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The Theological Tractates And The Consolation of Philosophy

WHEN Philosophy had sung these verses with a soft and sweet voice, observing due dignity and gravity in her countenance and gesture, I, not having altogether forgotten my inward grief, interrupted her speech which she was about to continue, and said: “O thou who bringest us to see true light, those things which hitherto thou hast treated of have manifestly appeared both to be divine when contemplated apart, and invincible when supported by thy reasons, and what thou hast uttered, though the force of grief had made me forget it of late, yet heretofore I was not altogether ignorant of it. But this is the chiefest cause of my sorrow, that since the governor of all things is so good, there can either be any evil at all, or that it pass unpunished. Which alone I beseech thee consider, how much admiration it deserveth. But there is another greater than this; for wickedness bearing rule and sway, virtue is not only without reward, but lieth also trodden under the wicked’s feet, and is punished instead of vice. That which things should be done in the kingdom of God, who knoweth all things, can do all things, but will do only that which is good, no man can sufficiently admire nor complain.”

To which she answered: “It were indeed infinitely strange, and surpassing all monsters, if, as thou conceivest, in the best-ordered house of so great an householder the vilest vessels were made account of and the precious neglected; but it is not so. For if those things which were a little before concluded be kept unviolated, thou shalt by His help, of whose kingdom we speak, know that the good are always powerful, and the evil always abject and weak, and that vices are never without punishment, nor virtue without reward, and that the good are always prosperous, and the evil unfortunate, and many things of that sort, which will take away all cause of complaint, and give thee firm and solid strength. And since by my means thou hast already seen the form of true blessedness, and known where it is placed, running over all those things which I think necessary to rehearse, I will show thee the way which will carry thee home. And I will also fasten wings upon thy mind, with which she may rouse herself, that, all perturbation being driven away, thou mayest return safely into thy country by my direction, by my path, and with my wings.

For I have swift and nimble wings which will ascend the lofty skies,

With which when thy quick mind is clad, it will the loathéd earth despise,

And go beyond the airy globe, and watery clouds behind thee leave,

Passing the fire which scorching heat doth from the heavens’ swift course receive,

Until it reach the starry house, and get to tread bright Phoebus’ ways,

Following the chilly sire’s path, companion of his flashing rays,

And trace the circle of the stars which in the night to us appear,

And having stayed there long enough go on beyond the farthest sphere,

Sitting upon the highest orb partaker of the glorious light,

Where the great King his sceptre holds, and the world’s reins doth guide aright,

And, firm in his swift chariot, doth everything in order set.

Unto this seat when thou art brought, thy country, which thou didst forget,

Thou then wilt challenge to thyself, saying: ‘This is the glorious land

Where I was born, and in this soil my feet for evermore shall stand.

Whence if thou pleasest to behold the earthly night which thou hast left,

Those tyrants which the people fear will seem of their true home bereft.’ ”

“Oh!” quoth I. “How great things dost thou promise! And I doubt not but thou canst perform them, wherefore stay me not now that thou hast stirred up my desires.” “First then,” quoth she, “that good men are always powerful, and evil men of no strength, thou mayest easily know, the one is proved by the other. For since that good and evil are contraries, if it be convinced that goodness is potent, the weakness of evil will be also manifest; and contrariwise if we discern the frailty of evil, we must needs acknowledge the firmness of goodness. But that our opinions may be more certainly embraced, I will take both ways, confirming my propositions, sometime from one part, sometime from another.

There be two things by which all human actions are effected, will and power, of which if either be wanting, there can nothing be performed. For if there want will, no man taketh anything in hand against his will, and if there be not power, the will is in vain. So that, if thou seest any willing to obtain that which he doth not obtain, thou canst not doubt but that he wanted power to obtain what he would.” “It is manifest,” quoth I, “and can by no means be denied.” “And wilt thou doubt that he could, whom thou seest bring to pass what he desired?” “No.” “But every man is mighty in that which he can do, and weak in that which he cannot do.” “I confess it,” quoth I. “Dost thou remember then,” quoth she, “that it was inferred by our former discourses that all the intentions of man’s will doth hasten to happiness, though their courses be divers?” “I remember,” quoth I, “that that also was proved.” “Dost thou also call to mind that blessedness is goodness itself, and consequently when ‘blessedness is sought after, goodness must of course be desired?” “I call it not to mind, for I have it already fixed in my memory.” “Wherefore all men both good and bad without difference of intentions endeavour to obtain goodness.” “It followeth,” quoth I. “But it is certain that men are made good by the obtaining of goodness.” “It is so.” “Wherefore good men obtain what they desire.” “So it seemeth.” “And if evil men did obtain the goodness they desire, they could not be evil.” “It is true.” “Wherefore since they both desire goodness, but the one obtaineth it and the other not, there is no doubt but that good men are powerful, and the evil weak.” “Whosoever doubteth of this,” quoth I, “he neither considereth the nature of things, nor the consequence of thy reasons.” “Again,” quoth she, “if there be two to whom the same thing is proposed according to nature, and the one of them bringeth it perfectly to pass with his natural function, but the other cannot exercise that natural function but after another manner than is agreeable to nature, and doth not perform that which he had proposed, but imitateth the other who performeth it: which of these two wilt thou judge to be more powerful?” “Though I conjecture,” quoth I, “at thy meaning, yet I desire to hear it more plainly.” “Wilt thou deny,” quoth she, “that the motion of walking is agreeable to the nature of men?” “No,” quoth I. “And makest thou any doubt that the function of it doth naturally belong to the feet?” “There is no doubt of this neither,” quoth I. “Wherefore if one that can go upon his feet doth walk, and another who hath not this natural function of his feet endeavoureth to walk by creeping upon his hands, which of these two is deservedly to be esteemed the stronger?” “Infer the rest,” quoth I, “for no man doubteth but that he which can use that natural function is stronger than he which cannot.” “But,” quoth she, “the good seek to obtain the chiefest good, which is equally proposed to bad and good, by the natural function of virtues, but the evil endeavour to obtain the same by divers concupiscences, which are not the natural function of obtaining goodness. Thinkest thou otherwise?” “No,” quoth I, “for it is manifest what followeth. For by the force of that which I have already granted, it is necessary that good men are powerful and evil men weak.”

