Posted by: Democratic Thinker | July 22, 2011

Seneca—On Providence

Western Thought

 
 
The Stoic philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca—highly regarded by the early Christians—writes for his friend Lucilius, a discourse on adversity and its place in the divine plan.

Thou hast demanded of me, my friend Lucilius, how it should come to pass (if the world were governed by any Providence) that so many evils befall good men? I might more readily and fitly give thee an answer hereunto in a place of this discourse, where I intend to prove that Providence hath a power over all things, and that God is always present with us.

LVCIVS ANNAEVS
SNECA

HIS DISCOURSE OF
PROVIDENCE

Or
Why good men are afflected, since there is a
Divine Providence.

—————

The Argument of JUSTUS LIPSIUS.

THIS little book is a golden book, and was written, as I conceive after CALIGULAs time, and I judge it by his fourth chapter: I heard a fencer, in CAIUS CÆSARs time, complaining of the scantness of REWARDS. He speaketh of the time past, & of the man and the time which was. I think therefore that he wrote it under CLAUDIUS, and presently upon his return. Yea but what if he wrote some of these Philosophical Discourses in his exile? For he continued there a longtime, about some eight years, and upon just cause made choice hereof to comfort himself.

For the Argument is, that there is a Providence, and yet notwithstanding, that some evils, (but they external,) do befall good men. He first of all in generality avoweth the same, by the motion, order, and constancy of the World, all which do testify that there is a Governour. Afterwards he more particularly examineth the question: Why therefore do misfortunes happen to good men? First of all he sayth, that God loveth good men, and that therefore he sendeth them not afflictions. That like a Father he correcteth and checketh them. Again, that these seem no afflictions unto good men, neither that they are overcome, but exercised by them, and made constant by their tribulations. That God is, as it were, a Judge of the game, and taketh delight in these his strong and confident wrestlers. This handleth he generally, and as it were in way of induction to the third Chapter.

From thenceforth he more distinctly goeth forward, to set down five reasons, why they happen. Firsts that it is for their good, to whom they happen. Secondly, for all men’s. Thirdly, for such as would have them happen. Fourthly, that they happen by fate and eternal law.

He handleth the first reason in the third and fourth Chapter, and teacheth that it is for their good to whom they chance, as a medicine is to those that are sick. They are likewise confirmed by God by this means, who bringeth those forth to battle, who are worthy of him: that he suffereth the rest of baser metal to live in idleness and obscurity. He handleth the second in the 5. Chap. that it is for all men’s good, that good men, and such as are so reputed, might cry out unto others, and shew them that those things are not good or evil, which the common sort esteemeth such. He counselleth them therefore to have an eye to those that are true, and to affect them, and fly the other. In that place he entreateth of the other, of such as are willing to entertain the same, for they give themselves to God and Fate. The fourth concludeth that there is Fate, and that it is constituted from Eternity, what thou shouldest rejoice and grieve at.

Again, he repeateth this, that these things are not evil, and bringeth in God most excellently exhorting and exciting them to constancy. He concludeth Stoically, if thou dislike it, and canst not abide it, who holdeth thee? the door is open, get thee out.

 

CHAP. I.

THOU hast demanded of me, my friend Lucilius, how it should come to pass (if the world were governed by any Providence) that so many evils befall good men? I might more readily and fitly give thee an answer hereunto in a place of this discourse, where I intend to prove that Providence hath a power over all things, and that God is always present with us. But since it is thy pleasure that I divide this part from the whole, and that I satisfy thee in this one contradiction, permitting the rest of the question to remain untouched, I will perform it, since I know it is no hard matter to plead the cause of the Gods.

It should be labour lost at this present, to make proof, that this great frame of the World could not be sustained without some Governour & Superintendent. That those so certain motions, & courses of the planets & stars, have not this violent vehemency, by casualty or accident, and that which is pushed on by Fortune, and peradventure is oftentimes troubled, and hindereth itself. That this swiftness which is never interrupted by any obstacles governed by the commandment of an eternal law. That this goodly order and government, that beareth and sustaineth all things in the Earth, and in the Sea, to many clear lights which shine in the heavens, wherein they were disposed, is not by the order of a wandering and inconstant matter. That that which should be assembled rashly and casually, could not remain suspended, with so wonderful workmanship.

