Knowledge and holiness are the grand pillars which support all true and substantial happiness; which invariably rises or falls, accordingly as these are either stronger or weaker. Knowledge and holiness in the Deity are the source of all his happiness. Angels rise in felicity as they rise in holiness and knowledge.
And saints here below grow in happiness as they grow in grace, and in the knowledge of holy and Divine objects.
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We may justly infer from the nature and dignity of man, that we are under indispensable obligations to religion. Our moral obligations to religion are interwoven with the first principles of our nature. And, as man is formed for religion, so religion is the ornament and perfection of his nature.
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The man of religion is, in every supposable situation, the man of dignity. Pain, poverty, misfortune, sickness and death, may indeed veil, but they cannot destroy his dignity, which sometimes shines with more resplendent glory under all these ills and clouds of life. This subject may help us to ascertain the only proper and immutable boundaries of human knowledge: such boundaries of our knowledge as arise from the frame and constitution of our nature, and not from any particular state or stage of our existence.
Pico della Mirandola, "Oration on the Dignity of Man"
This subject gives us reason to suppose, that men, in the present state, may carry their researches into the works of nature, much farther than they have ever yet carried them. The fields of science, though they have been long traversed by strong and inquisitive minds, are so spacious, that many parts remain yet undiscovered.
The observations, which have been made upon the nobler powers and capacities of the human mind, may embolden the sons of science to aim to be originals. They are strong enough to go alone, if they only have sufficient courage and resolution.
By his observations are the heavenly bodies kept together, and form but one organized body; by it the suns move in their appointed courses. Through reason there arises the immense gradation from the worm to the seraph; in it is hidden the system of the whole spirit-world; and man expects justly that the law, which he gives it and himself, shall be applicable to it; expects justly the future universal acknowledgment of that law. In reason we have the sure guarantee that from it there will proceed, in infinite development, order and harmony, where at present none yet exists; that the culture of the universe will progress simultaneously with the advancing culture of mankind.
All that is still unshaped and orderless will, through man, develop into the most beautiful order, and that which is already harmonious will become ever more harmonious, according to laws not yet developed. Man will extend order into the shapeless mass, and a plan into universal chaos; through him will corruption form a new creation, and death call to another glorious life. Such is man, if we merely view him as an observing intelligence; how much greater if we think him as a practical, active faculty?
Not only does he apply the necessary order to existing things. He gives them also that order which he selected voluntarily, wherever his footsteps led him. Nature awakens wherever his eyes are cast; she prepares herself to receive from him the new, brighter creation. Even his body is the most spiritualized that could be formed from the matter surrounding him. In his atmosphere the air becomes softer, the climate milder, and nature assumes a brighter smile from the expectation to be changed by him into a dwelling-place and a nurse of living beings.
Man commands coarse matter to organize itself according to his ideal, and to furnish him the substance which he needs. What was formerly dead and cold arises at his command from the earth into the nourishing corn, the refreshing fruit, and the animating grape, and will arise into other things as soon as he shall command otherwise.
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In his sphere the animals become ennobled, cast aside under his intelligent eye their primitive wildness, and receive healthier nourishment from the hand of their master, which they repay by willing obedience. Still more: around man souls become ennobled; the more a man is a man the more deeply and extensively does he influence men; whatsoever carries the stamp of pure humanity will never be misapprehended by mankind; every human mind, every human heart opens to each pure outflow of humanity. Around the nobler man his fellow-beings form a circle, in which he approaches nearest to the centre who has the greatest humanity.
Their souls strive and labor to unite with each other to form but one soul in many bodies. All are one reason and one will, and appear as co-laborers in the great, only possible destination of mankind. The higher man draws by force his age upon a higher step of humanity; the age looks back and is astonished at the gap over which it has leaped; the higher man tears with giant arms whatever he can seize from the year-book of the human race.
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Break the hut of clay in which he lives! In his being he is independent of all that is outward; he is simply through himself; and even in that hut of clay he is occasionally, in the hours of his exaltation, seized with a knowledge of this his real existence; in those hours, when time and space and every thing that is not himself vanish, when his soul tears itself by force from his body—returning to it afterward voluntarily in order to carry out those designs, which it would like to carry out yet by means of that body. Separate the two last neighboring atoms, which at present surround him, and he will still be; and he will be, because it will be his will to be.
He is eternal through himself, and by his own power. Oppose, frustrate his plans! You may delay them; but what are thousand and thousand times thousand years in the year-book of mankind?
He continues and he continues to act, and that which appears to you as his disappearance is but an extension of his sphere; what you look upon as death is but ripening for a higher life. The colors of his plans, and the outward forms of them may vanish to him, but his plan remains the same, and in every moment of his existence he tears something from the outward into his own circle; and he will continue thus to tear unto himself until he has devoured every thing; until all matter shall bear the impress of his influence, and all spirits shall form one spirit with his spirit.
Such is man; such is every one who can say to himself: I am man.