“Thou runnest before rightly,” quoth she, “and it is (as physicians are wont to hope) a token of an erected and resisting nature. Wherefore, since I see thee most apt and willing to comprehend, I will therefore heap up many reasons together. For consider the great weakness of vicious men, who cannot come so far as their natural intention leadeth and almost compelleth them. And what if they were destitute of this so great and almost invincible help of the direction of nature? Ponder likewise the immense impotency of wicked men. For they are no light or trifling rewards which they desire, and cannot obtain: but they fail in the very sum and top of things: neither can the poor wretches compass that which they only labour for nights and days: in which thing the forces of the good eminently appear. For as thou wouldst judge him to be most able to walk who going on foot could come as far as there were any place to go in: so must thou of force judge him most powerful who obtaineth the end of all that can be desired, beyond which there is nothing. Hence that which is opposite also followeth, that the same men are wicked and destitute of all forces. For why do they follow vices, forsaking virtues? By ignorance of that which is good? But what is more devoid of strength than blind ignorance? Or do they know what they should embrace, but passion driveth them headlong the contrary way? So also intemperance makes them frail, since they cannot strive against vice. Or do they wittingly and willingly forsake goodness, and decline to vices? But in this sort they leave not only to be powerful, but even to be at all. For they which leave the common end of all things which are, leave also being. Which may perhaps seem strange to some, that we should say that evil men are not at all, who are the greatest part of men: but yet it is so. For I deny not that evil men are evil, but withal I say that purely and simply they are not.

For as thou mayest call a carcase a dead man, but not simply a man, so I confess that the vicious are evil, but I cannot grant that they are absolutely. For that is which retaineth order, and keepeth nature, but that which faileth from this leaveth also to be that which is in his own nature. But thou wilt say that evil men can do many things, neither will I deny it, but this their power proceedeth not from forces but from weakness. For they can do evil, which they could not do if they could have remained in the performance of that which is good. Which possibility declareth more evidently that they can do nothing. For if, as we concluded a little before, evil is nothing, since they can only do evil, it is manifest that the wicked can do nothing.” “It is most manifest.” “And that thou mayest understand what the force of this power is; we determined a little before that there is nothing more powerful than the Sovereign Goodness.” “It is true,” quoth I. “But He cannot do evil.” “No.” “Is there any then,” quoth she, “that think that men can do all things?” “No man, except he be mad, thinketh so.” “But yet men can do evil.” “I would to God they could not,” quoth I. “Since therefore he that can only do good, can do all things, and they who can do evil, cannot do all things, it is manifest that they which can do evil are less potent. Moreover, we have proved that all power is to be accounted among those things which are to be wished for, and that all such things have reference to goodness, as to the very height of their nature. But the possibility of committing wickedness cannot have reference to goodness. Wherefore it is not to be wished for. Yet all power is to be wished for; and consequently it is manifest, possibility of evil is no power. By all which the power of the good and the undoubted infirmity of evil appeareth. And it is manifest that the sentence of Plato is true: that only wise men can do that which they desire, and that the wicked men practise indeed what they list, but cannot perform what they would. For they do what they list, thinking to obtain the good which they desire by those things which cause them delight; but they obtain it not, because shameful action cannot arrive to happiness.

The kings whom we behold

In highest glory placed,

And with rich purple graced,

Compassed with soldiers bold;

Whose countenance shows fierce threats,

Who with rash fury chide,

If any strip the pride

From their vainglorious feats;

He’ll see them close oppressed

Within by galling chains.

For filthy lust there reigns

And poisoneth their breast,

Wrath often them perplexeth

Raising their minds like waves,

Sorrow their power enslaves

And sliding hope them vexeth.

So many tyrants still

Dwelling in one poor heart,

Except they first depart

She cannot have her will.

