Monday, 22 February 2016

Notes from the John Donne Society Conference 2016

As I did last year, I am providing my notes on papers recently presented at the annual conference of the John Donne Society that focused on the prose works of Donne. We were again treated to an excellent slate of papers (see program here), but this year there were fewer papers treating Donne's prose: the songs and sonnets seemed to be favoured this time around. So, there was less work for me!

"The Johannine Spirit-Paraclete in Donne’s Sermons and Holy Sonnets"
Paul Cefalu, Lafayette College

In his two Pentecost sermons of 1627 and 1628 on John 14:26 (and context), Donne emphasizes the missionary role of the Holy Spirit as a teacher and comforter who works by imparting the memory of Christ. Donne evinces a particular preoccupation with the Spirit as comforter.

These aspects carry over into the holy sonnets. In "Father, part of His double interest," Donne extends the notion of Christ’s love conveyed from God through the Spirit. This sonnet answers poetically Donne’s own sermonic call to find comfort in the work of the spirit as a conduit God’s love through Christ to all.

"Wilt thou love God…" also echoes the language of the Johannine passage, blending a Pauline notion of adoption with a Johannine emphasis on begottenness, where Christ is already glorified once he has arrived, and similarly, Christians have already begun to enjoy the indwelling Spirit, a realized eschatology in the present. Donne’s emphasis on a two-way love in the opening line reflects the sort of reciprocity outlined by John.

"Donne’s Defense of Preaching: Two Sermons under Pressure"
John Walters, Indiana University

In his sermon on Acts 7:60, Donne speaks of men that move "in middle spheres" negotiating between those above and below in the social hierarchy and between the ideal and the practical. Donne’s commitment to a counsel-based political society came increasingly under pressure from the centralization of political power and imposition of conformity with a corollary of the preacher’s diminishing ability to deliver counsel, to work within this middle sphere. Answering claims that Donne’s was a supporter of absolutism, Walters suggests Donne’s metaphor of the middle sphere suggests a more complex picture: discretion does not necessitate compliance or complacency, the middle sphere was the site of intense debate and contest (building on Lori Anne Ferrell). How does Donne, from this base, aim to shape political structures in his sermons?

In his Paul’s Cross before King James on 15 September 1622 on the "Directions for Preachers," Donne is not a servile sycophant. His emphasis is on the benefit of the preacher-counsellor for the flock (Judges 5:20). He begins with the premise of King James as head of the Church. At same time, he insists that the preacher has a responsibility to preach gospel. He argues that the Directions help preachers to serve God better: effectiveness requires proper use; the Directions ensure proper use and therefore enhance effectiveness. Orderliness is more effective than disorderliness, an army more than mob.

In his sermon preached on Mark 4:24 before King Charles at Whitehall on 1 April 1627, at end of his career, Donne remains constant in his conviction of the importance of preaching in the Church of England in the face of political change and pressure. In this sermon, Donne’s does not parse out his verse, "Take heed what you hear," as is his usual practice, but repeats the whole verse over and over through the sermon as a kind of imperative to obey the command as expressed. This is a strong defense of the importance of preaching in the face of Laudian emphases. Donne’s statement that this was "first time … I wished the king away," speaking directly to his citizen audience, is a recognition of the potential offence in this emphasis. He was right to worry, but Charles was offended not by Donne's supposed slighting of Queen Anne (as is often claimed), but rather, by Donne's assertion, drawing on Jeremiah 8:17 and Isaiah 3:1, that the loss or suppression of counsel is the first punishment God will afflict on a sinful nation: the worst fate of a nation is loss of preachers as counsellors. This verse thus emphasizes the important for congregations to hear preachers' counsel. Charles and Laud might have been offended by Donne’s too-strident defense of the importance of preaching.

"'Nourishing jealousies in princes and contempt in subjects': John Donne and Militant English Catholicism"
Marla Lunderber, Hope College

Builds on Anthony Milton’s assertion that in seventeenth-century England, anti-popery was principally political rather than religious. In his treatment of Ignatius and the Jesuits, Donne focuses on their misuse of power, and his central concern is the threat of national upheaval, specifically, regicide. In Ignatius His Conclave, for example, Machiavelli’s compliment to Ignatius about his ability in waging "Spiritual War" modulates into a more focused compliment about his facility at regicide. In the sermons, Donne makes extensive use of Jesuit commentary (with important qualifications), but he is frequently cautionary about the Jesuits' political threat. In his Lenten sermon preached at Whitehall on 12 February 1616, he characterizes a Jesuit as a fox who might deceive a simple soul in a matter of religion, and, much more seriously and menacingly, as a wolf who might prove a regicide. Donne tends toward openness and inclusiveness in theological thought, so far as it rests on fundamentals, but is not tolerant regarding political threat.

No comments:

Post a Comment