Francis Bacon and the Divine Hierarchy of Nature

In Aphorism 70 of the Novum Organum, Sir Francis Bacon famously insisted that "experiments of light," or discovery, must precede "experiments of fruit," or those inventions which would follow. The rush to invention before discovery, for Bacon, was one reason for the lack of both knowledge and useful invention in ages past. Moreover, it confused the very divine order, since God established "light" on the first day of creation, with fruit following.1 Through arguments like this one, Bacon significantly contributed to the Enlightenment binary of discovery over invention, discussed in the Introduction to this volume. Voltaire credited Bacon with "raising the scaffolding" by which the new experimental sciences had been built.2 In very Enlightenment fashion, however, the French philosophe failed to acknowledge the religious implications and assumptions of his English predecessor’s construction work.

Recent scholarship has reopened the once-closed question of Bacon’s indebtedness to Christian tradition. It was long thought (or assumed) that Bacon sought merely to separate emergent science from religion. It is now apparent, however, that Bacon’s innovative natural philosophy depends upon a certain theological system, and a unique interpretation of scripture and the church fathers.3 Bacon’s main goal in the "reform of learning" was not to establish "modern science," but to reform all fields of human knowledge. It stands to reason, accordingly, that the sources of Bacon’s method for such a general reform of learning would draw upon traditions as diverse (to our eyes) as law, astronomy, alchemy, and theology. One apparently unique feature of Bacon’s method was his use of "negative instances" to ascend to certainty in regard to the natural order.

Scholars have called this hermeneutic method "eliminative induction," and have noted the importance Bacon attaches to it; but they have cast serious doubts over its natural-philosophical efficacy. This topic will argue that Bacon’s negative hermeneutics actually projects a theological, rather than an empirical, framework for the discovery of knowledge. To wit, eliminative induction correlates natural philosophy with the hierarchical cosmology of Pseudo-Dionysius.4

Baconian Negativity

Eliminative induction is the central process of Bacon’s method of inquiry into nature.5 By progressively eliminating that which a thing (or principle, or quality) is not, Bacon contends, one can come to an understanding of what it truly is. Like an alchemist performing repeated separations over the fire, true induction uses the mind (which Bacon labels a "divine fire" [ignem divinum]) to perform the separations necessary to understand what something is.6 Bacon demonstrates via the example of heat. The first step is to gather a list of instances where heat occurs: from fire, to the rays of the sun, to the heat found in animal bodies. After gathering these into "Tables of Presentation," the mind can eliminate those which do not apply to heat in general, but only to specific instances, thereby isolating what "heat" is apart from the accidents of its manifestation:

1. On account of the rays of the sun, reject the nature of the elements.

2. On account of common fire, and chiefly subterraneous fires (which are most remote and most completely separate from the rays of heavenly bodies), reject the nature of heavenly bodies.7

In this manner the divine fire of the mind can "burn off’ all that does not apply to the essential nature of "heat."

Once the elimination is completed, Bacon prescribes a process of analytical reflection, which he terms "the Indulgence of the Understanding, the Commencement of Interpretation, or the first vintage."8 What is left at the end of the process is an affirmative statement about heat, a "lawlike" description and definition, which is the phenomenon’s essential "form."9 This hypothetical definition may then be further tested and refined.10 Although Bacon was only using heat as an example, and he admitted that his investigation had not been thorough, we may still be impressed by Bacon’s conclusion that heat was (according to "form") nothing other than a variety of motion.11 It would require another two and a half centuries, which included the rise and fall of "caloric theory," for mainline science to establish the same conclusion.

Nonetheless, the process via which Bacon arrives at his result is problematic. Stephen Gaukroger has argued that, although Bacon regarded eliminative induction as the core of his method, its value is limited in determining causes. Other elements of Bacon’s method are actually what make it work:

In sum, it is difficult to find a case where eliminative induction does real work, where the other factors are not the crucial ones in the process. Moreover, it seems particularly ill-suited to discovering the material constituents or causes of macroscopic phenomena. Bacon has elaborated something which is useful … but its credentials as a method of discovery, as opposed to simply an aid, are quite impossible to establish.12

Yet for Bacon, the "credentials" of his method were not intrinsic. They were not established by the method’s effectiveness, but derived from his reverence for the church fathers and Christian antiquity. In particular, Bacon’s use of "negative instances" is an adaptation of the Pseudo-Dionysian via negativa.