Seest thou then in what mire wickedness wallows, and how clearly honesty shineth? By which it is manifest that the good are never without rewards, nor the evil without punishments. For in all things that are done that for which anything is done may deservedly seem the reward of that action, as to him that runneth a race, the crown for which he runneth is proposed as a reward. But we have showed that blessedness is the selfsame goodness for which all things are done. Wherefore this goodness is proposed as a common reward for all human actions, and this cannot, be separated from those who are good. For he shall not rightly be any longer called good, who wanteth goodness; wherefore virtuous manners are not left without their due rewards. And how much so ever the evil do rage, yet the wise man’s crown will not fade nor wither. For others’ wickedness depriveth not virtuous minds of their proper glory. But if he should rejoice at anything which he hath from others, either he who gave it, or any other might take it away. But because every man’s virtue is the cause of it, then only he shall want his reward when he leaveth to be virtuous. Lastly, since every reward is therefore desired because it is thought to be good, who can judge him to be devoid of reward, which hath goodness for his possession? But what reward hath he? The most beautiful and the greatest that can be. For remember that corollarium which I presented thee with a little before, as with a rare and precious jewel, and infer thus: Since that goodness itself is happiness, it is manifest that all good men even by being good are made happy. But we agreed that happy men are gods. Wherefore the reward of good men, which no time can waste, no man’s power diminish, no man’s wickedness obscure, is to become gods. Which things being so, no wise man can any way doubt of the inseparable punishment of the evil. For since goodness and evil, punishment and reward, are opposite the one to the other, those things which we see fall out in the reward of goodness must needs be answerable in a contrary manner in the punishment of evil. Wherefore as to honest men honesty itself is a reward, so to the wicked their very wickedness is a punishment. And he that is punished doubteth not but that he is afflicted with the evil. Wherefore if they would truly consider their own estate, can they think themselves free from punishment, whom wickedness, the worst of all evils, doth not only touch but strongly infect? But weigh the punishment which accompanieth the wicked, by comparing it to the reward of the virtuous. For thou learnedst not long before that whatsoever is at all is one, and that unity is goodness, by which it followeth that whatsoever is must also be good. And in this manner, whatsoever falleth from goodness ceaseth to be, by which it followeth that evil men leave to be that which they were, but the shape of men, which they still retain, showeth them to have been men: wherefore by embracing wickedness they have lost the nature of men. But since virtue alone can exalt us above men, wickedness must needs cast those under the desert of men, which it hath bereaved of that condition. Wherefore thou canst not account him a man whom thou seest transformed by vices. Is the violent extorter of other men’s goods carried away with his covetous desire? Thou mayest liken him to a wolf. Is the angry and unquiet man always contending and brawling? Thou mayest compare him to a dog. Doth the treacherous fellow rejoice that he hath deceived others with his hidden frauds? Let him be accounted no better than a fox. Doth the outrageous fret and fume? Let him be thought to have a lion’s mind. Is the fearful and timorous afraid without cause? Let him be esteemed like to hares and deer. Is the slow and stupid always idle? He liveth an ass’s life. Doth the light and unconstant change his courses? He is nothing different from the birds. Is he drowned in filthy and unclean lusts? He is entangled in the pleasure of a stinking sow. So that he who, leaving virtue, ceaseth to be a man, since he cannot be partaker of the divine condition, is turned into a beast.

The sails which wise Ulysses bore,

And ships which in the seas long time did stray

The eastern wind drave to that shore

Where the fair Goddess Lady Circe lay,

Daughter by birth to Phoebus bright,

Who with enchanted cups and charms did stay

Her guests, deceived with their delight

And into sundry figures them did change,

Being most skilful in the might

And secret force of herbs and simples strange;

Some like to savage boars, and some

Like lions fierce, which daily use to range

Through Libya, in tooth and claw become.

Others are changed to the shape and guise

Of ravenous wolves, and waxing dumb

Use howling in the stead of manly cries.

Others like to the tiger rove

Which in the scorched Indian desert lies.

And though the winged son of Jove

From these bewitchéd cups’ delightful taste

To keep the famous captain strove,

Yet them the greedy mariners embraced

With much desire, till turned to swine

Instead of bread they fed on oaken mast.

Ruined in voice and form, no sign

Remains to them of any human grace;

Only their minds unchanged repine

To see their bodies in such ugly case.

O feeble hand and idle art

Which, though it could the outward limbs deface,

Yet had no force to change the heart.

For all the force of men given by God’s arm

Lies hidden in their inmost part.

The poisons therefore which within them swarm

More deeply pierce, and with more might,

For to the body though they do no harm,

Yet on the soul they work their spite.”

