The Evangelical Universalist Forum

James Windet, Thomas Allin and Robin Parry

I was looking at Robin Parry’s annotated edition of Thomas Allin’s Christ Triumphant. Allin mentions a certain James Windet in his text and Robin includes a charming note saying that he has no idea who James Windet was. Because I did a lot of tedious reading a few years back I confess that I do know who James Windet was.

So here’s the low down.

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 62
Windet, James

WINDET, JAMES (d. 1664), physician, is erroneously said to have been originally of Queen’s College, Oxford (Foster). He graduated M.D. at Leyden on 26 June 1655, and was incorporated at Oxford on 27 March 1656. He became candidate or member of the College of Physicians of London on 25 June 1656. He at first practised at Yarmouth, but after 1656 in London. In 1660 he published in London two Latin poems, ‘Ad majestatem Caroli secundi Sylvæ duæ.’ The first begins with the word ‘occidimus,’ and is on the execution of Charles I; the second begins with the word ‘vivimus,’ and is on the Restoration. In 1663 he published ‘De vita functorum statu,’ a long Latin letter, with numerous passages in Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic, addressed to Dr. Samuel Hall, in reply to a letter from him. It begins with a general discussion of the word ‘Tartarus’ and of the Greek and Hebrew words and phrases used in describing the state of man after death, and goes on to consider the Greek and Hebrew views on the state and place of the good, on a middle state, and on the place of the wicked with related subjects. A second edition was published at Rotterdam in 1693. He was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne [q. v.], and Simon Wilkin [q. v.], who had examined Windet’s letters to Browne, states that they are uninteresting and pedantic. He died in Milk Street, London, on 20 Nov. 1664 (Smyth, Obituary, p. 62). Wood (Fasti Oxon. ii. 790) states that he left a quarto manuscript of Latin poems.
[Munk’s Coll. of Phys. i. 273; Works; Wilkin’s Sir Thomas Browne’s Works, vol. i.]

Also, E.H. Plumptree, Dean of Wells writes in ‘The Spirits in Prison’ (I885) p.202 in his chapter on the history of the Wider Hope in English theology -

‘’A little known book, by an obscure writer ‘De Vita Functorum Statu’ of James Windet was published in 1763, with a special commendatory preface by Dr Franck, one of the then Bishop fo London’s chaplains. Its character was chiefly historical, reviewing rabbinic and patristic opinions as to Sheol or Hades, as to the finite nature of the punishments of Gehenna, as to the degree of severity in those punishments. He finally maintains that the terms ‘’aeonian’ to ‘’aeons of aeons’’ and the like convey the idea of indefinite, but not of infinite duration’’

Plumptree has got the date wrong it seems – unless there is a centenary edition he is referring to. It seems that Windet’s screed is probably the earliest example in English of someone making the distinctions about the uses of ‘’aeonian’’ that the Greek Fathers were aware of and having the courage to agree with them. I am aware that although this distinction is found clearly in Origen’s and Origen was published in several editions during the sixteenth century none of the editors of his writings felt able to comment on this distinction since all found it necessary to either condemn Origen’s universalism (while lionising him on other grounds) or claim that this error was inserted in his writings by his enemies. If Dr Franks preface is not from a centenary edition then it is indeed significant that a member of the Anglican establishment should nail their colours to the mast on this one at this date.

It is also significant that Windet was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne (however boring his letters to Sir Thomas may have been). Sir Thomas Browne in his Religion Medici written in the 1630’s confesses to being attracted to the ‘errors’ of soul sleep, universalism, and prayers for the dead in his youth. He writes of his attraction to universalism –

‘’The Second was that of Origen, that God would not persist in his vengeance forever, but after a definite time of his wrath he would release the damned souls from torture; Which error I fell upon a serious contemplation of God and his mercy, and did a little cherish in myself, because I found therein no malice, and a ready weight to sway me from the other extreme of despair, whereunto melancholy and contemplative natures are too easily disposed… These opinions I never maintained with pertinacity, or endeavoured to inveigle any man’s belief unto mine, nor as such ever revealed or disputed with my dearest friends; by which means I neither propagated them in others, nor confirmed them in my self… therefore these opinions, though condemned by lawful Councils, were not heresies in me, but single lapses of understandings, without a joint depravity of my will…’’

(from Religio Medici in ‘Sir Thomas Browne; the Major Works’ edited by C.A. Patrides for Penguin Classics pp. 67 -68)

There are several passages from Browne’s writings that suggest he never really gave up completely - at least on an emotional level - on either universalism or prayers for the dead inasmuch as he spreads his hope for others very wide

‘’But good men’s wishes extend beyond their lives, for the happiness of times to come, and never to be known to them. And therefore while so many question prayers for the dead, they charitably pray for those who are not yet alive; they are not so enviously ambitious to go the Heaven by themselves; they cannot but humbly wish, that the little Flock might be greater, the narrow Gate wider, and that, as many are called, so not a few might be chosen’’

(from Christian Morals in ‘Sir Thomas Browne; the Major Works’ edited by C.A. Patrides for Penguin Classics pp. 67 -68).

