Unearthing Radical Reform: Antiquarianism against Discovery

In Hydriotaphia (1658), Thomas Browne takes the discovery of ancient funeral urns in Norwich as an occasion to meditate on the diversity of burial customs across a wide array of historical periods and cultures. Despite the text’s bravura display of antiquarian learning, and the excitement it conveys about the discovery of these ancient and bizarre artifacts, scholars have noted that, for Browne, unearthing the past is a matter of confusion, loss, and incompleteness.1 In fact, the text seems to undermine the very promise of discovery: throughout Hydriotaphia, we are confronted with the yawning gulf between present and past, and the impossibility of complete historical knowledge. By the text’s apocalyptic end, the hope of immortality through commemoration is rendered pointless in the face of eternity—as is, implicitly, the antiquary’s drive to discover.2

Thus though antiquarianism is undoubtedly one of the fields of early-modern knowledge to which discovery is foundational, Browne’s text can be situated within a countervailing tradition of "anti-discovery." Writings that undermine discovery in a similar way include Joseph Hall’s satire Mundus Alter et Idem [A World Different and the Same]—a fictional account of travels to new lands, paradoxically discovering nothing but the same folly and vice rampant in Europe—and several of the poems in George Herbert’s The Temple. For example, "Vanity (1)" describes the discoveries of a diver, chemist, and astronomer, but sharply undercuts them in the final lines:

What hath not man sought out and found, But his dear God? who yet his glorious law Embosoms in us, mellowing the ground With show’rs and frosts, with love and awe, So that we need not say, Where’s this command? Poor man, thou searchest round To find out death, but missest life at hand.3

Rather than recognize the manifest presence of God in the world around us, people seek out hidden but unprofitable knowledge. For Herbert, this is inevitably debased and carnal, because experienced without relation to the divine. Discovery, in short, is dangerous; and it is dangerous because it is a missing of the point.

This topic considers the ways in which the clergyman Thomas Fuller, one of the seventeenth century’s greatest historians, contributes to the period tradition of anti-discovery. For Fuller, as for Browne, a process of discovery stands in tension with the perspective of eternity. Yet unlike Browne, Hall, or Herbert— who criticize specific acts or modes of discovery—Fuller chooses metaphors of discovery to attack specific, and opposed, errors of historical engagement. He attacks the evacuation from history of sacred significance, on the one hand, and the fetishization of the antiquarian past, on the other. Much has been made of Fuller’s objection to extremism: he wrote an essay titled "Of Moderation" addressing destructive factions,4 and indeed moderation is a recurring touchstone in virtually all of his writings, reflecting his commitment to the established church, and his rejection of both Laudian and Puritan excesses.5 Central here is what Florence Sandler recognized as Fuller’s emphasis on the church’s historical nature—its continuity and situatedness in time—against extremist emphases on temporal discontinuity and ahistorical perfection.6 It is this vision that motivated Fuller’s antiquarian projects A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine (1650) and The Church History of Britain (1655), which, respectively, provide "the appreciative chronicling of God’s dealings with the historical Israel, and then with the historical New Israel, the Church."7

The fraught status of history during this revolutionary age is articulated by Fuller through elaborate metaphors of discovery. Unsurprisingly, discovery is not always portrayed negatively by Fuller: for example, in The Holy State (1642), Fuller praises the antiquary William Camden’s discoveries of England’s past, which have enabled new forms of national self-knowledge.8 However, in key places, metaphors of discovery are deployed by Fuller in order to castigate the views of history that he associates with religious radicals, of one kind or another. Fuller’s commitment to moderation can be understood in terms of his affirmation of the church’s mediating functions within history; his support for the established church and its gradual rather than radical reformation entails a traditional view of the church as historically embedded, as against a radical belief in discontinuity and rupture.

