We Are All Monsters (Especially Ancient Philosophers)

Thomas Browne, Religio Medici §53:

Nor truely doe I thinke the lives of these or of any other were ever correspondent, or in all points conformable unto their doctrines; it is evident that Aristotle transgressed the rule of his owne Ethicks; the Stoicks that condemne passion, and command a man to laugh in Phalaris his Bull, could not endure without a groane a fit of the stone or collick. The Scepticks that affirmed they know nothing, even in that opinion confute themselves, and thought they knew more than all the world beside. Diogenes I hold to bee the most vaineglorious man of his time, and more ambitious in refusing all honours, than Alexander in rejecting none. Vice and the Devill put a fallacie upon our reasons and provoking us too hastily to run from it, entangle and profound us deeper in it. The Duke of Venice, that weds himselfe unto the Sea, by a ring of Gold, I will not argue of prodigality, because it is a solemnity of good use and consequence in the State. But the Philosopher that threw his money into the Sea to avoyd avarice, was a notorious prodigal. There is no road or ready way to vertue, it is not an easie point of art to disentangle our selves from this riddle, or web of sin: To perfect vertue, as to Religion, there is required a Panoplia or compleat armour, that whilst we lye at close ward against one vice we lye open to the vennie of another: And indeed wiser discretions that have the thred of reason to conduct them, offend without a pardon; whereas under heads may stumble without dishonour.

There goe so many circumstances to piece up one good action, that it is a lesson to be good, and wee are forced to be vertuous by the booke. Againe, the practice of men holds not an equall pace, yea, and often runnes counter to their Theory; we naturally know what is good, but naturally pursue what is evill: the Rhetoricke wherewith I perswade another cannot perswade my selfe: there is a depraved appetite in us, that will with patience heare the learned instructions of Reason; but yet performe no farther than agrees to its owne irregular Humour. In briefe, we all are monsters, that is, a composition of man and beast, wherein we must endeavour to be as the Poets fancy that wise man Chiron, that is, to have the Region of Man above that of Beast, and sense to sit but at the feete of reason. Lastly, I doe desire with God, that all, but yet affirme with men, that few shall know salvation, that the bridge is narrow, the passage straite unto life; yet those who doe confine the Church of God, either to particular Nations, Churches, or Families, have made it farre narrower than our Saviour ever meant it.


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