Also known as negative theology, this is the process of coming to know the divine through negative statements, necessitated by God’s absolute transcendence. Vladimir Lossky provides a concise explanation:

Dionysius distinguishes two possible theological ways. One—that of cataphatic or positive theology—proceeds by affirmations; the other—apophatic or negative theology—by negations. The first leads us to some knowledge of God, but is an imperfect way. The perfect way, the only way which is fitting in regard to God, who is of His very nature unknowable, is the second—which leads us finally to total ignorance … It is by unknowing (agnosia) that one may know Him who is above every possible object of knowledge. Proceeding by negations one ascends from the inferior degrees of being to the highest, by progressively setting aside all that can be known, in order to draw near to the Unknown in the darkness of absolute ignorance.13

The "ignorance" which is praised by Dionysius is not anti-intellectualism, but the result of a supreme act of the intellect. Knowledge of the created order is required. God, precisely because he is the originator of all forms of knowledge, must necessarily be beyond knowing. It is only through the intellectual activity of knowing creation at ever higher levels that the mind can ascend beyond the knowable to the recognition that God truly transcends all. As the Dionysian author wrote of the divine in the tract known as Mystical Theology:

There is no speaking of it, nor name nor knowledge of it. Darkness and light, error and truth—it is none of these. It is beyond assertion and denial. We make assertions and denials of what is next to it, but never of it, for it is both beyond every assertion, being the perfect and unique cause of all things, and, by virtue of its preeminently simple and absolute nature, free of every limitation, beyond every limitation, it is also beyond every denial.14

Since all of creation was arranged hierarchically, as on a ladder, the cataphatic and apophatic ways are described in terms of "descent" and "ascent" respectively: "When we made assertions we began with the first things, moved down through intermediate terms until we reached the last things. But now as we climb from the last things up to the most primary we deny all things."15 Assertions (the positive way) are only valid if the "first things" are known. For that knowledge which must arise from the "last things," the observations of the created order, the negative way, or the way of "denial" [ablationes] is required.16

Pseudo-Dionysius in History

Using the corpus of Pseudo-Dionysius was not without problems in Bacon’s day, not so much because of the false identity of the author, but because of its dependency upon Plato, and its association with the arguments of Roman Catholics. That the author was not the first-century colleague of the Apostle Paul, as the writings themselves claim, but a fifth-century contributor to the monophysite controversy, was of no great importance to Bacon, Lorenzo Valla, or others who believed that what was in the documents was essentially a correct exposition of spiritual truth.17 The question of whether the author was right in his exposition, and not whether he was Dionysius, was also central for opponents of the corpus.

In the medieval West the via negativa and the writings of "the Areopagite" were influential, but they never held sway as they did in the Christian East. In part this is due to the powerful influence of Maximus the Confessor in the East, whose commentaries ensured that the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius were recognized as unquestionably orthodox. Erigena, by contrast, who introduced the writings to the Latin West, had the stigma of being labeled a heretic. Also, the scholasticism which dominated the late medieval West had in many ways incorporated the Dionysian writings, thereby reducing the premium on the originals. More significantly, however, the positive scholasticism of Aquinas and Lombard tended to reduce the via negativa to an aspect of the theological enterprise, rather than its highest form. The Dionysian corpus, and its negative theology, remained strongest among the mystic movements and the more mystic scholastics (such as the Victorines and Bonaventure).18 The greatest blow to the authority of the Dionysian texts in the West came through the polemics of the Reformation.

