Friday, December 10, 2010

Religio Medici by Sir Thomas Browne

One of the most precious fruits gleaned thus far from my bypath into the Harvard Classic Library has been the books I'd not previously heard of, yet now am called upon to read.  To date, the list's most remarkable entries in that category are Epictetus and Sir Thomas Browne.  The latter's work I was so taken with, I was very close to buying a case of Religio Medici and giving them out as Christmas presents this year.  I really do want everyone I know to read this wonderful work.  I stopped short only upon realizing that I don't know a case of books worth of people.

I also (and I am quite serious about this) have drawn from this work the epitaph I want on my grave as my wife seems to be set on giving me a traditional Christian burial.  And since the disposal of remains are for the comfort of the living because the dead don't care, I have given her permission so long as Siegfried's Funeral March is played at my funeral.  A burial would probably more comforting to the hypothetical loved ones (assuming I don't outlive them all) I leave behind than my original plan which was this.

The words are from one of the several lyrical intermezzi of Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici:
"O come that hour, when I shall never sleep again but wake forever."
The words are for the living, but look toward eternity. 

Religio Medici is quite simply one of the most beautiful books I've ever read and without doubt one of the most beautiful religious texts.  His rhetoric is astonishing in its clarity and poetry.  It is so rare to read a 17th century author who reads as if one were conversing.  If I may be so bold as to offer my own opinion, I also find this a rare example of a religious author before the Age of Reason who writes so reasonably, so moderately, and yet with no less passion or devotion than the other great figures in church history.

It is singularly unlike any religious text of this sort that I am aware of.  It is not like Augustine's Confessions or other earlier personal Christian testimonies in that it does not concern itself with biographical details of the author's personal walk.  There is no "I stole a peach and felt guilty."  Rather, as the title suggests, it is about the religious life of the mind of that particular doctor.  As an aside, this was before the divorce between science and religion were so keenly self-imposed by both sides as we see today.

A great deal of the text is consumed by meditations on Christian virtue: Faith, Hope, and Charity to be specific.  His portions on charity are gorgeous.  Other themes he deals with are the wisdom of seeking knowledge, the immortality of ideas in the evolution of human thought (though the thoughts themselves may perish), the appropriateness of agnosticism over finer points of theology, the question of cessation of miracles, the order and nature of beings physical and spiritual, aging and Original Sin, prophecy, alchemy, Heliocentrism (he does not shy from the hot topics of the day), and such a wealth of more that I would be foolish to attempt to list all.  I would especially mention that I found his section on damnation especially comforting with a lot of the issues I've been wrestling with in my personal life of late.

Read this book!  I cannot recommend it highly enough and it is entirely beyond my hearty imagination why it is not more widely read today.  Or maybe I'm just running in the wrong circles.


  1. I'm going to have to read this, it looks like. I'm toying with the idea of staying with the Harvard Classics, myself, precisely because it will get me reading things I wouldn't normally read.

    Are the pairings of works into volumes fairly arbitrary, or is their a development or some kind of foregrounding process at work moving through them?

  2. Always satisfying to read an appreciative and perceptive review of one of the great classics of English literature. You query as to why it is not more well-read, but in fact one must possess a modicum of literary prowess to tackle its pages in order to be rewarded with its wisdom. The very title 'Religio Medici' in fact spawned hundreds of imitative books entitled 'Religio' this and that, in England throughout the 17th century. Its words are, as you discovered, still of relevant today, but I am biased as its author Sir T.B. remains my home city's most famous son ! By the way, you may also probably enjoy his highly-stylized Discourse of 1658 'Urn-Burial' one half of his literary diptych.

  3. I read a bit of the beginning of this -- in comparing editions, actually, as I think I'm going to start up on the insane project, or at least merge it into my existing project -- and it suddenly fell into place: Milton is probably included with those causing the suffering "by the presse" and "the highest perversion of that excellent invention;" i.e. printing.

    I gotta say, at this point I'm in awe of Milton's poetry. But the man, himself, doesn't claim my sympathies.

    Also, I look forward to reading Dryden's Religio Laci, which is, I believe, one of those many Religios that followed Browne's book.

  4. That should be Religio Laici. Excerpt here:

  5. Okay, husband, you've talked me into another one. Somehow I'll try and squeeze this reading in before you return this volume to the library.

    You know, I bet you could find a nice used copy somewhere that would fit nicely into your wife's traditionally empty Christmas stocking.

  6. Hydriotaphia,
    Thank you for the kind words. I shall find myself a copy of Urn-Burial as soon as possible.

    As far as I can tell, Dr. Eliot began the series with works to inspire a foundation of virtue in the student before moving on to literature and science. In other words, I think the series is in loose, unspoken modules rather than a solid progression.