At the same time, as an antiquary, Fuller is sensitive to the capacity for undue attention to the historical past. In traversing the Scylla of a radical, millenarian flattening of history, and the Charybdis of an idolatrous privileging of it, Fuller invokes discovery to critique presumed ways to knowledge and understanding of the relationship between knowledge and history itself. This topic will first address Fuller’s polemic against the radical rejection of history in A Sermon of Reformation (1643), and will then turn to his acknowledgement, in A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine, of the idolatrous valorization of historical knowledge, at the expense of religious imperatives.9

Discovery and Reform

Delivered during a time of chaotic sectarianism, A Sermon of Reformation encourages gradual improvement against the desire for radical change. The latter is presented as unrealistic, and resulting from a blindness to history expressed in a narcissistic privileging of the contemporary moment. This privileging enables the radicals to believe they are founding something new rather than repairing something old, acting as if they are the first Christians to appear in England and assuming others are "pure Pagans where the word is newly to be planted."10 Fuller recounts a narrative in which a Spanish duke’s followers, upon searching for a lost hawk, discover a "new Country in the Navell of Spaine, not knowne before, invironed with Mountaines, and peopled with naked Salvages."11 The satire hinges on the lunacy of believing that such "a Terra Incognita could be found in England; which (what betwixt the covetousnesse of Landlords and the carefulnesse of Tenants) is almost measured to an Acre." Fuller goes on to acknowledge that if in England "such a place were discovered, I must allow that the Preachers there were the first planters of the Gospel, which in all others places of the kingdom are but the Continuers thereof."12 The impossibility of such a terra incognita within England,however, points to the equally impossible notion of an England untouched by history. For Fuller, his opponents’ fascination with discovery is predicated on a failure to grasp the church’s historical nature.

Significantly, in his refutation of Fuller, the radical preacher John Saltmarsh invokes the trope of discovery to illustrate the possibility of perfecting the church. "He that looks abroad," Saltmarsh writes, "shall soone have his sight terminated but the more he goes on, the more hee sees, and that which closed his prospect, opens then into new discoveries; if you see no perfect Reformation as you stand, doe not therefore say there is none."13 In such a radicalized critique of the established church, show of worship is a mere appearance which, when penetrated, reveals the reality of an absence of true religion. Fuller, however, answers with his own allegory of discovery. Like Saltmarsh’s image of ever-increasing vistas, this emphasizes gradual process, but without positing a final or terminal state:

Mariners which make forth for the Northerne Discoveries, goe out with this assurance, that it is impossible to come to the pole. Yet have they sought and found out very farre, almost to the eightieth degree of latitude. What covetousnesse or curiosity did in them, sure Grace is as active to doe in Gods Children who will labour to draw neere to a perfect Reformation, in obedience to Gods command, though they know they shall never fully attaine unto it.14

Fuller’s point is that while the church the radicals criticize may be imperfect, it is no less legitimate for that. Indeed, Fuller relegates his opponents’ belief in a once-and-for-all reformation to utopia: "a perfect Reformation of any Church in this world may be desired, but not hoped for. Let Zenophons Cyrus bee King in Platos Common-wealth; and Batchelors-wives breed maides children in Mores Utopia … These phansies are pleasing and plausible, but the performance thereof unfeisable, and so is the perfect reformation of a Church in this world."15

Fuller’s argument with Saltmarsh bears a structural similarity to one of the earliest polemical exchanges in the English Reformation: Thomas More’s assault on Martin Luther. Echoing Augustine’s conviction that the City of God can never be fully manifest on earth, More was committed to a church of saints and sinners: an imperfect but visible, firmly established institution, the only place within the fallen world for people to commune with God. Accordingly, More attacked Luther and his English follower William Tyndale for their doctrine of an invisible church of the elect, a congregation of saints not tied to the visible Roman church or any particular place, but existing halfway between earth and heaven.16 In a marginal note printed in More’s Responsio adLutherum, Luther’s notion of a church containing only true believers hidden in the midst of the actual, fallen world is mocked with the remark "perhaps he has seen this in utopia."17 The belief in an invisible church of the elect is derogated not merely as the belief in perfection existing in the world, but also, through this allusion to More’s own classic text of geographical discovery, as a delusion that the true church exists beyond appearances and requires an act of discovery. Instead, for More, the church must be understood as necessarily evident—always recognizable—lest we be confronted with total uncertainty.18