Then said I, “I confess and perceive that thou affirmest not without cause that the vicious, though they keep the outward shape of men, are in their inward state of mind changed into brute beasts. But I would have had them whose cruel and wicked heart rageth to the harm of the good, restrained from executing their malice.” “They are restrained,” quoth she, “as shall be proved in convenient place. But yet if this liberty which they seem to have be taken away, their punishment also is in great part released. For (which perhaps to some may seem incredible) evil men must necessarily be more unhappy when they have brought to pass their purposes than if they could not obtain what they desire. For if it be a miserable thing to desire that which is evil, it is more miserable to be able to perform it, without which the miserable will could not have any effect. Wherefore since everyone of these hath their peculiar misery, they must of force be oppressed with a threefold wretchedness, whom thou seest desire; be able, and perform wickedness.” “I grant it,” quoth I, “but earnestly wish that they may soon be delivered from this misery, having lost the power to perform their malice.” “They will lose it,” quoth she, “sooner than perhaps either thou wouldst, or they themselves suppose. For in the short compass of this life there is nothing so late that any one, least of all an immortal soul, should think it long in coming; so that the great hope and highest attempts of the wicked are many times made frustrate with a sudden and unexpected end, which in truth setteth some end to their misery.

For if wickedness make men miserable, the longer one is wicked, the more miserable he must needs be; and I should judge them the most unhappy men that may be, if death at least did not end their malice. For if we have concluded truly of the misery of wickedness, it is manifest that the wretchedness which is everlasting must of force be infinite.” “A strange illation,” quoth I, “and hard to be granted; but I see that those things which were granted before agree very well with these.” “Thou thinkest aright,” quoth she, “but he that findeth difficulty to yield to the conclusion must either show that something which is presupposed is false, or that the combination of the propositions makes not a necessary conclusion; otherwise, granting that which went before, he hath no reason to doubt of the inference. For this also which I will conclude now will seem no less strange, and yet followeth as necessarily out of those things which are already assumed.” “What?” quoth I. “That wicked men,” quoth she, “are more happy being punished than if they escaped the hands of justice. Neither do I now go about to show that which may come into every man’s mind, that evil customs are corrected by chastisement, and are reduced to virtue by the terror of punishment, and that others may take example to avoid evil, but in another manner also I think vicious men that go unpunished to be more miserable, although we take no account of correction and pay no regard to example.” “And what other manner shall this be,” quoth I, “besides these?” “Have we not granted,” quoth she, “that the good are happy, and the evil miserable?” “We have,” quoth I. “If then,” quoth she, “something that is good be added to one’s misery, is he not happier than another whose misery is desolate and solitary, without any participation of goodness?” “So it seemeth,” quoth I. “What if there be some other evil annexed to this miserable man who is deprived of all goodness, besides those which make him miserable, is he not to be accounted much more unhappy than he whose misery is lightened by partaking of goodness?” “Why not?” quoth I. “But it is manifest that it is just that the wicked be punished, and unjust that they should go unpunished.” “Who can deny that?” “But neither will any man deny this,” quoth she, “that whatsoever is just, is good, and contrariwise, that whatsoever is unjust, is evil.” “Certainly,” I answered. “Then the wicked have some good annexed when they are punished, to wit, the punishment itself, which by reason of justice is good, and when they are not punished, they have a further evil, the very impunity which thou hast deservedly granted to be an evil because of its injustice,” “I cannot deny it.” “Wherefore the vicious are far more unhappy by escaping punishment unjustly, than by being justly punished.” “This followeth,” quoth I, “out of that which hath been concluded before.

But I pray thee, leavest thou no punishments for the souls after the death of the body?” “And those great too,” quoth she. “Some of which I think to be executed as sharp punishments, and others as merciful purgations. But I purpose not now to treat of those. But we have hitherto laboured that thou shouldest perceive the power of the wicked, which to thee seemed intolerable, to be none at all, and that thou shouldest see, that those whom thou complainedst went unpunished, do never escape without punishment for their wickedness. And that thou shouldest learn that the licence which thou wishedst might soon end, is not long, and yet the longer the more miserable, and most unhappy if it were everlasting. Besides, that the wicked are more wretched being permitted to escape with unjust impunity, than being punished with just severity. Out of which it followeth that they are then more grievously punished, when they are thought to go scot-free.”

