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330px-john_donne_by_isaac_oliverJohn Donne wrote an excellent sermon which is a good meditation for Easter: ‘The Sedulity of the Devout Women’.

‘Sedulity’ means ‘diligence’. Those women were most sedulous in going to the tomb where Christ lay.

Donne takes for his text Mark 16:2:

And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came to the sepulcher at the rising of the sun.

This is Donne’s sermon, which encourages us to be as devoted and diligent towards Christ as these ladies were (emphases mine):

Consider their sedulity — sedulity that admits no intermission, no interruption, no discontinuance, no indifference in religious offices. Consider we therefore their sedulity, if we can. I say, if we can; because if a man should sit down at a beehive or an ant hill, and determine to watch such an ant or such a bee in its work, he would find that bee or that ant so sedulous, so serious, so various, so concurrent with others, so contributory to others, as that he would quickly lose his marks and his sight of that ant or that bee. So, if we fix our consideration upon these devout women, and the sedulity of their devotion, as the several evangelists present it to us, we may easily lose our sight, and hardly know which was which, or at what time she or she came to the sepulchre. “They came, in the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week,” says St. Matthew; “they came very early in the morning, the first day of the week, at the rising of the sun,” says St. Mark; “they prepared their spices, and rested the Sabbath, and came early the next day,” says St. Luke; “they came the first day when it was yet dark,” says St. John. From Friday evening till Sunday morning they were sedulous, busy upon this service; so sedulous, that thinks these women came four several times to the sepulchre, and that the four evangelists have relation to their four comings, and argues that this variety is no sign of untruthfulness in the evangelists, but testifies the sedulity of the women they speak of, going and coming, and unwilling to be far distant or long absent from their devout exercise. Beloved, true devotion is a serious, a sedulous, an impatient thing. He who said, “I fast twice in the week,” was but a Pharisee; he who can reckon his devout actions is no better; he who can tell how often he has thought upon God today, has not thought upon Him often enough. It is St. [unknown] ‘s holy circle, “to pray that we may hear sermons profitably, and to hear sermons that we may learn to pray acceptably.” Devotion is no marginal note, no interlineary gloss, no parenthesis that may be left out; it is no occasional thing, no conditional thing: “I will go if I like the preacher, the place, the company, the weather;” but it is of the body of the text, and lays upon us an obligation of fervour and continuance.

(John Donne, D. D.)

Donne points out the truth of our failings in our Christian walk. So often, for myself included, it has been one of occasion — and, yes, dependent on the celebrant or the weather — when it should rightly be one of constancy.

We can apply the same obligation of sedulity, or diligence, to our reading of Scripture and particularly of prayer. Donne is so right in saying that if we know how many times a day or a week we are doing these things, we haven’t done them nearly enough.

The women wanted to be near their Lord, hence their diligent devotion to Him, even as He lay in the tomb. They, like the other disciples, were not to immediately understand that Jesus would vanquish death and rise on the third day, even though on more than one occasion He said that He would. On that day, they were ‘terrified’ to find the tomb empty, according to Luke 24:5.

As the women acted towards Jesus in death, let us behave towards Him more reverently and diligently as He lives and reigns as the Risen Christ forever.

Of everything in our lives, He is the most worthy of our sedulity, so let us practice unending, diligent devotion towards Him.

Anyone interested in reading more of Donne’s sermons can find a selection of them at Bible Hub.

330px-john_donne_by_isaac_oliverLast week, I profiled John Donne, who made an incredible personal journey from a handsome rake to devoted husband and father to the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Most of us remember his poetry from English Literature class.

Although digital collections of his sermons exist, only one — and a partial one at that — is in an easily accessed format categorised by Scripture. Thank you, BibleHub.

John’s Gospel has the most detailed account of Jesus’s final teaching at the Last Supper, which we remember on Maundy Thursday.

John Donne was inspired to write an entire sermon on John 14:20 alone. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

First, let’s look at John 14 in its entirety. Jesus spoke these words while He and the Apostles were in the upper room at the Last Supper. Judas Iscariot had already left. The Judas referred to in verse 22 is Jude Thaddeus, who wrote the shortest book in the Bible, Jude:

I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life

14 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God;[a] believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?[b] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”[c] Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.[d] From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me[e] anything in my name, I will do it.

Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,[f] to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be[g] in you.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.

John Donne’s sermon on John 14:20 is called ‘Christ’s Legacy’. Most of it follows below:

I. THE LEGACY ITSELF: Knowledge. “Ye shall know.” God delivered the Jews to some extent from ignorance by the law, which was their schoolmaster. But in the gospel we are graduates, and know as a matter of history and experience what was only previously known in prophecy and type, in the manifestation of Christ, and the presence of the Spirit

II. THE TIME WHEN THIS LEGACY ACCRUES TO US. “At that day.”

1. The word itself affords cheerfulness. When God inflicted the greatest plague on Egypt it was at midnight; and when He would intimate both deaths at once He says, “Thou fool, this night,” etc. Against all supply of knowledge He calls him fool; against all sense of comfort in the day He threatens night.

2. It was a certain day: “That” — and soon. For after Christ had made His will at this supper, and given strength to His will by His death, and proved His will by His resurrection, and left the Church possessed of His estate by His ascension, within ten days after that He poured out this legacy of knowledge.

3. On that day the Holy Ghost came as a wind to note a powerful working; filled them, to note the abundance; and gave them utterance, to infer the communication of their knowledge to others. But He was poured forth for the benefit of all. The prophets, high as their calling was, saw nothing without the Spirit; with the Spirit simple man understands the prophets.

III. OUR PORTION IN THIS LEGACY — the measure of the knowledge of those mysteries which we are to receive. When Felix the Manichaean would prove to that was the Holy Spirit who should teach all truth, because Manes [Mani] taught many things of which men were ignorant concerning the frame and nature of the heavens, Augustine answered, “The Holy Ghost makes us Christians, not mathematicians.” This knowledge is to know the end and the way — heaven and Christ. Now, in all our journeys, a moderate pace brings a man most surely to his journey’s end, and so does a sober knowledge in the mysteries of religion. Therefore, the Holy Ghost did not give the apostles all kind of knowledge, but knowledge enough for their present work, and so with us. The points of knowledge necessary for our salvation are three.

1. The mystery of the Trinity. “I am in My Father.” tells us that the principal use of knowledge is to know the Trinity. For to know that there is one God, natural reason serves our turn. But to know that the Son is in the Father I need the Scriptures, and the light of the Holy Spirit on the Scriptures, for Jews and Arians have the Bible too. But consider that Christ says, “ye shall know,” not “ye shall know how”. It is enough for a happy subject to enjoy the sweetness of a peaceable government, though he knows not the ways by which his prince governs, so it is enough for a Christian to enjoy the working of God’s grace, though he inquire not into God’s unrevealed decrees. When the Church asked how the body of Christ was in the sacrament we see what an inconvenient answer it fell upon. Make much of that knowledge with which the Spirit hath trusted you, and believe the rest. No man knows how his soul came into him, yet no man doubts that he has a soul.

2. The mystery of the Incarnation — “Ye in Me.” For since the devil has taken manhood in one lump in Adam, Christ to deliver us as entirely took all mankind upon Him. So that the same pretence that the devil hath against us, “You are mine, for you sinned in Adam,” we have also for our discharge, we are delivered, for we paid our debt in Christ.

3. The assurance of this grows from the third part of our knowledge the mystery of our redemption, in our sanctification. “I in you.” This last is the best. To know that Christ is in the Father may serve me to convince another who denies the Trinity; to know we are in Christ may show that we are more honoured than angels. But what worth is this if I know not that Christ is in me. How then is this? Here the question is lawful, for it has been revealed. It is by our obedience to His inspiration, and by our reverent use of His sacrament, when the Spirit visits us with effectual grace, and Christ marries Himself to our souls.

What stood out for me were four things:

First, Donne clearly understood Paul’s epistles about the shortcomings of the law in the Old Covenant. It could not — and cannot — save. Note that Donne calls the law the Jews’ ‘schoolmaster’. How true.

Secondly, the Holy Spirit is available to all, not just a select few. Furthermore, St Augustine said that the primary purpose of the Spirit is to help us to live a Christian life. Donne makes it easy to grasp by saying that the Spirit enables simple man to understand the prophets. One does not need a university degree to understand the Bible.

