Title: MEMORY, REASON, AND THE QUEST FOR CERTAINTY IN THE SERMONS OF JOHN DONNE ,  By: Tebeaux, Elizabeth, Renascence, 00344346, Spring91, Vol. 43, Issue 3

During the past two decades, Donne's sermon method has been carefully documented.[1] Donne's statement--"the art of salvation, is but the art of memory"--has been described as defining his concept of memory and linking him with Augustine's concept of preaching. As Dennis Quinn states, in the Sermons Donne attempted to reveal the affective meaning of the text because he believed that "men are persuaded by vision, not by persuasion " (Quinn, Eloquence 291). Critics in this group agree that Donne chose memory as "the art of salvation" because, like Augustine, he believed that God has less confidence in man's understanding and will than in his memory.

However, in concentrating on defining Donne's indebtedness to Augustine's discourse procedure, studies have not shown how Donne's statements on memory also illuminate his perspective on reason and its role in salvation. Passages focusing on memory and preaching often border passages on reason, sin, and grace as these affect the Holy Ghost's appeal to memory to bring the individual to salvation. These larger passages reveal that skepticism[2] and assertions of reason's power[3] surface periodically in Donne's discussion of the believer's search for God. Yet, contrary to those who advocate Donne's firm adherence to skepticism or to rationalism, Donne's statements on memory clearly indicate that he never commits himself to either position. Underlying his inconsistent stance on reason in the Sermons remains a persistent awareness that man's knowledge of God by any means is limited. Man, indeed, is a "future Creature" (Sermons VIII, 2, 75). Ultimately, the value Donne places on reason in the believer's quest for certainty surfaces during the definition of his stance on memory. By first outlining the basis of Donne's position on memory, we can then trace the points at which his position on reason becomes tentative and difficult to capture.

Donne's perspective on memory's role in salvation is evident in the Divine Poems. For example, in Sonnet Xlll of "Holy Sonnets;" salvation occurs because memory invokes "The Picture of Christ Crucified" (Works 1.5 299). Memory thus transforms the soul, preparing it for "the world's last night." "Goodfriday, 1613. Riding Westward" establishes Donne's Platonic perspective on memory's action in salvation. Riding westward, the narrator, in life's secularizing journey toward death (the West), moves away from the East, symbolic of the Sonne's rising-Christ's birth and meaning for mankind. Yet, the narrator's memory, in its reflections on Christ's sacrifice, bends his soul backward toward the East. The narrator's repentance, in life's westward journey will ultimately lead him eastward, when west meets east at his death.[4] Life's journey moves him away from his divine origins: sin--physical, mental, and psychological separation from the individual's heavenly origin--becomes an inevitable part of human existence. However, his memory vividly recalls the Crucifixion and ponders its overwhelming meaning, allowing spiritual transformation to occur:

Though those things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
They are present yet unto my memory, For that
looks towards mee, O Saviour, as thou hang'st
upon the tree; I turne my back to thee, but to
receive Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
(Works 307)

It is memory, specifically, that ponders the meaning of Christ's sacrifice, a concept which Donne, in the Sermons, would describe as one of the points of salvation beyond the reach of reason (See 111, 3, 95; VIII, I, 54; X, 10, 355).[5]

In Chapter II of "The Lamentations of Jeremy, for the most part according to Tremelius," Donne describes another aspect of memory's role, the means by which Christ appeals to the soul and transforms it. In lines 1-19, the narrator describes God's leading him into darkness to destroy his reliance on his own strength, a concept that surfaces in a sermon preached at St. Dunstan's (X, 9, 207-208). In lines 18-21, the narrator states:

My strength, my hope (unto my selfe I said)
Which from the Lord should come, is perished,
But when my mournings I do thinke upon,
My wormwood, hemlocke, and affliction,

My soule is humbled in remembring this.
My heart considers, therefore, hope there is.

In all three of these Divine Poems, salvation and spiritual renewal come from memory's reflection on Christ's sacrifice and the effect this appeal has on the speaker's will as it chooses spiritual renewal.

