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12 True Purification Donne’s Art of Rhetoric in Two Candlemas Sermons Maria Salenius he 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 shows signs of one or another of these dispositions; equally numerous accounts favor interpreting Donne as a proponent of the via media.1 The emphasis varies, sometimes depending on the particular interest of the reader/researcher. And surely Donne may have encompassed more than one—or, at different points in time, all—of these inclinations, at least to some extent; this would not be unusual for a convert in times of religious turbulence. Somehow, however, the search for doctrinal detail has gone too far, for doctrinal details—or even larger issues—are not the main contents of Donne’s belief. As Jeanne Shami reminds us, although Donne’s writings contain numerous references to the Catholic fathers as well as to Luther, Calvin, and other reformers, “trying to determine Donne’s religious alignments by the sources of his quotations doesn’t work” (11). As an influential writer with significant connections in highly political times, Donne was compelled, and even obliged, to take up relevant religious and/or political issues in both his sermons and in his other prose writings; as an alert writer, he probably did the same in his poetry. This consummation of detail, however , does not produce an image of a complete faith or systematic theology, 314 T whether Catholic or Protestant. It often merely points to issues of interest or usefulness at a particular time or in a particular context. In order to find Donne’s true vocation and his true faith we must look to define a larger context, a larger framework of development, into which we might place Donne and his religion. This larger context should not be constructed by separate elements of doctrine, but by a more holistic view of Donne’s religious disposition and its particular evolution. One way of pursuing this religious development is to look at Donne’s language, to shift the main attention from the actual doctrinal contents to the presentation thereof, to look at Donne’s rhetoric of presenting his theology rather than at the details of this theology. With a conscious writer like Donne, too little attention has been directed toward his form of expression as a means to reach an understanding of his thought. A study of rhetorical conventions as an expression for thought can open a new angle to the analysis. This essay will consider two of Donne’s Candlemas sermons from the 1620s in order to trace his true faith and to show its realization in and with rhetorical device. Such a consideration will be accomplished by reading Donne’s text through the concepts and the philosophy presented in Thomas Wilson’s Art of Rhetoric (1560), partly to give the text a linguistic framework for the analysis and partly to demonstrate a Protestant theory of language. The aim is to demonstrate how Donne uses rhetorical conventions to discuss his topic from a Protestant viewpoint, how he uses a Protestant rhetoric to redefine his originally medieval and Catholic themes. I will show that beyond Donne’s religious references and implications there is deep and strongly convincing rhetoric conveying his Protestant disposition and reaching out to his audience in a powerful way. This point is especially relevant, as a number of scholars have made a point of stressing Donne’s weakness in vocation and his disinterest in his congregation.2 The choice of Wilson as the framework for an analysis of Donne is based on linguistic as well as theological criteria. Both Donne and Wilson write in a time of solid Elizabethan and Stuart Protestantism, at a time when the Renaissance flourished in England and when the Protestant community was being secured in its position. This is also the time when original writing (as opposed to translations of reformers) dominates and when the English Reformation can be seen as a linguistic phenomenon. Both Donne and Wilson must thus be viewed as writers in the very core of the Judeo-Christian tradition, carrying the concepts of the western European cultural inheritance and presenting them at a point in time when these concepts were reevaluated and their direction reviewed. Moreover, both Wilson and...


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