    If not, I'll make like Cinderella's sisters and MAKE it fit!

  7. This is where having an ereader comes in handy. There's various places online where this stuff can be had for free. Or, if you want footnotes, commentary, etc., you can buy a copy. I got the Penguin ebook of Sir Thomas Browne: The Major Works which includes the following:

    The Major Works

    From the Shorter Works: ON DREAMS
    Appendix: Samuel Johnson, The Life of Sir Thomas Browne

    The paperback looks to be a rarity -- it's selling on Amazon through 3rd parties for almost $50. My ebook cost $12 and change -- I still think that's too much for an electronic copy, but in this case it's a lot better than the alternative. I'm sure there are free (or very cheap) ebooks to be had of Browne, but I like to have footnotes and commentary, especially for works pre-20th century...and I hate bad formatting, and end up wasting a bunch of time fixing stuff on my own.

  8. The 1977 Penguin edition has always been expensive as deemed a 'low print' edition by publishers. It does however include the excellent C.A. Patrides introduction. Browne's major and some minor works are available online at the Univerity of Chicago Penelope site. Only one publisher in 350 years has printed the 2 discourses of 1658 together as intended by the author, as my own 1658 edition testifies.

  9. Well that's too bad. I was hoping for an inexpensive paperback as I'm an incurable book abuser. I love to write in margins, etc. The better the book and the more times I read it, the more I mark it.

    I wouldn't send Santa back up the chimney for bringing me an e-reader though. I wish they'd come out with a version I could "write" on with a stylus. I really rely on that activity for processing and re-locating information.

  10. I will offer this possible solution to anyone looking for an inexpensive copy of this text. The Harvard Classics series tend around the six dollar range in most online used book sites. This is a way to secure a reasonably priced used book version of the text for those anticipating the need for copious marginalia.

  11. Laurie ebooks are definitely not a replacement for paper books. I've got a nook that was given to me (which I don't like), and I think I may be getting a Kindle for Christmas (expecting to like it much better).

    You won't be "writing" on ebooks any time soon, and I suspect that even when we can it just won't be the same. There's a perceptible separation between reader and book with ebooks. For anyone that really spends time focusing on text beyond basic reading, paper books are still essential in my opinion.

    Despite that fact, I have almost 700 ebooks, and I paid for a small fraction of them -- the rest are either public domain or promotions (B&N gave away a huge chunk of their BN Classics this last summer). They're convenient for travel. They're convenient for bed and general use. And with some effort and care they can be a way to save money.

    They're really a mixed bag. If I had to choose between one or the other there'd be no question. But being able to take advantage of both paper and ebooks is fortunate.

  12. Well, that's a choice I certainly would welcome. I must say, though, that there are some things I just can't imagine reading on an e-device. Really. I can't explain it, but you know just what I mean. There's the curl of the page, the smell of nature, the flexible spine, the corners to pinch. I can't envision hugging a Kindle to my chest when treasuring a moment. But then, maybe I'm just old-fashioned.

    BTW, started Religio Medici last night in Paul's loaner copy. His little note to the reader acknowledging he was a man who's views continued in progress and that the readers of his bootlegged earlier writings ought to keep in mind he was no longer the same man reminded me of my current, yet unresolved, identity crisis with my own blog and made me want to write a similar disclaimer.

  13. I don't know about old-fashioned. Maybe. My wife thinks I'm old-fashioned in many ways. My values and opinions (when I actually have one instead of opinions by default for the sake of not looking like an idiot) have never been in harmony with my surroundings. But there is an aesthetic element to reading, for those of us that have eyes to see it. Perhaps it's a book fetish, but it's definitely real. I spent months with Don Quixote, and I kept switching back and forth between my paper copy and my ebook (a case where I bought both versions to see how the experience compares). I am rarely content with the formatting that ebooks come with, but have the know-how and the obsessive tendencies needed to fix them up (and I'm willing to strip the DRM to do it). So if you are one who notices formatting, ebooks will likely be disappointing. Publishers just don't care how their ebooks look. They don't spend much time on them. Still, for all the negatives, I like having one.

    re: Religio Medici, I read that, too. I tend to lean towards the mentality of Yeats who was a constant reviser, not only of his poems, but of his correspondence if it was to be published. There's something to be said for maintaining a public face and a private one. If you're famous I think it's a basic survival tactic. For the rest of us, I think it's a matter of privacy and the requisite space needed to grow.