As students of Donne have already noted, Donne also reflects Augustine's theory of preaching, particularly his insistence on preaching as a tool of edification. And edification, for Donne, was less a logical application process than an opportunity for the Holy Ghost to appeal to memory as the preacher examined the literal and figurative implications of scripture. Janel Mueller remarks that Donne's "practice is to give little more than preliminary attention to the literal sense understood as the historical or factual content of a text; the emphasis is overwhelmingly on what the multiple senses term the moral sense-the

applicability of the text to the state of a man's soul and what he ought to do" (Mueller 17). Both Donne and Augustine recognized that the hearer could not remember all the scriptural and patristic appeals to reason, "yet if thou remember that which concerned thy sin and thy soul, if thou meditate upon that, apply that, thou has brought away all the Sermon, all that was intended by the Holy Ghost to be preached to thee" (VII, 13, 328-329).

While Donne follows arts of discourse procedures governing preaching (Chamberlin 95-136), his application seeks to lead the hearer to self-scrutiny, which, combined with the study of Scripture. Ieads the hearer to awareness of the soul's original capability and then to its restoration. The knowledge of God, gained through self-scrutiny, then leads to love of God-the soul's two main activities as defined by St. Augustine. Knowledge, however, is possible because God's image is embedded in man's faculties: understanding is linked with the Father; will, with the Son; and memory, with the Holy Spirit. Knowledge of God, salvation, means gaining awareness of the heavenly link between man and God. Donne exhorts his hearers to

accustome thy selfe to meditations upon the Trinity, in all occasions and finde impressions of the Trinity in the three faculties of shine owne soule, Thy Reason, thy Will, and thy Memory; and seeke a reparation of that thy Trinity, by a new Trinity, by faith in Christ Jesus, by hope of him, and by a charitable delivering him to others, in a holy and exemplar life. (111,5,154)

FROM this application of the psychology of meditation to the sermon come love of God and awareness of His goodness-faith and hence the transformation of the will and reason. But this awareness begins with memory, the tool by which the soul's innate spiritual knowledge is activated. The resulting awareness impells the will and then understanding to right action. By regeneration of memory, will, and reason, the divine image is restored. Will and reason, numbed by worldliness and sin, are more readily convinced of their need for renewal and right action because of the workings of memory as it responds to the figurative presentation of Scripture through the Sermons:

Of our perverseness in both faculties, understanding, and will, God may complain, but as much of our memory: for, for the rectifying of the will, the understanding must be rectified; and that implies great difficulty: But the memory is so familiar, and so present, and so ready a faculty, as will always answer, if we but speak to it, and aske it, what God hath done for us, or for others. The art of salvation, is but the art of memory. (II, 2, 73)

And therefore . . . we may be bold to call it the Gallery of the soul, hang'd with so many, and so lively pictures of the goodness and mercies of thy God to thee, as that every one of them shall be a catechism to thee, to instruct thee in all thy duties to him for those mercies: And as a well made, and well plac'd picture, looks alwayes upon him that looks upon it; so shall thy God look upon these, whose memory is thus contemplating him, and shine upon shine understanding, and rectify thy will too. (II, 11, 237)

As Janel Mueller states, Donne is unique among seventeenth-century Anglican preachers for his emphasis upon memory, and then will and reason, as the preacher's means of accessing the soul (p. 33). Thus the psychology of the sermon as meditation is directed toward rousing and then regenerating the reason and the will of man. Man is sinful and fallible, but like Aquinas, Donne sees his glory in the rational faculty by which he becomes aware of his sin and then can be persuaded of the need for spiritual restoration.

But the effectiveness of this technique depends on Donne's ability with language. As Mueller comments, "In Donne's preaching, the stress is on the figuring, imaging, signifying force of Biblical language in order to make it memorable in the special Augustinian sense and thus to activate the reason and will to holy ends" (pp. 40-41). Thus, from a rhetorical perspective, meditation uses grammar to interiorize language for the hearer (Chamberlin 15-16). Like Augustine, Donne uses arts of discourse procedures as tools by which the mind is helped to see the intelligibility of things. Language works by helping the hearer recall experience associated with that language. As Chamberlin observes (17), if words are the traces of an inward relation to a God who speaks to individuals, then the study of words can help each hearer realize more fully the divine meanings of that discourse within him. Memory retains vestiges of our divinity, but it also shapes and orders its contents to render them intelligible for discourse. "By keeping the contents of past experience sorted, related, and arranged intelligibly, the memory makes it possible for the mind to make sense out of what it apprehends and to make itself understood" (Chamberlin 17). It does so by using principles of an inherent rational order.

