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.