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chapter 13: The Light of Reason Discovers Present, Not Future Things - Nathaniel Culverwell, An Elegant and Learned Discourse of the Light of Nature 
An Elegant and Learned Discourse of the Light of Nature, ed. Robert A. Greene and Hugh MacCallum, foreword by Robert A. Greene (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001).
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The Light of Reason Discovers Present, Not Future Things
’Tis lumen explicans praesentia, non aperiens futura, for did you ever hear of such a Lamp as would discover an object, not yet born nor yet in being? Would you not smile at him that should light up a Candle to search for a futurity? ’Tis the glorious prerogative of the Divine understanding, to have such a fair, and open, and unlimited prospect, as that in one glorious twinkling of an intellectual eye, he can see the whole compasse and extent, and latitude of being; and the whole duration of being: for Eternity at one draught doth swallow up the whole fluency of time, and is infinitely above those temporal conditions of past, present, and to come; Nullum tempus occurrit Regi1 [royal prerogative is not subject to time], (say the Lawyers) Nullum tempus occurrit Deo[God is not subject to time], say the Philosophers. An intellectual Sun, doth not occidere, & redire[set and rise again], but makes one bright and perpetual day, and by its pure and uninterrupted irradiations, doth paraphrase, and comment upon all objects, so as to uncloud and reveale the most obscure contingency, and to make it present, and naked, and visible. For as the Schoolmen tell us, Scientia Dei ad omnia praesentialiter se habet2 [the knowledge of God comprehends all things as present], His knowledge being all one with his essence, without the least shadow of change. Insomuch as that which with men is a futurity and contingency, with him is alwayes present and extant; which speaks for the certainty and infallibility of his prescience, though it be conversant about such things, as seeme to us most casual and fortuitous. For even we our selves know these things certainly, when they are in act, and in being, because that then they lose their volubility and contingency, and put on reality and necessity: according to that unquestionable rule, Omne quod est quando est necesse est esse3 [whatever is, necessarily is, when it is], a contingency when ’tis extra suas causas[beyond its causes], when ’tis actualy produc’d having a determinatum esse[determinate essence], it may then also have a determinate cognoscibility.4 Now God always thus sees a contingency in termino, in eventu, in periodo[in its issue]; whereas created understandings look upon it, in medio, in motu, in itinere5 [in its process]. Nay such is the poverty & imperfection of mans knowledge, that many things which are in their own nature necessary and demonstrable; yet perhaps they  know them, per modum probabilitatis & non per modum necessitatis[only as probable, and not as necessary]. But such is the height & transcendency of the Divine understanding, as that such things as are in their own natures most dubious and hovering between esse and non esse[being and non-being]; yet God knows even these per modum infallibilem[infallibly], and plainly perceives which way they will encline, when men see only an equipoise and neutrality. So that the whole rise of contingency flows from the wavering of second causes. And though scientia Dei be causa rerum[God’s knowledge be the cause of things]; yet being but causa remota[a remote cause], it doth not take away contingency; But God himself sees that some things will evenire contingenter[occur contingently]: For he doth not only cognoscere res[now the thing itself], but ordinem & modum rerum[the order and measure of things]. And knows that there are some causae intermediae[intermediate causes], which are impedibiles and defectibiles[liable to weakness and defect] (as the Schoolmen speak somewhat rudely) and by vertue of these, there arises a contingency.6 Thus in a Syllogisme, though the major be necessary, yet if the minor be contingent, the conclusion will be so also, and will sequi deteriorem partem[follow the weaker premise]; though the first cause be certain, yet if there be obstructions in the second, you cannot promise your self what the effect will be. Though the spring of motion cannot fail, yet if the wheels may possibly break, the progresse will be very uncertain to all but to God himself. For other understandings only know that the wheels may break, but God he sees whether they will break or no, so that which in respect of creatures