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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 Six - Donne’s Theology -185


Chapter Six Donne’s Theology If a man set his heart (we cannot call it a setting) if a man suf fer his heart to issue upon any of these f luid and transitory things of this world, he shall have cor vafrum et inscrutabile, He shall not knowe where to finde his own heart. If Riches be this f loating paper that his eye is fixed upon, he shall not know upon what course; If beauty be this paper, he shall not know upon what face; If Honor and Preferment be it, he shall not know upon what faction his heart will be transported a month hence. But if the heart can fix itself upon that which is fixed, the Almighty and immove- able God, if it can be content to inquire after it self, and take knowledge where it is, and in what way, it will finde the means of cleansing. — John Donne, The Sermons This chapter has three aims. It describes, first, what purpose Donne attrib- uted to theology in the Essays. Second, it explains the role of faith and discretion in Donne’s theology, arguing that Donne the theologian was an explorer and a discerner. In the Essays and in the sermons, Donne’s eye was focused, like the eye of an eagle, on God’s revelation interpreted in accordance with those theologians who, in his view, represented the tradi- tion of God’s ‘universal, catholic Church’.1 Finally, this chapter explains why Donne’s way of applying and engaging with theology in...

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