Thirdly, if the devil tempts us by telling us we are doomed, we should keep in mind that Christ paid our debt in full. We are no longer slaves to sin.

Finally, Christians are not required to understand how the holy mysteries work, only to believe, through the workings of the Holy Spirit, that they exist, e.g. the Triune God, one in three Persons. Donne wisely noted the ancient controversy in the Church that took place over what happens during the consecration of bread and wine, still a contentious subject today.

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Readings, exegeses and other observations about Wednesday of Holy Week, or Spy Wednesday, as it is traditionally known, follow:

Readings for Wednesday of Holy Week — Spy Wednesday

Judas offers his services

More on Spy Wednesday

Wednesday of Holy Week — Spy Wednesday (2017, Henry and MacArthur on Judas: bad hombre)

The other week I read a profile of a senior Anglican clergyman, more about whom tomorrow.

At the weekend I read an article in The Telegraph about a long-deceased past Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, John Donne (1572-1631), whom his biographer Katherine Rundell describes as ‘the greatest writer of sex in the English language’.

The article was timely, as the Anglican Communion remembers the poet and preacher on March 31.

It is difficult to know where to begin and where to stop with John Donne (pron. ‘Dun’). One could easily write about him every day for a year. Many of us read at least one of his poems in English class many moons ago. However, he was more than a poet. He was also a womaniser, a scholar, a lawyer, and an adventurer. Later on, he was ordained and had a tremendous following in London for his powerful preaching.

Katherine Rundell’s article about her new book on Donne begins with this (emphases mine):

The power of John Donne’s words nearly killed a man. It was the late spring of 1623, on the morning of Ascension Day, and Donne had finally secured for himself celebrity, fortune and a captive audience.

He had been appointed the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral two years before: he was 51, slim and amply bearded, and his preaching was famous across the whole of London. His congregation – merchants, aristocrats, actors in elaborate ruffs, the whole sweep of the city – came to his sermons carrying notebooks and ink, wrote down his finest passages and took them home to dissect and relish, pontificate and argue over. He often wept in the pulpit, in joy and in sorrow, and his audience would weep with him. His words, they said, could “charm the soul”.

That morning he was not preaching in his own church, but 15 minutes’ walk across London at Lincoln’s Inn, where a new chapel was being consecrated. Word went out: wherever he was, people came flocking, often in their thousands, to hear him speak. That morning, too many people flocked. “There was a great concourse of noblemen and gentlemen,” and in among “the extreme press and thronging”, as they pushed closer to hear his words, men in the crowd were shoved to the ground and trampled. “Two or three were endangered, and taken up dead for the time.”

There’s no record of Donne halting his sermon; so it’s likely that he kept going in his rich voice as the bruised men were carried off and out of sight.

That year, he had a serious illness inspiring him to write a poem about it, a way of self-treatment that he employed throughout his life.

The Poetry Foundation tells us more. Note the language Donne employed, recalling his time as an adventurer at sea during the era of the world’s great explorers:

A serious illness that Donne suffered in 1623 produced a still more startling poetic effect. In “Hymn to God, my God, in my Sickness” the poet presents his recumbent body as a flat map over which the doctors pore like navigators to discover some passage through present dangers to tranquil waters; and he ponders his own destination as if he himself is a vessel that may reach the desirable places of the world only by negotiating some painful straits:

Is the Pacific Sea my home? Or are
The eastern riches? Is Jerusalem?
Anyan, and Magellan, and Gibraltar,
All straits, and none but straits, are ways to them.

By this self-questioning he brings himself to understand that his suffering may itself be a blessing, since he shares the condition of a world in which our ultimate bliss must be won through well-endured hardship. The physical symptoms of his illness become the signs of his salvation: “So, in his purple wrapped receive me Lord, / By these his thorns give me his other crown.” The images that make him one with Christ in his suffering transform those pangs into reassurance.

He was most conscious of his sin and the necessary repentance needed to reach union with Christ. He also used his surname as a pun with the word ‘done’ as we can see in this religious poem, again employing a maritime reference:

In Donne’s poetry, language may catch the presence of God in our human dealings. The pun on the poet’s name in “done“ registers the distance that the poet’s sins have put between himself and God, with new kinds of sin pressing forward as fast as God forgives those already confessed: “When thou hast done, thou hast not done, / For, I have more.” Then the puns on “sun” and “Donne” resolve these sinful anxieties themselves:

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thy self, that at my death thy son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done,
I fear no more.

