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The Eye of the Eagle

John Donne and the Legacy of Ignatius Loyola


Francesca Knox Bugliani

John Donne’s family were committed Catholics. His two uncles were Jesuits. One of them, Jasper Heywood, was the leader of the Jesuit mission in England, while Donne’s mother was a recusant who was forced to leave the country in 1595. In this detailed and historically contextualized study, the author argues that Donne was greatly influenced in his journey from militant Roman Catholicism to ordination in the Church of England by Ignatius of Loyola’s religious ideals and in particular by his Spiritual Exercises.
The book describes the pervasive influence of the Spiritual Exercises on late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Catholicism and Protestantism. In this light, it offers a close reading of Donne’s preordination religious poems and prose with constant reference to the sermons. These works are usually read through the tinted lenses of ‘Catholicism’ or ‘Protestantism’ or other religious ‘-isms’. The reading proposed here argues instead that Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises were for Donne a means to transcend the simplistic and perilous divisions of contemporary Catholicism and Protestantism.


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Chapter One - John Donne Criticism and the Ignatian Legacy -5


Chapter One John Donne Criticism and the Ignatian Legacy All knowledge that begins not, and ends not with His glory, is but a giddy, but a vertiginous circle, but an elaborate and exquisite ignorance. — John Donne, The Sermons Since Donne’s rise to popularity in the late nineteenth century, several histo- rians and literary critics have suggested that Ignatian spirituality inf luenced Donne. But they have done so fragmentarily, as a means of pinpointing Donne’s presumed intellectual or temperamental weakness, or of reading his poetry from one particular literary viewpoint or of identifying his religious af filiation, rather than, as the present book proposes, as the key to understanding the man and his works. Ignatian inf luence on Donne has been discussed in three phases. The first period (1880–1945) acknowledged Donne’s Catholic background and the inf luence of the Jesuits but, in keeping with contemporary preju- dice against ‘Jesuitism’ in literary history and the history of ideas, assesses its inf luence negatively. The first suggestion that Donne was linked to the Society of Jesus goes back to the nineteenth century, to Cambridge, where interest in Donne had come in the wake of the Oxford Movement and then developed among biographers, editors and literary critics.1 Isaak Walton’s biography, which had dominated the interpretation of Donne’s works during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, had not suggested 1 A. Jessopp, John Donne, Sometime Dean of St Paul’s, Leaders of Religion Series (London: Methuen, 1897), vii. D. Haskin, John Donne in the Nineteenth Century...

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