  14. Laurie,
    I really like your blog and look forward to reading your review of R.M. there sometime. (sorry Paul for using this space to address another, I'm just pleased to see this interest in Sir T.B. sparked amongst you all). Best wishes, Kevin.

  15. Hydriotaphia,

    I assure you Paul doesn't mind. In fact I bet he loves it.

    I've already begun reading Religio Medici (I'm about 6 pages in.) and am already enjoying it immensely. It took a bit of adjusting to his style, but now I'm sucked in and really amazed at how well I relate to his point of view (Jews, Turks, and infidels aside). Schisms within Christendom are big concern in our life at the moment and a great cause for heartache. I look forward to the rest. I've informed Paul that the first 6 pages have convinced me that I will definitely need my own copy. This is a volume I will refer to again.

    Thanks for visiting my little blog. It's suffering from my crisis at the moment as I've outgrown my sect and am abandoning my singularly Calvinistic focus. I don't know what it will be, but for now it is what it is. Thank you for enjoying it.

  16. @Hydriotaphia I read the Patrides introduction and definitely will be returning to it again. It was a very helpful read, and one which I think will be yield even more benefit after I've spent some time with Browne.

    @Laurie I'm at paragraph 9 of Religio Medici. I'm fairly amazed at the voice of sanity in these paragraphs. The Patrides introduction makes repeated note of Browne's irenic nature. I'm wondering if perhaps you mistook his thought on "Turkes, Infidels, and... Jewes." I had to re-read it to be sure of it, but I take him to be saying, "...neither does my [religious] zeal make me forget the general charity I owe to humanity -- forgetting which would lead me to hate rather than pity Turks, Infidels, and (what is worse [i.e. because of the relationship of Christianity to Judaism]) Jews..." His syntax is complicated here. He's stating in the negative that he doesn't go about "maligning those who refuse so glorious a title," but rather merely contents himself to enjoy being a Christian.

    At a time when the attitudes of Protestants towards Catholics and vice versa was anything but tolerant and restrained, Browne expresses charity. In my own lifetime I have heard people call the Catholic Church the "whore of Babylon," and suspect that the antichrist would be a pope. When I converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, there were those amongst former friends who thought I'd sold my soul to the devil, exchanging grace for pagan ritual and idolatry. As an Orthodox I've had Protestant co-workers intimating that Catholics are mostly hell-bound unbelievers. I always figured they thought the same of me because to most people Orthodoxy is thought of as "Catholicism without the Pope." Of course these same people wouldn't be much moved by Browne, seeing as he was a member of the Church of England.

    Paras 7,8 in particular caught my attention -- which cannot enjoy a singularity without a Heresie, or be the author of an opinion, without they be of a Sect also. This is no less true today than in 1643 when this was published.

    @Paul -- the Patrides intro makes some interesting (if brief) contrasts btw Milton & Browne, as well as some other references.

  17. Christopher,

    Perhaps our expert can shed some light on the Turks and Jews matter. I agree, the syntax was difficult. I read and re-read it because it seemed so to contradict the gist of his statement, yet no matter how I read it, and Paul had the same impression, it seemed he really was excluding them from his point, limiting his discussion to Christendom. I would be relieved to discover that was not the case, but were it not, considering the times in which he lived, it would not altogether surprise me.

    The 1689 London Baptist Confession,which as a former Reformed Baptist is the one I'm most familiar with, explicitly refers to the Pope as Antichrist.

    Reformed folks are stuck head-scratching when it comes to Anglicans. J.I. Packer is held in such high esteem mainly because he's a Calvinistic Anglican. C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, is accepted for his talent (and because John Piper has championed him), but his core theology is not in the least bit Calvinistic, so folks don't know what to do about him. Just thinking about my own Calvinistic critique of his Mere Christianity on my blog makes me blush. (I really must re-read it with fresh eyes....and add some kind of disclaimer to those blog entries for the sake of posterity....or remove them.....)

    In my experience most American protestants know next to nothing about Orthodoxy. I know a little from church history lectures. Thankfully the lecturer treated all the "denominations" as legitimate branches of Christendom and gave me a basic understanding of the use of icons, never accusing of idolatry, as well as the importance of the doctrine of the restoration of the image of God in man. (I know I'm putting it very simply. My understanding is very limited.) I got enough from these lectures to refrain from assuming that Orthodox worshipers are of a necessity idolaters and heretics.

    Aren't you glad? ;-)

  18. Okay, I've read the "Turk" passage a few more times and I think you may have it right. Very awkward syntax though.

  19. There is much in C.S. Lewis that rings more familiar to my Orthodox ears than my previously semi-Calvinist ears. (My father used to say he was a 3-point Calvinist.) Speaking of which, have you read The Last Battle, the final book from the Narnia series? The scene with the dwarfs in the barn is an illustration that I go back to frequently. (This ties into the discussion on perdition.)

