Valerius Terminus of the Interpretation of Nature Page 01

VALERIUS TERMINUS: OF THE INTERPRETATION OF NATURE

(by Sir Francis Bacon)

CAP. 1.

OF THE LIMITS AND END OF KNOWLEDGE.

In the divine nature both religion and philosophy hath acknowledged goodness in perfection, science or providence comprehending all things, and absolute sovereignty or kingdom. In aspiring to the throne of power the angels transgressed and fell, in presuming to come within the oracle of knowledge man transgressed and fell; but in pursuit towards the similitude of God's goodness or love (which is one thing, for love is nothing else but goodness put in motion or applied) neither man or spirit ever hath transgressed, or shall transgress.

The angel of light that was, when he presumed before his fall, said within himself, I WILL ASCEND AND BE LIKE UNTO THE HIGHEST; not God, but the highest. To be like to God in goodness, was no part of his emulation; knowledge, being in creation an angel of light, was not the want which did most solicit him; only because he was a minister he aimed at a supremacy; therefore his climbing or ascension was turned into a throwing down or precipitation.

Man on the other side, when he was tempted before he fell, had offered unto him this suggestion, THAT HE SHOULD BE LIKE UNTO GOD. But how? Not simply, but in this part, KNOWING GOOD AND EVIL. For being in his creation invested with sovereignty of all inferior creatures, he was not needy of power or dominion; but again, being a spirit newly inclosed in a body of earth, he was fittest to be allured with appetite of light and liberty of knowledge; therefore this approaching and intruding into God's secrets and mysteries was rewarded with a further removing and estranging from God's presence. But as to the goodness of God, there is no danger in contending or advancing towards a similitude thereof, as that which is open and propounded to our imitation. For that voice (whereof the heathen and all other errors of religion have ever confessed that it sounds not like man), LOVE YOUR ENEMIES; BE YOU LIKE UNTO YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER, THAT SUFFERETH HIS RAIN TO FALL BOTH UPON THE JUST AND THE UNJUST, doth well declare, that we can in that point commit no excess; so again we find it often repeated in the old law, BE YOU HOLY AS I AM HOLY; and what is holiness else but goodness, as we consider it separate and guarded from all mixture and all access of evil?

Wherefore seeing that knowledge is of the number of those things which are to be accepted of with caution and distinction; being now to open a fountain, such as it is not easy to discern where the issues and streams thereof will take and fall; I thought it good and necessary in the first place to make a strong and sound head or bank to rule and guide the course of the waters; by setting down this position or firmament, namely, THAT ALL KNOWLEDGE IS TO BE LIMITED BY RELIGION, AND TO BE REFERRED TO USE AND ACTION.

For if any man shall think by view and inquiry into these sensible and material things, to attain to any light for the revealing of the nature or will of God, he shall dangerously abuse himself. It is true that the contemplation of the creatures of God hath for end (as to the natures of the creatures themselves) knowledge, but as to the nature of God, no knowledge, but wonder; which is nothing else but contemplation broken off; or losing itself. Nay further, as it was aptly said by one of Plato's school THE SENSE OF MAN RESEMBLES THE SUN, WHICH OPENETH AND REVEALETH THE TERRESTRIAL GLOBE, BUT OBSCURETH AND CONCEALETH THE CELESTIAL; so doth the sense discover natural things, but darken and shut up divine. And this appeareth sufficiently in that there is no proceeding in invention of knowledge but by similitude; and God is only self-like, having nothing in common with any creature, otherwise than as in shadow and trope. Therefore attend his will as himself openeth it, and give unto faith that which unto faith belongeth; for more worthy it is to believe than to think or know, considering that in knowledge (as we now are capable of it) the mind suffereth from inferior natures; but in all belief it suffereth from a spirit which it holdeth superior and more authorised than itself.

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Francis Bacon

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