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7 Unmeete Contraryes The Reformed Subject and the Triangulation of Religious Desire in Donne’s Anniversaries and Holy Sonnets Catherine Gimelli Martin I will finde out another death, mortem raptus, a death of rapture, and of extasie, that death which S. Paul died more than once. Donne, Sermons 2:210 t 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. The masque’s reliance on theatrical magnificence is equally symptomatic of both the period’s deep insecurities and the competitive impulses that drive them, which according to Lawrence Stone were often marked by a “personal recklessness of behaviour whose cause was more psychological than social” (582). In this essay, I argue that the aesthetic instability of Donne’s Holy Sonnets and Anniversaries reflects the reckless competition for psychic and social assurance prevalent throughout a “culture of anxiety,” which in his case was greatly aggravated by the competition between rival theological models of salvation. As Eamon Duffy shows in The Stripping of the Altars, Henry VIII set the stage for this theological competition through his varying commitment to ecclesiastical reform. Later, it was greatly intensified as Protestant Edward gave way to Catholic Mary and Protestant Elizabeth to the Counter-Reformation 193 A sympathies of the Stuart court. But in his note “Of Ceremonies” in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, Cranmer was already well aware of the growing crisis “in this our time, [where] the minds of men are so diverse, that some think it a great matter of conscience to depart from a piece of the least of their ceremonies, they be so addicted to their old customs; and again on the other wise, some be so new-fangled, they would innovate all things.” Aside from the obvious social, political, and religious turmoil that these conflicts produced, they often stimulated the grave internal doubts about certitude and rectitude early registered both in Donne’s Satyres and Francis Bacon’s Essays. Bacon’s essay “Of Atheism” goes straight to the heart of the problem: although God’s natural and divine revelation is selfevident , skepticism results whenever there are too many religious divisions ; “for any one main division addeth zeal to both sides; but many divisions introduce atheism,” as does “scandal of priests” in moral and spiritual matters (Essays 372). Donne’s Satyre 3 takes up the same theme: doctrinal conflict among Protestants so severely pits them against one another that some are driven back to the dubious “embrace” of “mother” Rome, a reversion most Protestants considered equivalent to atheism. Not without a certain inevitable irony, then, does Richard Hooker remark that “I doubte not but God was mercyfull to save thousandes of our fathers lyvinge in popish supersticions in as muche as they synned ignorantly” (Learned Discourse 1:26). In Donne’s Holy Sonnets, the same irony is tinged with envy at the “faithfull soules” now “alike glorifi’d” in heaven while their sons have been left behind, struggling and perhaps failing to find “signes” of salvation “that be / Apparent not in us immediately” (HS 8).1 As Robert Jackson observes, the anxieties inherent in Donne’s envious competition not only with the present and future elect but also with those of the past drove him to rest his most “constant” assurance on his own inconstancy (HS 19, “Oh to vex me” 2–3), on the ironic “confidence that doubt is itself the vehicle of salvation” (152). Yet in making insecurity its own ostentatiously insufficient answer to his constant “crisis” of faith, Donne also supplementally stabilizes his spiritual turmoil through a dramatic triangulation of religious desire. This strategy is most clearly evident in Holy Sonnet 11 (“Spit in my face you Jewes”), where the speaker archetypally imagines himself torn between three competing perspectives: that of Christ on the Cross, that of the crucifying Jews, and that of his own Jacob-like persona, the “supplanter” of both (12). But again, his purpose in creating these baroquely conflicting perspectives is not resolution but irresolution, a tactic that keeps him at the perpetually unstable apex of the sacrificial crisis they dramatize. Donne’s Anniversaries and Sermons employ 194 · Catherine Gimelli Martin essentially the same strategies, so that as in...


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