is periculosae plenum opus aleae7 [a work of hazardous risk], in respect of God is fixum & τετράγωνον, determined and immoveable in his everlasting thoughts. Angelical beings cannot reach to so high a perfection of knowledge as this is. For futurum quatenus futurum, is objectum improportionatum intellectui Angelico[the future as such is an object not fitted for the angelic intellect], as acute Suarez doth abundantly evince.8 The Philosophers finde difficulty enough in explaining the manner how God hath a certain and infallible prescience of these future uncertainties. And they finde it a plain impossibility for the Angels to have any such knowledge, for they neither have aeternitatem intuitus[an eternal intuition], which should ambire in objecto suo omnes differentias temporis, which should remove all succession, all prius & posterius[before and after], and make a compleat simultaneity, nor yet have they plenitudinem rationis representativae[a fulness of representative reason], they have no such boundlesse and infinite species as the Divine essence is, by which God beholds all things.9 Angels have neither light enough of their own to manifest a future object, nor an eye strong enough to pierce into it. They cannot infallibly foretel their own motions, because God can alter them and over-power them, much lesse can they know the determinations of God himself, or any operations that  depend upon a free agent, till they bud and blossome in some actual discoveries and appearances. Nor are they so well acquainted with the whole context and coherence of natural agents, with all those secret twinings and complications as to spy out beforehand those events which are brought forth in a casual and unusual and very unlikely manner. Whensoever then they have any prescience of future contingencies, ’tis only by revelation from God himself. They may see the face of a future object in speculo divino[in a divine mirror], but yet that’s speculum voluntarium[a wilful mirror], and shews only what it pleaseth, and when, and to whom it pleaseth. The wicked Angels know this well enough, that they for their parts have no knowledge of future uncertainties, though they desire to have it as much as any, and they pretend to it as much as any; yet you know how cautelous they were in their Oracular responsals, as that elegant Moralist Plutarch doth most excellently shew in several places.10 They alwayes drew a curtain before their predictions, and wrapt them up in obscurity, which plainly argued a consciousnesse of their own ignorance in respect of future events. The good Angels are so fill’d with their present happinesse, they are so quieted with the enjoyment of God himself, as that they are not at all solicitous, or inquisitive about future events, but they cheerfully entertain and drink in all those beams that come flowing from the face of their God, and they desire no more then he is pleased to communicate to them, nay indeed they can desire no more, for he gives them as much as they are capable of. Now if Angelical understandings are not so wide and comprehensive as to graspe and take in such objects, what mean then the sons of men to aspire and reach after the knowledge of them? if those tall and eminent beings, standing upon the mount of God cannot see them, how shall the sons of men that are of a lower stature hid in a valley, how shall they behold them? Yet there was alwayes in the generality of mankinde, a prurient desire, and hankering after the knowledge of future events. Men still stretch out the hand to the forbidden tree, they long for the fruit of it, and would fain be plucking some apples from it. Nay, men long for the greenest apples, for the precocious knowledge of events before they come to their just ripenesse and maturity.11 The desire of this sets the Astrologer a lighting his candle at the Stars. O how doth he flatter himself in his own imaginary twincklings, and how doth he perswade the more simple & credulous part of the world that he can discover every future atome, that he can put those capital Stars, those golden letters together, and spell out all the fates of Kingdomes and persons? It makes the Augur (the κορακομάντις as the Greeks call him) chatter with the birds in their own dialect, and as if he were their Scholiast, he writes Comments and Expositions upon their language; O how devoutly will he listen to a prophetical Crow? how will he criticize upon the harsh accents of the screech-Owle? upon the dismal and melancholy notes of the night-Raven?  