    As for Browne... let's see if I can better lay out the whys of my understanding of the syntax and logic of his statement.

    He starts out with examples of why the world might think he has no religion, but insists that despite all seeming indications he "dare[s], without usurpation, assume the honorable stile of a Christian." He further argues that this isn't merely by baptism, education, region, or upbring, or country. In his maturity and "confirmed judgement" he's "examined all" and finds himself "obliged by the principles of Grace," and through his own reason, embraces the name. So he lays out that he's no nominal Christian, inheriting his religion passively. It was a result of active examination resulting in the embrace -- active rather than passive. The point is he's zealous. Immediately upon developing that point to it's conclusion he throws in the big "HOWEVER." "...neither doth herein my zeale so farre make me forget the general charitie I owe unto humanity." This is the statement -- I'm not so zealous that I forget charity -- and the illustration of this statement follows, "as rather to hate then pity." He's saying that if he forgot charity through zeal, he would hate. He doesn't forget charity, so rather than hate, he pities. You can make an argument that pity is more active than hate -- the whole swing of this paragraph is that nothing about his religion is passive, and that he's not lazily subject to inherited biases.

    I wish my understanding of syntax was such that I could parse his sentence and lay out a proper analysis of it. Despite the complexity, the argument is consistent rather than contradictory. I'm a little less certain of just what is meant by "what is worse," but if there is any doubt about whether he hates or pities, there's the second "rather:" "rather contenting my self to enjoy that happy stile, then maligning those who refuse so glorious a title." Even if the hate/pity statement were truly syntactically indeterminable, his final statement is clear -- he contents himself to enjoy rather than maligning those who refuse.

    Did I succeed in clarification, or did I merely succeed in repeating myself with more words?

  20. Heh... I didn't get your last comment until I'd posted my exhausting explanation.

  21. Haha! Somehow I just knew that was going to happen!

  22. Your edition uses much quainter spellings than mine.

    Now, I can parse sentences well enough, but at this late stage, so many decades after my last training, I'm limited mostly to underlining and arrows and a strong sense of direction. First off, as you pointed out, the context did not seem to fit with a statement of hating Jews. So it was purely a matter of syntax causing all the puzzlement on my part. I'll readjust the word placement slightly to show how I finally sorted it out:

    "Neither doth herein my zeal...make me forget the general Charity I owe unto Humanity, [so far] as rather to hate than pity Turks, Infidels..."

    So, he's saying, as you pointed out, that he doesn't let his zeal carry him so far as to forget his debt of love to all humanity.

  23. Oh, and to answer your Narnia question, yes, I have read it, but it's been so long ago I don't remember much about it. The series, with the exception of The Lion... are all mixed up in my mind.

  24. Phew! you guys are really taking Browne seriously. That's great! All i can say is that you will encounter many more theological revelations and liberal Christian thoughts .

    Late in his life sir T.B. (as Coleridge was fond of calling him) was intensely interested in 'the Turkish problem' facing Europe. There's a dodgy statement you will encounter about Islam which is best glossed over and his attitude to witchcraft has been much a source of misinterpretation which he has been maligned for, but basically it's Christian Faith , Hope and Charity through and through, of a considerable latitudinarian nature. Enjoy!

  25. My edition doesn't modernize the spellings at all. Same spellings as here:

    I'll pull out my Narnia and send the relevant bits separately.

  26. In a fit of laziness, which I'm blaming on a cold, I'm not going to type out the Narnia bit. The relevant chapter from The Last Battle is Chapter 13, "How The Dwarfs Refused To Be Taken In." Also notable (and great for stirring the pot with our more literally minded friends) is a discussion of Emeth, the righteous Calormene, of Chapter 15, "Further Up And Further In." Calormene was a follower of Tash but in reality a cryptic (and unconscious) follower of Aslan.

    The Last Battle deals with two questions that plague Christians of any amount of empathy -- the righteous pagan and the nature of Hell. It should be obvious that these are dramatic illustrations and not dogmatic.

  27. Should read "Emeth was a follower of Tash," and not "Calormene was a follower of Tash."

  28. I've read and value much the theological writings of C.S.Lewis and had the entire 'Narnia' cycle read to me as a young boy, but i just don't get why one would want to embed deep theological discourse in what is ostensibly, writings aimed primarily at children, or is is supposed to be shared family reading? A bit like his friend Tolkien too.