To shew also how the weight of the Earth remaineth unmoveable, beholding the swift motions of the Heavens, which whirleth about her incessantly. How the seas being spread through the deep valleys, mollify the Earth, and receive no increase by the entry of all other Rivers. How from a very little Seed, there groweth out a body of wonderful greatness; and how even those things, which seem most uncertain and confused, I speak of clouds and rains, of the claps of thunder and lightening, of fires and flames that enforce their passage through the tops of the highest mountains, of the earth-quakes which sink and open the ground, and other accidents, which that part of Nature which is most stormy and tempestuous, may move about the Earth, how sudden and unexpected soever they be, are never raised without reason.

They have their causes as well as they, which, as we see, do suddenly and miraculously break forth in some strange and unaccustomed places, such as are the sources of hot waters in the midst of some rivers, and new isles that raise themselves out of the depth of a large sea. Furthermore, if a man will observe it, how the sea-shores upon the ebb of the waters, become naked and discovered; and how anon after, upon the flood, the waters return and cover them again, he will believe that by a certain blind volutation, the waves are contracted and buried one within another, sometimes enlarged, and with swift streams return into their bed. Although, in truth, they increase by little and little, and at a certain day & hour become more great and small, according to the estate & disposition of the Moon, which causeth the flux and reflux of the sea.

But leave we this discourse until another time, and the rather because thou doubtest not, but complainest of Providence. I will reconcile thee to the gods, who are favorable to those that are good men: for Nature suffereth not, that those things which are good, should be hurtful to the good.

Virtue hath contracted an amiable friendship betwixt good men and God. Say I friendship? Nay rather a kindred, and likeness, because a good man only differeth from God but in time, he is his scholar, his follower and his true child, whom that magnificent parent, a severe exactor of virtues, bringeth up to hardness, as austere fathers do their children. When as therefore thou shalt see good men, and such as are acceptable to the gods, travail, sweat, and ascend high places: and contrariwise, the evil play the wantons, and flow in pleasures: think with thy self, that we are delighted with the modesty of our children, and the liberty of our gibing slaves: that the one are restrained under a severe discipline, whilest the other are supported and maintained in their impudence. Know thou that God doth the like. He maketh not a good man a wanton: he proves him, he hardens him against afflictions, he polisheth and fashioneth him to the end he may serve him.

 

CHAP. II.

BUT why do many adversities befall good men? No evil may happen unto a good man: contraries cannot be mixed together. Even as so many rivers, so many showers pouring from the heavens, so many springs of medicinable fountains, sweeten not the saltness of the sea, much less alter it: so the shock of adversity perverteth not the courage of a virtuous man.

He continueth one, & whatsoever happeneth, he turneth it to his good. For he is more powerful then all external things; nay more than this, he apprehendeth them not, but surmounteth them, and continuing peaceable in himself, he resisteth all contrary incumbrances. He accounteth his adversities, his exercises. What man is he that hath his mind intended and settled upon honesty, that is not desirous of convenient labour, and is not ready voluntarily to expose himself to dangers? What industrious man reputeth not idleness to be a punishment? We see that wrestlers, who have a care of their strength, do contend with the strongest whatsoever, & importune them, who fashion themselves to those exercises, to use their uttermost forces against them: they suffer themselves to be beaten and bruised, and if they find no single man that may equal them, they offer themselves to encounter with many at once.

Virtue hath no virtue, if it be not impugned; then appeareth it how great it is, of what value and power it is, when by patience it approveth what it may. Thou art to conceive that good men ought to do the like, that the greatest and sharpest adversities must not astonish them, and that they ought not to complain of Fate. Whatsoever befalleth them, let them take it in good part, and turn it to their good. It importeth not what burthen thou bearest, but with what courage thou endurest it.

Seest thou not what difference there is between the fathers love, and the mothers cockering. The Fathers command them to rise early, to follow their studies diligently, and on holy days likewise they suffer them not to be idle; sometimes they enforce sweat from their brows, and tears from their eyes. But their mothers nestle them in their bosoms, and keep them out of the sun; they never suffer them to cry, to be sad, or to labour. God hath a fatherly mind towards good men, and he loveth them strongly. And let them, saith he, have labours, losses, and pains, to the end they may recover a true strength. The bodies that are over-fattened do languish in idlenesse, and not only too much ease, but also their own grease and weight maketh them sink under it. Untainted felicity can suffer no affection, but is a man striveth continually against his own calamities, he accustometh and enureth himself to adversities, neither giveth he place to any dolor, but although he be cast down, yet fighteth he on his knee.