It makes the Auspex watch the birds in their several postures, and to be as diligent and judicious a spectator of them, as the other was an Auditor. He can interpret every fluttering, he can tell you all their journeys, where they lodg’d, where they baited last, what tree they visited, what bough they staied longest upon; and at length he will pluck some pens out of their sacred wings, for the writing of all his learned predictions. It moved the Exspex to consult with the inwards, to search into the bowels of things; he’ll but look upon a Liver, and will presently tell you the colour and complexion of all affairs. It caus’d the Aruspex to behold the behaviour of the dying sacrifice, and from the quietnesse or strugling of those sensitive creatures, to foretel the reluctancies or facilities in higher matters. It set the Chiromancer a studying to read those lines that seem to be scribled upon his hand, and to explain them with his own interlineary glosses; and to look upon them as natures M S S. as an Enchiridion of natures penning, in which she gave him a brief Synopsis of all such passages of his life, as should come into being afterward. It moved the Interpreter of dreams to set up his seat of Judicature in those gates of fancy, the Porta Cornea[gate of horn] I mean, and the Porta Eburnea12 [gate of ivory], and as if the night were to enlighten the day, he will regulate all his waking motions by those slumbring intimations, yet usually the interpretation of the dream is the more non-sensical dream of the two. Some others will needs cast lots for their fortunes, and think that the judgement of a Dye is infallible, will undertake no matters of moment til they be predetermined by it; Jacta est alea,13& per praesentem sortem judicant de futura[the die is cast, and they judge the future by the present lot]. A rare device to finde out one contingency by another, to lose one arrow, and to shoot another after it. These are some of those many methods and contrivances, which the sons of men have contriv’d to themselves, for the finding out of future events. What should I tell you of the rest of the γεωμαντία[earth prophecy], and the πυρομαντία[fire prophecy], of the ὑδρομαντία[water prophecy], and the νεκρομαντία[necromancy], and βελομαντία[javelin prophecy], of the λιβανομαντία[incense prophecy], of the κοσκινομαντία[sieve prophecy], which are all but the various expressions of the same madnesse? What should I tell you of those several Nations that have been enamor’d with these follies? the Assyrians, the Caldeans, the Persians, the Grecians, the Romans, have had alwayes amongst them several professors of these vanities. You see how fain the sons of men would have some key or other to unlock and open these secret and reserved passages, which Providence hath wisely shut up, and hid from the eyes of men. But Aquinas passes this censure upon them all, Hujusmodi artes non utuntur patrocinio intellectus bene dispositi secundum virtutem14 [arts of this kind do not enjoy the patronage of a virtuous intellect]. And that sacred Author is much of the same minde; Frustra illud quaeris in terris quod solus Deus novit inCoelis[you seek vainly on earth for that which God alone knows in heaven]. Yet this tree of knowledge is fair to the eye, and pleasant to the taste, the soul doth relish all notional dainties with delight, and these prenotions and anticipations of things are the more sweet and delicious to the palates and tastes of men, because most of their being is treasur’d up in their future condition. They have no satisfaction, no Sabbath, nor quiet in their present state, and therefore they would fain know what the next day, and what the next yeer, and what the next age will bring forth. The desires, the prayers, the hopes, the endeavours, the councels of men, they all look towards the future. For (as Mirandula the younger doth well observe) the soul of man, ’tis trium temporum particeps. Tempus praeteritum memoriae, praesens intellectui, futurum voluntati congruit & respondit15 [participant in three times. Past time corresponds to memory, present time to understanding, and future time to will]. God therefore that he may keep such a creature as man is in a waiting and obedient posture, in a posture of dependance and expectation, he doth chuse gradually and leisurely to discover to him, πολυμερω̑ςκαὶπολυτρόπως16 [at sundry times and in divers manners] those thoughts which he hath concerning him. God will have man in this sense in Diem vivere[to live for the day], to entertain fortune by the day, (as the noble Verulam saith that Prince did whose life he writes and commemorates)17 τὸσήμερονμέλειμοὶ, τὸδ̕αὔριοντίςοἰ̑δε18 [I care for today; who can know tomorrow]? ’tis a speech that may be took in a better sence, then Anacreon e’re meant it. And