Holy Ambition: Rhetoric, Courtship, and Devotion in the Sermons of John Donne

By Brent Nelson | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER FOUR
Courtship and the Discourse of
Prodigality in Donne's Sermon
on Isaiah 52:3

Isaiah 52:3
YE HAVE SOLD YOUR SELVES FOR NOUGHT, AND
YE SHALL BE REDEEMED WITHOUT MONEY

DONNE'S INVENTIO IN THE SERMONS FOLLOWS the rhetorical tradition of “finding” matter in the circumstances of his oration;436 but as Donne himself suggests in his first extant sermon, preached “at Greenwich” on 30 April 1615 (the third Sunday after Easter), invention involves not only finding the material available, but also amplifying that material. Indeed, for Donne, finding and amplifying are all one. Donne's perspective on invention begins with his understanding of the Bible. His job as a preacher is to “find” his matter and argument in his text. His inventio, the overall argument of the text from “the miserable condition of man” to “the abundant mercy of our Redeemer,“is a “model“or “designe“to which “those words

436 Walter J. Ong describes the “rhapsodic” method of invention (borrowed from oral-formulaic com-
position) whereby the rhetor “stitches” together a discourse from the common storehouse of material:
Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971), 34–38; preaching manu-
als of Donne's time added the element of finding matter in Scripture (of course) but also in the cir-
cumstances of the sermon (the time, place, audience, and the particulars of the occasion).

-165-

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