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 (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.