For this poet such coincidences of words and ideas are not mere accidents to be juggled with in jest. They mark precisely the working of Providence within the order of nature.

Ten years earlier, in 1613, two years before he took Holy Orders, he wrote a meditation about Good Friday as he journeyed from one friend’s house to another for Easter. Again, repentance looms large:

A journey westward from one friend’s house to another over Easter 1613 brings home to Donne the general aberration of nature that prompts us to put pleasure before our due devotion to Christ. We ought to be heading east at Easter so as to contemplate and share Christ’s suffering; and in summoning up that event to his mind’s eye, he recognizes the shocking paradox of the ignominious death of God upon a Cross: “Could I behold those hands, which span the poles, / And turn all spheres at once, pierced with those holes?” (“Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward”). An image of Christ’s degradation is directly imposed upon an image of God’s omnipotence. We see that the event itself has a double force, being at once the catastrophic consequence of our sin and the ultimate assurance of God’s saving love. The poet’s very journey west may be providential if it brings him to a penitent recognition of his present unworthiness to gaze directly upon Christ:

O Saviour, as thou hang’st upon the tree;
I turn my back to thee, but to receive
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
O think me worth thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rusts, and my deformity,
Restore thine image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou mayest know me, and I’ll turn my face.

Now that we have the measure of the man in his later years, let us look at his life’s journey.

John Donne was born into a good family with good connections, even though, for many years, he and his wife lived in penury with a house full of children.

Donne was born on January 22, 1572, to John Donne and Elizabeth Heywood, both of Welsh descent.

Biography tells us:

His mother, Elizabeth Heywood, was the grand-niece of Catholic martyr Thomas More.

Donne was a middle child, the third of six children.

The Donnes were Catholic. During the Elizabethan era, it was dangerous to be anything but Anglican. Donne’s father was a wealthy merchant who was a warden of the Ironmongers Company, one of the Guilds in the City of London. He kept a low public profile because of his Catholicism. He died when young John was only four years old.

Approximately six months later, Elizabeth remarried. Her new husband, Dr. John Syminges, was a wealthy physician with three children of his own. He, too, had been widowed.

John was privately educated. At the age of 11, he went up to Oxford University, to Hart Hall, which is now Hertford College.

After spending three years at Oxford, he went up to Cambridge, where he studied for another three years.

He left both universities with no degree. This was because he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy, because of his Catholicism.

In 1591, he was accepted to the Thavies Inn law school, which was associated with Lincoln’s Inn, one of the Inns of Court. He was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn the following year.

1593 proved to be an alarming and pivotal year for John Donne. Elizabeth I issued a statute against Catholics, ‘An Act for restraining Popish recusants’, for not participating in Anglican worship. It had a drastic effect on the Donne family. One of John’s brothers, Henry, who was a university student at the time, was arrested and imprisoned for harbouring a Catholic priest, William Harrington.

Henry died in Newgate Prison of bubonic plague. At that point, John began to question his Catholic faith. At the time, illness was still connected — as it had been for time immemorial — with a judgement from God.

Donne was known as Jack in those years. He began writing love poems, circulated to a small group of friends and never intended for widespread publication.

Biography says:

During the 1590s, he spent much of his inheritance on women, books and travel. He wrote most of his love lyrics and erotic poems during this time. His first books of poems, “Satires” and “Songs and Sonnets,” were highly prized among a small group of admirers.

375px-john_donne_bbc_newsKatherine Rundell’s article for The Telegraph features and discusses a portrait Donne had commissioned, which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London. (Image credit: Wikipedia/BBC News)

When Jack was 23, he:

sat for a portrait. The painting was of a figure who knew about fashion; he wore a hat big enough to sail a cat in, a big lace collar, an exquisite moustache. He positioned the 
pommel of his sword to be just visible, an accessory more than a weapon. Around the edge of the canvas was painted in Latin, “O Lady, lighten our darkness”; a not-quite-blasphemous misquotation of Psalm 17, his prayer addressed to a lover. And his beauty deserved walk-on music, rock-and-roll lute: all architectural jawline and hooked eyebrows

To call anyone the “best” of anything is a brittle kind of game – but if you wanted to play it, Donne is the greatest writer of desire in the English language. He wrote about sex in a way that nobody ever has, before or since: he wrote sex as the great insistence on life.