    I often recommend to readers to skip the first nine sections of Religio Medici, many give up on the deep theological discourse before Browne unbuttons and tells all about himself, Montaigne-like, a mixture of scientist, Christian and artist. So well done to all those readers who have now got past section nine.

  29. Hey Paul!
    Perusing your blog, i find it interesting that you should follow-up a post on Bacon and Utopia to Browne an exact month later! Is there an intentional path or sequence here in reading 17thc. Brit. lit. and Milton or just a random sequence?

  30. I recall not caring for Narnia as a kid. For whatever reason I disliked stories about kids -- I loved A.A. Milne's Whinnie the Poo, but couldn't stand Christopher Robin. I think it was the intrusion of another child on my fantasy. I was an only child. It makes a sort of sense.

    I read Narnia in its entirety in my early 20s and again in my early 30s. Lewis and Tolkien are something of a comfort food for me.

  31. Pooh. Whinnie ther Pooh. Though I do remember singing "Whinnie the Poop" as a grade-schooler and thinking I was hilarious.

  32. Ah, I recall the bit you're referring to now. That "the righteous pagan" train of thought also turns up in the last chapter of Mere Christianity. I have more sympathy for the notion now than I did when I last read the book, though Scripture doesn't permit me to lend it much serious credence. Perhaps it is so, but if it is God hasn't told me in any way that makes sense to me, and so I won't place any hope there. Christ's statement that "no one comes to the Father but through me" seems quite definitive. I give the notion more latitude as it pertains to such individuals before the Advent of Christ. In this day and age, though, I'm inclined to believe that if there is a seeker in this world the Gospel will find him out.

    That bit of Lewis, though, really does get folks undies in a bunch though - as though even to contemplate such a possibility were the darkest of heresy. Which brings me back to Browne (in VII).
    "I neither propagated them in others, nor confirmed them in my self; but suffering them to flame upon their own substance, without addition of new fuel, they went out insensibly of themselves. Therefore these Opinions, though condemned by lawful Councels, were not Heresies in me, but bare Errors, and single Lapses of my understanding, without a joynt depravity of my will. Those have not onely depraved understanding, but diseased affections,which cannot enjoy a singularity without an Heresie, or be the Author of an Opinion without they be of a Sect also."

    I gather his opinion of Lewis' speculations would be that it was no heresy to contemplate such things, only to try to promulgate them. In that sense, perhaps, Browne would take issue with Lewis' publishing such speculations. It seems clear to me, though, that Lewis wasn't really hard selling these ideas himself, merely toying with them, from his empathy, thinking out loud. Hoping.

  33. (I hate it when I use "though" twice in the same sentence and have no means to go back and make it right.)

    FYI, gentlemen, Paul is in the middle of his work-week and so hasn't had much time give to the internet. I can tell you from him, though, that he is thrilled to have this comment thread taking on a life of its own and only regrets that he has not been able to be a part of it.

  34. Lewis's idea isn't his own and isn't foreign to patristic thought. Perhaps it isn't doctrine, but pious speculation. But the thing here is what is meant by "no one comes to the Father but through me." There is a narrow way of viewing this, and a broader way of viewing this -- you can invoke Browne's words to describe much of the Eastern approach to theology: "there are many things to be taken in a soft and flexible sense." I have always referred to it as a poetic understanding, in contrast to the development of scholasticism, and the modern idea of strict logic. The early fathers were more poetical than mathematical.

    Western theology makes a hell of a lot of what one believes. I, knowing that I am certain to be in error in many of my beliefs, rely rather on my hope in Christ's mercy, than in the orthodoxy of my thought. Really, I think the biggest problem with Western belief is the mistake of thought for faith. If Truth is a Person, then understanding is via love and not intellectual assertion.

  35. I'm glad he's thrilled. I've been a little worried he might be somewhat taken aback by how far we've diverged from the topic. I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

    By the way... if I'm sounding weird, blame it on the medicinal application of a very strong hot toddy. I'm miserable with this cold.

  36. Laurie, by righteous pagan, would you include someone like King Cyrus in Ezekiel and Isaiah?

    Somewhere in his writings Lewis does voice his opinion of Browne.

    Paul,hope you join in soon, but first get well.

    'I intend no Monopoly but a community in Learning'. R.M.

  37. Wow! I'm sorry I've been out for a few days, but very happy for the conversation.

    Kevin, I think that is a wonderful idea to write a Browne/Bacon follow-up reflection. I'll be thinking about that. To answer your question, the order is the Harvard Classics Library. I am currently working my way through it. I am currently on Book IV. Here's a post about a from a few months ago:

    I've actually been considering rereading Mere Christianity by Lewis. The fullness of the plate is breeding hesitation. But Lewis is such a rewarding author and I think I would get so much more from him in my current head space.