Doest thou wonder that God, who loveth good men so entirely, who would that they should be the best and most excellent above all others, do assign them fortune to fight withall? I, for mine own part, wonder not, that the gods sometimes take pleasure to behold worthy men wrestling against some adversity. Sometimes it delighteth us if we behold a young man of a constant resolution, that encountereth a wild beast with his hunting staff, that dreadless withstandeth the incursion of a lion, and the more pleasing is the spectacle unto us, the more valiantly he behaveth himself. These are not those things that may convert the face of the gods towards us, but childish pastimes of humane levity.

But wilt thou see a spectacle that meriteth, that God should intentively behold the work? fix thine eye upon it, behold a couple of combatants worthy the presence of God: that is to say, a generous man planted before adverse Fortune, challenging her hand to hand. I see not, say I, what thing Jupiter hath more admirable upon the earth, if he would fix his mind upon the fame, then to behold Cato remaining firm and resolute, after his confederates had been more then once defeated; and invincible amidst his country’s ruins. Although, saith he, that one only man be Lord of the whole world, although he have legions and garrisons in every Province, though the seas be covered with his ships, and Cæsar’s troops stop up all the passages; Cato hath a means to work his liberty, with one hand he shall make a broad way to his liberty. This sword, which during the civil wars hath remained just and innocent, shall finally perform some good and noble actions, and give Cato liberty, who could not give his country freedom: my soul execute thou that act which thou hast long time meditated upon; deliver thy self from these worldly businesses.

Petreius and Inba have already encountered, and each are slain by one another’s hands. A stout and worthy convention of destiny, but such as becometh not our greatness. It is as shameful a thing for Cato to require death, as to beg life at any man’s hands. I assure myself, that the gods with great joy beheld, when this great and worthy personage, a powerful protector of himself, travelled to save others, and gave them means to escape: who likewise in that last night of his life, followed his study, whilest he thrust his sword into his belly, whilest he scattered abroad his bowels, and with his hands drew out of his body that so blessed soul of his, unworthy to be contaminated by the sword. Whereupon I am driven to believe, that the wound was not large and deep enough. It sufficed not the immortal gods to behold Cato once, virtue was retained and revoked, to the end that in a greater difficulty thee might approve herself. For there is more greater resolution in dying the second or third time, then in dying at the first. And why should they not willingly behold their darling escaping by so noble and memorable a death? Death consecrateth those whose end they praise, who fear to undergo the like.

 

CHAP. III.

BUT now in the process of my discourse I will shew how far they are from miseries that are reputed so to be: for the present I tell thee that those which thou callest difficulties, adversities, & abominable, are first of all for the good of those to whom they happen, & afterwards for other men’s good of whom the gods have more care then of every one in particular. Secondly, that nothing befalleth good men but that which they would, and that they should deserve that evil should light upon them if they would not. Hereunto will I annex, that these things are done by Fate, and in a much as virtuous men are god, all that which befortuneth them is good: consequently I will teach thee, and make thee confess that thou oughtest never to say, I have pity of such a good man, for a many may term his miserable, but indeed he is not, nor cannot be. That which I spake first, seemeth to be the most harshest of all that which I have propounded; that those evils which we quake and tremble at, turn to their good, to whom they happen. Is it for their good, sayest thou, to be banished, to be brought to poverty, to be deprived or their wives and children, and to be enforced to bury them, to be defamed, and weakened? If thou be astonished hereat, thou wilt wonder more if I approve it to be for their good, that some are cured by iron and fire, and by hunger and thirst likewise; but if thou bethink thyself that for remedy sake, some have their bones scaled and scarified, their veins taken out, and some of the members cut off, which without the hazard of the whole body could not be left on; thou wild suffer this likewise to be proved, that some incommodities are for their good to whom they happen, as much in truth as there are some things which being praised and desired are hurtful to those that long after them, as over-eating and drinking, an such like pleasures, which engender crudities, trouble the brain, and kill the body.

Amongst divers notable saying of Demetrius the Stoic, I remember me of one, which as yet soundeth and thingleth in mine ears; There is nothing, saith he, more unhappy than that man that hath never been touched with adversities: for he hath not had the means to know himself. Although all thing she could desire had befallen him, yea, before he could desire; yet have the gods thought evil of him. He seemed to be unworthy that fortune should at any time be overcome by him, which disdaineth to attempt any recreant of coward: as if she said, Why should I admit of such and adversity? he will presently lay down his weapons, what need I employ all my power against him? A slight threat will make him fly; he cannot abide to look upon me. Let another man be fought for, with whom I may enter combat. I am ashamed to encounter with a man that is ready to be conquered.

