« EelmineJätka »
the spring and source, though the spring may flow into a river. As the river may return again to the spring, so every good cometh from God, and returns to him; and he is the full and the perfect good; and there is no deficiency of will in him. Now you may clearly understand that this is God himself.
"Then answered I, and said, ' Thou hast very rightly and very rationally overcome and convinced me. I cannot deny this, nor indeed think otherwise, but that it is all so as thou sayest.'
"Then said Wisdom,' Now I would that thou shouldest think carefully till thou understand where true happiness is. How! knowest thou not, that all mankind are with one mind consenting that God is the beginning of all good things, and the governor of all creatures? He is the supreme good. No man now doubts this, because he knows nothing better, and indeed nothing equally good. Hence every reasoning tells us, and all men confess the same, that God is the highest good. Thus they signify that all good is in him; for if it were not, then he would not be that which he is called; but something has existed before him or is more excellent. Then that would be better than he is; but nothing was ever before him, nor more excellent than he is, nor more precious than himself. Hence he is the beginning, and the fountain, and the roof of all good. This is clear enough. Now it is openly shown, that the true felicities are in no other existing thing but in God.'
"Then said I, 'I am consenting to this.'
"Then he answered, 'I conjure thee that thou rationally understand this; that God is full of every perfection, and of every good, and of every happiness.'
"I then replied,' I cannot fully understand it. Wherefore tell me again, the same that thou didst mention before.'
"He said, 'Then I will say it again. I would not that thou shouldest think this, that God is the father and the origin of all creatures, and yet that his supreme goodness, of which he is full, comes to him from any where from without. I also would not have thee think that any other can be his good and happiness but himself; because, if thou supposest that the good which he hath comes to him any where from without, then that thing from which it comes to him would be better than he, if there were such. But it is very silly, and a very great sin, that men should think so of God; either to suppose again, that any thing were before him, or better than he is, or like him. But we should agree that he is the best of all things.
"If thou now believest that God exists so as men are, either he is a man that hath soul and body, or his goodness is that which gathereth good elsewhere, and then holds it together, and rules it. If thou then believest that it is so with God, then shalt thou necessarily believe that some power is greater than his, which it so unites as that it maketh the course of things. But whatever thing is divided from others is distinct,—is another thing, though they may be placed together. If, then, any thing be divided from the highest good, it will not be that highest good. Yet it would be a great sin to think of God, that there could be any good without him, or any separated from him. Hence nothing is better than He is, or even as good. What thing can be better than its creator? Hence I say, with justér reason, that He is the supreme good in his own nature, which is the origin of all things.'
66 Then I said, 'Now thou hast very rightly convinced me.'
< Then quoth he, Did I not before tell thee that the supreme good and the highest happiness were oue?' I answered, So it is.' He replied, 'Shall we then say that this is any thing else but God?' I said, 'I cannot deny this; because I assented to it before (1) '".
The following passages are from Alfred's own pen. Speaking of the Deity, he adds :
'He is the stem and the foundation of all blessings. From Him all good cometh, and every thing tends to Him again. He governs them all. Thus He is the beginning, and the support of all blessings. They come from Him so as the light and brightness of the planets come from the sun some are brighter, some are less bright. So also the moon: he enlightens as much as the sun shines on him. When she shineth all over him, then is he all bright.'
"When I heard these observations I was then astonished, and much awed, and exclaimed, This is a wonderful, and delightful, and reasonable observation which thou now expressest to me!'
"He answered, It is not more pleasant nor wiser than the thing that thy discourse was about. We will now talk about that; because methinketh it good that we connect this with the former.' Then replied I, 'What is that (2) ?'”
After this, the concise question of Boetius, whether "the several things of which beatitude consists do not unite, as it were, in one body of blessedness, with a certain variety of parts, or whether any one of them hath it complete to which the rest may be referred (3)," is thus amplified and commented upon by Alfred with his own illustrations and reasonings :
"What I expressed to thee before was, that God was happiness; and that from this true felicity come all the other goods that we discoursed about before; and return to him. Thus from the sea the water cometh into the earth, and there freshens itself. It proceedeth then up into a spring; it goeth then into a brook; then into a river; then along the river till it floweth again into the sea. But I would now ask thee how thou hast understood this assertion? Whether dost thou suppose that the five goods which we have often mentioned before, that is, power, dignities, celebrity, abundance, and bliss;-I would know whether you suppose that those goods were limbs of the true felicity, so as a man's limbs are those of one person, and belong all to one body? Or dost thou think that some one of the five goods makes the true felicity, and afterwards that the four others become its goods: as now the soul and body compose one man?