  38. I read quite a bit of Lewis in my early-mid 20s. I'm extremely thankful for the man and his writings. In many ways he was the beginning of a move from inherited "Father faith" to my own considered faith.

    Has anyone read Till We Have Faces? That's my favorite of his fiction.

    Also, I might add that his Preface to Paradise Lost seems to still be considered a relevant work of criticism on Paradise Lost. The Norton includes more than one excerpt from it.

  39. Yes, Kevin, good examples of what I had in mind. Also, the individuals of Ninevah who Jonah was sent to who repented. There is no indication these became Jews and yet they responded to the words from God. And Nebuchadnezzar....and the wise men who traveled from the East to see the infant Jesus and left again presumably never to know what became of him or learn of the New Covenant He established by His blood.

    As to the Narnia books, I remember vividly reading the first chapter of the first book in the second grade of school. That single chapter was passed out in hand-out form as a reading exercise. I was captivated. I never knew what book it came from until years later, high school I think. I came across the series somehow and was overjoyed. There it was! Finally I could read the rest of the story! I read the series then, and again when my children were small. But the point I mean to get to is that in his introduction he writes to his Goddaughter, Lucy:

    "I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again...."

    Having read a small part of it as a small child I can say it was entirely engaging and I think it could serve as a perfect means to lay the early groundwork upon which to build future theological thought. It is also a beautiful way to re-engage us older folk with our former wonder, and return to us the soft pliable hearts of youth with which look at God again with child-like hearts.

    I think it may be time for me to pay another visit to Narnia....


    "knowing that I am certain to be in error in many of my beliefs, rely rather on my hope in Christ's mercy, than in the orthodoxy of my thought."

    That is a sentiment I share wholeheartedly, yet also seeking all the while to be as orthodox as I possibly can be within the limits of my personal limitations. "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (1 Cor. 13:12)

    These are great words to keep us humble and to view one another through the eyes of love and grace.

  40. Lewis has been referred to as a Medievalist, a fact that seems to inform his own theology to some extent.

    If you talk really nice, perhaps you can get Paul to give you the link to a series of lectures on the theology of Lewis. Also, interestingly enough, my college Greek professor has authored a book on the theology of Lewis:

  41. Oh, I agree. Though, I have to admit that living with a tendency to intellectualize can mean filling up on head-knowledge, where true orthodoxy isn't exclusively or even predominately intellectual. The creed isn't going to save us, though it may very well supply a lifetime's worth of meditational material.

    An eye opener years ago (and before my adventure in Orthodoxy) was the verse in Ephesians which tells husbands to live with their wives with "understanding." "Understanding" there, in the original, is "gnosis," which is an experiential knowledge rather than theoretical or intellectual.

    A further push was a meditation on the implications of Truth being a Person rather than a set of facts, knowledge of God being participative rather than mere acquiescence and assertion.

    It is a very big temptation to me to remain theoretical and speculative. And it's entirely possible to remain a whitewashed sepulcher with excellent theology in relief on the walls.

  42. p.s. Listening to that lecture series I was really taken by how much the descriptions of Lewis as a person reminded me of Paul.

  43. G.K. Chesterton has a lot of good to say for Medieval Christianity, as well. These days it tends to be shrugged off with some pretty broad generalizations.

    re: Lewis & Paul -- how so, if I may ask?

    I don't know if you've read Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien based Treebeard's speech on Lewis' voice and delivery. Lewis and Tolkien were my teenage and early adult heros. I still think very highly of them and they continue to be my literary comfort food.

  44. I am not entirely sure how to link to an iTunes U series, but if you look up Reformed Theological Seminary in the listing of Universities, it's the C.S. Lewis course taught by Knox Chamblin.

    I hope you're feeling better soon, Christopher. It's been a bear of a cold season.

  45. I'm sure I can find it. I think you can get a link from the iTunes interface.

    I tend to get sick during the first cold snap. In Florida that's always right before Christmas. For a few years it was my new tradition to be miserably sick through Christmas. Deck the halls and pass the eggnog.

  46. I'm sorry to say I haven't read Lord of the Rings yet. I'm naturally inclined in my adult self to avoid fantasy literature. I see this now as a great weakness and am slowly trying to remedy that. Paul has sat me down with the whole trilogy of movies, which I loved, but only after a horribly failed attempt at reading The Hobbit to me aloud. I was so frustrating to him because I couldn't keep the names straight and kept interrupting him to explain things. I'm afraid it was a great disappointment to him....I have a hard time following complicated material unless I'm reading it for myself. So, having seen the movies I feel I may be ready, if time ever permits, to read the books for myself some day.

