This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

March 31 -- Feast of Saint John Donne

How did this rakish writer of erotic poetry...
To do justice to John Donne, an apostate Catholic who is canonized in the Anglican Church (if canonized is the right term),  I must be a little shallow this year but revisit him when I have more time to read and reflect on his "Death's Duel" sermon.  If I can find them, his anti-Catholic polemics, Pseudo Martyr and Ignatius his Conclave, might also be enlightening.  Having read just a few lines, I will not hold out hope that they might be fun.

Donne was born into a Catholic family in Elizabethan England.  The Donnes were recusants from the Anglican Church, keeping their heads low and avoiding anything that might jeopardize their lives or their consciences.  In fact, young Johnny attended Oxford for three years and Cambridge for another three, but did not take a degree from either because graduates had to swear the Oath of Supremacy.

...become this wizened holy man? 
John had a promising career ahead of him in spite of the Catholic thing.  He trained as a lawyer just prior to Elizabeth's ban on recusant lawyers.  John switched to the Church of England, probably one year after the Queen's ban took effect. He bounced around Europe some and served with the Sea Dogs against the Spanish.  At twenty-five, he could look forward to a career in diplomacy or Her Majesty's Government, but instead he married his boss's niece.  His boss didn't like the marriage, and he was the Lord Keeper of the Seal.  Her dad didn't like the marriage, and he was the Lieutenant of the Tower.  In short order, newlywed John found himself unemployed and incarcerated. 

Despite the cost to his personal and professional life, John and Anne Donne had a great marriage.  She had twelve children, though two were stillborn and three more died young.   There were times when the money was tight and the living wasn't easy, especially after Anne died, leaving lots of sad, hungry kids behind.  Eventually his career improved so much that he began to hope for a spot in the Royal Court.  The King, however, suggested he try the Church instead.

This proved to be very good advice.  He was so naturally inclined to be a minister that Cambridge gave him an honorary doctorate of divinity.  He snagged a lot of high-profile religious gigs like Royal Chaplain.  For the last ten years of his life, he was the Dean of St. Paul's. 

Donne's feast coincides this year with the Feast of the Resurrection, misnamed Easter in the English speaking world.  Donne himself preached his own funeral sermon several months before he died, and wore a funeral shroud when he had his portrait made.  But he was thinking past the grave, not of it.  To Donne, the portrait had value because that's what he would look like on Resurrection Day.  As Christians celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord and Savior, they could do worse than to pause for a moment and consider the poet-priest who so fervently believed in the Resurrection of us all.