A prince ought to sustain and confirm that which is false in religion, if it turns to the favor thereof. (Discourses, book 1 chapters 12, 13, 14)
Sage and prudent princes allow false miracles, because they are a means to augment the people’s devotion. For when the people see that the prince approves them, none makes any difficulty to believe them after him. Christian princes also should therein imitate the old Romans, who by deceitful miracles feigned false revelations, to encourage their soldiers and to cause their subjects to obey their ordinances. For they caused to publish either what they had read in the books of the Sibyls, or what they had consulted with the Oracle of Apollo, or that they had such and such a revelation, or that the flight of birds or other like tokens had signified unto them a good augury or divination. The people, being persuaded that they were true and pronounced by their gods, obeyed with great good will that which was commanded them by their captains and magistrates, as if the gods themselves had commanded them. In the meanwhile the Roman heads and captains knew of what account this merchandise was.
This atheist, after he has given the prince a document to hold all religion in his heart as a mockery, and only to show outwardly a fair semblance and countenance of devotion, now passes further and desires that the prince should maintain falseness in religion. I pray you, can there be found in the world a greater impiety and wickedness than this? Are we not beholden to them that have authorized and given countenance unto the writings of this stinking atheist; even unto those who have made two or three translations into French, the better to poison that nation. It is certain that the truth in all things is very commendable, but most especially when it deals in causes and matters of religion. For since religion is the thing which binds us with God, how can falseness bind us with God, who is truth itself? Is darkness compatible with light, or the obscure shadow with the sun? Rather, we always see that darkness vanishes and disperses away by the light, and the shadow also flies from the sun and hides itself behind some opposite. Therefore have the ancient doctors of the Church said and held for a principle of theology, that it would be much better for a scandal and offense to come, than for truth to be forsaken. Which sentence even the popes themselves have caused to be placed among their rules of canon law; and would to God they had observed it. But I see well it is to no purpose to cite reasons against this atheist and his disciples, who believe neither God nor religion; wherefore, before I pass any further, I must fight against their impiety, and make it appear to their eyes, if they have any, not by assailing them with the arms of the holy scripture (for they do not merit to be so assailed, and I fear to pollute the holy scriptures among people so profane and defiled with impiety), but by their proper arms and weapons, whereby their ignorance and beastliness defends their renewed atheism.
They then took human reason for a foundation, and profane pagan authors; but in truth both one and the other are so much against them that even by them I will prove our Christian religion. For first, if we consider the least creature in the world, and find the causes of its essence and nature, it will lead us by degrees to one God. Take an ant or a fly, and consider the causes which make these little creatures move; you shall find it is heat and moisture, which are two qualities consisting in all living creatures, nourishers of nature; for as soon as heat and moisture fail in any living thing, it can no more live, nor move, and the body is occupied with contrary qualities, coldness and drought, the enemies of nature. Mount and ascend up higher, and consider what is the cause that in the little body of an ant or fly, there are found the two qualities of heat and moisture; you shall find that it is because all living creatures are composed of the four elements, fire, air, water, and earth, in which the four qualities of heat, moisture, cold, and dryness consist; and while heat and moisture reign in the body it lives, but when cold and drought domineer it dies. Consider further what is the cause of the heat and the moisture, and the other qualities which we see in the four elements and the bodies made of them; you shall find that the sun is the cause of heat, the moon the cause of moisture, as sense and experience show. Let us yet pass further, and seek the cause why the sun is hot and the moon moist, and from whence come unto them these qualities; we must necessarily now come to a first and sovereign cause, which is one God. For the sun and moon, which are corporal and finite things, cannot be God, who is of infinite essence. Behold then how the least creature in the world is sufficient to vanquish by natural reason the opinion of the atheists; how much more if we come to consider other creatures, and especially the composition of man’s body? For there shall you contemplate without going any further, so well ordered a rule, that of necessity must be concluded that there is a most ingenious and excellent workman who has disposed that architecture and building; for within man’s body you shall see appear a harmony, very like a well governed commonwealth. You see the mind and understanding of man, which is as the king that is set in the highest place, as in his throne, and thence commands all the parts; you see also the heart, the seat of amity, clemency, bounty, kindness, magnanimity, and other virtues, all which obey the understanding as their king; but the heart as the great master has them under his charge. It has also under its charge envy, hatred, vengeance, ambition, and other vices which lodge in the heart; but they are held, mewed, and bridled by the understanding. After, you have the liver, which is the superintendent of the victuals, which it distributes unto all the parts of the body by the means of subaltern and inferior officers, as the belly, veins, and other pores and passages of the body. Briefly, a man may see within man an admirable and well ordained disposition of all the parts, and it brings us necessarily (whether we will or no) to acknowledge that there must be a God, a sovereign architect, who has made this excellent building; and by these considerations of natural things, whereof I do but lightly touch the points, the ancient philosophers, as the Platonists, Aristotelians, Stoics, and others, have been brought to the knowledge of a God, and of his providence. And of all the sects of philosophers, there never was any which agreed not hereunto, unless the sect of the Epicureans, who were gluttons, drunkards, and whoremongers; who constituted their sovereign felicity in carnal pleasures, wherein they wallowed like brute beasts. Out of this school Machiavelli and the Machiavellians come, who are well enough known to be very Epicurean in their lives, caring for nothing but their pleasures; who also have no knowledge of good letters, contenting themselves with the maxims of that wicked atheist.