Doubts about the authenticity of the Dionysian corpus surfaced in the West in the wake of Lorenzo Valla, who managed to question the authorship, without denying the authority, of the texts. With Luther and Calvin, a split developed along the lines of the Reformation itself.19 In debates, Roman Catholics used the texts extensively to support the hierarchy of the Church and the significance of its sacraments. Therefore the Roman Catholics were more likely to argue for both authority and authenticity, although authority was paramount. Luther and Calvin dismissed the texts with prejudice, in no small part because of the use made of them by their opponents. It is significant that even in Protestant objections authorship was at best a secondary issue. As Karlfried Froehlich states, "for most Protestant Reformers, it was precisely the obvious Dionysian Platonism that became the focus of their unsympathetic assessment."20 References to the texts among Protestants amounted to little more than disparaging them in attacks on their Romanist opponents. The exceptions that prove this rule are the writings of those such as Donne and Hooker, which may follow a Dionysian pattern, but do not make explicit connection to the Areopagite.21 In the literature of Protestant England in Bacon’s day, it is extremely rare to find a positive mention of the figure we now call Pseudo-Dionysius. Francis Bacon offers a notable exception.

Created Hierarchies

Pseudo-Dionysian thought resonates with Baconian natural philosophy. In the first topic of The Advancement of Learning, Bacon explains that all of nature exists in a divinely mandated hierarchy:

To proceed to that which is next in order, from God to spirits; we find, as far as credit is to be given to the celestial hierarchy of that supposed Dionysius the senator of Athens, the first place or degree is given to the angels of love, which are termed Seraphim; the second to the angels of light, which are termed Cherubim; and the third and so following places to … angels of power and ministry; so as the angels of knowledge and illumination are placed before the angels of office and domination.

To descend from spirits and intellectual forms to sensible and material forms; we read the first form that was created was light, which has a relation and correspondence in nature and corporal things, to knowledge in spirits and incorporeal things.22

Although Bacon introduces Dionysius in regard to the hierarchies of angels, he has been following the Areopagite’s pattern of thought since introducing God as the originator of knowledge which emanates downward through the hierarchical system. Bacon continues to run in the tracks of Dionysius in his use of "light" as a metaphor for knowledge, which is prominent throughout the Dionysian corpus.

The proper path of learning is consistently described by Bacon as an ascent from the observation of particular instances to general principles, as in aphorism 19 of the Novum Organum, topic 1:

There are and can be only two ways of searching into and discovering truth. The one flies from the senses and particulars to the most general axioms, and from these principles, the truth of which it takes for settled and immoveable, proceeds to judgment and to the discovery of middle axioms. And this way is now in fashion. The other derives axioms from the senses and particulars, rising by a gradual and unbroken ascent [ascendendo continenter atgradatim], so that it arrives at the most general axioms last of all. This is the true way, but as yet untried.23

The "true" but "yet untried" way was an ascent which humans must achieve by negatives:

To God, truly, the Giver and Architect of Forms, and it may be to the angels and the higher intelligences, it belongs to have an affirmative knowledge of forms immediately, and from the first contemplation. But this assuredly is more than man can do, to whom it is granted only to proceed at first by negatives, and at last to end in affirmatives, after exclusion has been exhausted.24

This was the path of true induction for Bacon [Atque in exclusiva jacta sunt fundamenta Inductionis verae].25 It is entirely in keeping with the Dionysian hierarchy of angels that the "higher intelligences" should have an affirmative and immediate knowledge of creation, and that "from the first contemplation" [ab initio contemplationis]. For Pseudo-Dionysius the highest ranks of the angels are the creatures of the "first contemplation" because they do not need to know the workings of God via secondary effects, or "the symbols of the senses according to the intellect" [non sicut sensiblilium symbolorum intellectualiter].26 This gives them a "supreme (and angelic) knowledge of the operations of God" [supremam (ut in angelis) Dei operationum scientiam].27 Humans, for their part, require sensible, created things, including scriptures, to obtain knowledge. As Pseudo-Dionysius puts it in the Celestial Hierarchy, "it is quite impossible that we humans should, in any immaterial way, rise up to imitate and to contemplate the heavenly hierarchies without the aid of those material means capable of guiding us as our nature requires."28

The major difference between the apophatic way of Pseudo-Dionysius and Bacon’s ascent by negatives is not one of method, but subject. For Pseudo-Dionysius the subject of contemplation was always God. Bacon applied the same method to the study of nature. God may be studied both by affirmations (since certain truths about God have been revealed in the scriptures) and by the systematic negation of all that God is not. For Bacon, nature may not be studied by affirmations, since affirmatives have been hidden by God in nature itself, and are known only to God and the "higher intelligences" immediately. Bacon repeatedly illustrated this principle by referring to Proverbs 25:2, interpreted as sanctioning the human participation in divine knowledge: "it is the Glory of God to conceal a thing, but it is the glory of the King to find a thing out."29 What Bacon proposed was the application of the negative way, the only way which can lead to certainty when one starts with the particulars of creation, to creation itself.