I think his friendship with James Windet who was questioning the everlasting nature of divine punishment on historical and philological grounds gives us a window onto the difficult birth in conflicted consciences of early modern universalism.

Definitely tagging [tag]Gregory MacDonald[/tag] for that post! :sunglasses:

Thanks Jason :slight_smile:


Henry More, writing in English, uses the philological argument concerning the duration of ‘aeonian fire’ in his ‘Annotations’ (London 1682) p. 74 as does Thomas Burnet his ‘A Treatise Concerning the State of Departed Souls’ (London 1733) p. 355. Henry More was the leading light in the Cambridge Platonists and Thomas Burnet was connected to the circle. However Henry More, while making the argument, comes down on the side of damnation being everlasting on the balance of probabilities, while Thomas Burnet’s treatise which affirms the argument was published posthumously some time after his death.

So it does seem that James Windet was the forerunner – but of course his letter was published in Latin; strictly for the consumption of scholars (and the comments I’ve seen about it suggest that it is very thorough, but a tad pedantic :smiley: - a bit like me when I get going :smiley:).

Obviously there were universalists in England before this date – Gerard Winstanley, Richard Coppin, William Erbury, and TheaurauJohn Tany amongst the sectarians during the Civil War, and Jeremiah White and Peter Sterry the Calvinist Platonists (although the universalist writings of White and Sterry were only published posthumously). However, arguments about the exact meaning of ‘aeonian fire’ do not appear to have been part of their universalist apologetic.

Daniel Walker’s explanation in ‘The Decline of Hell’ of the reasons for the reticence of establishment proto Universalists in contrast to the radical Universalists who were prepared to own their opinions seems to me to be one that will bear the test of time. He argued that the establishment figures were up against the fear that the open teaching of universal salvation would encourage vice and throw all social order into chaos; while the radicals in the Civil War and in the later seventeenth century – like the Philadelphians – had no such concerns because they were of the view that the present order was coming to an end and the millennium was dawning.

P.S. Jason - The sixteenth century reception of Origen is clearly explained with lots of interesting detail in the new annotated edition of Erasmus’s ‘Life of Origen’, translated with commentary by Thomas P. Scheck. This has cleared up lots of issues for me that I was previously unsure about.


I actually have Jeremiah White’s book (and in a print dating from the Revolutionary War, rebound – it even looks like it has bloodstains on it! I mean the American Revolution, not the English revolution with Cromwell for whom White was a chaplain.) I haven’t read it in too many years, so I don’t recall how or whether he considers the Greek and Hebrew usage. Stonehouse and Winchester sure did around the time of this printing or shortly afterward (Stonehouse goes kind of crazy on the topic to be honest, but his book is fascinating for depth; I wish records had survived of his subsequent print exchange debate with the Wesleys). I’ll see if I can thumb through a pdf of White’s book quickly and get an idea.

Wow that really is a revolutionary copy and a twofold one Jason  Looking forward to hearing what you find out there 

I know that Sterry and White were both chaplains to Cromwell – I think he had five altogether and one who was a strict Calvinist wrote a sermon about the error of over emphasising the goodness of God (according to Plumptree) which may have been a criticism of Sterry and White’s Platonism. I get the impression that they kept their actual speculations about universal salvation to themselves – I wonder if Cromwell ever knew about them (and the probable answer is that we shall never know but it is likely that they did keep it to themselves).

Stonehouse is fascinating too – I know that you really enjoy his stuff 

One say I’m sure someone with lots of time on their hands will do a PhD thesis on exactly how and when the distinction around the word aeonian’ re entered first scholarly and then public debate. I wish Windet’s letter was available in translation – but it’s not and my Latin is not good enough to read it.

You’ll know more about this than I do because you’ve read Ramelli all the way through – but Origen does make philological distinctions I understand and since his works were so readily available in the sixteenth century the awareness of the distinction must come from the editions of Origen (I think?). All that I can way is that Erasmus who was the prime champion of Origen actually condemns Origen’s universalism in his Prefaces. Earlier in his career when Erasmus first read Origen he wrote ‘The Enchiridion’ (The Handbook of a Christian Soldier) in which he praises Origin to the skies and takes him as the model of spiritual combat. It is in this book that he states that ‘the hell of which the poets speak is nothing other than the torments of conscience and the misery of persisting in sin’’. He was called out for heresy by a committee of Spanish monks for writing this and he backed down – although he still maintained the view that hell was a punishment of the spirit rather than a sensual punishment for most of his life. Given this – although I’ve not read his Annotations of the New Testament – I think it unlikely that Erasmus would have noted any disputations about the meaning of ‘aeonian’ in this book that was written some time after the commotion about the Enchiridion. But this question of the lineage of ideas is very interesting in itself.