Here is one of his verses from that period, in which he compares a lover to the New World:

License my roving hands, and let them go
Behind, before, above, between, below!
O my America! My new-found land!
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned!

There is also ‘The Flea’:

The speaker watches a flea crawl over the body of the woman he desires:

Mark but this flea, and mark in this
How little that which thou deny’st me is;
Me it sucked first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea, our two bloods mingled be.

The sort of love he wrote about was not merely about the union of a man and a woman, but of a transcendent relationship.

Here we encounter some very 21st century language, which I will highlight in bold below.

Rundell says:

There is the meat and madness of sex in his work – but, more: Donne’s poetry believed in finding eternity through the human body of one other person. It becomes akin to sacrament. Sacramentum is the translation in the Latin Bible for the Greek word for mystery: and Donne knew it when he wrote, “We die and rise the same, and prove/ Mysterious by this love.” He knew awe: “All measure, and all language, I should pass/ Should I tell what a miracle she was.” And in “The Ecstasy”, love is both a mystery and its solution. He needed to invent a word, “unperplex”, to explain:

“This ecstasy doth unperplex,”
We said, “and tell us what we love…”
But as all several souls contain
Mixture of things, they know not what,
Love these mixed souls doth mix again,
And makes both one, each this and that.

“Each this and that”: his work suggests that we might voyage beyond the blunt realities of male and female.

In 1596, eight years after the sinking of the Spanish Armada, Donne began two years on the high seas. He fought alongside the Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Raleigh against the Spanish at Cadiz that year, and, in 1597, the Azores, where he witnessed the sinking of the San Felipe.

Donne also went to Italy. He immersed himself in the culture of the countries he stayed in during those years.

His earliest biographer, Izaak Walton, wrote:

… he returned not back into England till he had stayed some years, first in Italy, and then in Spain, where he made many useful observations of those countries, their laws and manner of government, and returned perfect in their languages.

In 1597, he returned to London, prepared for a diplomatic career.

Soon after that, Sir Thomas Egerton, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, hired Donne to be his chief secretary. He was based at Egerton’s home, York House, close to the seat of power, the Palace of Whitehall, the main residence of the English monarchs.

Like Donne, Egerton had also been a Catholic. He became an Anglican in 1570 in order to continue his career.

Egerton was a widower. His second wife was Elizabeth Wolley, a widow. Her maiden name was More. I am intrigued to know if she was also related to Thomas More, as was Donne’s mother.

In any event, while Donne was working for Egerton, he met his employer’s niece, Anne More, who ended up being his grand passion.

Anne More was a teenager at the time she and Donne met. He was in his twenties.

Katherine Rundell provides us with the love poem Donne wrote for her, which says that if he loved her in wintertime, he loved her even more during Spring. I have excerpted it below:

You cannot claim a man is an alchemist and fail to lay out the gold. This, then, is an undated poem, probably written for the woman he married, Anne More, some time in his 20s, known as “Love’s Growth”:

I scarce believe my love to be so pure
As I had thought it was,
Because it doth endure
Vicissitude and season as the grass;
Methinks I lied all Winter, when I swore
My love was infinite, if Spring make’t more

If as in water stirred more circles be
Produced by one, love such additions take;
Those, like to many spheres, but one heaven make,
For they are all concentric unto thee;
And though each Spring do add to love new heat
As princes do in times of action get
New taxes, and remit them not in peace –
No winter shall abate the spring’s increase.

Anne’s father, George More, was the Lieutenant of the Tower of London.

Both he and Egerton strongly disapproved of the love match.

Regardless, the couple decided to marry in secret in 1601. Anne would have been 16 or 17 at the time. An Anglican priest, Samuel Brooke, a contemporary of Donne’s, conducted the ceremony.

When Egerton and More found out about the wedding, Donne lost his job and was sent to Fleet Prison, along with Brooke. When Egerton and More satisfied themselves that the marriage was valid, they had Donne released from prison. Donne then had Brooke and another man involved released.

