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John Donne and the Protestant Reformation

New Perspectives

Edited by Mary Arshagouni Papazian

Publication Year: 2003

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.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-11

In hopes of enriching our understanding of the complex relationship between John Donne and the Protestant Reformation, this collection of thirteen essays by an international—and internationally known—assembly of scholars focuses squarely on the question of the impact of the Reformation on Donne’s life, theology, poetry, and prose. ...

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1. Polemist or Pastor?: Donne and Moderate Calvinist Conformity

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pp. 12-34

Where exactly does John Donne the churchman, the author of the Sermons, belong within the early Stuart church? And what difference does it make? I will argue in this essay that in his sermons and other late prose writings, Donne identifies in his own way with the conformist Calvinist piety ...

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2. “Speaking Openly and Speaking First”: John Donne, the Synod of Dort, and the Early Stuart Church

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pp. 35-65

On February 7, 1626, the clergy of the province of Canterbury met in Convocation at Westminster Abbey and elected John Donne to the position of prolocutor, the official representative of the lower house to the upper house of the Convocation. On Wednesday, February 8, Donne delivered a Latin oration ...

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3. The Augustinian Donne: How a “Second S. Augustine”?

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pp. 66-89

In his 1640 Life of Donne, Isaak Walton refers to the pattern of Donne’s life rather than his theology when he remarks with praise that in Donne “the English Church had gained a second S. Augustine,” a figure who, like the Augustine described in the Confessions, had survived a reckless youth to become unparalleled in “learning and holiness” (sig. B2). ...

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4. John Donne and Paolo Sarpi: Rendering the Council of Trent

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pp. 90-112

When John Donne made out his will on December 13, 1630, he bequeathed to Henry King, his close friend and executor, “the twoe Pictures of Padre Paolo and Fulgentio wch hange in the Parlour at my howse at Pauls” (Bald 563). The paintings of these two Venetians, the one of Paolo Sarpi ...

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5. Donne’s Protestant Paradiso: The Johannine Vision of the Second Anniversary

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pp. 113-142

John Donne’s familiarity with the Divine Comedy of medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri is too often treated simply as a curiosity of literary history.1 But while the imaginative bases of his identification with Dante have received some comment,2 the extent of Donne’s experimentation with Dantean self-presentation ...

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6. “Souldiers of one Army”: John Donne and the Army of the States General as an International Protestant Crossroads, 1595–1625

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pp. 143-192

Literary scholarship is vaguely aware that during the 1570s and 1580s Queen Elizabeth of England came to the aid of the rebellion in the Netherlands against the extirpative religious and absolutist civil policies relentlessly pursued by el rey católico, Philip II of Spain. ...

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7. Unmeete Contraryes: The Reformed Subject and the Triangulation of Religious Desire in Donne’s Anniversaries and Holy Sonnets

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pp. 193-220

At least for later observers, the Stuart masque reveals more ideological fractures than it conceals. For in attempting to identify the heavenly covenant with that of the earthly king, it shows its audience’s deep need for “transcendent” reassurance on questions ranging from the divine right of kings to the divine presence in the sacramental host. ...

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8. From “Tav” to the Cross: John Donne’s Protestant Exegesis and Polemics

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pp. 221-246

These quotations, taken from two of Donne’s sermons on the Hebrew Bible,2 distinctly evoke this Protestant preacher’s method of biblical exegesis. The vivid depiction of Donne’s scholarly searching for—and weighing of—revered interpretations of a biblical text is the concern of the first passage, ...

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9. Pathopoeia and the Protestant Form of Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions

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pp. 247-272

John Donne was at the height of his preaching career when he wrote his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, a long devotional work occasioned by his illness in December 1623 and published in early 1624. He had been dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, arguably the most popular pulpit in England, for just over two years. ...

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10. Breaking Down the Walls That Divide: Anti-Polemicism in the Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions

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pp. 273-292

Given the volatile history of Donne criticism, I worry that we might be entering a new era where we will now apply our new religio-political terminology to him. Should we import the new terms that recent revisionist history of the period has to offer—whether “avant-garde conformist,” “church papist,” ...

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11. Reforming Baptism: John Donne and Continental Irenicism

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pp. 293-313

Living during the period of the Counter-Reformation, John Donne continually faced the effects of the Protestant Reformation and the age of denominationalism, a period of high religio-political debate that involved not only strict orthodox theologians of various denominations but also irenic theologians. ...

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12. True Purification: Donne’s Art of Rhetoric in Two Candlemas Sermons

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pp. 314-334

The nature of Donne’s true faith, or his sincere church allegiance, is something that ceaselessly fascinates and/or disturbs almost every Donne scholar. Indeed, Donne’s writings provide ample examples of Catholic or Protestant, Calvinist or puritan, doctrinal detail, leading many writers to suggest that Donne’s conviction ...

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13. “Not upon a Lecture, but upon a Sermon”: Devotional Dynamics of the Donnean Fisher of Men

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pp. 335-360

Donne’s remark which stands as our title was made early in his ministry. It may be taken with a later self-definition as emblematic of his characteristic sermonic practice: we are, he said, “not in the School, but in the Pulpit, not in Disputation, but in Application.”1 This Donnean position, broadly consistent through his preaching career, ...

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pp. 361-364

Gale H. Carrithers, Jr., who recently passed away, was Professor Emeritus of English and sometime Sternberg Professor of Honors at Louisiana State University. He is the author of Donne at Sermons: A Christian Existential World (1972) ...


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pp. 365-385

E-ISBN-13: 9780814337592
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814330128

Page Count: 400
Publication Year: 2003

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Subject Headings

  • Donne, John, 1572-1631 -- Religion.
  • Christianity and literature -- England -- History -- 17th century.
  • Protestantism and literature -- History -- 17th century.
  • Christian literature, English -- History and criticism
  • Reformation -- England.
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