A dear friend of mine used to love the exclamation “O altitudo!” for its undoubted phonesthetic magnificence, having encountered it in Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici (1643):
IX. As for those wingy Mysteries in Divinity, and airy subtleties in Religion, which have unhing’d the brains of better heads, they never stretched the Pia Mater of mine. Methinks there be not impossibilities enough in Religion for an active faith; the deepest Mysteries ours contains have not only been illustrated, but maintained, by Syllogism and the rule of Reason. I love to lose my self in a mystery, to pursue my Reason to an O altitudo!
It recently occurred to me to wonder where Browne got it, and having found out (no thanks to Bartlett’s, which most uncharacteristically doesn’t trace it to its source) I thought I’d share it with you. It’s from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Chapter 11, verse 33 in the Vulgate: o altitudo divitiarum sapientiae et scientiae Dei! quam inconprehensibilia sunt iudicia eius et investigabiles viae eius! Or, in the words of the Authorized Version: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” Noble rhetoric, whatever one thinks of the subject.