so may that of the Latin Lyrick, Quid sit futurum cras fuge quaerere19 [do not ask what may come tomorrow]. And the Heroical Poet shews them the necessity of this sobriety and temperance in knowledge; for saith he, Nescia mens hominum fati sortisque futurae20 [the mind of man is ignorant of fate and future fortune]; for mens knowledge naturally enters in at the gate of sense, but a future object can have no admission there. And as the minde cannot recal objectum totaliter praeteritum[an object totally obliterated], when there is no remaining Species, neither the least print or vestigium[trace] of it; so neither can it present an object that’s altogether future, and hath no such colour as can move and strike the intellectual eye; such effects indeed as are stored up in pregnant and eminent and necessary causes, may be easily and certainly foreknown by visible and unquestionable demonstrations. The foretelling of an Eclipse may be done without an Oracle, and may be believed though there be no miracle to seal and confirme it. Such effects as lurk in probable causes, that seem to promise very fairly, may be known also in an answerable, and proportionable manner, by strong and shrewd conjectures; hence spring all the praenotiones Medicorum, Nautarum, Pastorum[predictions of doctors, sailors, and shepherds], as the fore-mentioned Mirandula tells us.21 Yet the great pretenders of the Antedating knowledge, do very frequently & pro more[customarily], deceive both themselves and others in these more ordinary & easy scrutinies. This might cloath your Almanacks in more red, and put them to the blush for guessing at the weather no better, you may write upon them nulla dies sine errato[no day without its error]. Did they ne’re threaten you with thunder and lightning enough to make a Caligula prepare new Laurels;22 when yet the heavens prov’d very pacate and propitious? Did they ne’re tell you of a sad discontented day which would weep its eyes out? which yet when ’twas born prov’d a Democritus, and did nothing but laugh at their ignorance and folly.23 Did they ne’re flatter you with fine pleasant temperate weather, καὶκατέβηἡβροχὴ, καὶἜπνευσανοἱἄνεμοι,24 the rain descended, the windes arose, the hail beat, the Prediction fell, because ’twas built upon so weak a foundation. So that Aquinas for his part thinks, that the sensitive creatures, the Crows, and the Craines, and the Swallows, those flying Almanacks, that know their appointed times, are more happy and successeful in their predictions, & are better directed by their feeling the impression of some heavenly bodies then men are by their seeing of them.25 Now if these Anni specula[mirrors of the year] be crackt and broken, and give such unequal representations of things most obvious, how then will they be ever able to shew you objects farre more imperceptible and immaterial, that depend upon the will and decrees of God himself? and upon the motions of most free and indifferent agents? This makes the great Astrologo-mastix[Scourge of astrologers], I mean the most noble and eminent Mirandula with indignation to conclude, that this blasing Art of theirs (that is Astrology abus’d, for so either he means, or ought to mean) ’tis at the best but Domina & Regina Superstitionum[the mistress and queen of superstitions], and he breaks out into such words as these, Vanitas vanitatum Astrologia, & omnis superstitio vanitas26 [astrology is the vanity of vanities, and all superstition is vanity]; yet notwithstanding God hath provided some that shall give some faint resemblances of himself, in the knowledge of future things, by a participation of light from him. Ἔχομενβεβαιότεροντὸνπροφητικὸνλόγονᾡ̑καλω̑ςποιει̑τεπροσέχοντες, ὡςλύχνῳφαίνοντιἐναὐχμηρῳ̑τόπῳ27 [we have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place]. That I may borrow these words of the Apostle, This Lumen propheticum[prophetic light], ’tis Lumen super naturale[a supernatural light], Prophetical springings come not from the will of man, but from the breathings of the holy Ghost, they are impressiones & signaturae divinae scientiae[the impressions and signatures of the divine wisdom]. As God himself is ὁὤν, καὶὁἠ̑ν, καὶὁἐρχόμενος28 [he which is, and which was, and which is to come], so he will have a Prophet to be a shadow of himself, Ὅςτ̕ἤδητὰτ̕Ἔοντατὰτ̕ἐσσόμεναπρὸτ̕ἐόντα,29 which Virgil well translates, Novit namque omnia vates, Quae sint, quae fuerant, quae mox ventura trahantur30 [for the prophet knows all things  that are, that have been, and that approach their time]. God thus revealing and communicating his minde to his Prophets doth clearly manifest, that he himself hath an exact