. In the first place, it should not escape you that there is no need for the same kind of certitude (if I may use that word) which is required in mathematics, where either one’s senses or evident reason compels the mind’s assent: for example, that fire is hot, or that things endowed with reason are capable of learning. Our present subject is moral philosophy, and when its arguments are proven they rest content with a certain more everyday and approximate logic. I myself have never seen Constantinople, but I have heard from written and spoken report that it is the principal city of Thrace. And yet, since those from I have learned this are, or were, men, they can be mistaken, I still entertain no doubt whether this city does or does not exist. I have no apodeictic proof that this wall that now hangs over me will not collapse on top of myself, but I nevertheless am unconcerned about the question. Signs and examples also create belief, as indeed to those proofs they call ἀτέχνοι, i. e. unskilled. Then too, this bears repeating, that those who have received the gift of faith because of some inward teaching of the spirit have no doubt. “The Spirit intself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God,” says Paul.
268. Closely related is that observation by the same man, “I know whom I have believed,” and one can perhaps also cite that “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knowleth saving he that receiveth it.” Thirdly, as I at least think, this is to be understood, that all men who are legitimately Christian should persuade themselves they are and always shall be pleasing in the sight of God the Father because of the Christ they embrace. For to hesitate until some legitimate repentance has preceded taking resort in Christ’s faith and protection is to display a lack of faith in divine grace and not to trust that that grace of God which resides in Christ can overcome your unworthiness, which disappears as soon as you embrace Christ. That Bishop of Rochester I have mentioned above was of this opinion, and likewise Jérome d’Hangest, a most acute man in disputation (such as are many produced by that very noble University of Paris) left us pretty much the same thing in his writings. Here I am not speaking of that habit of grace which is distinct from charity. For I cannot at all understand any such thing. And for two reasons I think it very expedient that this should be, I mean that you should persuade yourself you are perpetually pleasing in God for Christ’s sake. The first is that it is not truly pleasing to God that you should receive some momentary benefit which you are destined quickly to lose, after which will follow some eternal catastrophe. And then because in this way your love of God is greatly enhanced. For nobody will ever feel great love for a person whose faith and benevolence towards himself he doubts, or if he fears that the man’s present love will someday be changed into hatred. For how can God profit me, if He is not (as He piously said) “God, my God?” So, since it is ardent love which begets genuine profits, this love is to be urged, rather than fear. At this point you need not bother to observe that they who teach us that it is doubtful whether we are pleasing to God take their beginning-point in fear. For all fear is undoubtedly servile in a man who questions whether he is loved. Therefore whoever constantly teaches this fear has forgotten how to love, and therefore how to act bravely and nobly. The result is that itis no wonder that neither the common people nor Christian sovereigns do not possess any great amount of Christian virtues and scorn those eternal hopes and all the glory of virtue in comparison with perishable things, since (and would I were not speaking the truth!) they have never learned to love.
269. It would be very advantageous if our teachers of religion were to follow the same advice which Menedemus gave Chremes after he had alienated his son by means of his austerity. They will do this if they “make us realize that He is our Father, and that we should dare trust our all to Him, that we seek and demand from Him, and seek our abundance from no other source.” If you tell me this is not an article of our faith, I mean that it is not contained in Scripture, that I am never destined to lapse in my faith, I shall reply to you that your disputation is a little hypercritical, nor should you imagine that something is given you that will entirely vanish. “The faith within my heart belongs to me: for I can see if I like Christ, whether I wholeheartedly dislike all wickedness,” and when these choices are available to you, it is impious to doubt if you are pleasing in God’s sight. And, just as you are determined to embrace Christ throughout your life and loathe every kind if improbity, so you can assuredly convince yourself that you will perpetually be in God’s good graces, for He does not abandon this kind of pursuit. Adieu, therefore, to those who strive to wrench you out of the bosom of such a wholesome conviction. Would that this belief would grow in me day by day, and I could in no other wise be a legitimate Christian! Then the duties of charity would rise up, as would contempt for the things of this world. False opinions, idle suppositions and feeble agreements concerning matters of religion render men sinners, so that they should be on their guard (if on their guard they are) against these most shameful errors. Assuredly they are constantly sluggish, and never produce anything worthy of such a great name, I mean the name of Christian.
