“Read Any Books What Ever Come to Thy Hands”

John Milton, Areopagitica: 

“Not to insist upon the examples of Moses, Daniel, & Paul, who were skilfull in all the learning of the Ægyptians, Caldeans, and Greeks, which could not probably be without reading their Books of all sorts; in Paul especially, who thought it no defilement to insert into holy Scripture the sentences of three Greek Poets, and one of them a Tragedian, the question was, notwithstanding sometimes controverted among the Primitive Doctors, but with great odds on that side which affirm’d it both lawfull and profitable, as was then evidently perceiv’d, when Julian the Apostat, and suttlest enemy to our faith, made a decree forbidding Christians the study of heathen learning: for, said he, they wound us with our own weapons, and with our owne arts and sciences they overcome us. And indeed the Christians were put so to their shifts by this crafty means, and so much in danger to decline into all ignorance, that the two Apollinarii were fain as a man may say, to coin all the seven liberall Sciences out of the Bible, reducing it into divers forms of Orations, Poems, Dialogues, ev’n to the calculating of a new Christian grammar. But, saith the Historian Socrates, The providence of God provided better then the industry of Apollinarius and his son, by taking away that illiterat law with the life of him who devis’d it. So great an injury they then held it to be depriv’d of Hellenick learning; and thought it a persecution more undermining, and secretly decaying the Church, then the open cruelty of Decius or Dioclesian. And perhaps it was the same politick drift that the Divell whipt St. Jerom in a lenten dream, for reading Cicero; or else it was a fantasm bred by the feaver which had then seis’d him. For had an Angel bin his discipliner, unlesse it were for dwelling too much upon Ciceronianisms, & had chastiz’d the reading, not the vanity, it had bin plainly partiall; first to correct him for grave Cicero, and not for scurrill Plautus, whom he confesses to have bin reading not long before; next to correct him only, and let so many more ancient Fathers wax old in those pleasant and florid studies without the lash of such a tutoring apparition; insomuch that Basil teaches how some good use may be made of Margites, a sportfull Poem, not now extant, writ by Homer; and why not then of Morgante, an Italian Romanze much to the same purpose. But if it be agreed we shall be try’d by visions, there is a vision recorded by Eusebius far ancienter then this tale of Jerom to the Nun Eustochium, and besides has nothing of a feavor in it. Dionysius Alexandrinus was about the year 240, a person of great name in the Church for piety and learning, who had wont to avail himself much against hereticks by being conversant in their Books; untill a certain Presbyter laid it scrupulously to his conscience, how he durst venture himselfe among those defiling volumes. The worthy man loath to give offence fell into a new debate with himselfe what was to be thought; when suddenly a vision sent from God, it is his own Epistle that so averrs it, confirm’d him in these words: Read any books what ever come to thy hands, for thou art sufficient both to judge aright, and to examine each matter.”

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