The fencer thinketh it a disgrace for him to be matched with his inferior, and knoweth that he is overcome without glory, that is conquered without danger. The like doth Fortune, she seeketh for the strongest to match her, some passeth she over with a scorn, she attempteth the most confident and courageous sort of men, against these employeth she her forces: she tryeth her fire upon Mucius, poverty in Fabricits, banishment in Rutilits, torments in Regulus, poison in Socrates, death in Cato. Evil fortune seeks out no man except he be a great one.

Is Mucius unhappy, because with his right hand he grasped his enemies fire, and chastised the error he committed by burning of his hand, putting that enemy to flight by his scorched fist, whom with his armed hand he could not vanquish? What then? should he have been more happy, had he warmed his hand in his mistresses bosom?

Is Fabicius unhappy for digging up his garden, at such time as he had no public charge? for waging war as well against riches as against Pyrrhus? for supping by the fire upon those roots and herbs which he himself being an old man, who had triumphantly entered Rome, had gathered in cleansing and weeding his garden? What then? should he have been more happy if he had filled his belly with fishes, fetched from a far and foreign shore, and of fowls fetched from a strange country? If he had whetted the dullness of his loathing stomach with shell-fish, fetched from the higher and lower seas? If he had environed with a great heap of apples the most hugest savage beast, which cost many men their lives before she was killed.

Is Rutilius unhappy, because they that have condemned him shall be condemned in all ages, who more willingly suffered himself to be ravished from his country, than to be remitted of his exile? because he alone opposed himself against the dictator Scylla, and when he was recalled, not only kept back, but fled farther off. Let they, faith be to Scylla, whom thy great fortune entangleth in Rome, think this, that they behold a river of blood in the market-place, and above the Lake of Seruilius (for that was the place where they displayed those whom Scylla by public proclamations had condemned to die) the heads of Senators, and the troops of murtherers, running through the streets of the city, and divers thousands of Roman citizens, murthered in that place after thou hast chopt them up, with promise to save their lives, and notwithstanding traitorously causing them to be slain; let those that cannot endure to be banished, feed their eyes with such spectacles.

What then? is Lucius Scylla happy, because that in coming down to the market-place, his guard made him way with their weapons? because he suffered the heads of Consuls to be hanged up, and maketh the Quæstor pay him the price of every head which is taxed in his proclamations; and all these things doth he that made the Law Cornelia.

Let us come to Regulus; what harm did Fortune to him in making him the pattern of sideline and patience? The nails fasten and pierce his skin, and on what side soever he turneth his wearied body, he lies upon his wounds; neither can he close his eyes, but watcheth incessantly. The more torment he hath, the more glory shall be his. Wilt thou know how far off he is from repenting himself for estimating virtue at so high a rate? Cheer him up, and send him back again to the Senate, he will be still of the same opinion.

Thinkest thou therefore that Mecanas is more happy, who could not sleep but by the harmony of pleasing music that soundeth a far off by reason of his jealousy, and because he was strangely tormented with the crosses of his fantastic wife, which upon every slight occasion threatened him with divorce. Although he drown himself in wine to make him drowsy, and by the noise of water, poured out of one basin into another entice his eyes to sleep: be it that he charm his sorrows with a thousand pastimes, he slept as little on his feather-bed, as Regulus on the gibbet. But the one comforted himself, because he suffered for honesty that affliction he endured, and his patience regarded the cause of those torments. The other spent in delights, and broken with too much ease, is more tormented with the occasion then the evil itself, which he endureth; vices have not gotten so strong a possession of mortal men, that it is to be doubted, if so be the destiny would give them their choice, whether divers had not rather resemble Regulus, then be borne Mecenas. Or if there were any that durst say that he would be born Mecenas and not Regulus, the same man, although he hold his peace, had rather be born Terentia.