Discovery is a central predicate of the reformers’ privileging of Scripture, and implies and reproduces the separations instituted by the Reformation. Pace J.G.A. Pocock’s contention that the Reformation drew the process of salvation more directly into history,19 Tyndale portrays divine revelation as unchanging and consequently outside history: contained in the Word of God, and encountered by the true church of the elect in a relatively stable form.20 Tyndale’s rhetoric emphasizes the true church’s relative changelessness, even though it exists within and throughout historical time. This stasis is the mirror image of the transhistorical understanding of revelation rooted in sola scriptura, which emphasizes the completeness and finality of Scripture’s record of revelation.21 In contrast, More affirms the shifting, developing nature of the Roman Catholic Church as the forum for God’s communication with humanity.22 The historical church participates in the divine, for More, history being the very vehicle through which revelation occurs and unfolds.

Unlike More’s, Fuller’s understanding of the church was not dogmatically exclusive, but was relatively accommodating and did not involve a strict divide between true church and heresy; rather, his focus was on negotiating the boundary between matters essential and matters indifferent in church governance and worship. An heir to sola scriptura, Fuller saw revelation as complete and contained in the Bible, rather than as an ongoing process.23 Despite these points of difference, however, More and Fuller are obviously united in defending the continuity of an established church in the face of reformers affirming a source of revelation outside its bounds. For Tyndale, this is simply to be found in scripture itself; Saltmarsh goes much farther, asserting that God inspires select individuals through "secret preparations."24 Yet both Tyndale and Saltmarsh emphasize that the truth needs to be discovered; that the true Word of God or authentic mode of worship is beyond the appearances of historical reality. History is separated from revelation, and the past becomes, at least implicitly, evacuated of truth and meaning.

Fuller’s opposition to this idea can be framed by the conflict traced by Achsah Guibbory in the seventeenth-century English church: Puritans against "ceremonialists," who maintained historical continuity and the legitimacy of tradition. The ceremonialists defended tradition as subservient to Scripture yet nonetheless meaningful, positing a relation of interdependence, harmony, and hierarchy, opposed to the Puritans’ uncompromising dualisms.25 Since this position implies the participation of ceremony and tradition with the divine, rather than the stark binary of Scriptural/non-Scriptural, it is consonant with dominant strains of pre-modern, pre-reformed thought. Along these lines, ceremony was also defended on the universalist grounds that it accords with nature and reason, and that these exist in continuity with Scripture.26 On the other hand, for the Puritan habits of thought discussed by Guibbory, history and creation are not to be construed in terms of mediation, continuity, and participation with the divine—that is, in the terms we have seen in Herbert’s "Vanity (1)." Rather, the divine is to be discovered, within, but also apart from, history and creation. This is consistent with burgeoning late-medieval and early-modern understandings of God as absolutely other to creation. It has often been argued that such theological shifts set the stage for the construction of the autonomous history and nature of secular modernity.27

While Fuller opposed the ceremonial rigor of the Laudians, he shared their "Catholic" emphasis on continuity and integration, at least insofar as it served his political purposes. On the other hand, and despite his own rootedness in the reformed tradition, in his polemics Fuller drew on the secularity of discovery to attack the radicals’ understanding of their historical role. He deployed a metaphor of discovery in order to attack religious radicals for rejecting the historical church and its mediating, temporal function.

History and Idolatry

In A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine, Fuller associates certainty in eschatological predictions with ignorance of history: "those, which seem to know all which is to come, know but little of what is past; as if they were the better Prophets, for being the worse Historians."28 Ignorance of the "historical dispensation" is associated here with a fanatical and deluded self-assurance and conviction that one has received new revelations.29 In this text, however, Fuller also connects the presumption of discovery, not to historical blindness, but to an idolatrous replacement of religion with history.