270. In the fourth place, this too must be observed, as in the disciplines, to here too there is a gradation of certitude (I have asked you to grant me the use of this world). In philosophical Schools there is a greater certitude or evident regarding first principles than conclusions. It is better established that Man is possessed of a rational nature than that he is capable of happiness. It is better established that there is no ultimate degree for an individual thing than it is that a series of points do not constitute a line. In the same way, in the ardor of our faith there are great distinctions: Paul’s was by far one thing, and ours is another. Yet each one, even the lowest and most trifling, such as a mustard seed, bears its own fruit. This is taught by Christ Himself in the Gospel where He cited Peter’s lack of faith as the reason for his being plunged in the water. And the Apostles likewise asked that their faith, by which I mean their inclination towards God, be increased.
DEM. Can this faith be conjoined with any base intention or purpose? And, to speak with you more familiarly, if I fraudulently retain money I owe someone else, if I seek a girl’s illicit embraces, if I desire to do a disservice to anyone who has harmed me, do I for that reason cease to belong to the number of legitimate Christians?
271. FLOR. Very much so. Indeed, in that case you would not even be a man, for the things you mentioned are also contrary to the duties of Cicero and Aristotle. So you must take care to please Christ, who wishes His friend, by which I mean the soul and mind favorable in His sight, to be wholly beautiful and spotless. And yet at this point I add this stipulation, which may stand for my fifth opinion: sometimes the holy spirit is wont to withdraw from us a little (which, however, always happens because of our fault), or at least, as it were, go to sleep in us, and so it happens that even noble men lapse into turpitude. As Scripture says, “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord uphodeth him with His hand.” They readily return to themselves and bemoan their infirmity. But we must exercise extreme caution lest the frequency of our defection from God renders us progressively unworthy of alleviation. We can never be sufficiently afraid lest we be base. But, Francesco, I believe that passage of Solomon you allege is to be referred to the misfortunes of this life, inasmuch as we ought not to trust in our present fortune, because “thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” And this assuredly cannot be taken for granted because there is none of us who is unaware (or should at least should know) that he is worthy of God’s hatred. Therefore, so that I might sometime arrive at a full conclusion, relying on that hope that comes from Christ, we rightfully claim that glory that belongs to the children of God. And if we are children of so great a King, whom must we fear? Surely there is nothing in this kingdom which does not tremble at His very nod? What else can death itself bring us except that, abandoning this exile, we may take hold of the possession and fruit of His eternal kingdom? Earnestly rejoice, my soul, boldly exult, but in the meantime may your Christ always be kept before your eyes, He Who has freed you of all those fears of death, your uneasy conscience and terrors of the Underworld, and filled you with an assured hope of everlasting felicity soon to come. Meanwhile nobly and happily endure with Him, if you are sad and downcast. And so, Francesco and Demetrio, have I not shown you an easy means of achieving tranquility?
FRANC. You have surpassed our expectation, great as it was, and we thank the common Author of all goods for giving you such ability, from which we perceive we have received no little benefit. To quote Ovid’s verse, these are “dreams brighter than the beautiful daylight.” But tell me this too, something you appear to have omitted. Is there any means by which that divine inspiration which provides faith can assuredly be procured? I do not ask this because I want to claim any praise for my industry, but only for this reason, that the result will be that we are less unworthy to be granted such a benefit.