Thinkest thou that Socrates was badly handled because he drunk that potion which was publicly mixed, no otherwise than if it had been a medicine of immortality, and disputed of death till death seized him? Thinkest thou that he was ill dealt withall, because his blood was congealed, & that by little and little the force of his veins failed him? whilst cold in the extremity stole up to his heart by little and little? how much more rather ought we to envy his felicity, than those who are served in precious stones, wherein an old and decayed Minion of his trimmed up to endure all things, poureth up from above the melted snow into his golden cup? These men, whatsoever they drink, they vomit and cast it up again, with a certain loathing, and are constrained to retaste their bitter spittle. But Socrates swalloweth the poison voluntarily and joyfully.

As touching Cato, there is sufficiently spoken, and the whole consent of men will confess that he attained the greatest felicity, whom God made choice of to crush & conquer those things that were to be feared. Are the displeasures of great men grievous? Oppose him alone to Pompey, Cæsar and Crassus. It is a grievous thing to be outstripped by men of no worth in dignity and honor, but Cato disdaineth not to come after Vatinius. It is a grievous thing to be an actor in civil wars; but Cato in a just quarrel will fight in every corner of the world, although the issue be both strange and miserable.lt is a grievous matter for a man to murther himself, yet will he do it. What shall I, saith Nature, get hereby? This, that all men may know that these are not evils, which I thought Cato worthy of.

 

CHAP. IV.

PROSPERITY falleth into the hands of the common sort, & betideth those of basest spirit: but to yoke and master calamities and mortal terrors, is the property of a great man. But to be always happy, and to pass away life without any pressure of the mind, is to be ignorant that affliction is one part of mans life. Thou art a great man; but how shall I know it, if Fortune give thee not leave and means to make proof of thy virtue? Thou wentest to the Olympian games, but no man but thy self: thou hast the crown, but not the victory. I applaude not thy fortune as if thou wert a great and valiant man, but as if thou hadst gotten some Consulate or Prætorship. Thou art increased in honour.

The like can I say to a good man; if some misfortune hath not given him any occasion, whereby to make shew of the lively forces of his mind. I repute thee wretched because thou wert never wretched, thou hast past thy life without an adversary. No man, no not thy self shall be able to know thy value: for to the end a man may well know himself, he ought to make proof of himself. No man knoweth his own ability except he make trial thereof. And therefore some men have wilfully and unprovoked exposed themselves to miseries, and sought an occasion to make their virtue (already declining and growing to obscurity) more glorious or esteemed. Great men, say I, do rejoice as much in adversities as valiant soldiers do in war.

I heard a fencer in Caius Cæsar’s time, complain of the rarenesse of rewards: How fair an age, saith he, is pasty virtue gapeth after danger, and thinketh on that which she intendeth, not that which she is to suffer, because that which she is to suffer is a part of her glory. Valiant soldiers glory in their wounds, & joyfully shew the blood that runneth from them, if it be spent in a good cause. Although they do the like who return in safety from the battle, yet is he more respected that returneth wounded. God, say I, hath a care of those men whom he desireth to make the most honest, as often as he giveth them an occasion to do anything stoutly and manfully, to the performance whereof there needeth some difficulty and danger.

Thou shalt know a Master of a Ship in a tempest, and a soldier in the battle, how can I know how thou art addressed against poverty, if thou abounded in riches? How can I know what constancy thou hast against ignominy, infamy, and popular hate, if thou grow old amidst the applauses of every man? if an inexpugnable favor seconded by a certain inclination of men’s minds towards thee, attendeth thee perpetually? Whence know I that thou wilt patiently endure the loss of thy children, if I see thee laugh when they come into the World? I have heard thee comfort others, but then would I willingly have seen thee, if thou hast comforted thy self, if thou hast commanded thy self to grieve no more.

Fear not these things, I beseech you, which the immortal gods use as spurs to quicken and awaken our minds. Calamity is an occasion of virtue. Justly may a man term them miserable, that are surfeited with too much felicity, who are detained in an idle tranquility, as a ship in a calm sea; whatsoever shall befall them will be new unto them. Calamities press them most shrewdly, that have never had experience of them. A tender neck hardly brooketh the yoke. A young soldier waxeth pale upon the fear of a wound. An old beaten soldier doth boldly see himself bleed, who knoweth that oft-times in losing his blood he hath conquered his enemy. God therefore animateth, reknowledgeth, and exerciseth those whom he approveth and loveth: but those whom he seemeth to favour and spare, he reserveth them by reason of their weakness, for the evils to come; for it is a folly to think that any one is exempt. He whom thou thinkest so assured in his happiness, shall have his turn, and taste the same cup; whosoever seemeth dismissed, is but deferred.