    Now if you listen to the lectures on Lewis, you'll hear a story told by someone who knew him about a walk they took across school grounds or some park or another. Lewis' hat fell off somehow without him noticing, caught up in a tree I think. Anyway, it was some time later he discovered it missing, and even more time before it was found. During that time it had absorbed whatever abuse nature had served it. Once he had found it, though, Lewis just plopped it back on his head without so much as brushing it off. He was also described as someone so disinterested in his appearance that he would wander out in crumply old sweaters and the like.

    This is just like Paul, but there were also more general personality likenesses that I can't really recall right now. I just found myself laughing inside at the stories, almost as if I knew the man himself.

  47. Here's the curmudgeon I am: I hated the movies. All the things that mattered most to me about the book were gone and in their place a good-looking action-adventure thrill ride.

    I have repeatedly tried to introduce my 8yo daughter to my favorite children's literature. It's not catching. She enjoys hearing me read, but is less enthusiastic about the stories. She prefers light, comedic books to fantasy, grandeur, or drama. My wife is the same way.

    Lewis was critical of anything even remotely smacking of dandyism. He'd have cigarette ash in the cuffs of his pants, and likely some burn holes. Something I find very touching was how he shared his office with the university mice. He'd actually leave them crumbs, if I'm remembering right, and when they would come out in the evening, he'd take that as a sign that it was their turn to use the room and he'd go home.

    I've had the discussion with a friend or two, between Tolkien and Lewis, which one are you? I am more like Tolkien, without a doubt. I'd probably be much happier if I were more like Lewis, but that's not to be.

  48. Paul's definitely a lot like Lewis. The mice would never happen here. But if cats were mice, they pretty much are. We're infested with them.

  49. "It is a very big temptation to me to remain theoretical and speculative. And it's entirely possible to remain a whitewashed sepulcher with excellent theology in relief on the walls."

    This was in essence what was beginning to happen to me, thus my crisis. My hope is that head and heart will meet forming a soul with integrity.

  50. That is the work of a lifetime... the working out of your salvation in fear and trembling.

  51. Paul, I wasn't sure I suggested a Brown - Bacon follow-up, but look at this- Bacon begins an essay thus -

    ' Solomon saith, There is no new thing upon the earth:' so that as Plato had an imagination that all knowledge was but remembrance, so Solomon giveth his sentence 'That all novelty is but oblivion;'

    and how does Browne address his reader in the introduction to his encyclopaedia -

    'Would Truth dispense, we could be content, with Plato, that knowledge were but remembrance; that intellectual acquisition were but reminiscential evocation, and new Impressions but the colouring of old stamps which stood pale in the soul before. For what is worse, knowledge is made by oblivion, and to purchase a clear and warrantable body of Truth, we must forget and part with much we know.

    Have you found my offer of the Jeeves DVD box-set yet?

  52. Yes, thank you for the offer of the Jeeves box-set. I am perfectly hopeless when it comes to different region players, but I may take you up on it if we don't find it under our tree this 25th!

  53. Some (not all) DVD players can be switched to be regionless. I chose my cheap Philips DVD player for this purpose as I have some Tarkovsky in PAL format, where the NTSC alternatives weren't great. Do a search for "region free" and the make of your DVD player.

  54. Well, I'm up to Ch. XIX in Religio Medici. I keep thinking, "Oh I want to blog about this.....Oh, I want to blog about that!" But I don't want to stop reading to write anything. I think I'll wait until I'm finished and post some reflections. He's already got my mind running down other rabbit trails for other discussions: the nature of the Trinity, the ramifications of the hypostatic union for mankind (ok, TB didn't discuss that really, but his discussion of the Trinity sent me running to my copy of Edward Browne's Expostion of the Thirty-nine Articles, which had a beautiful passage pertaining to this), and the perfect unity of the Godhead as it pertains to His attributes as well as the trouble we mortals run into when we distort name a few...

    I love reading this man's thoughts!

  55. I just finished the first part. My ears really perked up with section 50 forward. I've gotta say -- there's no way for me to really engage with this book on the level it deserves with just a single reading. This first reading is just an introduction -- one that suggests many opportunities to agree, argue, appreciate and otherwise interact with the text.

  56. I think part of why I'm progressing so slowly is that I'm reading it twice as I go along. I've read each section twice and then chewed on it a while before moving on to the next. I'm absolutely engrossed. His perspective is just so interesting and, differences in religious traditions aside, I find him so simpatico.