Activating memory thus depends upon discourse procedures that in themselves use a rational method to lead the hearers to realize what truth they already know. By grammatical procedures, each hearer rediscovers in his own memory the truth of Scripture as it engages his own experiences. Thus arts of discourse procedures become the basis of the psychology of renewal. Memory activates will and reason, but memory also depends on the working of pre-existent rational processes within the mind by which ideas can be ordered to yield meaning. But for Donne, the process is clouded by both the role of grace and the problems that sin presents. It is this difficult, often tortuous relationship among reason, memory, sin, and grace that surfaces throughout Donne's comments on the believer's search for certainty.

In examining the individual's search for spiritual certainty, Donne focuses on the sermon, the main ordinance by which the Holy Ghost works upon memory to lead the hearer to knowledge of sin and then to faith. As Donne consistently states, "There is no salvation but by faith, nor faith but by hearing, nor hearing but by preaching" (VII, 12, 320).[6] Because of this stance, Donne's concept of memory and preaching influence other theological concepts that relate to his views on reason.

First, the importance Donne places on memory and preaching underlies his distinction, throughout the Sermons, between knowledge of God and sight of God, a distinction important in evaluating his perspective on reason. Nature and the Book of Creatures provide our sight of God (VIII, 9, 220). Knowledge of God comes from preaching and the ordinances of the Church, which lead to knowledge of God by faith. God reveals Himself in various ways, but these are "uneffectual without the Word" (VI, 6, 142). We must always hear his voice. Describing the method used by the Holy Ghost to convert St. Paul, Donne states that the Spirit moves well above understanding in appealing to memory to lead us to faith during preaching:

Man hath a natural way to come to God, by the eie, by the creature; So Visible things shew the Invisible God: But then, God hath super-induced asupernatural! way, by the eare. For, though hearing by natural!. yet that faith in God should come by hearing a man preach, is supernatural. God shut up the natural! way, in Saul, Seeing; He struck him blind; But he opened the super-natural! way, he inabled him to heare, and to heare him. God would have us beholden to grace, and not to nature, and to come for our salvation, to his Ordinances, to the preaching of his Word, and not to any other meanest (Vl, 10, 217)

Donne's 1625 Christmas Day sermon states that God made preaching an instrument of salvation because God-manifested first in creatures (sight of God), then in the Law, and finally in the Prophets-could not save men:

. . . and then, when the wisedome of Nature, and the wisedome of the Law' and the wisedome of the Philosophers, and the wisedome of the Scribes, became defective and insufficient, by mans perverseness; God repayred' and supplyed it by a new way, but a strange way, by the foolishnesse of preaching. (V, 13, 257)

Second, in stressing preaching and memory as the channels by which the Holy Ghost reaches individuals, Donne states that reason must be persuaded during the process of salvation--"by our senses we come to understand, so by our understanding we come to beleeve" (IX, 16, 357). Donne often states that what God requires of man is known or can be known by reason:

but admit that preparation, which God offers to shine understanding, by an assiduous and a sedulous hearing, for a narrower faith that proceeds out of a true understanding, shall carry thee farther then a faith that seems larger, but is wrapped up in implicite ignorance; no man beleeves profitably, that knowes not why he beleeves. The subject then, that this worke is wrought in, is that faculty, mans understanding. (IX, 16, 355-356)

Donne repeatedly states that "What we are bid to beleeve, whatsoever we are bid to do, God affords us a reason for it, and we may try it by reason" (V, 10, 207). He also states that faith not based upon understanding and knowledge is unacceptable to God: "light it self is faith; but, the armor of light is knowledge; an ignorant man is a disarm'd man, a naked man," (IV, 3, 119), for "we are not bound to accept matters of religion meerly without all reason and probable inducements; . . . When the Apostle presents to us here, the great mystery of our reconciliation to God, he, in whose power it was not to infuse faith into every reader of his Epistle, proceeds by reason" (IV, 11, 284). Similar statements supporting the role of reason in salvation pervade the entire body of Donne's Sermons.[8] In short, alongside his stance on memory are statements that reason must be persuaded during the quest for spiritual certainty.