If Bacon’s eliminative induction has a precedent in the Dionysian via negativa, it was still, when applied to natural philosophy, a new and "untried" way. As Bacon recounted the early centuries of the Christian era he observed that there was no progress in natural philosophy because "the greater number of the best wits applied themselves to Theology."30 For Bacon, matters of the faith always came first. The instauration of knowledge of the natural world was possible in his day precisely because the final reformation of religion was already taking place:

And we see before our eyes, that in the age of ourselves and our fathers, when it pleased God to call the church of Rome to account for their degenerate manners and ceremonies, and sundry doctrines obnoxious and framed to uphold the same abuses; at one and the same time it was ordained by the Divine Providence that there should attend withal a renovation and new spring of all other knowledges.31

Although Bacon never hesitated to criticize the Church of Rome, he was not a mainline Protestant in Tudor/Stuart England. He shared the conviction of his friend Lancelot Andrewes, and a significant minority of like-minded intellectuals, that the Reformation required not an adoption of the commonplaces of Calvin, but a return to the theology of the patristic era, prior to the errors of Rome.32 Along with this theological recovery, in the "last ages of the world," according to Bacon’s famous interpretation of Daniel 12:4, the time would come for the advancement of all sciences:

Nor should the prophecy of Daniel be forgotten, touching the last ages of the world:—"Many shall go to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased;" clearly intimating that the thorough passage of the world (which now by so many distant voyages seems to be accomplished or in course of accomplishment), and the advancement of the sciences, are destined by fate, that is by Divine Providence, to meet in the same age.33

Bacon believed that he was observing an age ordained by providence for the recovery of subjects for which the ancient Christian fathers did not have time: the recovery of the knowledge of the created order. The via negativa, part of classical theology for centuries, had not been applied to natural philosophy, but its time had come.

For Bacon, as he applied eliminative induction to the created order, the result would be positive answers which were higher in the hierarchy of knowledge than the particulars with which he started. In the process, the mind rose from particulars to general principles. Once these general principles could be intimated (as in heat being a variety of motion), the intellect could descend to particular instances again and test the hypothesis. In this way there was also a cataphatic element of Bacon’s method. The Dionysian author wrote of the two ways of knowing: "When we made assertions we began with the first things, moved down through intermediate terms until we reached the last things. But now as we climb from the last things up to the most primary we deny all things."34 Descent from principles was only possible if principles were known. For Pseudo-Dionysius the first principles of understanding divinity were clear from scripture. In Bacon’s reasoning the principles of creation could be understood through reading the topic of nature, using the ascent from particulars to principles by means of negatives, and then testing the conclusions to determine whether one was dealing with a true law of nature. The old way of reasoning in natural philosophy, by which past generations had flown "from the senses and particulars to the most general axioms," lacked the certainty which only negative induction could provide. In the same way, when it came to theological questions, the ultimate truth of the essence of God could only properly be approached by negations.

In the Mystical Theology, the Dionysian author gave a model of an ascent by negation from created things to the state of unknowing in which the intellect can mystically contemplate God. Topics four and five are what Bacon would call "Tables of Presentation":

The Cause of all is above all [the Dionysian premise] and is not inexistent, lifeless, speechless, mindless. It is not a material body, and hence has neither shape nor form, quality, quantity, or weight. It is not in any place and can neither be seen nor touched … It passes through no change, decay, division, loss, no ebb and flow, nothing of which the senses may be aware.35

The difference in the subject of contemplation (God or creation) must necessarily lead to different results based upon a fundamental distinction between the subjects. While the things of creation are finite and may be defined according to their essential natures, God transcends everything. When Bacon applied the process of negation to natural phenomena, he eventually arrived at positive answers. When the via negativa is applied to a God who is both immanent in creation and yet transcends all things (including concepts) the "answer" is quite different. For Pseudo-Dionysius the application of the denials to the subject of God was the paradox of unknowing: "We deny all things so that we may unhiddenly know that unknowing which itself is hidden from all those possessed of knowing amid all beings, so that we may see above being that darkness concealed from all the light among beings."36