"The one man hath many limbs, and yet to these two, that is, to the soul and the body, belong all this man's comforts both spiritual and corporeal. It is now the good of the body that a man be fair and strong, and long and broad, with many other excellencies besides these. Yet they are not the body itself; because, though he should lose any of these good things, he would still be what he was before. Then the excellencies of the soul are, prudence, moderation, patience, righteousness, and wisdom, and many such virtues and yet, as the soul is one thing, so the virtues are another.' (2) Alfred, p. 84.
(1) Alfred, p. 81-83.
(3) Boetius, lib. iii. pr. 10.
"I then said, 'I wish that thou wouldest explain to me yet more clearly, about the other goods that belong to the true felicity.'
"He answered, 'Did I not inform thee before, that the true happiness is God?' 'Yes,' I replied, thou hast said he was the supreme good.' Then quoth he, Art thou now consenting that power, and dignities, and fame, and plenty, and joy, and happiness, and the supreme good, are all one; and that this one must be the Deity?'
"I said, "How should I now deny this?' Then he answered, 'Whether dost thou think that those things which are the limbs of the true felicity is that felicity itself?'
"I replied, I know now what thou wouldest say; but it will please me better that you should speak to me some while about it than ask me.' He then said, 'How! couldest thou not reflect that if these goods were limbs of the true felicity, they would be somewhat distinct from it as a man's limbs are from his body? But the nature of these limbs is that they make up one body, and yet are not wholly alike.'
"I then remarked, 'Thou needest no more speak about it. Thou hast explained it to me clearly enough that these goods are no whit separated from the true felicity.'
"Then quoth he, "Thou comprehendest it right enough. Thou now understandest that all good is the same that happiness is, and this happiness is the supreme good, and the supreme good is GOD, and God is always inseparably one.'
"I said, "There is no doubt of it. But I wish you now to discourse to me a little on what is unknown (1).* ́
All the preceding is the addition of Alfred to the short suggestion already given from Boetius.
Shortly after the above occurs the tenth metrum of Boetius (2), which Alfred paraphrases, or rather imitates, so as to make the whole of it, in point of composition, his own, and nearly so in its thoughts.
It is Alfred's corollary from the preceding dialogue.
"Well! O men! Well! Every one of you that be free tend to this good, and to this felicity; and he that is now in bondage with the fruitless love of this world, let him seek liberty, that he may come to this felicity. For this is the only rest of all our labours. This is the only port always calm after the storms and billows of our toils. This is the only station of peace; the only comforter of grief after all the sorrows of the present life. The golden stones and the silvery ones, and jewels of all kinds, and all the
(1) Alfred, p. 84-86.
(2) The original is: "Come here, all ye that are thus captivated; whom deceitful desire, dulling your earthly minds, binds with its wicked chains; here will be rest from your labours; here, a serene part where you may remain quiet. This is the only asylum open to the wretched. Tagus never gave any thing in its golden sands, nor Hermus from his ruddy bank, or Indus near the heated circle, mingling green with white stones. They blaze to the sight, and the more conceal the blinded mind within their darkness. In this, whatever pleases and excites the mind, the low earth nourishes in its caverns. The splendour with which heaven is governed and flourishes shuns the obscure ruins of the soul. Whoever can note this light, will deny the bright rays of Phœbus." Boet. lib. iii. met. 10.
riches before us, will not enlighten the eyes of the mind, nor improve their acuteness to perceive the appearance of the true felicity. They rather blind the mind's eyes than make them sharper; because all things that please here, in this present life, are earthly; because they are flying. But the admirable brightness that brightens all things and governs all; it will not destroy the soul, but will enlighten it. If, then, any man could perceive the splendour of the heavenly light with the pure eyes of his mind, he would then say that the radiance of the shining of the sun is not superior to this, is not to be compared to the everlasting brightness of God (1).”
