From: Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (Ch. 27); Selections from the Essays of Montaigne --- translated, 1948 by Donald M. Frame

Perhaps it is not without reason that we attribute facility in belief and conviction to simplicity and ignorance; for it seems to me I once learned that belief was a sort of impression made on our mind, and that the softer and less resistant the mind, the easier it was to imprint something on it.

As the scale of the balance must necessarily sink under the weight placed upon it, so must the mind yield to evident things. (Cicero) The more a mind is empty and without counterpoise, the more easily it gives beneath the weight of the first persuasive argument. That is why children, common people, women, and sick people are most subject to being led by the ears. But then, on the other hand, it is foolish presumption to go around disdaining and condemning as false whatever does not seem likely to us; which is a common vice in those who think they have more than normal ability. I used to do so once; and if I heard of returning spirits, prognostications of future events, enchantments, sorcery, or some other story that I could not swallow,

Dreams, witches, miracles, magic alarms,
Nocturnal specters, and Thessalian charms,


I felt compassion for the poor people who were taken in by these follies. And now I think that I was as least as much to be pitied myself. Not that experience has since shown me any thing surpassing my first beliefs, and that through no fault of my curiosity; but reason has taught me that to condemn a thing thus, dogmatically, as false and impossible, is to assume the distinction of knowing the bounds and limits of God's will and of the power of our mother Nature; and that there is no more notable folly in the world than to measure these things by our capacity and competence. If we call prodigies or miracles whatever our reason cannot reach, how many of these appear continually before our eyes! Let us consider through what clouds and how gropingly we are led to the knowledge of most of the things that are right in our hands; assuredly we shall find that it is rather familiarity than knowledge that takes away our strangeness,

But no one now, so tired of seeing are our eyes,
Deigns to look up at the bright temples of the skies,


and that if those things were presented to us for the first time, we should find them as incredible, or more so, than any others.

If they were here for the first time for men to see,
If they were set before us unexpectedly,
Nothing more marvelous than these things could be told,
Nothing more unbelievable for men of old.


He who had never seen a river thought that the first one he came across was the ocean. And the things that are the greatest within our knowledge we judge to be the utmost that nature can do in that category.

A fair-sized stream seems vast to one who until then
Has never seen a greater; so with trees, with men.
In every field each man regards as vast in size
The greatest object that have come before his eyes.

The mind becomes accustomed to things by the habitual sight of them, nor wonders nor inquiries about the reasons for the things it see all the time. (Cicero)

The novelty of things incites us more than their greatness to seek their causes.

We must judge with more reverence the infinite power of nature, and with more conciousness of our ignorance and weakness. How many things of slight probablility there are, testified by trustworthy people, which, if we cannot be convinced of them, we should at least leave in suspense! For to condemn them as impossible is to pretend, with rash presumption, to know the limits of possiblity. If people rightly understood the difference between the impossible and the unusual, and between what is contrary to the orderly course of nature and what is contrary to the common opinion of men, not believing rashly nor disbelieving easily, they would observe the rule of "nothing too much," enjoined by Chilo.

When we find in Froissart that the Count de Foix, in Béarn, learned of the defeat of King John of Castile at Juberoth the day after it happened, we can laugh at it; and also at the story our annals tell, that Pope Honorius performed public funeral performed public funeral rites for King Philip Augustus and commanded them to be enough to keep us in hand. But then, if Plutarch, after several examples that he cites from antiquity, says that he knows with certain knowledge that in the time of Domitian, the news of Rome, several day's journey from there, and dispersed throughout the world, on the same day it was lost; and has preceded the event---shall we say that these simple men let themselves be hoaxed like the common herd, because they were not clear-sighted like ourselves? Is there anything more delicate, clearer and more alert than Pliny's judgment, where he sees fit to bring it in to play, or anything farther from inanity> Leaving aside the excellence of his knowledge, which I count for less, in which of these qualities do we surpass him? However there is no schoolboy so young but he will convict him of falsehood, and want to give him a lesson on the progress of Nature's works.

when we read in Bouchet about the miracles done by the relics of Saint Hilary, let it go: his credit is not great enough to take away our right to contradict him. But to condemn wholesale all similar stories seems to me a singular impudence.

The great Saint Augustine testifies that he saw a blind child restored to sight upon the relics of Saint Gervaise and Saint Protasius at Milan; a woman at Carthage cured of a cancer by the sign of the cross that a newly baptized woman made over her; Hesperius, a close friend of his, cast out the spirits that infested his house, with a little earth from the sepulcher of our Lord, and a paralytic promptly cured by this earth, later, when if had been carried to church; a woman in procession, having touched Saint Stephan's shrine with a bouquet, and rubbed her eyes with this bouquet, recover her long-lost sight; and several other miracles at which he himself was present.

Of what shall we accuse both him and two holy bishops, Aurelius and Maximinus, whom he calls upon as his witnesses? Shall it be of ignorance, simplicity, and credulity, or of knavery and imposture? Is there any man in our time so impudent that he thinks himself comparable to them, either in virtue an piety, or in learning, judgement, and ability?

Who, though they brought forth no proof, might crush me by their mere authority. (Cicero)

It is dangerous and presumptuous, besides the absurd temerity that it implies, to disdain what we do not comprehend. For after you have established, according to your fine understanding, the limits of truth and falsehood, and it turns out that you must necessarily believe things even stranger than those you deny, you are obliged fromthenon to abandon them. Now, what seems to me to bring as much disorder into our consciences as anything, is this partial surrender of their beliefs by Catholics. It seems to them that they are being very moderate and understanding when they yield to their opponents some of the articles in dispute. But, besides the fact that they do not see what an advantage it is to a man charging you for you to begin to give ground and withdraw, and how much that encourages him to pursue his point, those articles which they select as the most trivial are sometimes very important. Either we must submit completely to the authority of our ecclesiastical government, or do without it completely. It is not for us to decide what portion of obedience we owe it.

Moreover, I can say this for having tried it, having in other days exercised this freedom of pesonal choice and selection, regarding with negligence certain points in the observances of our Church which seemed more pointless or strange that others; coming to tell learned men about them, I found that these things have a massive and very solid foundation, and that it is only stupidity and ignorance that makes us receives them with less reverence than the rest. Why do we not remember how much contradiction we sense even in our own judgment, how manythings were articles of faith to us yesterday, which are fables to us today? Vainglory and curiousity are the two scourges of our soul. The latter leads us to thrust our noses into everything, and the former forbids us to leave anything unresolved and undecided.

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