Why doth God afflict the best men with sickness, and other incommodities? Why in the camp are the soldiers of greatest value, commanded to execute the exploits of greatest danger? The General sendeth out the most chosen troops to charge the enemy with an onslaught by night, either to scout the way, or to drive some forces from their trenches. None of those who sally out, saith, The General hath done me wrong, but he hath honoured me. Let them say the like, whosoever are commanded to suffer that, for which fearful men and cowards weep. We have been thought worthy by God to be esteemed such, in whom he might make trial, how much human nature may suffer. Fly delights, fly from effeminate felicity, whereby our minds are mollified, except something happen that may admonith them of their human condition, who are, as it were benumbed with perpetual drunkeness.

He that hath been always defended from the wind by his glass-windows, whose feet are kept warm by much wrapping, who suppeth not except it be in his stove, is not without danger of catching cold upon the smallest breath of wind. Since all excess is hurtful, an unmeasurable prosperity is most dangerous: It moveth the brain, distracteth the mind with vain resemblances, and spreadeth many mists betwixt truth and falsehood. Why should it not be better to endure perpetual infelicity, which animateth unto virtue, then to burst with infinite arid immoderate prosperity? Death is not so tedious as too long fasting, and too much crudity cracketh the bodies. The gods therefore behave themselves towards good men, as the masters do towards their scholars, who require more labour at their hands, of whom they have the greatest hope.

Believest thou that the Lacedemonians hated their children, who make trial of their disposition and nature, by whipping them publicly? Contrarywise, those fathers exhort their children to suffer the jerks of their whips confidently, and entreat them, being torn and half dead with their scourgings, to persevere, and to endure wounds upon wounds. Wonder we that God maketh trial of the most generous spirits by adversity? Virtuous instructions are never delicate. Doth Fortune beat and rent us? Let us suffer it. This is no cruelty, it is but a conflict. The more we adventure it, the stronger shall we be. The hardest part of our body is that which travaileth most: we must offer ourselves to the hands of Fortune, to the end she may make us more confident to encounter her. By little and little she will make us as strong as herself.

To be continually in danger, maketh a man set light by danger. So are sailors bodies inured to brook the sea; so are husbandmen’s hands hardened; so are soldiers arms strengthened to dart their weapons, so are their members made nimble that run races. That in everything is most strongest, which is most exercised. By contemning the power of evils, the mind attaineth patience, which thou shalt know what it can effect in us, if thou consider how much labour effecteth in naked bodies, and such as are strengthened by necessity. Consider all nations which live under the peace and confines of the Roman Empire. I mean the Germans, and all those that dwell about Ister, and those wandering nations of the Scythians, where perpetual winter, & a thick air continually presseth them: a barren and malignant soil sustaineth them: they defend themselves from showers, with leaves and sheds of thatch, they travel over rivers hardened with ice, and take their repast upon the flesh of wild beasts. Seem they wretched unto thee? Nothing is miserable that Nature hath brought into a custom, for by little & little those things become pleasant unto them, which began upon necessity. They have no houses, they have no hiding place, but that which weariness hath allotted them for a season. Their meat is homely, and gotten by their own hands: the air is extremely cold, and their bodies are naked; this which seemeth calamity unto thee, is the life of so many nations.

Why wonderest thou that good men are shaken, to the end they may be confirmed? There is no solid or strong tree, that hath not been often shaken by the wind, for by the often shaking thereof it is strengthened, and fasteneth his root, more assuredly. They that grow in the low valleys are the weakest. It is therefore profitable for good men, to make them more assured to be always conversant amongst dangers, and to endure those accidents with a constant mind, which are not evils, except to him that supporteth them badly.

 

CHAP. V.

LET us add now, how for the good of all men, every one of the better sort (if I may so speak it) bear arms and perform actions. God hath the same in tension that a wise man hath, which is to shew, that those things which the common people long after, and which they are afraid of, are neither good nor evil. But they shall appear to be good, if he bestow them on none but good men; and to be evil, if he hath reserved them only for evil men. Blindness were detestable, if no man should lose his eyes, except they were pulled out. Let therefore Appius and Metellus want their fight, and be miserable herein.

