Archive for the ‘John Donne’ Tag

Feast of John Donne (March 31)   1 comment

john-donne

Above:  John Donne

Image in the Public Domain

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JOHN DONNE (JANUARY 21, 1572-MARCH 31, 1631)

Anglican Priest and Poet

John Donne–Anglican priest, popular preacher, and metaphysical poet–was a complicated character who sought after God and struggled with ambition.

Our saint, born in London, England, on January 21, 1572, was a son of John Donne and Elizabeth Heywood.  (Aside:  The English tradition of naming sons after fathers without using suffixes can prove quite confusing.)  John Donne the Elder, a wealthy merchant, died in 1576.  Elizabeth Heywood Donne was a daughter of John Heywood, a playwright.  John Heywood’s wife was a daughter of the sister of St. Thomas More.  Both of our saint’s parents were devout Roman Catholics.  Furthermore, two of his maternal uncles were Jesuits who died in exile and Henry, his younger brother, died of fever in prison at the age of 19 years in 1593.  Henry’s crime was to shelter a Roman Catholic priest.

Our saint, young “Jack” Donne, was also a Roman Catholic.  In 1584 he began his studies at Hart Hall, Oxford.  He never formally graduated because a requirement for doing so was to take the oath of supremacy.  Donne, as a Roman Catholic, could not do that.  Next he studied at Cambridge.  In 1591-1592 he was a law student at Thavies Inn, L0ndon.  From 1592 too 1596 he studied law at Lincoln’s Inn, London.  By the 1590s Donne had begun to compose poetry.  He was also undecided about whether to remain a Roman Catholic or to convert to The Church of England.

Donne nurtured political connections.  In 1596 and 1597 he participated in the Earl of Essex’s expeditions to Cadiz and to the Azore Islands.  By 1597, when our saint had become an Anglican, he was the secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, soon to become Lord Chancellor Ellesmere.  Love interfered with Donne’s career, though.  In December 1601 he married Ann More, the niece of Egerton, without her guardians’ consent.  This led to a term of incarceration, the loss of employment, and the denial of Ann’s dowry.  This reality led Donne to become more spiritual.

The couple struggled for years.  From 1602 to 1615 they had twelve children, seven of whom survived their mother.  Eventually Donne found work writing criticisms of Roman Catholicism; he worked with Thomas Morton (later the Bishop of Durham) in this regard.  In 1607 Morton, the new Dean of Gloucester, encouraged Donne to take Holy Orders.  Our saint declined, citing a sense of worthiness.  Or perhaps he still had secular ambitions.  Eventually Sir George More, his father-in-law, paid Ann’s dowry.  Next Donne became the lawyer of Lucy, Countess of Bedford, through whom he came into contact with influential people.

Donne’s fortunes improved in 1610.  That year he published Pseudo-Martyr, a work designed to persuade Roman Catholics to take the oath of allegiance.  For this work he received an honorary M.A. from Oxford as well as favorable notice from King James VI/I.  Additional works in the field of religious controversy flowed from his pen during the next few years.  Also in 1610, Donne found a new patron, Sir Robert Drury, with whom he traveled from November 1611 to August 1612.  Afterward Donne courted Viscount Rochester (later the Earl of Somerset), a favorite of King James.  Our saint won election to the House of Commons in 1614.  The following year royal pressure ended his refusal to take Holy Orders.  His ordination occurred on January 23; he was 43 years old.

Donne became, according to reputation, the greatest preacher in England.  Like other prominent clergymen of the time, he frequently received income from two livings and was resident in only one of them.  In 1621 he became the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.  Four years later Donne preached the first sermon of the reign of King Charles I.  Our saint would have become a bishop in 1630, except for reasons of health.  He died, aged 59 years, on March 31, 1631.

Donne earned his place in the canon of literature with his metaphysical poetry, which remains in print.  Many of his sermons have also remained in print, for people to read.  His published works expressed, among other things, am awareness of his sins and of God’s mercy.

1.  Wilt thou forgive that sin, where I begun

which is my sin, though it were done before?

Wilt thou forgive those sins through which I run,

and do run still, though still I do deplore?

When thou hast done, thou hast not done, for I have more.

2.  Wilt thou forgive that sin, by which I won

others to sin, and made my sin their door?

Wilt thou forgive that sin I did shun

a year or two, but wallowed in a score?

When thou hast done, thou hast not done, for I have more.

3.  I have a sin of fear that when I’ve spun

my last thread, I shall perish on the shore;

swear by thyself, 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.

That is a theme worth pondering, is it not?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 9, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF BENJAMIN SCHMOLCK, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE ANNE PROCTER, ENGLISH POET AND FEMINIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALTO OF ALTOMUNSTER, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

THE FEAST OF SAINT PORFIRIO, MARTYR

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Almighty God, the root and fountain of all being:

Open our eyes to see, with your servant John Donne,

that whatever has any being is a mirror in which we may behold you;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Wisdom of Solomon 7:24-8:1

Psalm 27:5-11

1 Corinthians 15:20-28

John 5:19-24

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 299

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Feast of All Christian Poets (September 29)   1 comment

Some major poets have feast days which denominations have assigned them.  Examples include

  • Saint Caedmon, from the Roman Catholic calendar;
  • John Donne and George Herbert, priests of The Church of England with feast days on various Anglican calendars;
  • various Roman Catholic bishops and theologians who composed texts which became hymns; Saint Ambrose of Milan comes to mind immediately;
  • Phillips Brooks, an Episcopal priest at the time he composed the text of “O Little Town Bethlehem;” his brief tenure as Bishop of Massachusetts came at the end of his life;
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran minister, martyr, and poet who composed the profound work, “Who Am I?”

That is far from being a comprehensive list.

I have added some, including:

  • Maltbie Davenport Babcock, a U.S. Presbyterian minister, humanitarian, and author of “This is My Father’s World;”
  • W. H. Auden, a member of The Church of England when he lived on that side of the Pond and an Episcopalian when he was an American; and
  • Martin Rinckart, a German Lutheran minister who shepherded a population through war and plague and who also wrote the original German text of “Now Thank We All Our God.”

There have been many other Christians who have expressed their faith eloquently via poetry.  This feast, one I have created, is also for them.

Poetry is a wonderful and appropriate way to convey divine truth in a non-literal way.  Any attempt–from the left or the right–to strip religion of a sufficient amount of mystery and to place excessive emphasis on that which we can grasp rationally is wrong.  Therefore I condemn certain excesses of fundamentalism, evangelicalism, and liberalism in Christianity.  Yes, we can know much rationally; to minimize that is also wrong.  But the true nature of God exceeds human understanding, and I enjoy a good divine mystery.  And frequently one needs to resort to a non-literal form of writing to approach a great truth.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 28, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE PIONEERING FEMALE EPISCOPAL PRIESTS, 1974 AND 1975

THE FEAST OF ANTONIO VIVALDI, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH, COMPOSER

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Eternal God, light of the world and Creator of all that is good and lovely:

We bless your name for inspiring all those who with words have filled us with desire and love for you;

through Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1 Chronicles 29:14b-19

Psalm 90:14-17

2 Corinthians 3:1-3

John 21:15-17, 24-25

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 728