Wrestling with God: Literature and Theology in the English Renaissance

By Gibbs, Lee W. | Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Wrestling with God: Literature and Theology in the English Renaissance


Gibbs, Lee W., Anglican Theological Review


Wrestling with God: Literature and Theology in the English Renaissance. Essays to Honour Paul Grant Stanwood. Edited by Mary Ellen Henley and W. Speed Hill with the assistance of R. G. Siemens. [Vancouver]: M. E. Henley, 2001. vi + 336 pp. CDN $50.00 (cloth).

Wrestling with God, is a collection of essays honoring Paul Grant Stanwood at the time of his retirement from a distinguished career of teaching, editing, and writing about English literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

This period, commonly referred to as "the English Renaissance," is described as a theological age that produced a literature which regarded human events against a background of divine providence, daily grace, eternal salvation, and inevitable mortality, with sin and its consequences universally assumed. This, in turn, is said to have produced individuals who wrote works that reflected the authors' "struggle or self-inflicted soul wrenching necessary for final reconciliation with God." Hence, the title of the volume.

John Booty, in a short but meaty piece, argues that the Book of Common Prayer was not only "The Core of Elizabethan Religion" (pp. 45-51), but that it remained the fundamental expression and formative agent of religion into the seventeenth century and beyond. Booty makes particular reference to book 5 of Richard Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity as the most definitive defense and interpretation of that book (p. 51).

With a few exceptions, the primary focus of the gathered essays is clearly upon the works of John Donne. The first two essays have sections that deal with Donne. Some of the other essays compare certain works of Donne with the those of other authors: "William Shakespeare's A Funeral Elegy and the Donnean Moment"; "John Donne's Lamentations and Christopher Fetherstone's Lamentations in prose and meeter (1587)"; "John Donne and Ben Jonson to 1600: Parallel Lives." Other chapters focus upon the works of Donne alone: "The Progresse of the Soul as Palinode"; "Biography and the Critical Interpretation of Donnes Suicide Tract, Biathanatos "Donne's Holy Sonnets and Biography"; and "Trumpet Vibrations: Theological Reflections on Donne s Doomsday Sonnet."

The last of the Donne essays, the one which this reviewer found most intriguing, is the chapter by Bryan N. S. Gooch, "Britten and Donne: Holy Sonnets Set to Music" (pp. …

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