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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 Four - Essays in Divinity, Discretion and the Spiritual Exercises -111


Chapter Four Essays in Divinity, Discretion and the Spiritual Exercises O Lord […] begin in us here in this life an angelicall purity, an angelicall chastity, an angelicall integrity to thy service, an Angelicall acknowl- edgement that we alwaies stand in thy presence, and should direct all our actions to thy glory. — John Donne, Essays in Divinity This chapter argues that Donne brought to the Essays in Divinity his knowl- edge of the Ignatian exercises. There are similarities between the written texts of Donne’s Essays in Divinity and Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, but, on their own, these similarities give an imperfect picture. The Spiritual Exercises are just that, a guide to exercises that inf luence the exercitant experientially rather than literarily and it was in this way, I contend, that they inf luenced Donne decisively. This chapter highlights first the formative role of discretion in the Essays and then focuses on Donne’s method and themes of meditation, comparing them with relevant points and directions given by Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises and in early Jesuit commentaries on them. Finally, it considers the concluding prayers of the Essays in the light of Ignatian petitions and colloquies. 112 Chapter Four Composition and Criticism Essays in Divinity are among the lesser known works by Donne. It is uncer- tain if ‘Essayes in Divinity’ was Donne’s title.1 Nor do we know the exact date of their composition, although internal evidence suggests strongly that it was completed between 1609 and 1611.2 Copied posthumously from his father’s manuscript...

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