Taking its name from Moses’ view of the Promised Land from the top of Mount Pisgah, A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine was described in its Stationer’s Company entry as "a Choragraphicall Comment on the History of the Bible, or the description of Judaea."30 Much of the text is organized according to the tribal lands of ancient Israel. This chorographical structure contains within it descriptions of the significant historical events and personages associated with each region. Moreover, the topic incorporates discussions of antiquarian subject-matter, including a lengthy description of the Jerusalem Temple and the material culture of Temple worship; and discussions of the customs and religions of the ancient Biblical lands.31

At the opening of his text, Fuller raises three accusations that could be leveled against it: "that the description of [Palestine]: 1. Hath formerly been done by many. 2. Cannot perfectly be done by any. 3. If exactly done, is altogether uselesse, and may be somewhat superstitious."32 Fuller’s third remark connects superstition to undue attention to something useless. His reference to the uselessness of his work picks up on widespread criticism of antiquarian study as an utterly pointless enterprise.33 But this uselessness takes on a specifically religious dimension here: "it matters not to any mans salvation, to know the accurate distance betwixt Jericho and Jerusalem; and he that hath climbed to the top of Mount Libanus, is not in respect of his soul, a haires breadth nearer to heaven."34 Undue attention to such matters is construed as superstition.

It is no surprise then that throughout the text Fuller is at pains to defend himself against the charge of giving undue attention to Biblical history, geography, and culture at the expense of the religion which gives these phenomena their ultimate meaning. There are two crucial contexts relevant to Fuller’s defense of his work: the problematic nature of the Holy Land in Protestant thought, defined by an anxiety about ascribing sacramental power to place; and the vexed status of the study of antiquities, characterized by an entrancement with the artifacts of the past, at the expense of a proper orientation of one’s spiritual energies to the worship of God.

In terms of the former problem, Fuller employs spiritual and allegorical interpretations of the Biblical lands: for instance, the relative absence of gold in the Holy Land is construed as God’s emphasis on spiritual rather than worldly riches. However, his topic, like many other post-Reformation historical studies of the Biblical lands and accounts of travel to the Levant, carefully distinguishes itself from the tradition of pilgrimage writings characteristic of the Catholic tradition, in which the tombs and relics of the Holy Land were imbued with sacramental power.35 Indeed, Fuller perhaps most forcefully demonstrates his self-consciousness about this tradition by refusing to use the term "Holy Land" at all, for fear of suggesting a superstitious notion of the land’s spiritual efficacy.36

The superstitious potential of the reception of antiquarian study was a similarly troubling prospect for Fuller. Despite the frequent uses of antiquarian scholarship throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to promote arguments for church reform, in the mid-seventeenth century antiquaries were generally identified with the established church and its traditions, and several antiquarian works were written in support of episcopacy.37 Additionally, the period witnessed a long-running suspicion that antiquarian scholarship had links to popery, both because many antiquaries studied remnants of the Catholic past such as monasteries, and because the exhumed bodily remains studied by antiquaries could resemble saints’ relics, particularly given the kind of fascination they conjured.38 Additionally, the material culture sought out by antiquaries emphasized a visual orientation that raised iconophobic suspicions.39 Owing to the artifact’s capacity to enchant, and the resemblance of such enchantment to idolatrous devotion focused on material objects, the antiquarian past could be viewed as idolatrous.40

Even more broadly, in the charged atmosphere of the mid-seventeenth century, a militant ideology of purity meant that adherence to the past itself could be suspect, and was often attacked using imagery of antiquarian discovery. In Guibbory’s words, "past human history, characterized by ‘carnal traditions’ and preserved through material, idolatrous ‘monuments’" constituted a chief target for Puritans.41 For instance, Peter Smart connected the external modes of worship upheld by the Laudian faction to a revived Jewish ceremonialism, and described this linkage using a metaphor suggestive of both antiquarian discovery and necromantic resurrection. For Smart, ceremonialism represents the exhumation of idolatrous error: "Jewish types and fygurs," he writes, were "long since dead and buried": to "revive" and "rayse" them up again is "an apostasy."42 Crucial here is the issue of typology: the "Jewish types and figures," often in the form of external ceremony and material objects of Jewish worship, are to be valued only insofar as they foreshadow the superseding spiritual modes of Christian worship, a point made explicitly in Pisgah-Sight.43

