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11 Reforming Baptism John Donne and Continental Irenicism Annette Deschner iving 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 religiopolitical debate that involved not only strict orthodox theologians of various denominations but also irenic theologians. The aim of the irenic movement—whose ideas were found among both Catholic and Protestant theologians—was to promote peace and reconcile the warring confessions. As this essay will show, Donne’s lyric poetry as well as his prose and his sermons are driven by the idea of irenicism. Donne officially started his life as a Catholic, and his uncles, Jasper and Ellis Heywood, even belonged to the Jesuit order. But as Donne well understood, he could advance his career in Renaissance England only as a Protestant. Donne’s concern with various religious conflicts, however, arose not only because of the troubles caused by religion within his family but also as a consequence of his professional ambition. King James was very concerned about religious peace and was even called the British Solomon. Like Donne’s, King James’s life was multiconfessional: although he was baptized as a Catholic, six months later he was crowned King James VI of Scotland according to the Protestant rite (Ebert 4). Thus Donne was confronted with confessional problems and irenic ideas in a sociocultural as well as in a religio-political context. The aim of this essay is to locate Donne’s work—his lyric poetry, prose writings, and sermons—within the irenic movement. Baptism, a rite that 293 L continues to be accepted in all Christian denominations and confessions, provides the perfect guide to help us trace Donne through this dogmatic maze. Baptism has less schismatic tendencies than the Eucharist, as the debates in Donne’s time on the eucharistic rite show, and rather tends to integrate people into a congregation, a consequence of the irenic potential of baptism demonstrated in the early history of Christianity. In earliest Christianity the rite of baptism was the motor of the ecumenical movement: different congregations accepted each other’s rite of initiation. Mutual acceptance of this rite led to an accumulation of rites such as baptism by water, exorcism, the administering of salt, the handing over of candles, and anointing or the laying on of hands. Early Christian theologies concurred in establishing the boundaries of each group and agreed about how to define their own religious identity in contrast to other religious systems. Whereas other theological topics could be discussed controversially within the inclusive circle, the initiation rite had to be clearly determined because it constituted who was accepted within a community . Therefore the “name of Jesus” became the criterion of affiliation, for at that early stage of Christianity there did not exist a canon of scriptures , binding texts with a guideline function that could be used as a normative basis for a religious community. Because different theologies legitimatized themselves by the “name of Jesus,” baptism, where this performative sentence was used, gained an ecumenical character (Berger 7). In other words, baptism became the universal basis for a congregation. Early-seventeenth-century irenic thinkers regarded the early Christian church as the role model of Christian unity because it was thought that there had not existed any hardened dogmatic position in the early church and that therefore a united church was able to prosper. For the Dutch jurist and statesman Hugo Grotius (1583–1645), the ideal ecclesia christiana was realized in spiritual community. Grotius thought that if the Protestant denominations succeeded in becoming reunited, the Roman Catholic Church would want to imitate the Protestant achievement and thus join the Protestants within a universal church. For Grotius, this spiritual community consisting of Christ and those who believed in him was reinstituted and quantitatively expanded by each act of baptism, a perspective Donne also shared (Wolf 55). Grotius, whose interest lay in the theological harmony of the different denominations, also intended to bring about social and political peace based on harmonious interhuman relations. Consequently, he strove for a pax dei, which united not only all Christian confessions and denominations but also all human beings. To accomplish this, Grotius developed a strategy to strengthen the irenic 294 · Annette Deschner movement. To start, he pushed for realization of a broad Protestant union, for he thought that a unitas protestantium could be an incentive to a universal irenicism for those Catholics who were open to reform...


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