P.S. I remember when we were discussing the 42ngd article that I looked up something that Christopher Hill had quoted by Queen Elizabeth in Parliament in 1580 which he saw as her confirming the to his mind repressive doctrine of eternal damnation. She was speaking against the Calvinist practice of holding prophesying – free discussions of scripture – for the training of new clergy (and the first part of the discussions were held with the congregation). Elizabeth always opposed this practice. What she was afraid of was that these free discussions would lead to hotbeds of radical dissent – recalcitrance against wearing vestments, arguments for the abolition of bishops appointed by the Queen etc. And she was always firmly against imposing the doctrine double reprobation on the Anglican Church. This much is absolutely certain. And she claimed that the prophesyings would lead to ‘high mindedness’ and perhaps even to people starting to believe that hell was nothing but torments of conscience. So she asserts Erasmus thoughts about Hell in the Enchiridion as the end point of this slippery slope and she uses his phrase ‘high mindedness’ which he used against those that would assert predestination to rebuke them. I’m not certain about the context of this but it still seems to me to be a plain case her using sarcasm against her Parliament which had a large Calvinist ‘double predestination’ believing, prophesying advocating membership at this date and that Christopher Hill was wrong here.

Hi Dick, this is real history digging to the roots stuff. Well done! Clearly physicians were much senior to Surgeons in those days. I thought Surgeons were somewhat about the same social level as Barbers? It is probable, ney almost cetrain that Her Majesty QE1 would have had all our heades off being guily members of this forum. We can’t have the hoy-paloy thinking can we Thomas? An interesting read. Cheers Chris

Hi Chris 

Yes Surgeons – or ‘Surgeon Barbers - were also Dentists and Barbers. So you could have a haircut, have a tooth out, and have your leg lopped off all in one trip; very convenient:-D I think that’s why the rotating pole that you sometime see outside barber shops has a red stripe in it –red for blood.

I understand that the distinction between a Physician and a Surgeon Barber originates in the Middle Ages when Doctors of Physic (as Chaucer calls them) were involved in diagnosing illness and prescribing drugs – so they were looked upon as ‘scholars’ while the surgeons were merely artisans belonging to a trade guild.

Apparently this is why today when a Doctor actually becomes a Surgeon they are addressed as ‘Mr’/’Mrs’/’Miss’ instead of Doctor – and they wear the ordinary as a badge of honour of course 

Chris :slight_smile:

Regarding what the fortunes of the members of this forum may have been, I note that in the late fifteenth century Pico, the Florentine Neo-Platonist, had to flee to France from Italy in fear for his life for publishing his theses in defence of Origen. These theses did not defend apocatastasis or any other ‘heretical’ doctrines attributed to Origen. They simply argued that it was more rational to believe that Origen was saved despite his condemnation– because he was a great exegetical teacher of the Church, he was a Confessor under torture that eventually killed him, he had not wilfully tried to split the Church with his speculations etc.

So the stakes were pretty high regarding Origen in the sixteenth century. :-/

Interesting; hadn’t heard about Pico before!

An overly quick thumb through my online copy of White’s little book, didn’t show evidence of any argument from the Greek adjective; and, more importantly, not in the table of contents, which seems significant. He surely must have addressed the usage of the words as he found them in connection with punishment, sin, destruction, etc., but I still can’t recall where or how, and didn’t quite have time to run it down. Nor was my pdf searchable, being only a fancy photoscan. I’ll try to mess with it more later.

(I suspect, although I don’t recall at all one way or another, that he went the route of “eternal” referring to that which comes uniquely from God Who is Himself the Eternal.)

We’ll both keep an eye out then Jason :slight_smile: Pico della Mirandola was a member of the Florentine Neoplatonic Academy in the Fifteenth Century. He was the pupil of and successor to Ficino who was the founder (and Lorenzo de Medici stumped up the money for the enterprise). Ficino and Pico wanted to revive Christian Platonism and clean out the stables from the Aristotelian logic chopping of the scholastics. As well as Plotinus and Proclus Ficino also held the Hermetic manuscripts in high regard (and actually believed that they dated from a time before Moses and that they were evidence of a Priscia Theologia shared by ancient people of which Christianity is the perfect model against which the ancients were to be judged. Ficino added Jewish Kabbala and certain Zoroastrian texts into their eclectic mix of scholarly concerns. They liked Origen not because of his universalism - which they did not believe - but rather because he taught that human beings were at a mid point between the angelic and the demonic and had the dignity of free choice regarding which direction they went in. (Pico’s most important writing ‘The Oration on the Dignity of Man’ developed this theme).

They were also concerned with speculations on natural magic - about how certain modes in music and certain combinations of incense and poetic invocation are - as they thought - able to stimulate positive subjective sates of mind by alignment with benign angelical influences. To be fair to the evidence as far as I know it I don’t think it was from defending the idea that Origen might be saved that Pico fell under suspicion for alone. I think his syncretic theology and his guarded support of natural magic also drew censure. (I predict that when Dr Mike’s book comes out he’ll make a meal of the Pico slant on the Renaissance Origen with the whiff of magic (and even a female prophet who allegedly had it confirmed in a vision that Solomon, Samson and Origen were definitely saved four years before Pico wrote his defence).

However, the other Renaissance supporters of Origen were in no way influenced by Florentine Neo Platonic magic or syncretism - and Erasmus was very critical of this.