YET such statements, often used to support Donne's rationalist perspective, are misleading, if taken by themselves. From Donne's perspective, memory relies on the processes of reason, but its workings are not limited to logical methods only. Memory can operate within a broad, undefined range of experience to lead the individual to salvation. This range is broader than the range in which reason works. For example, his 1628 Whitsunday sermon on John 14:26 focuses on the Holy Ghost. who "undertakes the Pedagogy of the Soul." Because men are all "equally Ignorant of all, of natural!, of spiritual things," Donne states that appealing to memory is much more effective than appealing to understanding: And truly the Memory is more often the Holy Ghost's Pulput that he preaches in, then the Understanding. How many here would not understand me, or not rest in that which they heard, if I should spend the rest of this houre in repeating, and reconciling that which divers authors have spoken diversly of the manner of Christs presence in the Sacrament, or the manner of Christs descent into Hell, or the manner of the concurrence, and joynt-working of the grace of God, and the free-will of man, in mens actions? But is there any man amongst us that is not capable of this Catechisme, Remember to morrow but those good thoughts which you have had within this houre, since you came hither now: Remember at your last houre, to be but as good as you are this minute; I would scarce ask more in any mans behalf, then that he would always be as good, as at some times he is; If he would never sink below himself, I would lesse care, though he did not exceed himself: If he would remember his own holy

purposes at best, he would never forget God; If he would remember the comfort he had in having overcome such a tentation yesterday, he would not be overcome by that tentation to day. The Memory is as the conclusion of a Syllogisme, which being inferred upon true propositions, cannot be denied: He that remembers Gods former blessings, concludes infallibly upon his future. Therefore Christ places the comfort of this Comforter, the Holy Ghost, in this, that he shall work upon that pregnant faculty, the Memory; He shall bring things to your remembrance; And then, Omnia, All those things which I have said unto you. (VIII, 11, 261-262) Donne believes that memory is responsible for persuading understanding: "so all goodnesse is in remembering, all goodnesse, (which is the Image of the holy Ghost) is in bringing our understanding and our assenting into action" (IX, 2, 85). In a 1626 Easter sermon, Donne states that memory appeals to what is good that the individual knows by natural reason. The Holy Spirit, working mysteriously during the sermon, persuades reason to lead the hearer to faith because reason cannot grasp the concepts essential to salvation:

. . . though it [Resurrection] be presented by Reason before, and illustrated by Reason after, yet the roote and foundation thereof is in Faith; though Reason may chafe the wax, yet Faith imprints the scale, (for the Resurrection is not a conclusion out of natural! Reason, but it is an article of supernatural! Faith; and though you assent to me now, speaking of the Resurrection, yet that is not out of my Logick, nor out of my Rhetorique, but out of that Character, and Ordinance which God hath imprinted in me, in the power and efficacy whereof, I speak unto you, as often as I speak out of this place.) (VII, 3, 95)

While Donne emphasizes repeatedly that the Resurrection is above the "search of reason" (Vu, 3, 98), he also states that the Holy Ghost presents the Resurrection to us "with reasons and arguments proportionable to our reason and understanding" ( (101). ). In a Whitsunday sermon on John 6:8 l l, Donne relentlessly describes the presence of sin and states that the Holy Ghost is responsible for rectifying faculties:

so when a naturall man comes to be displeased with his actions, and to discerne sin in them, though his natural! faculties be the Instruments in those actions, yet the Holy Ghost sets this Instrument in tune, and makes all that is music and harmony in the faculties of this natural! man. (VII, B, 222)

This theme is further developed in the first of three sermons preached on John 1:8, in which Donne elaborates on God as "Light":

