The early transition from Catholicism to Protestantism was a complicated journey for England, as individuals sorted out their spiritual beliefs, chose their political allegiances, and confronted an array of religious differences that had sprung forth in their society since the reign of Henry VIII. Inner anxieties often translated into outward violence. Amidst this turmoil the poet and Protestant preacher John Donne (1572–1631) emerged as a central figure, one who encouraged peace among Christians. Raised a Catholic but ordained in 1615 as an Anglican clergyman, Donne publicly identified himself with Protestantism, and yet scholars have long questioned his theological orientation. Drawing upon recent scholarship in church history, the authors of this collection reconsider Donne’s relationship to Protestantism and clearly demonstrate the political and theological impact of the Reformation on his life and writings.
The collection includes thirteen essays that together place Donne broadly in the context of English and European traditions and explore his divine poetry, his prose work, the Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, and his sermons. It becomes clear that in adopting the values of the Reformation, Donne does not completely reject everything from his Catholic background. Rather, the clash of religion erupts in his work in both moving and disconcerting ways. This collection offers a fresh understanding of Donne’s hard-won irenicism, which he achieved at great personal and professional risk.