Touching that doctrine of the Trinity which we hold, it must be confessed that the philosophers understood nothing thereof, and that by human reason we cannot well be led to the knowledge thereof. But this knowledge is manifested unto us by the witnesses of God himself, which are so clear and evident in the holy scripture, that nothing can be more. But I have no purpose here to recite them; yet I will say that the doctrine which I hold in this place is not repugnant nor contrary to human reason, but consonant enough, although the ancient philosophers have not penetrated so far. For by their own maxims a very true thing it is, that God, an eternal and infinite spirit, cannot possess any qualities or accidents; so that what is a quality in man, as bounty, love, wisdom, is an essence in God. This presupposed as a thing confessed by the philosophers themselves, it follows that the infinite and admirable wisdom whereby God knows himself, is an essence and not a quality in God. Yea it is one and the same essence, yet a distinct subsistence or hypostasis from him. For the Wise, and Wisdom, cannot be without distinction. This wisdom then is the second person of the Trinity; which the scripture calls the Word, or the Son. Neither is it repugnant to human reason to say that these two persons, in one and the same essence, have an infinite and mutual intelligence together; which intelligence proceeds equally from the two persons, the Father and the Son, as they are of equal essence, yet cannot be confounded with them, although the said intelligence is the same essence. For Intelligens (understanding) and Intelligentia (the understanding) ought to be distinguished. This intelligence is the third person of the Trinity, which the scripture calls the Holy Spirit. Behold then how man’s brain may somewhat comprehend by natural reason the doctrine we hold of the Trinity, by a rude and gross description, which is like to that which the geographers take to portray all the earth; namely, in five or six gross lines, in a paper of a hand’s breadth. For the knowledge that our sense can have of so high a thing is far less in comparison with all the earth; and therefore will I confess that we neither need nor ought much to travail to dispute by human reason so high a thing, which of itself is infinite and incomprehensible to our senses and understanding; and that they who least dispute with philosophical reasons are most wise and most modest; and that we ought wholly to hold and resolve upon what is written by and in the holy scripture. But having to do with atheists, who receive not the witness of the word of God, it has made me show in few words, that even by human reason itself they may be vanquished by the truth of that doctrine which we hold. Let us not come to another point.
Natural reason and common sense teach us that there is one God, and that he is perfect in all perfection, for otherwise he could not be God. This is a point resolved. Hereof necessarily follows that God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful. Being perfectly just, by the rule of justice, he must condemn and reject all mankind; for men generally are vicious, and vice merits condemnation. But if God should condemn and reject all mankind, it would be repugnant to his mercy, which also ought to be perfect with effect. How then shall we say that God cannot be perfectly just and merciful together, because it seems that his mercy repugns his justice? God forbid that such blasphemy should proceed out of our mouths. But we say that thereby natural reason leads us to a mediator, who being God and perfect, has satisfied the divine justice; which satisfaction God the creator accepts of mankind, because the mediator is man also. And by the means of this great mediator, God and man, which the creator has given us, he has showed himself perfectly just, in receiving of him a satisfaction with dignity to his justice, and perfectly merciful in pardoning us for his sake. Without which mediator we evidently see that God cannot show himself perfectly just and merciful together, that is to say, that he cannot show himself to be God, for the Father cannot be without the son. It is then a true demonstration drawn from most certain and evident principles; there is one God, therefore he is perfect. If God is perfect, as no doubt he is, he is then perfectly just and merciful; but he cannot be both without a mediator, God and man. Neither Euclid nor Archimedes ever made more certain demonstrations.