knowledge of future events, he doth expressely shew that he doth curare res humanas[care for human affairs], that he is actor & ordinator futurorum[the agent and ordainer of the future]; That his providence doth over-rule the greatest contingencies. He doth therefore upbraid the Idols of the Heathens with their ignorance of these things הנידו האחיוח לאחוד ונרעה ני אלהים אחםἈναγγείλατεἡμι̑ντὰἐπερχόμεναἐπ̕ἐσχάτου, καὶγνωσόμεθαὅτιθεοὶἐστε[show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods]Isaiah 41.23. Prophetical language is divini sermonis character[a mark of divine utterance], and doth necessarily require, super humanam cognitionem31 [superhuman knowledge], which makes me wonder at the great Doctor Maimon, that resolves the power of prophesying into nothing else then a healthful temper, a lively complexion of body, and a vigorous minde advanced with study and industry. An opinion which smells too strongly of the Garlick and Onions of that Countrey, the Egyptian superstition I mean, with which he was sufficiently acquainted; yet he tells us that it’s the publick tenent of the Jewes, sententia legis nostrae32 [the judgment of our law], for so he entitles it, and withall addes that the Art of prophesying (for though he does not stile it so, yet he makes it so) ’tis supremus gradus hominis, & summa perfectio speciei33 [the highest distinction of man, and the greatest perfection of the race]; the qualifications which he requires are these, men must be idonei ad prophetiam ab ipsa conceptione & nativitate[fit for prophecy from their conception and birth], there must be dispositio & dexteritas naturalis[a natural disposition and skill], there must be optimus humor cerebri[an excellent intellect], he must be optimus vir in intellectualibus, & moribus suis perfectus[superior in intellect and perfect in morality]. But his principal condition is, that there must be summa facultatis imaginatricis perfectio[the highest perfection of the imaginative faculty]; for saith he, if the influence of an intellectus agens[active intellect], (such a one as he falsely and vainly supposes) be pour’d out only upon the rational part of the soul, and doth not drop upon the fancy, either by reason of the scarcity of oile, or the incapacity of the fancy, there will be onely secta sapientum speculatorum[a sect of wise speculators]. Such men may be eminent for deep Contemplation, but they will ne’re be famous for prophesying. If the fancy be onely quickned or heightned, then there will be secta Politicorum, Jurisperitorum, Praestigiatorum, Incantatorum[a sect of politicians, lawyers, mountebanks, magicians], But if the understanding, and fancy be both heightened to their due apex, repente fiunt prophetae[suddenly prophets appear]: onely this I had almost forgot which yet he thinks very convenient, that they should have good dyet for the time of their prophesying; for, as he tells you, according to the minde of the Jews, Prophetia neque habitat intertristitiam neque pigritiam[prophecy lives neither in sorrow nor indolence]; So that the terrae filii34 the עם ארע, the vulgar sort of people are no more fit to prophesy, quam vel Asinus vel Rana[than is an ass or a frog]. They are his own words turn’d into Latine. But surely this Doctor himself did not prophesy but dream all this while; How else did he think that such a noble and spiritual imployment, such a rare and glorious priviledge as this is, could be raised by the power of man out of the strength of nature, that nature that’s so fallen and degenerated? And what means he to limit the Holy one of Israel,35and to restraine the Spirit of the Almighty? Grant that Esay was a Courtier, yet was not Amos an herdsman? and was not he also among the Prophets? Did he ne’re hear of the weaker sex sometimes prophesying? which yet was neer famous for intellectuals. Does not this prophetical spirit breath when it pleaseth, and where it pleaseth, & how it pleaseth? Me thinks this second Moses should not be offended, though some of the ordinary people be Prophets. Or if natural endowments, or artificial preparations must be had, and if they of themselves be so potent, and energetical, how then comes Vision to fail, and how does Prophecy cease? Are there none that have their imagination strong enough, that have their understandings rais’d enough? that are of unquestionable integrity, and are not wanting in study and industry, and yet are no Prophets nor Prophets sons? Let then this Candle of the Lord content it self with its proper object. It findes work enough and difficulty enough in the discovery of present things, and has not such a copious light as can search out future events.