JOHN DONNE ON CONVERSION1
DONNE in a letter to Sir Robert Ker ( April, 1627) said:
"My tenents are always for the preservation of the religion I was born in, and the peace of the state, and the rectifying of the conscience."
E. Gosse, commenting on this letter, said:
"The words here, 'the religion I was born in,' are very startling, and at first sight incomprehensible. Everybody knew that Donne had been born and bred a Romanist, and that his family were stringent recusants. . . . But I think that Donne, as a staunch High Churchman, would not admit any essential difference between the Catholic religion, in which he was born, and that which he now professed.
. . . If, as Dr. James Gairdner has said, ' Rome was no longer competent to be the guardian either of faith or morals,' the Catholic religion in England, as in Italy, was none the less one and indivisible."2
These remarks of E. Gosse give the impression that it was the only place where Donne had expressed himself on this subject. While recently preparing an anthology of Donne's sermons, illustrative of his theology and mysticism, I came across several passages where he has definitely declared himself against changing one's religion, and fully explained the meaning and significance of his conception of the Catholic Church.
In one of his sermons Donne declared:
"Truly I have been sorry to see some persons converted from the Roman Church to ours; because I have known, that onely temporall respects have moved them, and they have lived after rather in nullity or indifference to either religion, than in a true and established zeale."
And he went on to tell the story of a "French gentleman''
"who was turned from the Reformed to the Roman religion being asked, halfe in jest: 'Sir, which is the best