On Those who have Confidence in Magical Charms
But there is no doubt but that that kind of men are wholly ours who
love to hear or tell feigned miracles and strange lies and are never
weary of any tale, though never so long, so it be of ghosts,
spirits, goblins, devils, or the like; which the further they are from
truth, the more readily they are believed and the more do they
tickle their itching ears. And these serve not only to pass away
time but bring profit, especially to mass priests and pardoners.
And next to these are they that have gotten a foolish but
pleasant persuasion that if they can but see a wooden or painted
Polypheme Christopher, they shall not die that day; or do but salute a
carved Barbara, in the usual set form, that he shall return safe
from battle; or make his application to Erasmus on certain days with
some small wax candles and proper prayers, that he shall quickly be
rich. Nay, they have gotten a Hercules, another Hippolytus, and a
St. George, whose horse most religiously set out with trappings and
bosses there wants little but they worship; however, they endeavor
to make him their friend by some present or other, and to swear by his
master's brazen helmet is an oath for a prince.
Or what should I say of them that hug themselves with their
counterfeit pardons; that have measured purgatory by an hourglass, and
can without the least mistake demonstrate its ages, years, months,
days, hours, minutes, and seconds, as it were in a mathematical table?
Or what of those who, having confidence in certain magical charms
and short prayers invented by some pious imposter, either for his
soul's health or profit's sake, promise to themselves everything:
wealth, honor, pleasure, plenty, good health, long life, lively old
age, and the next place to Christ in the other world, which yet they
desire may not happen too soon, that is to say before the pleasures of
this life have left them?
And now suppose some merchant, soldier, or judge, out of so many
rapines, parts with some small piece of money. He straight conceives
all that sink of his whole life quite cleansed; so many perjuries,
so many lusts, so many debaucheries, so many contentions, so many
murders, so many deceits, so many breaches of trusts, so many
treacheries bought off, as it were by compact; and so bought off
that they may begin upon a new score. But what is more foolish than
those, or rather more happy, who daily reciting those seven verses
of the Psalms promise to themselves more than the top of felicity?
Which magical verses some devil or other, a merry one without doubt
but more a blab of his tongue than crafty, is believed to have
discovered to St. Bernard, but not without a trick. And these are so
foolish that I am half ashamed of them myself, and yet they are
approved, and that not only by the common people but even the
professors of religion.
And what, are not they also almost the same where several countries
avouch to themselves their peculiar saint, and as everyone of them has
his particular gift, so also his particular form of worship? As, one
is good for the toothache; another for groaning women; a third, for
stolen goods; a fourth, for making a voyage prosperous; and a fifth,
to cure sheep of the rot; and so of the rest, for it would be too
tedious to run over all. And some there are that are good for more
things than one; but chiefly, the Virgin Mother, to whom the common
people do in a manner attribute more than to the Son.
Yet what do they beg of these saints but what belongs to folly?
To examine it a little. Among all those offerings which are so
frequently hung up in churches, nay up to the very roof of some of
them, did you ever see the least acknowledgment from anyone that had
left his folly, or grown a hair's breadth the wiser? One escapes a
shipwreck, and he gets safe to shore. Another, run through in a
duel, recovers. Another, while the rest were fighting, ran out of
the field, no less luckily than valiantly. Another condemned to be
hanged, by the favor of some saint or other, a friend to thieves,
got off himself by impeaching his fellows. Another escaped by breaking
prison. Another recovered from his fever in spite of his physician.
Another's poison turning to a looseness proved his remedy rather
than death; and that to his wife's no small sorrow, in that she lost
both her labor and her charge. Another's cart broke, and he saved
his horses. Another preserved from the fall of a house. All these hang
up their tablets, but no one gives thanks for his recovery from folly;
so sweet a thing it is not to be wise, that on the contrary men rather
pray against anything than folly.
But why do I launch out into this ocean of superstitions? Had I a
hundred tongues, as many mouths, and a voice never so strong, yet were
I not able to run over the several sorts of fools or all the names
of folly, so thick do they swarm everywhere. And yet your priests make
no scruple to receive and cherish them as proper instruments of
profit; whereas if some scurvy wise fellow should step up and speak
things as they are, as, to live well is the way to die well; the
best way to get quit of sin is to add to the money you give the hatred
of sin, tears, watchings, prayers, fastings, and amendment of life;
such or such a saint will favor you, if you imitate his life- these, I
say, and the like- should this wise man chat to the people, from
what happiness into how great troubles would he draw them?
Of this college also are they who in their lifetime appoint with
what solemnity they'll be buried, and particularly set down how many
torches, how many mourners, how many singers, how many almsmen they
will have at it; as if any sense of it could come to them, or that
it were a shame to them that their corpse were not honorably interred;
so curious are they herein, as if, like the aediles of old, these were
to present some shows or banquet to the people.