October 17: Balancing Act

The sneaker represents justification!

It's about to get all 17th-century up in here, as Religio Medici, by Sir Thomas Browne, is presented for our delectation. ("Religio Medici," it turns out, means "Religion of a doctor," and doesn't have anything to do with the Medici family who had their own skybox during the Renaissance, which was what I'd assumed whenever I saw the name of this essay, which was seldom.)

I don't often comment on literary style, because it takes me a long time to figure that stuff out, and I tend to want to keep to my more visceral reaction, but today I can't help noticing that Sir T.B. likes to keep things in pairs. Here's a passage where I've put in some line breaks to show what I'm getting at:

Whatsoever is beyond, as points indifferent, I observe according to the rules of my private reason,
or the humor and fashion of my Devotion;
neither believing this, because Luther affirmed it,
or disproving that, because Calvin hath disavouched it.

I condemn not all things in the Council of Trent,
nor approve all in the Synod of Dort.

In brief, where the Scripture is silent,
the Church is my Text;
where that speaks,
’tis but my Comment:
where there is a joynt silence of both, I borrow
not the rules of my Religion from Rome or Geneva,
but the dictates of my own reason.
It's full of hinges, like Home Depot. And this is a case where style = substance, because, as the above passage shows, Browne is a classic Anglican -- we're not this, we're not that, we're just trying to muddle in the middle and keep our eye on the important thing. Which is, of course, Aesthetics:
That allegorical description of Hermes 11 pleaseth me beyond all the Metaphysical definitions of Divines. Where I cannot satisfy my reason, I love to humour my fancy: I had as live you tell me that anima est angelus hominis, est Corpus DEI, [the soul is man’s angel, GOD’s body] as Entelechia; 12—Lux est umbra Dei, [Light is GOD’s shadow] as actus perspicui. 13 Where there is an obscurity too deep for our Reason, ’tis good to sit down with a description, periphrasis, or adumbration...
It is good to curl up with a nice adumbration, especially now that fall is here. Note the footnotes:
Note 11. The description alluded to, “God is a sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere,” is said not to be found in the books which pass under the name of the fabulous Hermes Trismegistus.
Note 12. Aristotle’s word for “actual being.”
Note 13. The active force of the clear.
You can see why Browne never intended this to be published; this was inaccessible by 17th-century standards. I remember trying to read "Urn Burial" many years ago and continually having to scan down to the bottom of the page; it's like constantly going downstairs to try to deal with a leaky faucet. Yet Browne has his fanboys (and girls; one of them was Virginia Woolf), generally other writers. He's a misunderstood giant, I guess, like Ornette Coleman or something.

Photo by flickr user Ted Abbott used with a Creative Commons license.

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