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Divine Subjection

The Rhetoric of sacramental Devotion in Early Modern England

By Gary Kuchar

Publication Year: 2005

Combining theoretically engaged analyses with historically contextualized close readings, Divine Subjection posits new ways of understanding the relations between devotional literature and early English culture. Shifting the critical discussion from a “poetics” to a “rhetoric” of devotion, Kuchar considers how a broad range of devotional and metadevotional texts in Catholic and mainstream Protestant traditions register and seek to mitigate processes of desacralization—the loss of legible commerce between heavenly and earthly orders. This shift in critical focus makes clear the extent to which early modern devotional writing engages with some of the period’s most decisive theological conflicts and metaphysical crises. Kuchar places devotional writing alongside psychoanalytical and phenomenological theories and analyzes how religious and conceptual conflicts are registered in and accommodated by the predication of sacramental conceptions of the self. Through a devotional rhetoric based on context-specific uses of linguistic excessiveness, early modern devotional writers reimagined a form of sacramental identity that was triggered by, and structured in relation to, a divine Other whose desire preceded and exceeded one’s own. Through readings of works by Robert Southwell, Richard Crashaw, John Donne, Thomas Traherne and other lesser known authors, Divine Subjection explores how writers reimagined the sacramental continuity between divine and human orders amid a range of theological and philosophical conflicts. Kuchar thus examines how rhetoric of sacramental devotion works to construct ideal religious subjects within and against the broader experience of desacralization.

Published by: Duquesne University Press


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Front matter

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

It seems appropriate that a book concerned with the art of thanksgiving should require so many gestures of thanks to the various individuals and institutions that have made it possible. To begin with, I would like to acknowledge that this project was made possible by doctoral and postdoctoral funding from the Social Sciences and...

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Introduction: Devotion and Desacralization: Writing the Sacramental Subject in Early Modern England

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pp. 1-35

In his 1609 treatise, Introduction to the Devout Life, François de Sales employs the following parable to illustrate the kind of work that religious devotion is designed to accomplish: "Watch a bee hovering over the mountain thyme; the juices it gathers are bitter, but the bee turns them all to honey -- and so tells the worlding that...

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ONE. Southwell's Plaint: Subjection and the Representation of the Recusant Soul

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pp. 37-91

Following the wave of antirecusant proclamations that Queen Elizabeth issued in 1571, 1581 and 1585 in order to consolidate the 1559 "Act of Uniformity," which required church attendance, and the 1563 "Act for the Assurance of the Queen's Majesty's Royal Power" that made refusing the Oath of Supremacy a treasonable...

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TWO. The Gendering of God and the Advent of the Subject in the Poetry of Richard Crashaw

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pp. 93-149

While Robert Southwell turned to visions of devotionally ideal women in order to affect a change in the poetic and religious life of Elizabethan England, Richard Crashaw embraced a female-centered sacramental vision that not only venerated devotionally strong women but also adapted medieval traditions of feminizing...

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THREE. Representation and Embodiment in John Donne's Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions

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pp. 151-179

As I observed in the introduction, Donne's First Anniversary laments the loss of the idea of woman--a loss, that is, in the sacramental relation between an ideal form and its embodiment in a human person. For Donne, as for other early modern thinkers, the sublation of particular to universal, of human to ideal, constituted a significant...

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FOUR. "Organs of thy Praise": Body, Word and Self in Thomas Traherne

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pp. 181-218

At the most dramatic moments in the Devotions, Donne emphasizes the extent to which God is a force that subjects not through exterior but interior force. For Donne, God's sacramental presence becomes discernible as a terrifying and yet redeeming power immanent within the most inward parts of the embodied person. Despite...

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Conclusion: Sacramental Rhetoric in the Time of the "Wan Ghost": Excess, Subjection and Spectrality

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pp. 219-246

In his last will or Ultimum Testamentum, the Laudian bishop John Cosin proudly declares that "I am most addicted to the symbols, synods and confessions of the Church of England, or rather the Catholic Church."1 This unqualified assertion of a compulsive attachment to the Laudian church bespeaks the self-consciously...


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pp. 247-292


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pp. 293-297

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705170
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820703701
Print-ISBN-10: 0820703702

Page Count: 309
Illustrations: 2 paintings, 1 facsimile page
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 607686995
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Divine Subjection

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Christianity and literature -- England -- History -- 17th century.
  • Devotional literature, English -- History and criticism.
  • Christian poetry, English -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
  • English language -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- Rhetoric.
  • Sacraments in literature.
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