    If I had my own text I'd likely move through faster, marking things to re-read or re-think as I go. But having a borrowed text makes me feel like I must absorb it all right away.

  57. Odd, I swear I thought I'd posted links to the online versions of Browne, and now they're gone. Well, here they are:

    University of Chicago


    My reason for coming back was to post this:

    C.S. Lewis quoting Browne in The Four Loves

    I had read The Four Loves many years ago and raised an eyebrow and wondered just what Lewis was going on about. I read the quoted passage of R.M. tonight -- Part II, Section 9, where he "could be content that we might procreate like trees, without conjunction." And then later, "I can look a whole day with delight upon a handsome Picture, though it be but of an Horse." And from there straight-faced heads into a discussion of the music of the Spheres and harmony and devotion.

    Given the number of children he had, the wise man apparently submitted to a fair amount of foolishness with his wife.

  58. After 15 years of reading R.M. I've come to the conclusion why it resonates with readers throughout the centuries is due to its frank candour and self-analysis, admittance that diversity is possible in Christian belief, condemnation of conflict of doctrine, general psychological perspective, confession of lucid dreaming, nod to esoteric and Hermetic philosophy, proposal that God rules the mystery of coincidence, and acknowledgment of the puzzle of individual personality.

    But why C.G. Jung alluded to its title several times and whether he read it, why it is still on the Papal index of forbidden reading and why in general American scholarship and readers have responded to it more favourably than British readers, remain unanswered questions for me!

  59. Looks like Pope Paul VI abolished the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, -- though done after the end of Vatican 2, I wonder if it was part of the same general movement of redress.

    "Frank candour," and generally a charity of thought are what most mark the work for me thus far.

    It is interesting, the difference between current American and British response. I know you say it's an unanswered question, but do you have any wild theories about it?

  60. Yes I do as it happens. Americans are often more open-minded and religious than Brits for a start. British barely value literary heritage. you need to possess some lit. acumen to read Browne, his references are formidable, his range of topics wide, literature, spirituality,philosophy, history of ideas, Contemporary British history, medicine, antiquarian interests, natural world, Biblical scholarship, zoology, hermetic philosophy and esoteric, chemistry, embryonic psychology, etc. etc.

    Browne's reputation in England has never really recovered from Gosse's slander in 1905 and more recently Stanley Fish's knife-job. In America Frank Huntley (Ann Arbor, Michigan) and J.S.Finch (Yale)(editor of 1986 facsimile of Browne's library) are the best in 20th century study of Browne.

    Norwich not the most appreciative of cultural heritage, lack of access to inexpensive paperback for years, i could go on, but this for sure I different response in US than in GB, with the exception of Norwich, but in essence it may simply be a question of basic literacy, open-minded curiousity and Christian faith.

  61. I just wish Americans would gain some historical perspective and shed the isolationism, and hopefully in doing so realize how particularly American some of our religious ideas are. Take our "Tea Party Patriots" as an example -- just you try and tell them how many of the founding fathers were Unitarians and other types of non-Trinitarian deists. A good many people seem to think that the founding fathers were universally something like modern day American Baptists.

  62. Well all I know is copies of 'Religio Medici' floated over with the very earliest pilgrims.

    As for isolationism and the ahistorical , I too live in such a nation, unable to forget winning a war.

    There's a big old Unitarian Octagonal church here in Norwich where all our intellectuals worshiped in the late 18th early 19th century.

    Hey! is this Paul's discussion page on R.M. he's not been here for 7 days now or have we taken it over, if so, sorry Paul.

    Chris, take my invite up and join the Browne discussion group at Shelfari.

  63. Tonight I finished Religio Medici. At times I argued with him. At times I nodded. At times I was swept up and others puzzled. It was really rather like a casual dinner and a lively friendly discussion in which much was said, some of which was over the top due to the headiness of the moment and also much other of which will be thought on for a long time. At this point I am debating whether to re-read it before continuing with the rest of his major works, or perhaps just keep going and revisit it afterward.

    Thank you, Paul, for alerting us to this book.

  64. I should probably say that I am reading all of this and absolutely delighted in the conversation about Sir Thomas Browne.

    I apologize for my spotty at best appearances on my own blog. My current work schedule is from 7pm to 3am which, while I am successfully fulfilling the demands of my situation, I find it is not the sleep schedule in which my brain operates at its zenith. So often I find it's already time to go back to work when I am just thinking for the first time today that I should write or call someone. And then suddenly I find that weeks have passed.

    So, again, I can't tell you how sorry I am for my absence, but also how delighted I am by all of your presences.