Donne’s earliest biographer, his contemporary Izaak Walton, tells us what the poet wrote to his wife upon his release:

John Donne, Anne Donne, Un-done.[14]

Indeed, he was undone, because the next several years were wintry for him and his young wife. They lived in penury while she bore him a child every year.

The Donnes were despatched to the Surrey countryside to a small house that Anne’s cousin, Sir Francis Wolley, owned. They lived there until 1604.

In 1605, they moved to Mitcham in South London. There they lived in another small house, unfit for a growing family.

In 1602, Donne was elected as an MP for a Northamptonshire constituency, Brackley. However, as MPs were not paid in that era, he had to search for whatever work he could get. He performed poorly paid law work and also wrote commissioned poems for wealthy patrons. Regardless, the family were only just getting by.

In 1603, Elizabeth I died. James I (James VI of Scotland) succeeded her.

It wasn’t until 1609 when George More reconciled with Donne and gave him Anne’s dowry.

In 1610, Donne met the man who would become his chief patron, Sir Robert Drury of Hawsted, who gave Donne and his family rooms in his house in Drury Lane, London.

That year, Donne wrote Pseudo-Martyr, a tract which encouraged Catholics to take the Oath of Allegiance to the King. Donne made his points about obedience reliant on Scripture and natural law.

Biography notes:

This won him the king’s favor and patronage from members of the House of Lords.

In 1614, Donne was elected as MP once more, this time for Taunton, in Somerset. Although he received five parliamentary appointments, he made no speeches that were recorded.

In 1615, James I encouraged Donne to take Holy Orders. Soon afterwards, he became Royal Chaplain.

The Poetry Foundation tells us that it was a difficult decision for Donne, who felt unworthy. Yet, once ordained, he became a true vicar of Christ:

Donne took holy orders in January 1615, having been persuaded by King James himself of his fitness for a ministry “to which he was, and appeared, very unwilling, apprehending it (such was his mistaking modesty) to be too weighty for his abilities.” So writes his first biographer, Izaak Walton, who had known him well and often heard him preach. Once committed to the Church, Donne devoted himself to it totally, and his life thereafter becomes a record of incumbencies held and sermons preached.

Sadly, in 1617, the love of Donne’s life, his dear wife Anne, died in childbirth. Wikipedia tells us about her married life. After her death, Donne, despite his post as Royal Chaplain, seriously contemplated suicide:

Anne gave birth to twelve children in sixteen years of marriage, (including two stillbirths—their eighth and then, in 1617, their last child); indeed, she spent most of her married life either pregnant or nursing. The ten surviving children were Constance, John, George, Francis, Lucy (named after Donne’s patron Lucy, Countess of Bedford, her godmother), Bridget, Mary, Nicholas, Margaret, and Elizabeth. Three (Francis, Nicholas, and Mary) died before they were ten. In a state of despair that almost drove him to kill himself, Donne noted that the death of a child would mean one mouth fewer to feed, but he could not afford the burial expenses. During this time, Donne wrote but did not publish Biathanatos, his defense of suicide.[15] His wife died on 15 August 1617, five days after giving birth to their twelfth child, a still-born baby.[2] Donne mourned her deeply, and wrote of his love and loss in his 17th Holy Sonnet.

Biathanatos is Greek for ‘life and death’.

However deeply Donne agonised over Anne’s death, God blessed him with the power of religious oratory and as the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Of this period, Biography says:

His elaborate metaphors, religious symbolism and flair for drama soon established him as a great preacher

In 1621, Donne became dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. During a period of severe illness, he wrote “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions,” published in 1624. This work contains the immortal lines “No man is an island” and “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” That same year, Donne was appointed Vicar of St. Dunstan’s-in-the-West and became known for his eloquent sermons.

The Poetry Foundation says that Donne’s sermons moved the hardest of hearts:

160 of his sermons have survived. The few religious poems he wrote after he became a priest show no falling off in imaginative power, yet the calling of his later years committed him to prose, and the artistry of his Devotions and sermons at least matches the artistry of his poems.