272. FLOR. Indeed there is, and I was thinking of that very thing. But I was distracted by the headlong flight of my speech. And it consists of two things, but desires them always to remain conjoined. The one consists of the prayers with which God loves to be constantly besieged. “Seek, and ye shall find,” says Christ. “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you.” The other is regular reading of Scripture. This is an easy thing to say, but it conceals incredible fruit and delight. For I would venture to say there has never been anybody who applied his mind to self-perfection who has not been transformed from a bad man into a good, or from a good man into a better. And indeed in this darkness of things, if you except those books of Scripture, there is no illumination of divine things, so that it is reasonable for us to cherish and worship them with all our zeal and devotion, as if they were some incomparable treasure. Trust me, they contain some hidden and almost magical virtue (if I may thus express myself) in sweeping minds upwards towards God and heaven. And indeed I am minded to pitch my life’s tent upon them. But I am forbidden to expatiate on these things, both by the brevity I have chosen to adopt and by the typesetters, who urgently clamoring that I must hand in my manuscript.
FRANC. Although darkness has begun to fall, we won’t let you go until you first tell us whether it is possible to bypass your first temple and enter directly into the one higher up the hill. And, if this is possible, why did you choose to lead us by a roundabout route when you could have taken a straight one?
273. FLOR. It is indeed possible to do so by bypassing what comes before, by which I mean that it is possible to harvest that most sweet fruit of Christian tranquility without any careful and precise investigation of nature, and I am all but induced to believe they are more blessed who can employ this shortcut. But since the Author of nature is one and the same, and (as Juvenal says, with a slight alteration of his phraseology), “it is rare for nature to say one thing and wisdom another,” it seemed best to wheel up the protections of nature, particularly since there’s no shortage of puffed-up intellects whose ambition is to be restrained by logic itself (something in which they wrongly fancy they excel). And so, as soon as we may, let us seek that doorway of religion and join Paul in entering that house of Christian piety, the only source of genuine and enduring tranquility. The first house possesses a certain foreshadowing and images of this one, or at most there are certain steps by which one mounts up from images to things themselves. And perhaps you wish to criticize me behind my back for having philosophized at such great length and inappropriately. I acknowledge my fault. But at this point you ought to consider two things, first that the majesty of these matters is such that, even if I were most well endowed with intellect and eloquence, you would always find something wanting, and also that my discourse was improvised and I had no further time to ponder my subject in greater detail. Therefore you should rest content with my brief answer, lest at the end of my discourse, when it is now time to furl my sails, there should be need for me to begin a new disputation.
274. DEM. Indeed you have brought it about that both our minds are wonderfully exhilarated by your speech. And it behooves us that this joy welling up in us should burst forth in happy song. I see you don’t understand my meaning, and I seem to be speaking about matters that are out of keeping with our gravity. Not so. I once once saw some poem of yours that struck me as saying pretty much the same thing as did the argument of your present disputation. If you would recite that, it would more than satisfy the both of us.
FLOR. Because of your affection you’re not an impartial judge, and you are urging me to produce, as it were, personal testimony to my own incompetence. Sometimes for the sake of relaxation I have been in the habit of reciting some verses à la Horace while strumming my lute, but since there subjects struck me as too trifling, I turned to composing a poem for my own use, whose contents would provide some nourishment for my mind. I wrote it, but with little success, and it will especially seem that way to those who, captivated by an admiration for profane things, think no poem is successful if it lacks the Muses, Jove, Venus, Leda, and similar fabulous fictions of the Greeks. But (as the proverb has it) not even Jupiter himself pleases everybody. Therefore, so that you will finally allow me to leave, I’ll recite you the very poem: if it is not learned and polished, at least it is pious, and that’s far better.
Thre is no peace in this life save that which comes from wisdom and piety
Oh beings of heaven, why should I wrongly accuse you and the Guardian of all things any more? I am beyond doubt the unhappy creator of my own evil.
In vain I keep looking for someone who knows how to manufacture light out of darkness, and, wretchedly dwelling in the realm of horrid death, I stand in the way of my life and genuine delights.
Absinthe does not yield honey, nor does a thistle bear grapes. Thus the man who chases after the evil delights of this brief life seeks to pluck fruit from a tree not his own:
I mean the fleeting glory of beauty, the gleam of gold shining within your lofty house, a royal pedigree, and wealth, to which you may add luxury and delights.