“When I consider thy reasons,” quoth I, “I think nothing can be said more truly. But if I return to the judgments of men, who is there that will think them worthy to be believed or so much as heard?” “It is true,” quoth she, “for they cannot lift up their eyes accustomed to darkness, to behold the light of manifest truth, and they are like those birds whose sight is quickened by the night, and dimmed by the day. For while they look upon, not the order of things, but their own affections, they think that licence and impunity to sin is happy. But see what the eternal law establisheth. If thou apply thy mind to the better, thou needest no judge to reward thee: thou hast joined thyself to the more excellent things. If thou declinest to that which is worse, never expect any other to punish thee: thou hast put thyself in a miserable estate; as if by turns thou lookest down to the miry ground, and up to heaven, setting aside all outward causes, by the very law of sight thou seemest sometime to be in the dirt, and sometime present to the stars. But the common sort considered not these things. What then? Shall we join ourselves to them whom we have proved to be like beasts? What if one having altogether lost his sight should likewise forget that he ever had any, and should think that he wanted nothing which belongeth to human perfection: should we likewise think them blind, that see as well as they saw before? For they will not grant that neither, which may be proved by as forcible reasons, that they are more unhappy that do injury than they which suffer it.” “I would,” quoth I, “hear these reasons.” “Deniest thou,” quoth she, “that every wicked man deserveth punishment?” “No.” “And it is many ways clear that the vicious are miserable?” “Yes,” quoth I. “Then you do not doubt that those who deserve punishment are wretched?” “It is true,” quoth I. “If then,” quoth she, “thou wert to examine this cause, whom wouldest thou appoint to be punished, him that did or that suffered wrong?” “I doubt not,” quoth I, “but that I would satisfy him that suffered with the sorrow of him that did it.” “The offerer of the injury then would seem to thee more miserable than the receiver?” “It followeth,” quoth I. “Hence therefore, and for other causes grounded upon that principle that dishonesty of itself maketh men miserable, it appeareth that the injury which is offered any man is not the receiver’s but the doer’s misery.” “But now-a-days,’ quoth she, “orators take the contrary course. For they endeavour to draw the judges to commiseration of them who have suffered any grievous afflictions; whereas pity is more justly due to the causers thereof, who should be brought, not by angry, but rather by favourable and compassionate accusers to judgment, as it were sick men to a physician, that their diseases and faults might be taken away by punishments; by which means the defenders’ labour would either wholly cease, or if they had rather do their clients some good, they would change their defence into accusations. And the wicked themselves, if they could behold virtue abandoned by them, through some little rift, and perceive that they might be delivered from the filth of sin by the affliction of punishments, obtaining virtue in exchange, they would not esteem of torments, and would refuse the assistance of their defenders, and wholly resign themselves to their accusers and judges. By which means it cometh to pass, that in wise men there is no place for hatred. For who but a very fool would hate the good? And to hate the wicked were against reason. For as faintness is a disease of the body, so is vice a sickness of the mind. Wherefore, since we judge those that have corporal infirmities to be rather worthy of compassion than of hatred, much more are they to be pitied, and not abhorred, whose minds are oppressed with wickedness, the greatest malady that may be.

Why should we strive to die so many ways,

And slay ourselves with our own hands?

If we seek death, she ready stands,

She willing comes, her chariot never stays.

Those against whom the wild beasts arméd be,

Against themselves with weapons rage.

Do they such wars unjustly wage,

Because their lives and manners disagree,

And so themselves with mutual weapons kill?

Alas, but this revenge is small.

Wouldst thou give due desert to all?

Love then the good, and pity thou the ill.”

“I see,” quoth I, “what felicity or misery is placed in the deserts of honest and dishonest men. But I consider that there is somewhat good or evil even in this popular fortune. For no wise man had rather live in banishment, poverty, and ignominy, than prosper in his own country, being rich, respected, and powerful. For in this manner is the office of wisdom performed with more credit and renown, when the governors’ happiness is participated by the people about them; so chiefly because prisons, death, and other torments of legal punishments are rather due to pernicious subjects, for whom they were also ordained. Wherefore I much marvel why these things are thus turned upside down, and the punishments of wickedness oppress the good, while evil men obtain the rewards of the good. And I desire to know of thee what may seem to be the reason of so unjust confusion. For I would marvel less if I thought that all things were disordered by casual events. Now God being the Governor, my astonishment is increased. For since that He distributed oftentimes that which is pleasant to the good, and that which is distasteful to the bad, and contrariwise adversity to the good, and prosperity to the evil, unless we find out the cause hereof, what difference may there seem to be betwixt this and accidental chances?” “It is no marvel,” quoth she, “if anything be thought temerarious and confused, when we know not the order it hath. But although thou beest ignorant of the causes why things be so disposed, yet because the world hath a governor, doubt not but all things are well done.

Who knows not how the stars near to the poles do slide,

And how Boötes his slow wain doth guide,

And why he sets so late, and doth so early rise,

May wonder at the courses of the skies.

If when the moon is full her horns seem pale to sight,

Infested with the darkness of the night,

And stars from which all grace she with her brightness took,

Now show themselves, while she doth dimly look,

A public error straight through vulgar minds doth pass,

And they with many strokes beat upon brass.

None wonders why the winds upon the waters blow.

Nor why hot Phoebus’ beams dissolve the snow.

These easy are to know, the other hidden lie,

And therefore more our hearts they terrify.

All strange events which time to light more seldom brings,

And the vain people count as sudden things,

If we our clouded minds from ignorance could free,

No longer would by us admired be.”