As this Lux incensionum, kindles easily, when it hath been kindled before, so the soule accustomed to the presence of God in holy meditations, though it fall asleep in some darke corner, in some sinne of infirmity, a while, yet, upon every holy occasion, it take fire again, and the meanest Preacher in the Church, shall worke upon him. (III, 17, 372)

Passages advocating memory and preaching suggest Donne's reluctance in advocating reason as the initial means by which people are brought to Christ. For example, in a sermon on Lamentations 3: 1--"I am the man, that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath"--Donne emphasizes afflictions people suffer because of their sin-ridden nature. God enables them to see and then understand their afflictions. Donne emphasizes that the power of reason and learning do sustain people, but he then states that God may destroy faculties in order to mend them, a concept presented in "The Lamentations of Jeremy":

. . . But when part of the affliction shall be, that God worketh upon the Spirit it selfe, and damps that, enfeebles that, that he casts a sotty Cloud upon the understanding and darkens that, that he cloth . . . devest, strip the man of the man . . . take the man out of the man, and withdraw and frustrate his natural! understanding so, as that, to this purpose . . . yet even in this case God may mend thee, in marring thee, tree may build thee up in dejecting thee, tree may infuse another . . . another Manhood into thee. (X, 9, 207-208)

However, numerous passages state that understanding must be persuaded before salvation can occur, that grace works through understanding. Support for reason's power is particularly evident in sermons based on scriptures that praise reason.[9] But these passages on reason's power coexist with other passages stating that reason and understanding are limited, that without initial grace they never lead man to salvation. In one sermon preached on the Penitential Psalms, Donne remarks:

But, as thy body, conceived in thy Mothers wombe, could not claime a soule at Gods hand, now wish a soule, no nor know that there was a soule to be had: So neither by being a man indued with natural! faculties canst thou claime grace, or wish grace; nay those natural! faculties, if they be not pre-tincted with some infusion of Grace before, cannot make thee know what Grace is, or that Grace is. To a child rightly disposed in the wombe, God does give a soule; To a natural! man rightly disposed in his natural! faculties, God does give Grace; But that soule was not due to that child, nor grace to that man. (V, 15, 315-316)

In other passages, Donne chides the ancient philosophers for attributing too much power to reason, but then he states that men do not use reason as effectively as they should. The point, however, is that reason cannot achieve salvation:

In every Age, some men have attributed to the power of nature, more

than a natural! man can doe, and yet no man cloth so much as a natural! man might do. For the overvaluing of nature, and her power, there are impressions in the Fathers themselves . . . That rectified reason did the same office in the Gentiles, as faith did in the Christians. . . .

In all ages, in all Churches, there have been men, who have been . . . unthankful! to the grace of God, and attributed that to nature, which belonged to grace. But we have an universal! conclusion, . . . And no man can adopt himselfe into the family of God; man is excluded, and all power in man, and all assistance from man, neither your owne reason, nor the reason of your Masters, whom you relic upon, can raise you to this knowledge . . . . The Athiest and all his Philosophy, Helper, and tree that is Holpen, Horse and Man, Nature and Art, Reason mounted and advanced upon Learning, shall never be able to leap over, or breake through this wall, No man, no natural! man can doe any thing towards a supernatural! work. (Vl, 5, 118-119)

DONNE'S stress on sin and its effects on reason explain why he believes memory is the main channel by which the Holy Spirit appeals to the soul. This perspective also explains why Donne repeatedly supports reason but then carefully establishes its limits. His concern, illustrated in the passage above, seems to be that reason, if it were exalted. would be used improperly. But Donne further recognizes that people abuse reason if they attempt to apply it to understanding the essential points of salvation--the Trinity, the Resurrection, and the Incarnation--that must be grasped by faith. Pressing reason too far leads to disaster' because human reason has its limits. Using an image from "Satyre III" in his 1627 Trinity Sunday sermon, Donne explains:

Though our natural! reason, and humane Arts, serve to carry us to the hill, to the entrance of the mysteries of Religion, yet to possesse us of the hill it selfe, and to come to such a knowledge of the mysteries of Religion, as must save us, we must leave our natural! reason, and humane Arts at the bottome of the hill, and climb up only by the light, and strength of faith. . . . If we think to see this mystery of the Trinity, by the light of reason, . . . we shall lose that hold which we had before, our natural faculties, our reason will be perplex", and enfeebled, and our supernatural!, our faith not strengthened the way. (VIII, 1, 54-55)

