Ben Jonson’s “The Alchemist”: A Retelling — Act 3, Scene 1

— 3.1 —

Tribulation Wholesome and Ananias talked together outside the house where the cons were taking place. Ananias was complaining about Subtle.

Tribulation Wholesome said, “These chastisements are common to the saints, and such rebukes we of the separation must bear with willing shoulders as they are trials sent forth to tempt our frailties.”

“Separation” meant “exile.” In times of persecution, Anabaptists would go from one country to another country to escape that persecution. At the then-current time, many Anabaptists were in the Netherlands.

Saints often face tribulations, and these Anabaptists regarded themselves as saints — people destined for eternal life — separated from ordinary men.

Ananias said, “In pure zeal and from a purely Christian point of view, I do not like the man. He is a heathen, and he speaks the language of Canaan, truly.”

Tribulation Wholesome said, “I think him a profane person indeed.”

“He bears the visible mark of the beast on his forehead,” Ananias said.

Anyone who bears the mark of the beast is irrevocably damned.

Ananias continued, “And as for his philosopher’s stone, it is a work of darkness, and with philosophy it blinds the eyes of man.”

Tribulation Wholesome said, “Good brother, we must yield to all means that may give furtherance to the holy cause.”

“Which his cannot,” Ananias said. “The sanctified cause should have a sanctified course. A sanctified course of action will lead to the sanctified result we want.”

“A sanctified means or course of action is not always necessary,” Tribulation Wholesome said. “The children of perdition are often made instruments even of the greatest works.

“Beside, we should concede somewhat to this man Subtle’s nature and the place he lives in. He is always near the fire and the fumes of metals that intoxicate the brain of man and make him prone to feel violent emotions.

“Being around fire is dangerous.

“Where do you have greater atheists than your cooks?”

Anabaptists preferred plainness in all things, including clothing, hairstyles, and food.

Tribulation Wholesome continued, “Who is more profane or choleric and prone to anger than your glass-blowers?”

Glass-blowers make items used in alchemy and in Catholic churches.

Tribulation Wholesome continued, “Who is more anti-Christian than your bell-founders, who cast bells out of molten metal?”

Bells are often used in the Catholic Mass and in Catholic churches.

Tribulation Wholesome continued, “I ask you, what makes the devil Satan, our common enemy, so devilish except his being perpetually around the fire and boiling brimstone and arsenic?

“We must yield, I say, to the stimulations and the stirrers up of strong feelings in the blood. It may be so, when the work is done and the philosopher’s stone is made, that this heat of his may turn into a religious zeal, and stand up for the beauteous discipline of Anabaptism against the menstruous cloth and rag of Rome.”

The Anabaptists detested the Pope and Catholics. What they called “the menstruous cloth and rag of Rome” was the surplice worn by Catholic priests. The Anabaptists compared the surplice to a rag used to soak up menstrual blood.

Tribulation Wholesome continued, “We must await his calling and the coming of the good Holy Spirit to him. You did wrong when you upbraided him with the brethren’s blessing of creating the philosopher’s stone in Heidelberg. You will realize that when you consider what need we have to hasten on the work for the restoring of the silenced saints, which will never happen unless we get the philosopher’s stone.”

The silenced saints were the Puritans who were not allowed to preach because they did not accept the 39 Articles that spelled out the beliefs and doctrines of the Church of England.

Tribulation Wholesome continued, “A learned elder, one of Scotland, assured me that we need the philosopher’s stone. For one thing, aurum potabile is the only medicine for the civil magistrate to incline him to a feeling of our religious cause and must be daily used in the disease.”

Aurum potabile is Latin for “drinkable gold.” It was supposed to be an alchemist’s elixir, but Tribulation Wholesome was using the term to mean bribes. The Anabaptists would use the gold created by the philosopher’s stone to bribe civil officials to treat their religion kindly — and to give the Anabaptists political power.

Ananias replied, “I have not been edified more, truly, by any man than by you here and now — not since the beautiful light of Anabaptism first shone on me, and I am sad that my religious zeal has so offended.”

“Let us call on Subtle the alchemist then,” Tribulation Wholesome said.

“The impulse to knock is good, and it is of the spirit,” Ananias said. “I will knock first.”

He knocked and shouted, “Peace be within!”

The door was opened, and they entered.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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