Knowledge and Power

Bacon shared the Dionysian conclusion of the unknowability of God. According to Bacon, knowledge of creation could not ultimately reveal anything of the nature or will of God:

For if any man shall think by view and inquiry into these sensible and material things, to attain to any light for the revealing of the nature and will of God, he shall dangerously abuse himself. It is true that the contemplation of the creatures of God hath for an end (as to the natures of the creatures themselves) knowledge, but as to the nature of God, no knowledge, but wonder: which is nothing else but contemplation broken off, or losing itself.37

In Bacon’s system, natural philosophy produced, through a consistent application of negations, the conclusion of the hiddenness of God. Physical images could be used to represent certain truths about God, according to the Celestial Hierarchies, but "God is in no way like the things that have being and we have no knowledge at all of his incomprehensible and ineffable transcendence and invisibility."38 This is the same concept expressed by Bacon when he avers that "there is no proceeding in invention of knowledge but by similitude; and God is only self-like, having nothing in common with any creature otherwise than as in shadow and trope."39

Any encounter with the true nature of God cannot occur in the realm of things that are intelligible, since that would only be an encounter with a creaturely representation of God. As the Dionysian author expressed it in the Divine Names, "the union of divinized minds with the Light beyond all deity occurs in the cessation of all intelligent activity."40 This "cessation" is the same point of mystic ascent identified by Bacon when the contemplation of the creatures leads to "wonder; which is nothing else but contemplation broken off or losing itself."41

There could be, for both Bacon and Dionysius, no knowledge of God’s transcendent nature, but both acknowledged that through theology God drew humankind upward to truths beyond rational discovery, even as reason strove after divine truth. As Bacon explained the "mysteries of God":

Da fidei quaefidei sunt: [give unto Faith that which is Faith's]. For the Heathen themselves conclude as much in that excellent and divine fable of the golden chain: That men and gods were not able to draw Jupiter down to the earth; but contrariwise, Jupiter was able to draw them up to heaven. So as we ought not to attempt to draw down or submit the mysteries of God to our reason; but contrariwise to raise and advance our reason to the divine truth.42

God is both the origin of knowledge and the goal of reason for Bacon, and this reflects the writings of Dionysius: "The divine Wisdom is the source, the cause, the substance, the perfection, the protector, and the goal of Wisdom itself, of mind, of reason, and of all sense perception."43 Where human reason cannot go by itself, toward understanding the "mysteries of the faith," God can draw it. Pseudo-

Dionysius made the same point, significantly using the same image from topic eight of Homer’s Iliad:

Imagine a great shining chain hanging downward from the heights of heaven to the world below. We grab hold of it with one hand and then another, and we seem to be pulling it down toward us. Actually it is already there on the heights and down below and instead of pulling it to us we are being lifted upward to that brilliance above … We will not pull down to ourselves that power which is both everywhere and yet nowhere, but by divine reminders and invocations we may commend ourselves to it and be joined to it.44

In all knowledge, hierarchy is the governing principle. At the lowest levels are the physical things of the created order (what we now call "nature") which were designed to be grasped by the human mind through simple reason. Above these are the mysteries which cannot be ascertained by human reason alone, but may still be apprehended by the intellect because they have been revealed through the Faith. Finally, the transcendent God exists in wonder beyond knowing.