Whatever you see with your eyes, whatever lovely thing you touch with your hands, all this is dust and shadows, and the mere dreams of this short night.
Whatever has already passed is nothing, future pleasure, soon finished, quickly becomes a thing of the past, and you seek a thing which is nothing?
Go now, wretch, and spread your nets for the light wind (a thing which nobody but a fool would choose to do). Embrace the fleeing shadow, if you can.
That which leaves you against your will is something you should willingly abandon, and prudently seek for these which cannot be taken from you against your will.
What good does it do a man, I ask you, to gain the whole world and its wealth, if a brief moment of time no hope remains for the soul?
How much more wisely does a man order his life who protects himself with pious pursuits and an innocent life, when he travels the way from this world to heaven!
In the meantime, if you desire a taste of true happiness or good times, being free of anxious care you must be moderate in regulating the will of your desire.
If you allow it to stray beyond the circle circumscribed by reason, what troubles and commotions it will cost you! And you live unhappily, basely unquiet.
If you desire complete repose, behold, devotion to the holy Cross makes your difficult way easily. Blessed is the mind helped by this devotion.
It is not gripped by wealth, the concern and great love of the common man, but rather by the beauty of uprightness and the rewards heaven is wont to bestow on great men.
This puts the rout the delights we seek, when we are as if driven by Furies, which are nothing but torments and delays to the mind when it seeks to mount upward.
It scorns those things we admire at first, as if they were goods, and neglects them all as if they were dung, so that it might be able to gain Christ alone.
Eagerly it prefers what the common folk adjudge to be oppressive, nor regards the joy that other things provide as genuine for the man for whom Christ is absent.
It only happily thinks on Your Cross, Christ, on which it perceives life and the eternal glory of heaven hidden under the image of death.
Thus (and this is not something heaven is wont to grant rashly or to many) it drives honey from rock, and, when it chooses, it produces oil from hard stone.
This time of life is granted to merit alone, its life flows peacefully on for the man who holds this good stored up in his heart, having a value matching all else.
For what does he crave outside himself, he who possesses that pearl, the only one which it is fitting to seek at the cost of all else?
Alas, in what waves are other men tossed, who often gain death as the reward for their strivings, and cares that return without end?
Often he calls for that final day of which our degenerate race shares a common dread, tearfully wailing at its unwelcome delay.
Oh would that this frenzy would catch me up! Thus I would gladly desire to hasten there where I must soon go, willy-nilly.
My present life flies off, my second one is at hand. Our Father has given us no other road leading here, save for the one in the Cross of His dear Son.
How can you now behold His impious wounds, which you inflicted, and from which such welcome salvation flows for your ungrateful self?
You who carefully flee that which is hard, so quick to melt amidst soft things, with what effrontery do you claim a share of our common rewards, undertaking no labor?
If you can’t endure such great things, at least do this: let Him not be able to see you being untrue to yourself, Him in Whom you are asking a future share.
That which closely resembles Phoebus you could call truly shining, and those which are white, in the manner of snow, claim first place among bright thing.
And also those things are very sweet which imitate fragrant honey, and those that can contend with the light breezes can be most soaring.
So hang me unless the more you resemble Christ the finer you are, for he is the chief model of all excellence.
Those who are persuaded that this is so possess a pious consolation when hardships sorely oppress them, that in this way they resemble Christ all the more.
Rare are the men of his kind, whose excellent vigor of mind lifts above the common herd, since a beautiful thing is always rare, and also difficult.
But piety and the reflection that all is vanity never enters our foolish heads, until death unexpectedly knocks at our door.
Then, for the first time, you begin to be wise, condemning too late your previous life and your empty joys, although a little earlier you loved them with all your heart.
Then, terrified, you call on Christ, Whom you scarce condescended to think of when your affairs were flourishing intact. See what kind of merit is this!
Although you to this out of fear, nevertheless (such being His goodness) you never embrace Him in vain. Nevertheless, the sooner you do this, the better.
If you try to quench your thirst using any other water, or seek for a different way, you are wasting all your time and effort.