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Reviews 185 Johnson, Jeffrey, The Theology ofJohn Donne (Studies in Renaissance Literature 1), Cambridge, D. S. Brewer, 1999; cloth; pp. xiii, 162; R R P £40, US$75; ISBN 0859915441. While innumerable studies have been dedicated to John Donne the poet, Jeffr Johnson's book represents one of the few dedicated explorations of John Donne as a committed Renaissance theologian. While Donne's role as a poet is not discounted, Johnson's object of investigation here is primarily the Sermons. It is Johnson's position that, because the Sermons have not received the same quality or quantity of critical attention as the poems 'John Donne has not been treated seriously as a religious thinker' (p. ix). Johnson is speaking here primarily about twentieth-century treatment of Donne; a tradition initiated and encoded early in the century by T. S. Eliot, who identified Donne's religious writings as a refuge from a highly emotional temperament, rather than a serious theological enterprise. Recent studies of the Sermons have similarly undervalued Donne's theological importance by focussing almost entirely on the historical/political content and context of these works. Johnson too is interested in the historical/political circumstances in which Donne preached, but only in so far as they provide a circumstantial framework through which the more distinguishing features of his theology can be explored (p. x). The central theme of this book is the primacy of the Holy Trinity in Donne's theology. Donne saw the Holy Trinity, both as sacramental practice and active metaphor, as being central to every aspect of Christian life. As a preacher he felt the true message of the Holy Trinity was to encourage and establish a godly community based on congregational prayer. This somewhat complex theology is explored through a combination of biographical details and long, carefully chosen excerpts from the Sermons, which are mostly helpful in illustrating Donne's general theological approach. Through Johnson's close reading of these excerpts the prominence of the Trinity in Donne's Sermons is made clearly apparent, however, the author's tendency to jump around chronologically, problematizes any attempt to identify a clear development of Donne's theology over time. Much of thefirstchapter explores the Sermons as a collective attempt by Donne to reconcile 'reason' with knowledge ofthe Holy Trinity, which in Donne's view, could only be truly gained through revelation or epiphany. The reading is a complex one and is made no easier by Johnson's decision to define this particular aspect of Donne's theology by comparison with the theology of John Calvin. 186 Reviews Johnson wants to establish a clear contrast between Calvin and Donne, but this results in more of a review of previous attempts to make such a connection. In particular, Johnson challenges critics such as Debora Shugar who argue for a strong connection and shared view of God between Donne and Calvin. The argument concludes with Johnson's assertion that perhaps a true appreciation of Donne's theology will only be achieved by more close analysis of the differences between he and Calvin (p. 16). Disappointingly, however, no such analysis is attempted here. While Johnson successfully keeps his work focussed on theological issues, this book is perhaps at its best when there is an immediate historical/political context offered for the sermon under examination. One example of which is Donne's sermon before Charles I in April 1629, just after the dissolution of parliament (pp. 16-27). In the course of that multi-faceted sermon, Donne variously asserts the inclusiveness of Christianity, takes time to remind the king of his mortality and limitations and argues for a greater sense of community among protestants of all sects (p. 25). The sermon reveals something of Donne's attitude to various contemporary political and religious issues, including the fact that his well-known sympathy for the troubled king was based on theological and not political principles (p. 27). Chapter T w o examines Donne's Sermons as a constitutive part, and explication of, the purpose, function and benefits of c o m m o n prayer in Caroline England. Johnson begins by again taking issue with those who have tried to label Donne a Calvinist...


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