Wednesday, May 9, 2012


I came across a peculiarly charming old book at the library where I work. It was published in London by R. Royston in 1649, the same stupefying year that the Puritans managed to cut off the King's head and send his sons running to France. The little book in my hand was called Hermes Theologus, or, A Divine Mercurie Dispatcht with a grave Message of New Descants upon Old Records, No lesse delightfull in the best sense, than truly usefull for these Times.

The author, Theophilus Wodenote (sometime fellow of Kings Colledge in Cambridge) had composed dozens of short essays, each beginning with an edifying anecdote drawn from the Classical past. Wodenote then extracted from his chosen anecdote a moral conclusion, applicable to the religious and political chaos in the England of his day. It was a simple enough concept, yet the conceiver carried it off with a sort of innocent conviction in the power of precept and metaphor. His futile ardor endeared him to me.

The text below is essay number 40 in its entirety.

Sulla the noble Roman, who was commonly most free and liberall, considering of Marius the younger's preferment, how unbeseeming and dangerous it was, said, that a young man was first to be appointed to the oare, and then to the sterne.  O how much more is this order to be constantly thought upon and carefully kept in the government of the Church, the chiefest Ship that ever was built; where, as the calling is weightier, so the danger is greater, when Pastoral charges are committed to unfit persons, oh then that now old and young are put to steere before they can row, oh then that now men and boyes are set as notable Pilots to direct the Ships of Christian congregations, how to saile through the tempests and waves, and to pass the sands, and rocks, whereby in this subtile world they have learned themselves to avoid one rock, either of presumption or despaire! before they are any whit experienced in their spirituall Card and Compasse, the Word of God, by the which their whole voiages are to be directed, and levellede; they are designed to governe Ships loaden with more costly fraights, than the whole world and all the glory thereof is able to countervaile.

Source for the image of  Sulla's marble head is here.