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Chapter XXIV

But what is this, and what kind of mystery? Behold, Thou blessest mankind, O Lord, that they may increase and multiply, and replenish the earth; dost Thou not thereby give us a hint to understand something? why didst Thou not as well bless the light, which Thou calledst day; nor the firmament of heaven, nor the lights, nor the stars, nor the earth, nor the sea? I might say that Thou, O God, who created created us after Thine Image, I might say, that it had been Thy good pleasure to bestow this blessing peculiarly upon man; hadst Thou not in like manner blessed the fishes and the whales, that they should increase and multiply, and replenish the waters of the sea, and that the fowls should be multiplied upon the earth. I might say likewise, that this blessing pertained properly unto such creatures, as are bred of their own kind, had I found it given to the fruit-trees, and plants, and beasts of the earth. But now neither unto the herbs, nor the trees, nor the beasts, nor serpents is it said, Increase and multiply; notwithstanding all these as well as the fishes, fowls, or men, do by generation increase and continue their kind.

What then shall I say, O Truth my Light? “that it was idly said, and without meaning?” Not so, O Father of piety, far he it from a minister of Thy word to say so. And if I understand not what Thou meanest by that phrase, let my betters, that is, those of more understanding than myself, make better use of it, according as Thou, my God, hast given to each man to understand. But let my confession also be pleasing in Thine eyes, wherein I confess unto Thee, that I believe, O Lord, that Thou spokest not so in vain; nor will I suppress, what this lesson suggests to me. For it is true, nor do I see what should hinder me from thus understanding the figurative sayings of Thy Bible. For I know a thing to be manifoldly signified by corporeal expressions, which is understood one way by the mind; and that understood many ways in the mind, which is signified one way by corporeal expression. Behold, the single love of God and our neighbour, by what manifold sacraments, and innumerable languages, and in each several language, in how innumerable modes of speaking, it is corporeally expressed. Thus do the offspring of the waters increase and multiply. Observe again, whosoever readest this; behold, what Scripture delivers, and the voice pronounces one only way, In the Beginning God created heaven and earth; is it not understood manifoldly, not through any deceit of error, but by various kinds of true senses? Thus do man's offspring increase and multiply.

If therefore we conceive of the natures of the things themselves, not allegorically, but properly, then does the phrase increase and multiply, agree unto all things, that come of seed. But if we treat of the words as figuratively spoken (which I rather suppose to be the purpose of the Scripture, which doth not, surely, superfluously ascribe this benediction to the offspring of aquatic animals and man only); then do we find “multitude” to belong to creatures spiritual as well as corporeal, as in heaven and earth, and to righteous and unrighteous, as in light and darkness; and to holy authors who have been the ministers of the Law unto us, as in the firmament which is settled betwixt the waters and the waters; and to the society of people yet in the bitterness of infidelity, as in the sea; and to the zeal of holy souls, as in the dry land; and to works of mercy belonging to this present life, as in the herbs bearing seed, and in trees bearing fruit; and to spiritual gifts set forth for edification, as in the lights of heaven; and to affections formed unto temperance, as in the living soul. In all these instances we meet with multitudes, abundance, and increase; but what shall in such wise increase and multiply that one thing may be expressed many ways, and one expression understood many ways; we find not, except in signs corporeally expressed, and in things mentally conceived. By signs corporeally pronounced we understand the generations of the waters, necessarily occasioned by the depth of the flesh; by things mentally conceived, human generations, on account of the fruitfulness of reason. And for this end do we believe Thee, Lord, to have said to these kinds, Increase and multiply. For in this blessing, I conceive Thee to have granted us a power and a faculty, both to express several ways what we understand but one; and to understand several ways, what we read to be obscurely delivered but in one. Thus are the waters of the sea replenished, which are not moved but by several significations: thus with human increase is the earth also replenished, whose dryness appeareth in its longing, and reason ruleth over it.

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