“It is true,” quoth I, “but since it is thy profession to explicate the causes of hidden things, and to unfold the reasons which are covered with darkness, I beseech thee vouchsafe to declare what conclusion thou drawest from these things, for this miracle troubleth me above all others.” Then she smiling a little said: “Thou invitest me to a matter which is most hardly found out, and can scarcely be sufficiently declared; for it is such that, one doubt being taken away, innumerable others, like the heads of Hydra, succeed, neither will they have any end unless a man repress them with the most lively fire of his mind. For in this matter are wont to be handled these questions: of the simplicity of Providence; of the course of Fate; of sudden chances; of God’s knowledge and predestination, and of free will; which how weighty they are, thou thyself discerneth. But because it is part of thy cure to know these things also, though the time be short, yet we will endeavour to touch them briefly. But if the sweetness of verse delight thee, thou must for bear this pleasure for a while, until I propose unto thee some few arguments.” “As it pleaseth thee,” quoth I.

Then taking as it were a new beginning, she discoursed in this manner: “The generation of all things, and all the proceedings of mutable natures, and whatsoever is moved in any sort, take their causes, order, and forms from the stability of the Divine mind. This, placed in the castle of its own simplicity, hath determined manifold ways for doing things; which ways being considered in the purity of God’s understanding, are named Providence, but being referred to those things which He moveth and disposeth, they are by the ancients called Fate. The diversity of which will easily appear if we weigh the force of both. For Providence is the very Divine reason itself, seated in the highest Prince, which disposeth all things. But Fate is a disposition inherent in changeable things, by which Providence connecteth all things in their due order. For Providence embraceth all things together, though diverse, though infinite; but Fate putteth every particular thing into motion being distributed by places, forms, and time; so that this unfolding of temporal order being united into the foresight of God’s mind is Providence, and the same uniting, being digested and unfolded in time, is called Fate. Which although they be diverse yet the one dependeth on the other. For fatal order proceedeth from the simplicity of Providence. For as a workman conceiving the form of anything in his mind taketh his work in hand, and executeth by order of time that which he had simply and in a moment foreseen, so God by His Providence disposeth whatsoever is to be done with simplicity and stability, and by Fate effecteth by manifold ways and in the order of time those very things which He disposeth. Wherefore, whether Fate be exercised by the subordination of certain Divine spirits to Providence, or this fatal web be woven by a soul or by the service of all nature, or by the heavenly motions of the stars, by angelical virtue, or by diabolical industry, or by some or all of these, that certainly is manifest that Providence is an immoveable and simple form of those things which are to be done, and Fate a moveable connexion and temporal order of those things which the Divine simplicity hath disposed to be done. So that all that is under Fate is also subject to Providence, to which also Fate itself obeyeth. But some things which are placed under Providence are above the course of Fate. And they are those things which nigh to the first Divinity, being stable and fixed, exceed the order of fatal mobility. For as of orbs which turn about the same centre, the inmost draweth nigh to the simplicity of the midst, and is as it were the hinge of the rest, which are placed without it, about which they are turned, and the outmost, wheeled with a greater compass, by how much it departeth from the middle indivisibility of the centre, is so much the more extended into larger spaces, but that which is joined and coupled to that middle approacheth to simplicity, and ceaseth to spread and flow abroad, in like manner that which departeth farthest from the first mind is involved more deeply in the meshes of Fate, and everything is so much the freer from Fate, by how much it draweth nigh to the hinge of all things. And if it sticketh to the stability of the Sovereign mind, free from motion, it surpasseth also the necessity of Fate. Wherefore in what sort discourse of reason is compared to pure understanding, that which is produced to that which is, time to eternity, a circle to the centre, such is the course of moveable Fate to the stable simplicity of Providence. That course moveth the heaven and stars, tempereth the elements one with another, and transformeth them by mutual changing. The same reneweth all rising and dying things by like proceeding of fruits and seeds. This comprehendeth also the actions and fortunes of men by an unloosable connexion of causes, which since it proceeds from the principles of unmovable Providence, the causes also must needs be immutable. For in this manner things are best governed, if the simplicity which remaineth in the Divine mind produceth an inflexible order of causes, and this order restraineth with its own immutability things otherwise mutable, and which would have a confused course. Whereof it ensueth that though all things seem confused and disordered to you, who are not able to consider this order, notwithstanding all things are disposed by their own proper measure directing them to good. For there is nothing which is done for the love of evil, even by the wicked themselves: whom, as hath been abundantly proved, lewd error carrieth away while they are seeking after that which is good, so far is it that order proceeding from the hinge of the Sovereign Goodness should avert any from his first beginning.

