Essay 3

Unity In Religion

by Francis Bacon Icon

RELIGION is the chief band of human society.

It is a happy thing, when itself is well contained within the true band of unity.

The quarrels, and divisions about religion, were evils unknown to the heathen. This was because the religion of the heathen consisted in rites and ceremonies than in any constant belief.

The chief doctors and fathers of their church were the poets.

But the true God is a jealous God. Therefore, his worship and religion will endure no mixture, nor partner.

There are 2 fruits of unity (next unto the well pleasing of God, which is all in all):

  1. The unity outside of the church

Heresies and schisms are the greatest scandals worse than the corruption of manners. For as in the natural body, a wound, or solution of continuity, is worse than a corrupt humor; so in the spiritual.

Such a breach of unity drives men out of the church the most.

Certainly it is little better when atheists and profane persons hear of so many discordant and contrary opinions in religion.

It averts them from the church, and makes them scorners.

It is but a light thing, to be vouched in so serious a matter, but yet it expresseth well the deformity. There is a master of scoffing, that in his catalogue of books of a feigned library, sets down this title of a book, The Morris-Dance of Heretics.

For indeed, every sect of them, hath a diverse posture, or cringe by themselves, which cannot but move derision in worldlings, and depraved politics, who are apt to contemn holy things.

  1. The unity within the church

This brings peace which contains infinite blessings:

  • It establishes faith
  • It kindles:
    • charity
    • the outward peace of the church and distills into peace of conscience
  • It turns the labors of writing, and reading of controversies, into treaties of mortification and devotion.

The bounds of unity has 2 extremes.

To certain zealants, all talk of peace is odious.

Contrariwise, certain Laodiceans and lukewarm persons think they may accommodate points of religion, by middle way.

  • They take part of both with witty reconcilements as if they would make an arbitrament between God and man.

Both these extremes are to be avoided. This can be done, if the league of Christians, penned by Jesus were in 2 cross clauses thereof, soundly and plainly expounded:

  1. He that is not with us, is against us

  2. He that is not against us, is with us

The second one has the fundamentals and substance of religion truly discerned from mere opinion, order, or good intention.

According to my small model, men should be careful of rending God’s church through the 2 kinds of controversies.

  1. The controversy is too small and light, not worth the heat and strife about it, kindled only by contradiction.

Christ’s coat had no seam. But the church’s vesture was of diverse colors: unity is different from uniformity.

  1. The controversy is great, but is driven to an over-great subtilty and obscurity

It becomes an ingenious thing rather than a substantial one.

A man with good judgment might sometimes hear ignorant men differ

, and know well within himself, that those which so differ, mean one thing, and yet they themselves would never agree. And if it come so to pass, in that distance of judgment, which is between man and man, shall we not think that God above, that knows the heart, doth not discern that frail men, in some of their contradictions, intend the same thing; and accepteth of both?

The nature of such controversies is excellently expressed by St. Paul.

Men create oppositions, which are not; and put them into new terms, so fixed, as whereas the meaning ought to govern the term, the term in effect governeth the meaning.

There be also two false peaces, or unities: the one, when the peace is grounded, but upon an implicit ignorance; for all colors will agree in the dark: the other, when it is pieced up, upon a direct admission of contraries, in fundamental points.

For truth and falsehood, in such things, are like the iron and clay, in the toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s image; they may cleave, but they will not incorporate.

How do we get unity?

Men must beware, that in the procuring, or reuniting, of religious unity, they do not dissolve and deface the laws of charity, and of human society.

There are 2 swords amongst Christians:

  1. The spiritual

  2. The temporal

Both have their due office and place, in the maintenance of religion.

But we should not take up the third sword – the sword of The Prophet Mohammad. It propagates religion by wars, or by sanguinary persecutions to force consciences.

This is but to dash the first table against the second sword and so to consider men as Christians, as we forget that they are men.

Agamemnon could endure the sacrificing of his own daughter. Lucretius the poet exclaimed: Tantum Religio potuit suadere malorum.

What would he have said, if he had known of the massacre in France, or the powder treason of England?

He would have been seven times more Epicure, and atheist, than he was.

The temporal sword is to be drawn with great circumspection in cases of religion; so it is a thing monstrous to put it into the hands of the common people.

Let that be left unto the Anabaptists, and other furies.

It was great blasphemy, when the devil said, I will ascend, and be like the highest;

It is greater blasphemy:

  • to personate God and bring him in saying: “I will descend and be like the prince of darkness”
  • to make the cause of religion descend to the cruelty of murdering princes, butchering people, and subverting governments

Therefore, the following must damn and send to hell forever those opinions tending do such:

  • the church, by doctrine and decree
  • the princes by their sword
  • the Christian and moral learned people


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