Religio Medici

Religio Medici (The Religion of a Doctor) by Sir Thomas Browne is a spiritual testament and early psychological self-portrait. Published in 1643 after an unauthorized version was distributed the previous year, it became a European best-seller which brought its author fame at home and abroad.

Frontispiece of the 1642 pirated edition of Religio Medici.



Structured upon the Christian virtues of Faith and Hope (part 1) and Charity (part 2), Browne expresses his beliefs in the doctrine of sola fide, the existence of hell, the Last Judgment, the resurrection and other tenets of Christianity.

Science and religionEdit

Throughout Religio Medici Browne uses scientific imagery to illustrate religious truths as part of his discussion on the relationship of science to religion.[1][2][3]

Reception and influenceEdit

A rare surviving contemporary review by Guy Patin, a distinguished member of the Parisian medical faculty, indicates the considerable impact Religio Medici had upon the intelligentsia abroad:

A new little volume has arrived from Holland entitled Religio Medici written by an Englishman and translated into Latin by some Dutchman. It is a strange and pleasant book, but very delicate and wholly mystical; the author is not lacking in wit and you will see in him quaint and delightful thoughts. There are hardly any books of this sort. If scholars were permitted to write freely we would learn many novel things, never has there been a newspaper to this; in this way the subtlety of the human spirit could be revealed.[4][need quotation to verify]

Throughout the seventeenth century Religio Medici spawned numerous imitative titles, including John Dryden's great poem, Religio Laici, but none matched the frank, intimate tone of the original in which Browne shares his thoughts, as well as the idiosyncrasies of his personality with his reader.

Samuel Pepys in his diaries complained that the Religio was cried up to the whole world for its wit and learning.

A translation into German of the Religio was made in 1746 and an early admirer of Browne's spiritual testament was Goethe's one-time associate Lavater.

In the early nineteenth century Religio Medici was "re-discovered" by the English Romantics. Charles Lamb introduced it to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who after reading it, exclaimed,-

O to write a character of this man!

Thomas de Quincey in his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater also praised it, stating:[5]

I do not recollect more than one thing said adequately on the subject of music in all literature. It is a passage in Religio Medici of Sir T. Browne, and though chiefly remarkable for its sublimity, has also a philosophical value, inasmuch as it points to the true theory of musical effects.

The book strongly influenced the prominent physician William Osler in his early years. Osler, who is considered the "father of modern medicine", is said to have learned it by heart.[6]

In Virginia Woolf's opinion Religio Medici paved the way for all future confessionals, private memoirs and personal writings.

In the twentieth century, the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung used the term Religio Medici several times in his writings.[7]

Literary allusionsEdit

Dorothy L. Sayers in her novel Gaudy Night has Harriet Vane discover that Peter Wimsey is reading Religio Medici. It helps her better understand his character and motivations.

Patricia Highsmith’s novel Strangers on a Train references a morocco-bound copy of the work, and Guy reflects on his favorite passages.

In Excellent Women by Barbara Pym, the sad, spinsterish church-lady, Mildred Lathbury has a copy on her bedside table.


  1. ^ Grell, Ole Peter; Cunningham, Andrew (1996). Religio medici: medicine and religion in seventeenth-century England. Scolar Press. ISBN 9781859283394.
  2. ^ Thomson, Ann (2008). Bodies of Thought: Science, Religion, and the Soul in the Early Enlightenment. OUP Oxford. p. 66. ISBN 9780199236190.
  3. ^ Preston, Claire (2005). Thomas Browne and the Writing of Early Modern Science. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521837941.
  4. ^ Patin, Gui; Spon, Charles (1718). Nouvelles lettres de feu Mr. Gui Patin, tirées du cabinet de Mr. Charles Spon, contenant l'histoire du tems, et des particularitez sur la vie et sur les ecrits des savans de son siécle (in French). chez Steenhouwer et Uytwerf. p. 88.
  5. ^ Quincey, Thomas De (1823). Confessions of an English Opium-eater (3rd ed.). Taylor and Hessey. p. 106. do not recollect more than one thing said adequately.
  6. ^ Bliss, Michael (2002). William Osler: A Life in Medicine. University of Toronto Press. pp. 45–46. ISBN 9780802085412.
  7. ^ Collected Works Volume 10 : 727 Collected Works Volume 13:161, Collected Works 18:1465

External linksEdit