Riches are not the true good, & therefore let Ellius the bawd enjoy them in such sort, as they who have given him money in the temples, may see it in the brothel-house. God can by no better means traduce those things, which we so much covet, then in bestowing them on men most infamous, and detaining them from men most virtuous. But it is an unjust thing, that a good man should be weakened, hanged up, or imprisoned; and that evil men should walk, with whole, healthful, and effeminate bodies. What then? Is it not an unreasonable matter, that valiant men should take arms, should watch in the trenches, and having their wounds but newly bound up, should maintain the breach, whilst lascivious men, and such as profess wanton lust, sleep securely in the city? What then? Is it not a most shameful matter, that the most noblest virgins should be awakened at mid-night to celebrate the sacred ceremonies, and that harlots should enjoy their quiet sleeps? Labor summoneth the best. The Senate oft-times is all day long in counsel, when at that time the basest companions whatsoever, either take their pastimes in the fields, or lie hidden in an alehouse, or lose their time in chatting amongst their companions.

The like is done in this great Commonweale of the world; good men must labor, they employ their time, and are employed by others, and are not enforcedly drawn by Fortune, but they follow her, and walk by her, step by step, and had they known it, they had outstript her. And I remember likewise, that I have heard this manly speech of Demetrius that worthy fellow: In this one thing, O immortal gods, I can complain of you, that you have not made known unto me what your will was. For, of myself, I had first of all come unto these things, to which being now called, I present myself. Will you take my children from me? I have brought them up to that end. Will you have a part of my body? Take it to you. I promise no great matter, I shall shortly leave the whole. Will you have my spirit? Why not? I will not defer to restore that unto you, which you have bestowed upon me. I will willingly satisfy whatsoever you request. What is it then? I had rather present it you, then deliver it unto you. What need had you to take away the same? you might have commanded it, neither now shall you take it away , because nothing is taken away, but that which is taken from him that detaineth the same.

I am not compelled, I suffer nothing unwillingly; neither am I a slave unto God, but assent unto his will, and so much the rather, because I know that all things happen by an eternal and unchangeable ordinance of God. Destiny leadeth us, and the first hour of every mans birth, hath governed all the rest of his life. One cause dependeth upon another, and the long order of things draweth with it all that which is done in public or in private. Therefore is each thing to be endured constantly, because all things fall not out (as we imagine) but come. Long since it was decreed, whereat thou shouldest joy or sorrow, although every man’s life seemeth to be distinguished in different and great variety, yet notwithstanding all cometh to one point, we have received those things which will decay, and we ourselves must die. Why are we so displeased? Whence groweth our complaint? We are ordained hereunto. Let Nature use our bodies how she list. Let us merrily and constantly think thus, that we lose nothing of our own.

What is that which is proper and beseeming in a good man? to commit himself to the hands of Destiny. It is a great solace to be carried away with the whole world. Whatsoever it be that hath commanded us to live thus, and to die thus, by the same necessity tieth the gods. An irrevocable course carrieth away together both human and divine things. The same Creator and Governour of all things hath written the Fates, and he himself followeth that which he hath written, he hath once commanded, and always obeyeth. Why therefore was God so unjust in distributing Fate, that to good men he alloteth poverty, wounds, and cruel death? The work-master cannot change his matters, it is subject to suffer this. Some things there are that cannot be separated from other things, they cleave the one unto another, and are indivisible. The spirits that are weak, or like to grow dull, or to fall into a watchfulness like unto sleep, are framed of slow elements. To frame a man that should make himself spoken of, there needeth a stronger Fate. His journey must be no ordinary way. He must travel high and low, he must have storms, and must govern his ship in a swollen sea; he must shape his course against Fortune. He shall have many hard and dangerous accidents to confront him, but such as he himself may smooth and make plain. Fire trieth gold, and adversity valiant men. Behold how high virtue should ascend, and thou shalt know that she must not go in security.

The first which with unwearied steeds I climb.
Is such a journey, that their ceaseless toil
Can scarcely reach before the morrows prime:
The next in highest heav’n, from whence the soil
And spacious seas, I see with dreadful eye,
And fearful heart: the next whereto I hie,
Is steep, and prone, and craves a cunning guide;
And then doth
THETIS shake herself for dread,
Less headlong I should fall, and downward glide,
And bury in her waves my golden head.

When the generous young man had heard these things, I like, saith he, the way, and will attempt it. Is it such a matter to shape so fair a course, and to fall afterwards? The father notwithstanding desisted not to terrify his too forward mind, thus:

And that thou mayest continue in the way,
Be careful lest thy posting steeds do stray:
Yet shalt thou pass by Taurus who will bend.
His horns to cross thee, whither thou dost tend.
Th’ Æmenian Archer, and the Lion fell
Shall stay thy course, and fright thee where they dwell.