But, thou wilt say, what more unjust confusion can there be than that both adversity and prosperity should happen to the good, and in like manner both desired and hateful things to the wicked? But are men so completely wise that whomsoever they judge wicked or honest must needs be so? How then are their censures contrary one to another, so that to divers the same men seem worthy of reward and punishment! But let us grant that some are able to discern the good from the evil. Can they therefore behold, as is wont to be said of bodies, that inward complexion of souls? For he that knoweth not the cause may marvel in like manner why some sound bodies agree better with sweet things and other with tart; and why some sick men are healed with gentle and some with sharper physic. But to a physician who knoweth the manner and temper both of health and sickness this is nothing strange. Now, what is the health of souls but virtue? What sickness have they but vices? And who either conserveth goodness or expelleth evils, but God the Ruler and Governor of men’s minds? Who beholding from His high turret of providence seeth what is fitting for everyone, and applieth that which He knoweth to be most convenient. Here ariseth that strange wonder of fatal order, to wit that He that knoweth what is best, doth that which the ignorant admire. For to touch briefly some few things of the divine depth, which human reason is able to attain, he whom thou thinketh most just and most observant of equity, seemeth otherwise in the eyes of Providence which knoweth all. And our disciple Lucan noteth that the cause of conquerers pleased the gods, and that of the conquered, Cato. Wherefore whatsoever thou seest done here against thy expectation is right order in the things themselves, but a perverse confusion in thy opinion. But let there be one so well conditioned that God and men approve and praise him; yet perhaps he is so weak a minded man, that if he falleth into adversity, he will forsake his innocency, which was not able to keep him in prosperity. Wherefore God’s wise dispensation spareth him that adversity might make worse, lest he should suffer to whom difficulties are dangerous.

There is another complete in all virtues, a saint and nigh to God; Providence judgeth it a sacrilege to lay affliction on him, insomuch that she permitteth him not to be troubled so much as with corporal sickness. For as one that excelleth me saith ‘the body of an holy man is builded of pure ether.’ It happeneth often also that the chief command is given to good men, that wickedness, which otherwise would overflow all, may be kept down. She mixeth for others sour and sweet according to the disposition of their souls; she troubles some lest they should fall to dissolution by long prosperity, others are vexed with hardships, that they may confirm the forces of their mind with the use and exercise of patience. Some are too much afraid of that which they are able to bear. Others make less account than there is cause of that which they cannot endure. All these she affrayeth with afflictions that they make trial of themselves. Many have bought the renown of this world with a glorious death. Some, overcoming all torments, have showed by their example that virtues cannot be conquered by miseries,” which things how well and orderly they are done, and how much to their good upon whom they are seen to fall, there can be no doubt. For that sometime grievous, sometime pleasant things befall in like manner the wicked, proceedeth from the same causes. And as for adversity no man marvelleth because all think they deserve ill. Whose punishments do both terrify others from the like courses, and move them to amend themselves. And their prosperity is a great argument to the good, what they ought to judge of this happiness which they see oftentimes bestowed upon the wicked. In which thing also is to be considered that peradventure some have so headlong and untoward a disposition, that poverty would rather make him worse; whose disease is cured by Providence, with giving him store of money. Another, knowing his own guilty conscience, and comparing his character with his own estate, is afraid lest the loss of that should be grievous unto him, the use of which is pleasant. Wherefore he resolveth to change his customs, and whiles he feareth to lose his prosperity, he forsaketh wickedness. The increase of honour undeservedly obtained hath thrown some headlong into their deserved destruction. Others are permitted to have authority to punish others, that they may exercise the good and punish the bad. For as there is no league between virtuous and wicked men, so neither can the wicked agree among themselves. Why not? Since they disagree within themselves by reason of their vices which tear their conscience, so that they many times do that which afterwards they wish undone. From whence that highest Providence often worketh that wonderful miracle, that evil men make those which are evil good. For some, considering the injustice done them by most wicked men, inflamed with hatred of evildoers have returned to the practice of virtue, procuring to be contrary to them whom they hate. For it is only a divine strength to which even evil things are good, when, by using them in due sort, it draweth some good effect out of them. For a certain order embraceth all things, so that even that which departeth from the order appointed to it, though it falleth into another, yet that is order also, lest confused rashness should bear any sway in the kingdom of Providence. ‘But it is hard for me to rehearse all this as if I were a God.’ For it is impossible for any man either to comprehend by his wit or to explicate in speech all the frame of God’s work. Be it sufficient that we have seen thus much, that God, the author of all natures, directeth and disposeth all things to goodness, and while He endeavoureth to retain in His own likeness those things which He hath produced, He banisheth all evil from the bounds of His commonwealth, by the course of fatal necessity. So that if thou considerest the disposition of Providence, thou wilt perceive that evil, which is thought so to abound upon earth, hath no place left for it at all. But I see that long since burdened with so weighty a question, and wearied with my long discourse, thou expectest the delight of verses; wherefore take a draught, that, being refreshed, thou mayest be able to go forward.

If thou would’st see

God’s laws with purest mind,

Thy sight on heaven must fixéd be,

Whose settled course the stars in peace doth bind.

The sun’s bright fire

Stops not his sister’s team,

Nor doth the northern bear desire

Within the ocean’s wave to hide her beam.

Though she behold

The other stars there couching,

Yet she uncessantly is rolled

About high heaven, the ocean never touching,

The evening light

With certain course doth show

The coming of the shady night,

And Lucifer before the day doth go.

This mutual love

Courses eternal makes,

And from the starry spheres above

All cause of war and dangerous discord takes.

This sweet consent

In equal bands doth tie

The nature of each element,

So that the moist things yield unto the dry,

The piercing cold

With flames doth friendship keep,

The trembling fire the highest place doth hold,

And the gross earth sinks down into the deep.