But this mediator which the creator has given to men, to make manifest his perfect justice and perfect mercy, is his eternal Son, the wisdom of the father; in favor of whom, as well before he came into the world and had taken our nature, as since, men have enjoyed and the mercy and clemency of God, in employing that mediator to satisfy the justice of God. This mediator was promised and established to men from the beginning of the world, and since then his promises have been so often reiterated that not only have they been notorious to the particular people of God, who followed the true religion, but also to other people who follow false religions. The historiographer Suetonius (a pagan who never read any part of holy scripture) speaking of Vespasian, as though it were a vulgar and common thing, said that through all the East countries there has always been a constant and ancient opinion, as a thing certain, that it was so ordained and foretold by God, that from Judea should come the dominator and ruler of the world. As much said the historian Tacitus (another pagan who never saw holy letters) when he said, speaking of the same time of Vespasian: “Many have this persuasion, that within the spirits and writings of the ancient priests was contained, that at that time the East should be in great power, and that from Judea should come the dominator of the world.” By which witnesses of these two historiographers it is clearly seen that the promise of the Messiah, the dominator of the world, was known to everyone. But not only the pagans, but also the Jews themselves understand this of a temporal domination; and indeed these two former historiographers, and Josephus himself, a Jew, interpreted this prophecy of Vespasian, who was created emperor of the Roman Empire while in Jewry warring against the Jews. But this foolish and rash interpretation is inexcusable in Josephus, who vaunts that he himself was cunning, foretelling things to come, and in the knowledge of the books of Moses and the other prophets. For all the prophets clearly say that the Messiah ought to be born of the race of Abraham, of Judah, and of David; in Bethlehem, a little town of the tribe of Judah. But Josephus knew well that Vespasian was neither of that race, nor born in the town of Bethlehem; but we must believe that Josephus understood better than he wrote, and that he falsely attributed that prophecy to Vespasian upon a flattering humor, because he had received so many great favors from him.
And as for Tacitus and Suetonius attributing to the emperor Vespasian that prophecy, rather than Christ, men must not marvel thereat; for they were great enemies of Christ, as is seen in many other places of their history. With the same faith Tacitus says that the emperor Vespasian, being in Jewry, healed a blind man with his spittle; and another who had a dry hand, wherewith he could not help himself. For these indeed were the miracles of Christ, which these profane historians would steal from him, to attribute unto their emperors. And the better to discover their theft by their own writings, we must first mark what Tacitus himself says; that the blind man coming to Vespasian and falling on his knees before him, declared unto him that he had had a revelation from the god Serapis, to address himself unto him. Of which god Tacitus says that even in his time none knew his origin at Rome. But these pagans, who knew not Christ nor any Christian religion, but a little by hearsay, thought that the Christians adored that pretended god Serapis, as is seen by a missive which the emperor Hadrian wrote to Servianus, recited by Vopiscus. He says that in the town of Alexandria, those who worshipped Serapis were Christians. So that hereby we may know, even by Tacitus’ own confession, that the author of that miracle to heal the blind man, was that God which the Christians adored, who was Christ, not Serapis. But as ordinarily it happens, things that are done in far countries are disguised by those who tell them; so we must understand that men spoke well all over the world of the miracles which Christ and his Apostles had done in Judea, and in places thereabouts; but they disguised them, attributing them to strange gods and profane men, and never accounted them as the very truth was. Of the same stamp is that which Suetonius writes, saying that Vespasian healed one who was lame and impotent in his thigh; and a blind man also who had a revelation from Serapis, to go for his help to Vespasain. That also which Spartianus writes in the life of the emperor Hadrian, that a blind woman recovered her sight by kissing his knees; and one blind-born recovered his sight by touching him; and by that means Hadrian lost a fever which he then had. For we may easily see that these were Christ’s miracles, or his Apostles, which the pagans would steal from them for their princes, as also to persuade the world that there was no divinity in them. For a resolution then of this point, the promises of the Messiah have been known through the world, as also his coming, even to the pagans. For profane authors often make mention of Christ, even Tacitus, who says that Christ was put to death in the time of the emperor Tiberius, by Pontius Pilate, his lieutenant in Judea. Behold then how the principal points of our Christian religion may be proved by human reason and profane authors, so great and resplendent was and is that light. For our religion herein may summarily be comprehended: to believe in God, and in him whom he sent, Jesus Christ our Savior. If these atheists then will put out their own eyes, to the end that they may not know God and the Christian religion, neither by holy scriptures nor by human reason, nor by the witness of profane authors who speak thereof as of a thing divulged and notorious through all the world; we know not how to do any other thing, but to leave them as desperate persons to welter in their ignorance, brutality, and darkness, till God by his just judgment has sunk them into the bottomless pit.
