To HIS CONTEMPORARIES JOHN DONNE, Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, was remarkable not so much for his theology or his politics as for his eloquence as a preacher. Of course, as a preacher Donne needed to be theologically informed and politically astute, and he was; but Donne's chief achievement as a preacher was his ability to compose and deliver powerful sermons that would move his audience to greater devotion, and this, above all, he did with distinction. This study aims to provide some insight into Donne's effectiveness as a composer of sermons, focusing on his resourcefulness, particularly his ability to derive from his own culture diverse material that he could use in persuading his congregation toward a life of religious devotion.
Much recent study of Donne's sermons has focused on the first two aspects of Donne's career as preacher: his politics and his theology. The most important work, by Jeanne Shami and others, has elaborated the socio-political considerations that influenced Donne's preaching. The emerging picture is of a preacher who delicately balanced personal conscience regarding his spiritual duty with the external demands of political authority.' The present study also approaches Donne's sermons as cultural
1 John N. Wall Jr. and Terry Bunce Burgin, for example, show that in his St. Paul's Cross
sermon on 5 November 1622, Donne responded to King James's Directions to Preachers
(which restricted political commentary in sermons) by conspicuously avoiding the “lurid
anti-Catholic invective “that came to typify the occasion (“'This sermon…upon the
Gun-powder day': The Book of Homilies of 1547 and Donne's Sermon in
Commemoration of Guy Fawkes' Day, 1622, “SAP. 49.2 : 19–30, 23). Yet Jeanne
Shami, in her comparison of the Royal Manuscript of Donne's 1622 Gunpowder Plot
sermon with the 1649 published version, concludes that “Donne is concerned with
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Publication information: Book title: Holy Ambition: Rhetoric, Courtship, and Devotion in the Sermons of John Donne. Contributors: Brent Nelson - Author. Publisher: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Place of publication: Tempe, AZ. Publication year: 2005. Page number: 1.
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