From Areopagitica

Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discerned, that those confused seeds which were imposed upon Psyche as an incessant labour to cull out, and sort asunder, were not more intermixed.1 It was from out the rind of one apple tasted, that the knowledge of good and evil, as two twins cleaving together, leaped forth into the world. And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evil, that is to say, of knowing good by evil.

As therefore the state of man now is, what wisdom can there be to choose, what continence to forbear, without the knowledge of evil? He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true warfaring Christian. I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue unexercised, and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather; that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary. That virtue therefore which is but a youngling in the contemplation of evil, and knows not the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and rejects it, is but a blank virtue, not a pure; her whiteness is but an excremental whiteness; which was the reason why our sage and serious poet Spenser, (whom I dare be known to think a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas2), describing true temperance under the person of Guyon, brings him in with his palmer through the cave of Mammon, and the bower of earthly bliss, that he might see and know, and yet abstain.3


1 Venus ordered Psyche (the mortal wife of the god Cupid) to sort a vast mound of various seeds (wheat, barley, poppyseed, chickpeas, lentils, and beans) into piles.

2 John Duns Scotus (1266–1308) and Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274): two immensely influential Scholastic philosopher–theologians.

3 In Book 2 of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Sir Guyon (the Knight of Temperance) goes through the Cave of Mammon (representing worldly goods and honors) without the Palmer to guide him, but the Palmer does accompany Guyon during his temptation in the Bower of Bliss.

Page Last Updated: 18 January 2015