Now to come to our maxim; we say that to maintain falseness in religion is to tread God and his religion underfoot. Yet true it is that the ancient Romans have approved and maintained the falseness of oracles, although it were not falseness invented by men, but very diabolical illusions, as shall be said in another place. True it is also that they sustained and allowed the books of the Sibyls, and the augurs taken by the flight of birds, and other such follies. But these proceeded from the want of knowledge of the true religion, and because they suffered themselves to be guided by the pagan religion, which consisted in vain ceremonies and foolish lies. Yet notwithstanding, whenever by good reason they could know that any falseness had slid into their religion, they did not maintain it, but took it away. An example hereof is this. The religion of Bacchus was first brought into Rome by a Greek priest, who made sacrifices and ceremonies in the nighttime, and in the beginning only women assisted and were present, who after their sacrifices banqueted together. The Romans, thinking no harm, suffered it for a time; but in succession of time men also resorted there with women, pell mell, and brought there a new ceremony; namely, to put out candles, and ting bells, to the end that none might hear those who cried when they were forced and ravished. There was all villainy committed, not only towards all sorts of women, but also towards young boys. The consuls and Senate having discovered this, proceeded criminally against them who were found in such assemblies, as guilty of ravishing women and sodomy; there were found culpable more than seven thousand, of which most fled, some slew themselves, others were executed by justice. And an edict was made forbidding all sacrifices to Bacchus. Even natural reason made those poor pagans, who were ignorant of religion, understand that that religion could not be true, but is false and rejected when it contains in it any punishable crime. And if they could also have known the other falsities of their religion as well as this, I believe they would have cut it off, whatever Machiavelli says. But in points of religion, we may not anything stay ourselves upon that which the ancient Romans have done, or said, unless we will seek light in the darkness.
In the year 1509, about 20 years before the canon of Berne had forsaken the papal religion, the Jacobins of Berne would have introduced certain new miracles, devised by apostates, to draw unto them the devotion and offerings of people. But that seignory would not follow the doctrine of Machiavelli, to approve such false miracles, but by burning executed good justice upon the authors thereof.
In the year 1534, the Parliament of Paris condemned certain friars of Orleans, who would falsely have made men believe the apparition of a spirit, who desired (they said) that there might be good store of masses said, to deliver him from purgatory. For it was found out to be an imposture, deceit, and invention, which the friars had made to abuse the world, and to draw water to their mills.
There were many judgments of the said court of Parliament, whereby the falseness of relics was condemned and prohibited. As of the image of our Lady which was painted in an old table that had many years remained in a painter’s shop for a show; which table a curate near Paris bought cheap, and boring two holes in the eyes, at the time when vines weep placed behind in them two sprigs of the vine tree, so that pitiful Lady wept in the church where she stood, which drew great numbers of pilgrims to that parish. Insomuch that the painter himself and his wife came in great devotion, who had sold it. But this marred all, that they at last knew it to be the old table which had so long kept their shop; by whom the fame of this abuse came to the knowledge of justice, whereby the said parliament of the curate was condemned, and the table burned.
But another time the said court of parliament of Paris did another thing that seemed to hold of Machiavelli’s opinion. For upon a controversy of law which happened between the clergymen of our Lady in Paris, who said they had Saint Denis’s head, and the abbots and religious men of Saint Denis, who said they had the whole body of Denis. The court there gave judgment that those of saint Denis had the whole body of Denis the Athenian; and those of our Lady, the head of Denis the Corinthian. So that they both were content, although before there was never heard of Denis the Corinthian. But that was all one, they provided that their practice diminished not. If they of Ratisbone in Germany had meddled with this strife, it would have been hard to have agreed them, or else there must have been supposed a third Saint Denis; for they say also that they have the whole body of Denis, and have a declarative sentence of a pope and his cardinals to confirm it (as they say). But my purpose here is not to agree them, I only conclude that it is a damnable and detestable thing to sustain lies and falseness in whatsoever things, but especially in religion; for that is to follow the religion of the devil, who is the father of lies.