Donne's insistence on the power of sin undergirds his difficult position on reason. Misuse of reason occurs because of sin, a reality that Donne never seems inclined to deemphasize. While knowledge of God is imprinted in our natural faculties (I, 8, 220),[10] sin distorts faculties and causes us to use them improperly. For example, man sins when he credits "anything to the power of his all faculties, to thinke of any beame of clearnesse in his owne understanding, or any line of rectitude in his own will" (X, 5, 135). If we examine passages on sin throughout the Sermons, we can see that Donne regularly returns to his concern with the ways in which sin perverts reason.[11] But Donne himself is ambivalent on how the individual must deal with sin, an ambivalence which surfaces in three different perspectives he takes on how sin affects the individual.

First, he will state that once initial grace is given, the individual becomes responsible and capable of right action: "And doe not thinke that because a natural! man cannot doe all, therefore he hath nothing to doe for himselfe" (IX, 2, 85). He believes that man can do a great deal spiritually for himself:

It is our selves, that choose, and perform those spiritual actions, which the grace of God hath made a natural man onely capable of his grace; and in those men, in whome he hath begun a regeneration, by his first grace, this grace proceeds not, without a cooperation of those men. . . . but yet come not . . . as to think, that grace works upon thee, as the sun does upon gold, or precious stones, to purifie them to that concoction, without any sense in themselves. (I, 7, 272)

Second, Donne will state that man is so poisoned that without "his Grace precedent and subsequent, and concommitant . . . without such Grace and such succession of Grace, our Will is so far unable to predispose itselfe to any good . . . we are so far from being able to begin without Grace, as then where we have the first Grace, we cannot proceed to the use of that without more (1,8,293). Without grace, natural knowledge of God degenerates into polytheism and idolatry (VI, 10, 218); Scripture cannot be understood (IX, 10, 245-246); and the natural man cannot conceive "One infinite God, that should do all things alone" (VIII, 14, 328). The problem is that sin is a law unto itself:

A law which the flesh cannot disobey, . . . a law written and imprinted naturally in our bodies, and inseparably inherent there, but it is a law that hath got . . . All our strength, and munition into our own hands, all our powers, and faculties to execute her purposes against us. (VI, 5, 117)

Third, Donne will also view sin as failure to seek truth. Compared to the previous two perspectives, this perspective does not make sin as debilitating:

[the soul] rests upon such things as she is not sure are true . . . The beames of that light are too strong for her, and they sink her, and cast her downe . . . and so she returnee to her owne darkness . . . because she is weary of the trouble of seeking out the truth. (Vl, 2, 76)

In passages like this one, Donne seems to believe that reason can cope with sin through effort and by proper application (VI, 5, 120-121). Reason and belief in one's self are the first steps toward spiritual healing. The appeal to memory helps achieve this goal:

Reprove thy self; but doe it by convincing, not by a down-right stupefaction of the conscience; but by a consideration of the nature of thy sin, and a contemplation of the infinite proportion between God and thee, and so between that sin and the mercy of God; for, thou canst not be so absolutely, so intirely, so essentially sinful, as God is absolutely, and intirely merciful!. Doe what thou canst, there is still some goodness in thee;' that nature that God made is good still. (VI, 15, 329-33(1).

Underlying these shifting perspectives is Donne's skepticism that knowledge is unreliable, and the quest for certainty, endless. A 1622 sermon on II Corinthians 4:6 emphasizes man's problem in apprehending Truth:

The knowledge which I have by Nature, shall have no Clouds; here it hash: that which I have by Grace, shall have no reluctation, no resistance; here it hash: That which I have by Revelation, shall have no suspition, no jealousie; here it hash: sometimes it is hard to distinguish between a respiration from God, and suggestion from the Devil. (IV, 3, 128)

A Candlemas sermon also examines the difficulty of finding God:

