Last modified on 16 April 2014, at 22:22

Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke

It is the modest, not the presumptuous, inquirer who makes a real and safe progress in the discovery of divine truths.
Truth lies within a little and certain compass, but error is immense.

Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke (September 16, 1678December 12, 1751) was an English statesman and philosopher.

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  • Truth lies within a little and certain compass, but error is immense.
    • Reflections upon Exile (1716).
  • I have read somewhere or other, — in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, I think, — that history is philosophy teaching by examples.
    • On the Study and Use of History, letter 2. See Dionysius of Halicarnassus (quoting Thucydides), Ars Rhet. xi. 2, says: "The contact with manners then is education; and this Thucydides appears to assert when he says history is philosophy learned from examples".
  • Nations, like men, have their infancy.
    • On the Study and Use of History, letter 4 (1752).
  • The landed men are the true owners of our political vessel, the moneyed men are no more than passengers in it.
    • Some Reflections on the Present State of the Nation (1753).
  • The second proposition admits and encourages the very practice we censure so justly, for which the saint [ Augustine of Hippo ] was so famous, and by which he contributed so much to promote contentions in his own days, and to perpetuate them to ours. The practice of deducing doctrines from the scriptures that are not evidently contained in them... Who does not see that the direct tendency of this practice is exactly the same as the event has proved it to be? It composes and propagates a religion, seemingly under the authority of God, but really under that of man. The principles of revelation are lost in theology, or disfigured by it: and whilst some men are impudent enough to pretend, others are silly enough to believe, that they adhere to the gospel, and maintain the cause of God against infidels and heretics, when they do nothing better, nor more, than espouse the conceits of men, whom enthusiasm, or the ambition of forming sects, or of making a great figure in them, has inspired. If you ask now what the practice of the christian fathers, and of other divines, should have been, in order to preserve the purity of faith, and to promote peace and charity, the answer is obvious... They should have adhered to the word of God: they should have paid no regard to heathen philosophy, jewish cabala, the sallies of enthusiasm, or the refinements of human ingenuity: they should have embraced, and held fast the articles of faith and doctrine, that were delivered in plain terms, or in unequivocal figures: they should not have been dogmatical where the sense was doubtful, nor have presumed even to guess where the Holy Ghost left the veil of mystery undrawn.
  • It is the modest, not the presumptuous, inquirer who makes a real and safe progress in the discovery of divine truths. One follows Nature and Nature's God; that is, he follows God in his works and in his word.
    • Letter to Alexander Pope. Compare: "Slave to no sect, who takes no private road, But looks through Nature up to Nature’s God", Alexander Pope, Essay on Man, epistle iv. line 331.
  • The shortest and surest way of arriving at real knowledge is to unlearn the lessons we have been taught, to mount the first principles, and take nobody's word about them.
    • As quoted in Treasury of Wisdom, Wit and Humor, Odd Comparisons and Proverbs (1891) by Adam Woolever

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