After this he saith, Couple thy granted team. I am animated by these things, wherewith thou thinkest to affright me. I am resolved to stand there, where the sun itself shall tremble. It is the part of a base and recreant mind to travel in security: Virtue always climbeth hard and difficult paths.

 

CHAP. VI.

BUT why doth God permit that good men should suffer wrong? Undoubtedly he permitteth it not. He removeth all evil from them, heinous sins and offences, cursed congitations, greedy counsels, blind lusts, and avarice that coveteth another man’s fortunes, he defendeth and restraineth them. Doth any man require this at God’s hands, that he should take pain also to keep good men’s budgets? They acquit God of this care, they contemn external things.

Democrates cast away riches, supposing them to be the burthen of a good mind. Why wonderest thou therefore, if God suffer that to happen to a wise man, that a good man sometimes would wish, that he might sometimes light upon? Good men lose their children. Why not? When as the time will come that they themselves must die. They are banished: Why not? When as sometime they forsake their country, with this resolution, never to see it again. They are slain: Why not? when a sometimes they themselves will lay hands on themselves. Why suffer they some adversities? To the end they may teach others to suffer the like. They are born to be a pattern.

Think therefore that God saith: What cause have you, who have taken pleasure in virtue, to complain of me? I have environed some with deceivable goods, and have mocked their vain minds with along and deceitful dream. I have decked them with gold, silver, and Ivory, but inwardly there is nothing good in them. These whom thou admire for their happiness, if you look into them, not according to their exterior greatness, but their interior weakness, the are miserable, base, filthy, and like their walls, only painted on the outside. This is no solid and sincere felicity, it is but a crust, and that a thin one. Therefore as long as they may stand upright, and not shew themselves by where they lift, they shine and abuse the common eye. But if anything happeneth, that troubleth and discovereth them, then shalt thou see a sea of villiany and filth hidden under their borrowed brightness.

I have given you true and permanent goods. The more you examine and look into them every ways, the better and the more greater will they appear to be. I have permitted you to contemn those things which are to be feared, to loath those things that are to be desired; you shall not shine outwardly, your good are turned inward. So the World contemneth his exterior parts, and contenteth himself with the contemplation of himself. I have placed all good inwardly. It is your felicity, not to want felicity. But divers pitiful, dreadful, and intolerable things fall out. Because i could not deliver you from these evils, I have armed your minds against all things. Suffer manfully, this is the way whereby you may walk before God, he is without the patience of evil, you above the patience. Contemn poverty, no man liveth so poor as he was born. Contemn pain, it will either be ended, or end us. Contemn Fortune, I have given her no weapon to would the mind. Contemn death, which either endeth you, or transferreth you.

Above all things I have taken order that no man should keep you living against your will. If you will not fight you may fly: therefore of all things which I would have necessary for you, I made nothing more easy than death. I have planted the soul in a declining place, whence a man may deliver it: consider now and you shall see how short the way is unto liberty, and how ready it is. I have not prefixed you so long delays in your departure, as I have given at your entrance, othewise Fortune had held a great dominion over you, if a man should die as slowly as he is born.

Let every time and place teach you how easy a thing it is to renounce Nature, and to return her that favor she hath bestowed upon you: learn you death amidst the altars, and the solemn rites of those that sacrifice life wished for. The bodies of the fattest bulls are slain with a small wound, and the stroke of a man’s hand murthereth the beasts of the greatest strength. The joint that joineth the neck to the head, is divided with a thin knife, and when the nerves that tie them both together are cut, that great mass of the bodly falleth down.

The spirit is not hidden over-deep, neither need we to draw it out with hooks: we need not inflict deep wounds in out entrails, death is at hand. I have destinated no certain place for these strokes: life may find issue by any place whatsoever. Even that which is called death, whereby the soul departeth from the body, is so short, that the most sudden swiftness thereof cannot be apprehended. Whether a man strangleth himself, of stop his breath by drowning himself, whether falling upon the pavement, a man dasheth out his brains, whether by swallowing down quick coals of fire, he intercepteth the course of the departing soul, whatsoever it be it hasteneth. What do you blush? why fear you that so long, which is done so soon?

The end of the Book of Providence.

—Thomas Lodge (translator), 1620.

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