For Bacon, knowledge of the created order extended beyond what we would recognize as "science" today, and it blurred what we regard as the boundary between the "natural" and the "supernatural." In Valerius Terminus Bacon stated: "whatever is not God but parcel of the world, he hath fitted it to the comprehension of man’s mind, if man will open and dilate the powers of his understanding as he may."45 Everything below the transcendent God, the entire order of created things, was potentially knowable, and was part of Bacon’s restoration of the sciences. This included a Dionysian study of angels:

Otherwise it is of the nature of angels and spirits,Let no man deceive you in sublime discourse touching the worship of angels, pressing into that he knoweth not, &c. yet notwithstanding if you observe well that precept, it may appear thereby that there be two things only forbidden, adoration of them, and opinion fantastical of them; either to extol them further than appertaineth to the degree of a creature, or to extol a man’s knowledge of them further than he hath ground. But the sober and grounded inquiry which may arise out of the passages of holy Scriptures, or out of the gradations of nature, is not restrained.46

The study of angels or heavenly powers depended upon the use of the legitimate sources of scripture and the hierarchy of nature. Nothing was more in keeping with the approach of the Areopagite in the Celestial Hierarchies, where the scriptures were combined with the analogy of nature so that the celestial hierarchies could be understood.47

In both the Dionysian corpus and Bacon’s work, "knowledge" (scientia) figures prominently as the means of ascent and descent through the created order. On account of this, creation may be seen in the writings of both as what Eric Perl aptly called the "continuum of cognition."48 The highest order of angels is described by Dionysius as an "outpouring of wisdom" (effusio sapientiae) which passes the divine wisdom down the hierarchy to the next order, characterized by their reception of the divine light, at which point the sapientia, or divine wisdom of those who minister to God immediately, becomes the scientia, or knowledge, of those who receive the light mediately, as it passes downward from the second order.49 The common distinction made in Latin versions of the Celestial Hierarchies between scientia and sapientia is also made by Bacon in The Advancement of Learning: "for all learning is knowledge acquired, and all knowledge in God is original: and therefore we must look for it by another name, that of wisdom, or sapience, as the Scriptures call it."50 As the Dionysian author leads his readers down the hierarchies toward material creation it becomes clear that "perfecting knowledge" [perfectivae scientiae] is not mere awareness of truth or facts, as we tend to understand "knowledge"; it is a transforming power.51

It is often forgotten that Francis Bacon’s most quoted axiom, "knowledge is power," was formulated in the context of a theological discussion. In his essay on "heresy" in the Meditationes Sacrae, Bacon wrestled with the concepts of "free will" and sin. On the one hand, he rejected the assertion that God was necessarily the author of evil, "not because he is not author—but because not of evil."52 On the other hand, he rejected an opposing view which suggested God’s power was limited: the position of those "who give a wider range to the knowledge of God than to his power; or rather to that part of God’s power (for knowledge itself is power) [nam et ipsa scientia potestas est] whereby he knows, than to that whereby he works and acts; suffering him to foreknow some things as an unconcerned looker on, which he does not predestine and preordain."53 Bacon’s solution to these opposite errors was via an Augustinian chain of causes whereby sin could be moved down the chain into human will, and yet be accounted for by God in his foreknowledge.54 God would remain author of all as the ultimate cause, but he was author by "links and subordinate degrees" [per nexus et gradus subordinatos].55 The chain of causes was crucial for Bacon’s scientific thought. Natural philosophy was the study of these secondary causes according to Bacon, and "certain it is that God worketh nothing in nature but by second causes."56

For Dionysius, as for Bacon and Augustine, God always dealt with creation mediately. This was the reason for the cosmic hierarchies. For Dionysius, as for Bacon and Augustine, God was the author of all, but not of evil, since evil was not a created thing, but a defect, or an "accident."57 But Pseudo-Dionysius provides the pivotal idea that in God knowledge and power were the same. It is crucial to recognize that Bacon never made the claim "knowledge is power" as a general axiom, but specifically in reference to God. For God, "knowledge itself is power," but for humans, knowledge and power could be very different. Indeed, in the very passage where Bacon directly references Dionysius, he does so in order to demonstrate that in human actions knowledge must precede power, as it does in the Celestial Hierarchies.