The last chapter of his Boetius is Alfred's composition. He has taken a few hints from his original (2), but he has made what he has borrowed his own, by his mode of expression, and he has added from his own mind all the rest. It is a fine exhibition of his enlightened views and feelings on that great subject, which has, in every age, so much interested the truly philosophical mind; and we may add, that no one has contemplated it with more sympathy, rationality, and even sublimity, than our illustrious king. His description of the Deity is entirely his own.—
"Hence we should with all our power inquire after God, that we may know what he is. Though it should not be our lot to know what He is, yet we should, from the dignity of the understanding which he has given us, try to explore it.
"Every creature, both rational and irrational, discovers this, that God is eternal. Because so many creatures, so great and so fair, could never be subject to less creatures and to less power than they all are, nor indeed to many equal ones.
"Then said I, 'What is eternity?'
"He answered, 'Thou hast asked me a great and difficult thing to comprehend. If thou wilt understand it, thou must first have the eyes of thy mind clean and lucid. I may not conceal from thee what I know of this. "Know thou that there are three things in this world: one is temporary; to this there is both a beginning and an end: and I do not know any creature that is temporary, but hath his beginning and his end. Another thing is eternal which hath a beginning, but hath not an end: I know not when it began, but I know that it will never end : such are angels and the souls of men. The third thing is eternal, both without end, and without beginning: this is God. Between these three there is a very great discrimination. If we were to investigate all this subject, we should' come late to the end of this book, or never.
"But one thing thou must necessarily know of this previously- Why is God called the Highest Eternity?'
"Then said I, 'Why?'
"Then quoth he, 'Because we know very little of that which was before us, except by memory and by asking; and yet we know less of that which will be after us. That alone exists rationally to us which is present; but to HIM all is present, as well that which was before as that which now is, and that which after us will be. All of it is present to HIM.
(1) Alfred, p. 87, 88.
(2) How few these are may be seen by those who read the last chapter of Boetius. Lib. v. pr. 6.
666 "His riches increase not, nor do they ever diminish. He never remembers any thing, because He never forgets aught: He seeks nothing, nor inquires, because He knows it all: He searches for nothing, because He loses nothing: He pursues no creature, because none can fly from Him: He dreads nothing, because He knows no one more powerful than Himself, nor even like Him. He is always giving and never wants. He is always Almighty, because He always wishes good, and never evil. To Him there is no need of any thing. He is always seeing: He never sleeps: He is always alike mild and kind: He will always be eternal. Hence there never was a time that He was not, nor ever will be. He is always free. He is not compelled to any work. From His divine power He is every where present. His greatness no man can measure. He is not to be conceived bodily, but spiritually, so as now wisdom is and reason. But He is wisdom: He is reason itself (1).*"
We can scarcely believe that we are perusing the written thoughts of an Anglo-Saxon of the ninth century, who could not even read till he was twelve years old; who could then find no instructors to teach him what he wished; whose kingdom was overrun by the fiercest and most ignorant of barbarian invaders; whose life was either continual battle or continual disease; and who had to make both his own mind and the minds of all about him. How ardent must have been Alfred's genius, that, under circumstances so disadvantageous, could attain to such great and enlightened conceptions!
Alfred's Geographical, Historical, Astronomical, Botanical, and other Knowledge.
Alfred's translation of Orosius (2) is peculiarly va- His translation of luable for the new geographical matter which he inserted in it (3). This consists of a sketch of the chief German nations in his time, and an account of the voyages of Ohthere to the North Pole, and of Wulfstan to the Baltic, during his reign. Alfred does in this as in all his translations he omits some chapters, abbreviates others; sometimes rather imitates than translates; and often inserts new paragraphs of his own.
It is clear, from these additions, that Alfred was His geographical fond of geography, and was active both to increase and diffuse the knowledge of it. Some little insertion in his Boetius
(1) Alfred, p. 147, 148.
(2) Orosius ends his summary of ancient history and geography in 416, when he was alive. He quotes some historians now lost; as Claudius on the Roman conquest of Macedonia, and Antias on the war with the Cimbri and Teutones : and appears to have read Tubero's history, and an ancient history of Carthage.
(3) The principal MS. of Alfred's translation is in the Cotton library, Tiber. b. i. which is very ancient and well written. A transcript of this, with a translation, was printed by M. Daines Barrington in 1773.