The publication in 1919 of Donne’s Sermons: Selected Passages, edited by Logan Pearsall Smith, came as a revelation to its readers, not least those who had little taste for sermons. John Bailey, writing in the Quarterly Review (April 1920), found in these extracts “the very genius of oratory … a masterpiece of English prose.” Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, in Studies in Literature (1920), judged the sermons to include “the most magnificent prose ever uttered from an English pulpit, if not the most magnificent prose ever spoken in our tongue.”

Over a literary career of some 40 years Donne moved from skeptical naturalism to a conviction of the shaping presence of the divine spirit in the natural creation. Yet his mature understanding did not contradict his earlier vision. He simply came to anticipate a Providential disposition in the restless whirl of the world. The amorous adventurer nurtured the dean of St. Paul’s.

Katherine Rundell tells us that Donne invented words for his sermons. These are very 21st century:

A few years before his own death, Donne preached a funeral sermon for the poet George Herbert’s mother Magdalen, who would “dwell bodily with that righteousness, in these new heavens and new earth, for ever and ever and ever, and infinite and super-infinite forevers”. In a different sermon, he wrote of how we would one day be with God in “an infinite, a super-infinite, an unimaginable space, millions of millions of unimaginable spaces in heaven”. He loved to coin formations with the super- prefix: super-edifications, super-exaltation, super-dying, super-universal, super-miraculous. It was part of his bid to invent a language that would reach beyond language, because infinite wasn’t enough.

John Donne died on March 31, 1631, hence the reason the Anglican Communion remembers him on that day. A large memorial stone statue of him was erected in the old St Paul’s Cathedral. Donne appears in his glorified body wearing the Crown of Life. His memorial started the trend for such church monuments during the 17th century.

He was buried in the old St Paul’s Cathedral, which the Great Fire of London destroyed in 1666. Incredibly, the stone statue of Donne survived the fire and is now displayed in the current St Paul’s Cathedral.

How can one summarise John Donne in one sentence? It would be impossible, for he was a man who was able to combine the earthy with the divine and make both sublime, as God intended them to be.

The Poetry Foundation says:

The transformation of Jack Donne the rake into the Reverend Dr. Donne, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, no longer seems bizarre. To impose such clear-cut categories upon a man’s career may be to take too rigid a view of human nature. That the poet of the Elegies and Songs and Sonnets is also the author of the Devotions and the sermons need not indicate some profound spiritual upheaval. One reason for the appeal of Donne in modern times is that he confronts us with the complexity of our own natures.

Katherine Rundell concludes:

Sometime religious outsider and social disaster, sometime celebrity preacher and establishment darling, John Donne was incapable of being just one thing. He reimagined and reinvented himself, over and over: he was a poet, lover, essayist, lawyer, pirate, recusant, preacher, satirist, politician, courtier, chaplain to the King, dean of the finest cathedral in London. It’s traditional to imagine two Donnes – Jack Donne, the youthful rake, and Dr Donne, the older, wiser priest, a split Donne himself imagined in a letter to a friend – but he was infinitely more various and unpredictable than that

And then there was the transformation of himself: from failure and penury, to recognition within his lifetime as one of the finest minds of his age; one whose work, if allowed under your skin, can offer joy so violent it kicks the metal out of your knees, and sorrow large enough to eat you. Because amid all Donne’s reinventions, there was a constant running through his lifeand work: he remained steadfast in his belief that we, humans, are at once a catastrophe and a miracle

He believed our minds could be forged into citadels against the world’s chaos: “be thine own palace, or the world’s thy jail”. Tap a human, he believed, and they ring with the sound of infinity. Joy and squalor: both Donne’s life and work tell that it is fundamentally impossible to have one without taking up the other.

In the 21st century, Donne’s imagination offers us a form of body armour. His work is protection against the slipshod and the half-baked, against anti-intellectualism, against those who try to sell you their money-ridden vision of sex and love. He is protection against those who would tell you to narrow yourself, to follow fashion in your mode of thought.

It’s not that he was a rebel: it is that he was a pure original. They do us a service, the true uncompromising originals: they show us what is possible.

God broke the mould when he made John Donne. We are blessed to have his poems, essays and sermons as a legacy that withstands the test of time.

Tomorrow, in Part 2, we discover more about an Anglican clergyman who is quite the opposite.

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