A similar conjunction of idolatry, material culture, and undue reverence for the past can be found in John Milton’s pamphlet Of Reformation (1641). Milton singles out William Camden, aligning the latter’s support for bishops with his love of antiquities: "a fast friend of Episcopacie, Camden, who cannot but love Bishops, as well as old coins, and his much lamented Monasteries for antiquities sake."44 Camden’s is a compulsive, irrational love of anything old, characteristic of the "votarists of Antiquity."45 Milton’s critique combines a number of key issues. For one, it levels an attack on the idolatrous orientation towards the material past, figured by ancient coins which evoke the "guegaw’s fetcht from Arons old wardrope" by the prelatical ceremonialists.46 It also draws on the association between antiquarian study and the established church, as well as the problem of valuing the past for "antiquities sake." This latter issue reflects the illicit ascription of autonomy to the objects of historical scholarship. Rather than being understood and valued in relation to the imperatives of right religion, they become valued for their own sake, resulting in a kind of secular idolatry.

These associations between antiquarian study and an idolatrous veneration of the past are taken up by Fuller in The Holy State: "Some scoure off the rust of old inscriptions into their own souls, cankering themselves with superstition … and they more lament the ruine of Monasteryes, then the decay and ruine of Monks lives."47 Fuller notes that studying ancient artifacts can cause one to absorb the superstitions associated with them, and then acknowledges that artifacts can be fetishized, valued for their own sake: the monastery becomes of more concern than the monk it housed and the monk’s beliefs. However, Fuller goes on to assert that a proper approach to antiquarian study only confirms one in correct religion, since it allows one to bypass manmade traditions and superstitions and gain an understanding of the primitive church.48

The idolatrous potential of antiquarianism is taken up again in Fuller’s introduction to Pisgah-Sight, albeit with greater immediacy, since here he is concerned with deflecting these charges from his own work. Fuller’s defensive introduction rests on a tension between historical and geographical knowledge and matters of religion, encapsulated in his statement about the irrelevance of the distance between Jericho and Jerusalem to one’s salvation. What is significant here is that Fuller does not say, as we might expect, that if one goes on pilgrimage to Jerusalem or prays at a shrine in the Holy Land one does not get closer to heaven. Rather, he points out the uselessness of geographical measuring (the distance between Jericho and Jerusalem), and topographical experience (climbing Mount Libanus). In other words, Fuller homes in not on the idolatry of pre-reformed sacred geography, but on the superstitious adherence to proto-modern historical and geographical knowledge.

In the latter case, the relics of the past inspire fascination and veneration not because of any belief about sacral qualities imbuing material reality, but rather from a kind of inherent interest—a fascination with the ancient and alien for its own sake. Fuller’s anxiety, I suggest, is about an emergent modern form of idolatry: it rests on a notion of historical distance, that is, on the pastness of the past, and it involves a secularized relic-worship involving a material culture construed as autonomous, outside of any regard for salvation or its relation to the divine. As Fuller puts it, "because the New Ierusalem is now daily expected to come down … these corporall (not to say carnall) studies of this terrestriall Canaan, begin to grow out of fashion, with the more knowing sort of Christians."49 While an idolatrous approach to the Holy Land had been generally construed as the replacement of a properly spiritual religion with a carnal one, in this case a properly eschatological orientation is replaced with an unnecessary and distracting devotion to knowledge about material reality.