Reason is the face of God to the natural! man, the Law to the Jew, and the Gospell to us; and such a sight of God, cloth no more put such a power of seeing in our bodily eyes, then it puts a face upon God: We shall see God face to face, and yet God shall have no face to be seen, nor we bodily eyes to see him by. (VII, 13, 344)

For Donne, the imperfections and distortions in sense experience, a central concern of the sceptics. make reason limited and unreliable in the search for spiritual certainty:

So to establish a trust, a confidence, such an acquiescence as a man may rely upon. all this world affords not a basis, a foundation; for every thing in this world is fluid, and transitory, and sandy, . . . all will change. (VIII, 14, 323)

What man seeks, knowledge of God, is not to be found by reason but ultimately by faith, which is the next step beyond reason:

And it is necessary to all us, to have this meanes of understanding and beleeving, to heare. . . . But the hearing that S. Paul intends there, is such a hearing as begets faith, and that the voyce of Creature reaches not to. The voyce of the Creature alone, is but a faint voyce, a low voyce; nor any voyce, till the voyce of the Word inanimate it;

. . . so the assistance of reason, and the voyce of the Creature, in the preaching of Nature, works upon our faith, but the roote, and the life is in the faith it selfe; The light of nature gives a glimmering before, and it gives a reflexion after faith, but the meridianall noone is in faith. (VI, 6, 142-143)

But spiritual certainty found in perfect knowledge of God, the only knowledge that satisfes, is not to be found in this world, even by faith, because such a knowledge is impossible. Perfectly regenerate reason is the highest aim, but this will occur at the Resurrection.

If my understanding be defective, in many cases, faith will supply it; if I beleeve it, I am as well satisfied, as if I knew it; but nothing supplies, nor fills, nor satisfies the desire of man, on this side of God. (VI, 11, 232)

Man, indeed, is a "future Creature" (VIII, 2, 75), whose knowledge of God is hopelessly incomplete: Faith is a blessed presence, but compared with heavenly

vision, it is but an absence; though it create and constitute in us a possibility, a probability, a kinde of certainty of salvation, yet that faith, which the best Christian hash, is not so far beyond that sight of God which the natural! man hash, as that sight of God which I shall have in heaven, is above that faith which we have now in that highest exaltation . . . . the knowledge which I have of God here (even by faith, through the ordinances of the Church) is but a knowledge in part. (VIII, 9, 229)

MANY of Donne's most evocative passages allude to the impossibility, on earth, of man's ever finding either certainty or peace; Memory, will, and reason are ultimately powerless against sin and the limitations of the flesh. God is oftentimes inaccessible to the weary soul:

None of us hath got the victory over flesh and blood . . . . but for these powers and principalities, I know not where to watch them, how to encounter them. I passe my time sociably and merrily in cheerful conversation, in musique, in feasting, in Comedies, in wantonnesse; and I never heare all this while of any power or principality, my Coanscience spies no such enemy in all this. And then alone, between God and me at midnight, some beam of his grace shines out upon me, and by that light I see this Prince of darknesse, and then I finde that I have been the subject, the slave of these powers and principalities, when I thought not of them. Well, I see them, and I try then to dispossesse my selfe of them, and I make my recourse to the powerfullest exorcisme that is, I turne to hearty and earnest prayer to God' and I fix my thoughts strongly (as I thinke) upon him, and before I have perfected one petition, one period of my prayer, a power and a principality is got into me again. . . . The spirit of slumber closes mine eyes, and I pray drousily; Or, . . . the spirit of deviation, and vaine repetition, and I pray giddily, and circularly, and returne againe and againe to that I have said before, and perceive not that I do so; and . . . I pray, and know not of what spirit I am, I consider not mine own purpose in prayer; and by this advantage, this dove of inconsideration, enters . . . The seducing spirit, the spirit of error, and I pray not onely negligently, but erroniously, dangerously, for such things as disconduce to the glory of God, and my true happinesse if they were granted. (X, I, 56)