The flowery year

Breathes odours in the spring

The scorching summer corn doth bear,

The autumn fruit from laden trees doth bring.

The falling rain

Doth winter’s moisture give.

These rules thus nourish and maintain

All creatures which we see on earth to live.

And when they die,

These bring them to their end,

While their Creator sits on high,

Whose hand the reins of the whole world doth bend.

He as their King

Rules them with lordly might.

From Him they rise, flourish, and spring,

He as their law and judge decides their right.

Those things whose course

Most swiftly glides away

His might doth often backward force,

And suddenly their wandering motion stay.

Unless His strength

Their violence should bound,

And them which else would run at length,

Should bring within the compass of a round,

That firm decree

Which now doth all adorn

Would soon destroyed and broken be,

Things being far from their beginning borne.

This powerful love

Is common unto all,

Which for desire of good do move

Back to the springs from whence they first did fall.

No worldly thing

Can a continuance have

Unless love back again it bring

Unto the cause which first the essence gave.

Perceivest thou now what followeth of all that we have hitherto said?” “What?” quoth I. “That,” quoth she, “all manner of fortune is good.” “How can that be? “quoth I. “Be attentive,” quoth she; “since that all fortune, be it pleasing or unpleasing, is directed to the reward or exercise of the good, and to the punishment and direction of the wicked, it is manifest it is all good, since all is just or profitable.” “Thy reason is very true,” quoth I, “and if I consider Providence and Fate, which thou didst explicate a little before, thy opinion is well grounded. But if thou pleasest let us account it among those which thou not long since supposest incredible.” “Why?” quoth she. “Because men commonly use to say and repeat that some have ill fortune.” “Shall we,” quoth she, “frame our speech to the vulgar phrase, lest we seem to have as it were forsaken the use of human conversation?” “As it pleaseth thee,” quoth I. “Dost thou not think then that that is good which is profitable?” “Yes,” quoth I. “But that fortune which either exerciseth or correcteth is profitable?” “It is true,” quoth I. “It is good then?” “Why not?” “But this is the estate of them who being either virtuous strive with adversity, or forsaking vices betake themselves to the way of virtue.” “I cannot deny it,” quoth I. “Now, what sayest thou to that pleasing fortune which is given in reward to the good, doth the common people account it bad?” “No, but judgeth it exceeding good, as it is indeed.” “And what of the other which, being unpleasing, restraineth the evil with just punishment, doth not the people think it good?” “Nay,” quoth I, “they think it the most miserable that can be.” “Look then,” quoth she, “how, following the people’s opinion, we have concluded a very incredible matter.” “What?” quoth I. “For it followeth,” quoth she, “out of that which is granted, that all their fortune, whatsoever it be, who are either in the possession or increase or entrance of virtue, is good: and theirs, which remain in vices, the worst that may be.” “This,” quoth I, “is true, though none dare say so.” “Wherefore,” quoth she, “a wise man must be no more troubled when he is assaulted with adversity, than a valiant captain dismayed at the sound of an alarum. For difficulties are the matter by which the one must extend his glory, and the other increase his wisdom. For which cause virtue is so called, because it hath sufficient strength to overcome adversity. For you, that are proficients in virtue, are not come hither to be dissolute with dainties or to languish in pleasures. You skirmish fiercely with any fortune, lest either affliction oppress you or prosperity corrupt you. Stay yourselves strongly in the mean! For whatsoever cometh either short, or goeth beyond, may well contemn felicity, but will never obtain any reward of labour. For it is placed in your power to frame to yourselves what fortune you please. For all that seemeth unsavoury either exerciseth or correcteth or punisheth.

Revengeful Atreus’ son did ten whole years employ

In wars, till he his brother’s loss repaid with ransacked Troy.

He setting forth the fleet of Greece upon the seas,

And knowing well that only blood the angry winds would please,

Forgot a father’s part, and with his cruel knife

Unto the gods did sacrifice his dearest daughter’s life.

Ulysses wailed the doss of his most faithful men,

Whom Polyphemus did devour encloséd in his den

But when his hands by sleight had made the Cyclops blind,

Most pleasant joy instead of former tears possessed his mind.

Hercules famous is for his laborious toil,

Who tamed the Centaurs and did take the dreadful lion’s spoil.

He the Stymphalian birds with piercing arrows strook,

And from the watchful dragon’s care the golden apples took.

He in a threefold chain the hellish porter led,

And with their cruel master’s flesh the savage horses fed.

He did th’ increasing heads of poisonous Hydra burn,

And breaking Achelous’ horns, did make him back return.

He on the Libyan sands did proud Antaeus kill,

And with the mighty Cacus’ blood Euander’s wrath fulfil.

That world-uplifting back the boar’s white foam did fleck.

To hold on high the sphere of heaven with never bending neck

Of all his many toils the last was, and most hard,

And for this last and greatest toil the heaven was his reward.

You gallant men pursue this way of high renown,

Why yield you? Overcome the earth, and you the stars shall crown.”








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