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Sir Francis Bacon

Essay 17

Of Superstition.
1 IT were better to haue no Opinion of God at all; then such an Opinion, as is vnworthy of him: For the one is Vnbeleefe, the other is Contumely: And certainly Superstition is the Reproach of the Deity. Plutarch saith well to that purpose: Surely ( saith he ) I had rather, a great deale, Men should say, there was no such Man, at all, as Plutarch; then that they should say, that there was one Plutarch, that would eat his Children, as soon as they were borne, as the Poets speake of Saturne. And, as the Contumely is greater towards God, so the Danger is greater towards Men. Atheisme leaues a Man to Sense; to Philosophy; to Naturall Piety; to Lawes; to Reputation; All which may be Guides to an outward Morall vertue, though Religion were not; But Superstition dismounts all these, and erecteth an absolute Monarchy, in the Mindes of Men. Therefore Atheisme did neuer perturbe States; For it makes Men wary of themselues, as looking no further: And we see the times enclined to Atheisme ( as the Time of Augustus Cæsar ) were ciuil Times. But Superstition, hath beene the Confusion of many States; And bringeth in a new Primum Mobile, that rauisheth all the Spheares of Gouernment. The Master of Superstition is the People; And in all Superstition, Wise Men follow Fooles; And Arguments are fitted to Practise, in a reuersed Order. It was grauely said, by some of the Prelates, in the Councell of Trent, where the doctrine of the Schoolemen bare great Sway; That the Schoolemen were like Astronomers, which did faigne Eccentricks and Epicycles, and such Engines of Orbs, to saue the Phenomena; though they knew, there were no such Things: And, in like manner, that the Schoolmen, had framed a Number of subtile and intricate Axiomes, and Theorems, to saue the practise of the Church. The Causes of Superstition are: Pleasing and sensuall Rites and Ceremonies: Excesse of Outward and Pharisaicall Holinesse; Ouer-great Reuerence of Traditions, which cannot but load the Church; The Stratagems of Prelates for their owne Ambition and Lucre: The Fauouring too much of good Intentions, which openeth the Gate to Conceits and Nouelties; The taking an Aime at diuine Matters by Human, which cannot but breed mixture of Imaginations; And lastly, Barbarous Times, Especially ioyned with Calamities and Disasters. Superstition, without a vaile, is a deformed Thing; For, as it addeth deformity to an Ape, to be so like a Man; So the Similitude of Superstition to Religion, makes it the more deformed. And as wholesome Meat corrupteth to little Wormes; So good Formes and Orders, corrupt into a Number of petty Obseruances. There is a Superstition, in auoiding Superstition; when men thinke to doe best, if they goe furthest from the Superstition formerly receiued: Therefore, Care would be had, that, ( as it fareth in ill Purgings ) the Good be not taken away, with the Bad; which commonly is done, when the People is the Reformer.

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Edited by Ian Lancashire (Dept. of English, University of Toronto) Assisted by Allison Hay.
As published in I. Lancashire, in collaboration with J. Bradley, W. McCarty, M. Stairs, and T. R. Wooldridge. Using TACT and Electronic Texts: Text-Analysis Computing Tools Vers. 2.1 for MS-DOS and PC DOS. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1996. CD-ROM.
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UTEL [ History of English | English Composition | Literary Authors | Literary Works | Literary Criticism ]