Prophecy and Recognition

One of the ways Fuller attempts to exculpate himself from the charge of an idolatrous veneration of the past is through an elaborate Biblical allusion to King Saul’s forbidden conjuring of the prophet Samuel’s spirit by the woman of Endor, described in 1 Samuel 28. Once again, Fuller connects a problematic attitude to the past with discovery, since this allusion hinges on the idea of an illicit (but foiled) attempt at uncovering secret knowledge. Deployed in the specific context of Fuller’s polemic, this attempt is suggestive both of an idolatrous reliance on another spiritual power than God, and of the presumption of human autonomy in relation to the divine.

In his response to the charge that his work is useless and superstitious, Fuller writes: "Besides, some conceive they heare Palestine saying unto them, as Samuel to Saul endevouring to raise him from his grave, Why hast thou disquieted me to bring me up?"50 The raising of Samuel from his grave connects Fuller’s project to the unearthing work of the antiquaries. Palestine is imagined as entombed bodily remains, one of the primary objects of antiquarian discovery and knowledge. This portrayal of Fuller’s project as one of discovery jars with the work’s title: Moses’ view from Mount Pisgah, his initial sighting of the land promised to the Israelites, embodies the recognition of that which was promised rather than the discoverer’s first glimpse of the new land. Along these lines, when Fuller acknowledges that much has already been written about the Biblical lands, he explicitly distinguishes his work from the ultimate event of discovery: "although we cannot with Columbus, finde out another world, and bring the first tydings of an unknown Continent or Island, by us discovered, yet our labours ought not to be condemned as unprofitable."51 While prospective critics might construe his work of antiquarian and chorographical study as exhumation or necromancy, he explicitly distances it from discovery.

Attempting to exhume the remains of the Biblical past through an historical account, Fuller suggests, is unnecessarily disruptive: "Describing this Countrey is but disturbing it, it being better to let it sleep quietly, intombed in its owne ashes."52 Beyond the charge of pointlessly expended effort, though, this fraught Biblical allusion implies that Fuller’s work could represent a transgression of divine law. It is depicted as the idolatrous act of turning to sorcery rather than God, using necromancy to seek out knowledge. Fuller thus raises the possibility that studying the physical places and material culture of the Biblical lands represents a necromantic desire to speak with the dead. Such an evocation of religious transgression raises the contemporary association between the study of antiquities and idolatry.

A closer examination of the Biblical narrative that Fuller draws upon reveals the vital and complex role of discovery within it, and its relevance to the approach to history Fuller is exorcising. Confronted with the impending hordes of the Philistine army, Saul is anxious and wants to know what he should do. God does not answer his prayers for knowledge, however, because Saul has previously turned his back on God. Ironically, after he has outlawed the practice of necromancy in his kingdom, he turns to a woman known for her ability to conjure the dead.

In Fuller’s text, this necromantic scene is mediated by the discourse of antiquarian scholarship, and Saul’s divination figures Fuller’s historical work as an illicit desire to discover, to unearth the past from its grave. What Saul obtains from Samuel, however, has a complex epistemological status that has bearing on the representation of discovery and historical knowledge in Fuller’s text. First, if it is in fact a devil and not Samuel who is conjured, as many commentators (including Fuller) believed, the legitimacy of the "prophecy" delivered is obviously contestable.53 According to Gregory of Nyssa, demons make signs pointing towards the future desired by those engaged in conjuring, so that conjuring results merely in the reflection of one’s own desires rather than in discovery.54 While the prophecy given to Saul does not reflect his desires, it undercuts discovery, since Samuel’s words embody a full recognition of the situation rather than the revelation of something hidden. Samuel reiterates what Saul already knows: God is not responding because of Saul’s previous rejection of the Lord. Samuel goes on to foretell Saul’s and the Israelites’ defeat on the basis of this rejection.55 For Fuller, this is not prophecy. Instead it is a deduction based on what is open and evident. In The Holy State, Fuller asks how Satan could have known about Saul’s imminent death, and suggests a kind of Satanic recognition brought about by reading the surface of things: having amassed 5,000 years of empirical data, Satan could "thereby make a more then probable guesse of future contingents; the rather because accidents in this world are not so much new as renewed."56

