163 Cotton Mather to the Harvard Corporation
Aug. 17 1711.
Dignissimi Benignissimique Domini
Quum per vestrum, de diplomate meo1 in Tabulas Acadiae publicas referendo decretum, Almae venerandaeque meae Matris favorem et amorem sentiam, nihil mihi gratius atque ex animi sententia potuit magis accidere; nihil magis grato animo recolendum, atque META PASES EUCHARISIAS agnoscendum, fateor.
Doctissimi Itteri de gradibus academicis2 differentis monitum, iam venit, et venire debet mihi in mentem; quod doctoratum Theologicum attinet, nemo facile in Christinanisâ B.P. vel utilitatem vel necessitatem tanti muneris vocavit in dubium, unde velut ex armamentario quodam provenitur omnis orthodoxae religionis armatura.
In dubium vero vocari potest, an ego qui sum minimus pastorum omnium ac merito infimus, inter armatos Christi et Ecclesiae milites, cooptari atque numerari debeam. Inter Tyrones quidem censendus potius mihi videor; vel, si mentis meae hebetudo, et bonarum liberarum ac artium nim is cura supellex respiciatur, illos quos Romani veteres dicebant, sine oculis milites.
Per sex illa quae volvêre saecula, ex quo Doctoratus in Theologiâ summus ille gradus, accademicarumque dignitatum apex et vertex, conferri coepit, nescio an indoctior quispiam, vel indignior, ad illum gradum admissus et evectus fuerit.
Atqui Deo Opt. Max. qui gratiam quandoque imperitis largitur ita visum est, quod inclytissima Academia Glascuensis, me nee merentem, nec quaerentem hoc Doctoratu per Diploma, quod iam academiè, id est, benevole iam tractavistis insignite decreverit.
Felix ac fausta sit haec inter duas, situ quidem remotissimus, at fide unitissimas academias nova conjunctio. Sit verò Diploma meum optatissimae arctissimaeque illius conjunctionis tesséra ac sempiternum testimonium.
Academia Glasenensis habet suum quidem Doctorem, talem qualem, vel potius Doctorulum; nullius notae ac nominis homunculum. Academia verò Cantabrigiensis habet adhuc suum Filium; quondam Alumnum, semper Filium observentissimum obsequentissimumque.
Talem, praeces maximè honorande colendissimique Academiae socii, talem adhuc me lubens ac laetus profiteor; Talique Titulo in omnibus Filii erga Academiam officiis praestandis foviturum spero.
Eybenius, aliique probari scriptores, Doctorariam Dignitatem aequiparari Dignitati Equestri quidem asserunt; quam sane ambire me maximoperè semper vetuit. Hieronymi sententia et exemplum, nihil ità a pueritiâ meâ conatus sum vitare quam tumentem animum, Quaecumque verò mihi filio vestro concessa sit, et collata Dignitas, est illa omninò vestra. Et Vobis, non mihi, aut si mihi, sit vestram ob causam, gratulanda. Alma Mater! cuius non illud Fatum, si nobiles sint Filii sui, ignorant!
Quum de Brachio suo [Alcum?] Chalybeum frangente, cecinit olim dulcissimus Jessides, memini Augustinum hâc discantare paraphrasi; intentio bonorum operum in eo erat indefatigabilis. si quid roboris meo Brachio ex hoc Doctoratu accesserit, id omne intentioni futentioni bonorum operum vendicandum ac applicandum confiteor; atque in illâ si indefatigabilis fuero, me debita mea et vobis et Glascuensibus aliquatenus persolvisse sentietis; nam hoc solum vos à me, vel postulare vel expectare credo. Ac rectè cum cl. Vostro, Rem non parvi momenti, digni creari; esse, et salutari Doctorem Theologiae, judicatis.
Quum in sacrâ scripturâ, de3 serpente tortuoso per Dei manum formato legimus, probe nobis, quod nil praeter ipsam Galaxiam quâ decoratur caelum, scientissimi sagacissimique intelligant interpretes. Est et haec inter tristes noctis nostrae, ut ità dicam humanitates ac hallucinationes, quod idem ipse, his quidem serpens tortuosus appelletur, his verò et candore et splendore referta Galaxia appareat.
Vivat, vigeatque semper suavissima illa, purissimaque veri christianismi charitas, quae CH EUETAI atque LOGIZETAI TO KAKOV.
Vivat, vigeatque in grege vestro (qui spes omnium nostrorum gregum) omnigenae literaturae pietatisque studium; at imprimis illa prima ac suprema sapientia, de quâ hoc optimè olim vidit Bernardus; Da mihi hominem qui transitoria transitorie qui aeterna desiderio amplecitur aeterno, et ad id dumtaxat quod opus est, et prout opus est, curet, et talem audacter pronuncio sapientem.
