Saturday, 31 March 2007

Understanding the permanent temper of his mind

Sir Thomas Browne, The Camelot Classics, Ed: Ernest Rhys 1886
Introduction by John Addington Symonds, page xxviii

...Unexpectedness is a main sourse of his charm as a writer. There is a sustained paradox in his thought, which does not seem to have belonged to the man, so much as to the verbhal artist. He professes a mixture of the boldest scepticism and most puerile credulity. But his scepticism is the prelude to confessions of impassioned faith, and his credulity is the result of tortuous reflections on the enigmas of life and revelations. Perhaps the following paragraph enables us to understand the permanent temper of his mind most truly:-

"As for those wingy mysteries in divinity, and airy subtleties in religion, which have unhinged the brains of better heads, they never stretched the 'pia mater' of mine. Methinks there be not impossibilities enough in religion for an active faith: the deepest mysteries ours contains have not only been illustrated but maintained by syllogism and the rule of reason. I love to lose myself in a mystery; to pursue my reason to an 'O altitudo!' 'Tis my solitary recreation to pose my apprehension with those involved enigmas and riddles of the Trinity, Incarnation, and Resurrection. I can answer all the objections of Satan and my rebellious reason with that odd resolution I learned of Tertullian, 'Certum est quia impossible est.' I desire to exercise my faith in the difficultest point, for to credit ordinary and visible objects, is not faith, but persuasion."

Nothing short of an entire and impenetrable mystery will please him...

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