(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

At age thirty, Sir Thomas Browne wrote Religio Medici, an explanation and analysis of his religious belief in relationship to his profession as a medical doctor. Intended as a personal meditation, Religio Medici circulated in manuscript form for several years, spawning various unauthorized texts. When a critical response to it was published, Browne saw to the publication of a new, authorized edition. Both documents, appearing during an era of social and religious upheaval when men could be executed for expressing their religious beliefs, present a tactful, idiosyncratic expression of a spiritual life shaped by Christian doctrine, medieval and classical thinking, and the explosion of knowledge occurring in the seventeenth century.

The work has two parts: The first explores faith and, implicitly, hope; the second, charity. In the preface, Browne disclaims the thoughts contained in the work as connected to the time in which they were written and not necessarily thoughts he would hold at another, more mature stage of his life. He explains that his meditation is not a scholarly work and asks the reader to read with a mind informed by faith and open to accepting his imaginative self-exploration.

Browne affirms that he has had a happy, serene, long connection with and belief in Christianity as handed down to him through the Church of England and the Reformation. He believes in divine providence. Realizing that some aspects of faith cannot be understood, he eagerly delights in the mystery, stating that he is a man capable of living with uncertainties.

Browne accepts the doctrines of his church but allows himself in the meditation to focus on what would be his ideal relation to God. He appreciates, though now rejects, some of the customs of the Catholic religion, and he advocates tolerance. He would like to subscribe to the heresy that all souls are at last saved and prefers not to judge Turks and Jews who are called heretics. He accepts church doctrine as the practical course and does not wish to promote fragmentation within the church. This easy acceptance of differences sets him apart from many religious zealots of his day and places him in the tradition...

(The entire section is 900 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Bennett, Joan. Sir Thomas Browne. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1962. Describes and analyzes Religio Medici. Bennett’s analysis demonstrates the influence of Christian doctrine, medieval and classical thinkers, and seventeenth century philosophers, while noting the particularity of Browne’s own style.

Berensmeyer, Ingo. “Rhetoric, Religion, and Politics in Sir Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 46 (Winter, 2006): 113-133. Analyzes Browne’s text in terms of his discursive stance and the political, religious implications therein.

Huebert, Ronald. “The Private Opinions of Sir Thomas Browne.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 45 (Winter, 2005): 117-135. Explores the nature of two major attacks on Browne’s Religio Medici, one when it was circulating in manuscript and the other during the twentieth century, to show that these critics did not evaluate Browne’s intentions.

Post, Jonathan F. S. Sir Thomas Browne. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Thorough exploration of the life and works of Thomas Browne, placing the Religio Medici in the context of the civil and religious strife of its era.