Denique, quod aureis potius [litteris?] quam vili hoc liquore scribere voluissem. Vivat, vigeat, ac floreat sub vestro prudentissimo moderamine Academia Harvard[uo]. Et ex illâ quam plurimi oriantur veri Theologi, qui sos pitatoris nostri CHRISTI Regno promovendo ac ampliando se totos impendent, et in Catalogo Testium veritatis non imum merebuntur locum.
Sic ex animo precatur,
Vester adhuc et in aeternum,
Mather ms, Houghton Library. I am indebted to Daniel K. Clift for noting the fact that Mather was addressing the Harvard Corporation, and for the following translation. Mather’s underlinings often indicate quotations.
Most worthy and kind masters,
Since by your decree, regarding the referral of my diploma into the public records of the College, I shall experience the favor and love of my venerated Alma Mater, nothing more pleasing and in my opinion greater has been able to happen; I confess that nothing greater must be contemplated and acknowledged “with all thanksgiving.”
The admonition of the learned [Itteri?] discoursing about the academic degrees now comes, and ought to come into my mind. “In that one attains the degree of Doctor of Theology, no one in the Christian [possession of good] has easily called into doubt either the utility or necessity of so great a duty, whence all the armour of orthodox religion is marched out as if from some arsenal.”
However it can be called into doubt whether I, who am the “youngest of all the pastors and deservedly the lowest [in rank],” ought to be elected and numbered among the armed soldiers of Christ and the church. Indeed in my opinion I rather seem to be considered among the “Recruits”; or, if the dullness of my mind and [my] excessive attention to good literatures and arts is considered as furniture, [I am considered among] those whom the old Romans called “soldiers without eyes.”
During those six ages which have transpired from that time when the Doctorate in Theology, that highest degree, the apex and summit of academic dignities, began to be conferred, I do not know whether anyone more ignorant or unworthy has been admitted and raised to that degree.
But it thus seemed best to God, the best, the greatest, who at some time bestows favor on the ignorant, that the most renowned University of Glasgow has markedly conferred upon me neither deserving nor seeking this Doctorate by the Diploma which already you have treated academically, that is benevolently.
May the new union between the two Colleges, indeed most remote in place, but united in faith, be happy and fortunate. Indeed may my diploma be a token and an eternal testament of that most desirable and closest union.
At any rate the University of Glasgow has its own Doctor such as, I would rather say, “little Doctor”, a little man without distinction and name. Cambridge Academy [Harvard College] still has its own son; once alumnus, always a son most observant and most obedient.
Such a son, President especially to be honored and most honored Fellows of the College, such a son I willingly and happily profess that I still am; and with such a title of honor I hope that I am going to be cherished in discharging all the duties of a son towards the College.
Eybenius, and other writers to be recommended, [who] at any rate agree to compare Doctoral Dignity to Equestrian Dignity, how sensibly has prohibited me from ambition with the greatest diligence. The opinion and example of Jerome—“thus from my childhood I have tried to avoid nothing more than a swelling mind.” However whatever dignity has been granted and conferred on me, your son, it is entirely yours. Thanks must be given to you, not to me, or if to me, on your account. Alma Mater! Whose Fate is not ignorant, if her sons are noble!
Since sweetest Jessides [son of Jesse, or David] once sang about “his own arm breaking the iron [Atrium?]”, I remember that Augustine discoursed with this paraphrase—“his attention to good deed was inexhaustible.” If any strength should be added to my arm from this Doctorate, I confess that all of it must be appropriated and applied to the attention to good deeds, and in that pursuit if I should be inexhaustible, you will perceive that I have to some extent discharged my debts to you and Glasgow; for I believe that you either demand or expect this alone from me. And correctly you judge with your distinguished [son?] that it is not a matter of little importance worthily to create, to be, and to greet a Doctor of Theology.
Since in the Holy Scripture we read [Hebrew] about “the twisting serpent formed by the hand of God” may the most knowledgable and wisest interpreters perceive properly for us that it is nothing except the Galaxy itself with which the sky is decorated. And it is this during dark nights, as I thus shall call our human inclinations and dreams, which likewise by these is called at any rate a “twisting serpent”; but by these it appears to be a Galaxy stuffed full of brilliance and splendor.
May that sweetest and purest grace of true Christianity which “is merciful” and “does not reckon evil” live and thrive.
May the zeal of all kinds of literature and piety (which is the hope of all our flocks) live and thrive in your flock; but especially that prime and supreme wisdom concerning which Bernardus once saw best—“Give to me a man who embraces transitory things in a transitory manner and eternal things with eternal desire, and cares for that at least which is necessary and according as it is necessary, and such a man I proudly declare wise.”
Finally what I would have wished to write rather with golden letters than with this vile liquid, May Harvard College live, thrive and flourish under your most prudent rule. And from that [college] may as many Theologians as possible rise, who devote themselves entirely to advancing and expanding the realm of Christ our savior, and in the Catalogue of the witnesses of the truth they will not deserve the lowest place.
Thus [I] pray from my soul.
Yours still and forever