The possibility that the "prediction" of Saul’s imminent demise is the result of recognition rather than discovery underlines Saul’s own lack of understanding about the nature of his situation.57 The king’s conjuring assumes that it is possible to discover God’s secrets. Faced with God’s silence, Saul seeks out new knowledge on his own rather than coming to terms with the nature of and reasons for that silence. Indeed, his downfall can be understood as a failure to recognize the nature of his situation, which leads him to seek something not known. Saul’s divination results from the temptation to discover, which replaces the moral requirement of recognition, of self-knowledge and acknowledgement of one’s relationship to God. Saul’s seeking necromantic knowledge results from his earlier failure to turn to God for guidance and from his failure to read the clear signs of his own situation, namely, his alienation from God: there is literally nothing else to know but this.

In his commentary on this Biblical narrative, Joseph Hall homes in on the pointlessness of Saul’s crime, calling it "bootless curiosity" and stating that knowledge about the future could not help him change its course. Saul’s desire for necromantic knowledge is condemned by Hall as a superstitious mixture of the illicit and the useless, the "itch of impertinent and unprofitable knowledge" inherent in fallen humanity.58 Similarly, as Fuller writes in The Holy State, "Mens minds are naturally ambitious to know things to come: Saul is restlesse to know the issue of the fight. Alas, what needed he to set his teeth on edge with the sourenesse of that bad tidings, who soon after was to have his belly full thereof."59 Saul’s conjuring thus dramatizes the seeking of knowledge that does not need to be sought; considered in terms of the paradigm of discovery, it is an ur-narrative of anti-discovery. The presumption to discovery in this instance is both deluded, in that there is nothing to discover, and idolatrous, in that it places the self in relation to knowledge in such a way that God is excluded; that is, it posits an epistemic relationship definitive of secular modernity.

From a Christian perspective, seeking knowledge from God necessarily involves the humble awareness that we can never know all God knows; that any knowledge we could ever achieve would always be incomplete. In stark contrast, Saul’s transgressive necromancy represents the desire for knowledge as ego-centered mastery, excluding God, and trying to pry into secrets independently of one’s contingent relationship to the divine. Fuller thus invokes a complex narrative in which knowledge is construed independently of the divine, God is replaced with self, and the very possibility of discovery is foiled. By raising these issues, Fuller presents himself as fully conscious of the threat of an idolatrous approach to scholarship and the historical past in order to neutralize such a charge against his own work.


Returning now to the tradition of "anti-discovery" with which this topic began, Fuller can be linked to the conservatism of Browne and Hall. As Robert Appelbaum points out, Hall’s dismantling of the possibility of discovery inMundus Alter et Idem generates political quietism, his bleak contemptus mundi supporting acceptance of the status quo.60 Philip Schwyzer has suggested that Browne’s misattribution of the Norwich urns as Roman rather than Anglo-Saxon may be politically motivated.

Since this misattribution further alienates the present from the past, identifying as it does the discovered remains with foreign invaders rather than the ancestors of the contemporary English, it cuts the legs out from under a politicized reclamation of the past.61 In A Sermon of Reformation, Fuller’s caricature of radical reformers as utopists and quixotic would-be discoverers similarly exemplifies a conservative repudiation of the possibility of positive change, figured by the impossibility of discovery.

In our own era, however, discovery has become the default mode through which knowledge is gained, and one of our underwriting cultural logics. As a foundational assumption of modernity, it has carried with it notions of individual autonomy, the absolute separation of knower from known, the objectification and mastery of that which is discovered, and—as Herbert and perhaps Fuller would have seen it—the separation of knower and known from a Creator who mediates all relationships, including those of knowledge. With modernity, we have become Sauls in relation to knowledge. While Fuller cannot be situated outside the shifts in thought and constructions of boundaries which produced spaces for secularity, he nonetheless registers an awareness of other ways of thinking about the paths to knowledge than those we now take for granted.

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