In the Divine Names Pseudo-Dionysius discusses God’s action of creation in which knowing causes being: "He knows everything else and, if I may put it so, he knows them from the very beginning and therefore brings them into being."58 Knowledge of creation and producing it must be the same in God, since God, for the Dionysian author, was a true Platonic monad, a singularity (an undivided Trinity) in which there could be no distinctions according to essence. The act of creation was a single emanation or outward expression of the Godhead itself.59 According to Pseudo-Dionysius:

Uniquely [the Divine Wisdom] knows and produces all things by its oneness: material things immaterially, divisible things indivisibly, plurality in a single act. If with one causal gesture God bestows being on everything, in that one same act of causation he will know everything through derivation from him and through their preexistence in him, and, therefore, his knowledge of things will not be owed to the things themselves.60

Knowledge and power may be distinguished only in the differentiated hierarchies of creation, not in the undifferentiated Creator, or in his indivisible act of creation. In the Divine Names, knowledge and power are discussed as separate attributes of God, but only because they are human ways of identifying and describing the effects of the single divine act of emanation which was the creation of the cosmos.61

"Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights."62 The rest of the discourse examines how the single ray proceeding from God produces all the diversity and differentiation found in the created hierarchy.63 From this diversity the intellect could ascend back to the unity which is the source of all. Bacon’s apophatic approach to discovery operated within the framework of this hierarchy. To obtain the knowledge of natural things, Bacon’s method stopped part way, pondering the natural order itself, rather than the mystery of the transcendent God, though it could go further and break off in "wonder." Knowledge, being for Bacon "original in God," was the key to recovering power over creation, but only if one followed the proper path to obtain it. This via negativa of creation was Bacon’s hermeneutic of discovery, his sure method, for recovering the power over nature which had been lost to Adam in Eden. As Bacon closed the Novum Organum: "For man by the fall fell at the same time from his state of innocency and from his dominion over creation. Both of these losses however can even in this life be in some part repaired; the former by religion and faith, and the latter by arts and sciences."64

Antonio Perez-Ramos has identified Bacon’s method with the "maker’s knowledge tradition" whereby knowing and making are inextricably linked.65 The Dionysian understanding of God’s bringing forth the cosmos in a single act of creating/knowing provides a source for this tradition in Bacon’s writings. Bacon’s method, by uniting experimentation with the divine gift of knowledge, would raise humankind to being what it was created to be: the very image of the making/knowing God. The key was recognizing how knowledge worked within the divine hierarchy of creation: it originated in God, and through the via negativa it would return to Him as humans would "raise and advance [their] reason to the divine truth."66 Along the way, this ascent would restore Adam’s "dominion over creation." The result was guaranteed by none other than the "Father of Lights." Citing the same verse with which the Dionysian author began, Bacon concluded: "The beginning is from God: for the business which is in hand, having the character of good so strongly impressed upon it, appears manifestly to proceed from God, who is the author of good and the Father of Lights. Now in divine operations even the smallest beginnings lead of a certainty to their end."67


There can be no question that Pseudo-Dionysius had an influence on Bacon’s conception of the hierarchies of knowledge and the hierarchical nature of creation, since Bacon himself references the Areopagite in precisely this context. In the Protestant environment of Stuart England, stating his affinity for the thought of Pseudo-Dionysius was not a minor thing. This topic has argued that, when taken on Bacon’s own terms, the central, and otherwise puzzling, adherence of Bacon to what we have called "eliminative induction" is a result of an agreement with Dionysius on the fundamental nature of "knowledge," its origin (in God), and its ultimate end (contemplation of the divine).

For students of Bacon, this argument leads in a direction directly counter to his more common narrative role as the instigator of a non-theological, and non-religious, study of nature. This old narrative requires us to ignore the extensive theological discussions found throughout Bacon’s writings. It appears to be an atavistic remnant of the old "Age of Discovery" narrative which, as observed in this volume’s Introduction, has met its undoing, or deconstruction, elsewhere. To be sure, Bacon may have had a personal affinity for Neoplatonism, but in Bacon’s day, Neoplatonism could not be separated from its distinctly Christian profile both in antiquity and the Renaissance. A careful comparison makes it clear that Bacon did not need to do any tinkering to adapt Neoplatonism to a Christian natural philosophy. He followed to its logical conclusion the way prepared by Pseudo-Dionysius, somewhat incredulously commenting along the way that he was surprised that this remained untried. As with the ancient author, Bacon was concerned, first and last, with knowledge, and how it functioned in a divinely-structured cosmology. Before the ascent of atheism in the Enlightenment, knowledge could not be separated from its author, for whom, uniquely, knowledge (scientia) was power (potestas).

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