restricted access 13. “Not upon a Lecture, but upon a Sermon”: Devotional Dynamics of the Donnean Fisher of Men
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13 “Not upon a Lecture, but upon a Sermon” Devotional Dynamics of the Donnean Fisher of Men gale h. carrithers, jr., and james d. hardy, jr. onne’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, has several implications for critical discourse. First, genre matters; hence the most immediately relevant concept for appraising any element or aspect of his preaching is the whole sermon, especially its dynamism, and its generic emplacement in the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer. Taxonomy and propositional particularity, however essential to criticism, conflict with the dynamism crucial to the whole Donnean sermon, and conflict with the profundity of its movements from abstractly propositional language to more personalized expression. An equally relevant historical context for many a feature of Donne’s sermons, because implicit in their dynamic unfolding, is the bewilderingly rich tradition of Augustinian biblicism. Less obviously implicit, but equally important: quality matters. Donne and Lancelot Andrewes were the most celebrated preachers in England in their generation, and critical and editorial attention in the twentieth century has seconded that judgment. Accordingly, we propose a middling conceptual generality, a level between the height of “Protestant Reformation” and the allusions to singular and parochial, earthbound times or places.2 At this middle level we 335 D focus on three concepts: liturgy—what one was to do in worship, literally the “people’s work”; ecclesiology—wherein one was to do it; and justification —the ontology of the believer’s status in church and liturgy. By keeping these familiar, powerful framing concepts in play against the movements of a rich but not uncharacteristic sermon, in a hermeneutic succession of approximations, we seek some of the clarity of taxonomy without unduly reducing or degrading what Donne insisted on, the “Sermon of the Sermon.”3 The most obvious distinction to those who went to church, and all in England were supposed to go to divine services, resided in the form and substance of the liturgy. The Book of Common Prayer described a sacramental Eucharist, while Calvinist books of public worship were fundamentally memorialist in liturgical theology and accordingly emphatic of the ministry of the Word.4 One could hear and see and taste the implications of this difference every Sunday, even if the entirety of the theology remained obscure. A second difference, also experienced albeit less dramatically and concretely, lay in the area of ecclesiology. Should the church include the whole social community and be governed by kings and prelates, or should much (though certainly not all) authority reside in the congregation of the saints who had been baptized again by the Holy Spirit? Such differences went beyond rationalized doctrine to general inclinations as to how the Christian might relate to God: through intermediaries of priest and sacrament, or directly as one of the priesthood of all believers. The third difference dealt with justification. Justification by faith had been the original Lutheran stand, and it was opposed at Trent by a doctrine of justification by faith and works, while Calvinists espoused yet another way, justification by grace.5 Doctrine concerning salvation, as well as liturgy and church order, set the competing denominations into formulae that must have been supposed to distinguish true from false doctrine. So viewed, three general categories emerge, and these apply to the cleavages that then divided Roman Catholic from Protestant and would come increasingly to separate Calvinists (Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and puritans generally) from what we will (conveniently but a little anachronistically) call Anglicans, meaning the range of those conforming to Prayer Book worship from catholic (but not papist) to reformers willing to tolerate bishops and sacraments. Cleavages along these lines after 1630 would increasingly manifest themselves in the positions of institutionally and liturgically conservative Laudians and such radical sectarians as John Lilburne and John Wharton.6 336 · Gale H. Carrithers, Jr., and James D. Hardy, Jr. Donne’s own double sermon on Matthew 4:18–20 touched in his individual way on all of these cardinal Christian matters, notwithstanding its ambiguous time setting, 1619/1630. It directly addressed church polity, community, and calling as well as justification, and by implication (especially through his assault on Pelagianism) entailed a...


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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