Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > The Advent of Modern Thought in Popular Literature > Astrological treatises
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

XVI. The Advent of Modern Thought in Popular Literature.

§ 7. Astrological treatises.

If intellectual progress can be compared to a journey, the Caroline age represents that stage in which pilgrims, having lost the track amid dangers and difficulties, turn backwards and search frantically for it along the earlier parts of the route. In this retrogression, the study of witchcraft led thinkers to investigate other forms of magic and occultism which might quietly have passed out of memory, especially astrology and alchemy.   14
  From prehistoric times, it had been natural for man to regard all he sees and hears as connected with or like to himself. This sense of sympathy with creation had been developed by the thinkers of different countries till, in Pythagorism, it reached the doctrine of the “harmony of the spheres.” Aristotle had taken a hint from this theory, in explaining the human body to be an aggregate of parts, so closely correlated that no unit could be affected without disturbing the rest. Later, the Stoics, imbued with eastern cosmic theories, had applied this physiological conception to the world as a whole. As in the human microcosm, so in the universal macrocosm, there was a constant play of interaction among the component parts. When this creed had been established, it was inevitable that the stars, with their mysterious motions and strange persistent brightness, should be considered to have a special influence over events on earth, and men believed that the course of mundane affairs could be predicted by studying these heavenly manifestations. Thus, “judicial astrology” came to be recognised as one of the seven liberal arts. Throughout the Middle Ages and renascence it was occasionally banned, on the authority of St. Augustine, as heresy against the doctrine of free-will, 30  but would have been quietly abandoned in favour of astronomy, if men had not either clung to it for want of confidence in the new culture of their age or else attacked it as being a snare of the devil. In 1601, John Chamber produced A Treatise against judicial Astrologie. He begins his treatise with a wearisome array of theological quotations and interpretations, as was inevitable in attacking what Aristotle was considered to have taught and Abraham was supposed to have practised. He does not deny that astrology may contain the truth, but he realises that men have not knowledge enough to find it. On the one hand, the influence of the stars cannot be calculated, because many exist about which we know nothing; and, on the other hand, we cannot discern the critical moments of life at which the horoscope should be taken. Such events as being born or falling sick are astrologically unimportant; they are merely results; the causes, which really prove the turning points in life, are too obscure to be timed. 31  Yet this scholar, who studied astronomy and understood causation, supports Sprenger’s contention 32  that, if astrologers sometimes prophesy truly, it is because they are witches and in league with the devil. Sir Christopher Heydon answered this book with an elaborate treatise 33  in which we still meet the picturesque fantasies of the Middle Ages, asking Chamber whether it is likely that the stars “onely bespangle Heaven like vaine ornaments” while “the basest weede under his feete” has medical power. But, in less than ten years, Chamber’s friend George Carleton, bishop of Chichester, composed, and ultimately printed in 1624, [char] the madness of astrologers, a voluminous rejoinder, which condemns astrology as being no part of mathematics or natural philosophy “because it proceedeth not by demonstration from certaine known Principles.” But, though Carleton exacts a scientific basis for any system of speculation worthy of credence, yet he, too, is haunted by fear of the foul fiend. This excessive desire to know the future is not merely human folly; it is inspired by the devil.   15
  Since medieval philosophers had learnt to regard creation as an aggregate of parts which influence one another, like the organs of a single body, their aim had always been to discover the innate sympathies and antipathies of things. When they had gained control over these tendencies, alchemists hoped to be able to remodel nature; especially by producing gold and silver out of inferior metals. These aspirations had not been definitely disproved, and now began to influence religious idealists, who could find only schism and controversy in the worship of the church. Dissatisfied with what they held to be the sensuous materialism of Roman worship, these purists declared themselves Lutherans, but, instinctively in love with pantheism and the mysteries of intuitive knowledge, they became disciples of Paracelsus and convinced themselves that they had found out the secret of all knowledge in a system of magic which penetrated the interior constitution of things. Yearning vaguely for a more spiritual conception of life, they professed to be engaged in the alchemical reconstruction of the world, by curing disease and creating precious metals. Their love of mysticism was gratified by uniting all such enthusiasts into a secret society to carry out the magnum opus under the symbol of the Rosy Cross.   16

Note 30E.g. John of Salisbury declared astrology to be the beginning of idolatry, Pico della Mirandola and Savonarola rejected the superstition, and Erasmus ridiculed it in Encomium Moriae. [ back ]
Note 31. Chap. VI. [ back ]
Note 32Malleus Malef. pt. I, Q. XVI. [ back ]
Note 33A Defense of Judiciall Astrologie in answer to a treatise lately published by M. John Chamber, 1603. Among the Saville MSS. at the Bodleian is Chamber’s answer: A Confutation of astrological Demonology in the Devil’s School. The dedication is dated 2 February, 1603/4. Apparently it was never published. See D. of N.B. [ back ]

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