April 22, 2008

Henry More: Holier Than Thou

Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

I was reading C. S. Lewis’s letters the other day and came across some fascinating stuff about the seventeenth century theologian Henry More, whose writings on ethics Lewis was particularly interested at the time (1924).  Lewis writes:

He told me a great many curious “facts” in natural history.  You never knew that the leader of a flock of cranes carried a large stone in his mouth when in flight: the reason being, that when they alight, all the others go to sleep, but the leader, as soon as he does, is awakened by the sound of the stone falling.  Or who would have thought that elephants had a religion and performed purificatory rites to the new moon?  He was a very holy man, this More: his contemporary biographer tells us that his body “at the putting off of his cloathes, exhaled sweet herbaceous smells, and his urine had the natural savour of violets” (p. 623).

Lewis is paraphrasing, probably from memory, Richard Ward’s Life of the Learned and Pious Dr Henry More… (pp. 123-124).  And lest it worry you excessively, let me tell you in advance that “flavour” here has the meaning of “savor” or “scent”:

He hath told us … That not only his own Urine, had naturally the Flavour of Violets in it, but that his Breast and Body, especially when very Young, would of themselves, in like manner, send forth flowry and Aromatic Odours from them; and such as he daily almost was sensible of, when he came to put of his Clothes, and go to bed. And even afterwards, when he was Older, about the end of Winter, or beginning of Spring, he did frequently perceive certain sweet and herbacious Smells about him; when yet there were no such external Objects near, from whence they could proceed.

If these things are the measure of our holiness, then I guess I fall short.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:42 pm | Discuss (0)

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