In a number of passages, Donne attempts to synthesize his often tortuous position on man's search for certainty. For example, in his 1628 Easter sermon, Donne works with one of his favorite passages: "For now we see through a glasse darkly, but then face to face." The central emblem is glass, our means of seeing God in the world. The Book of Creatures, natural reason, the Church, preaching, sacraments, and then faith are "for our sight, and for our knowledge of God here" (VIII, 9, 220). His 1621 Christmas Day sermon, which deals with our means of seeing God--"He was not that light, but was sent to bear witnesse of that light"--includes similar statements: Natural faculties rectified by the Church, by "the Word preached," and by faith raise us to an awareness that "the other greater light is about us" (III, 17, 366). "The light of nature, in the highest exaltation is not faith, but it beares witnesse of it" (III, 17, 367). Then, in a 1624 Whitsunday sermon focusing on the text--"Also no man can say, that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost"--Donne states that men are to use their natural abilities "to Reade, to Heare, to Beleeve the Bible"; because "the reason of man, and his natural! faculties, are the Instruments and Organs that God works in by his grace" (Vl, 5, 120-121). But only by the Holy Spirit does grace enable men to say "that Jesus is Lord." Reason is not the means by which men come to believe:

Men can teach us wayes how to finde some things; . . . Men can teach us wayes how to finde God, The natural! man in the book of creatures, The Morall man in an exemplar life, The Jew in the Law, the Christian in general! in the Gospel, But . . . Only the Holy Ghost enables us to finde God so, as to make his ours, and to enjoy him. First, you must get more light then nature gives, for the natural! man perceiveth not the things of the Spirit. (Vl, 5, 129-130)

Despite periodic efforts at synthesis, Donne's statements about memory, reason, and the place of each in the quest for certainty suggest that his position on reason is often circular. That is, reason must be persuaded for salvation to occur. What God requires of us is not contrary to reason, and faith not based on understanding is not acceptable to God. But for reason to be receptive requires the presence of initial grace, bestowed through the Holy Ghost which appeals to memory during the ordinances of the Church. God appeals to memory because sin darkens reason. Therefore, reason can only, in a limited way, lead to belief. In other words, reason should tell us that God exists and that we should worship Him, but without the aid of initial Grace, reason cannot do this. Men must take some action to help themselves, but without grace they cannot. In one passage Donne succinctly describes this dilemma: "Man is a reasonable creature, though he be an unreasonable man" (111,9,222).

The crux of the matter is that Donne's statements on the role and power of the Holy Ghost in memory and preaching are consistent, but his views on reason are not. His emphasis on sin seems to make him unable to reconcile sin with the reliability of reason in spiritual matters. His warnings about the limits of reason show his concern that men too often are tempted to use reason improperly. Avoiding sin is not simply a matter of rectifying reason. Men do desire evil, and reason does not always show us what is good (IX, 2, 84-85). Sin is pernicious and corrosive, and without the appeal to memory, understanding cannot be regenerated. Ultimately, however, an awareness surrounds many of the discussions on faith and reason that all human efforts, particularly man's desire to know, fail because God is ultimately incomprehensible. Both memory and reason can show man what God does, never what He is (IX, V, 134).

If I will aske a reason, why God commands such a thing; first, . . . It is Dangerous; for, I have nothing to answer me, but mine own reason, and that affords not Lead enough, nor Line enough, to sound the depth of Gods proceedings, nor length enough nor strength enough to reach so farre, and therefore I may mistake the reason, and goe upon false grounds. (VI, 9, 188)

Looking first at Donne's passages on memory and then reason and the relationship of memory and reason in the believer's quest for certainty suggests that any attempt to circumscribe and describe Donne's theology is never final. Donne's position on reason defies rigid definition. Donne is sometimes a sceptic, as critics such as Bredvold, Wiley, and Hayden have stated. At other times he endorses the importance of reason, as Sherwood has cogently argued. Yet in other passages, he sees faith, knowledge, and certainty growing out of regenerate reason, as Henricksen has described. Much of the problem resides, as the preceding discussion illustrates, with the number and variety of passages on reason and its relationship to memory, sin, and knowledge. Because of Donne's varying stances, analysis becomes slippery. Excerpting passages tends to distort meaning. As Stanley Fish (pp. 43-53) has observed, Donne intentionally makes his readers feel insecure about their ability to use rational instruments to articulate spiritual truth or to understand it because he never wants his hearers to forget human limitations. In sermons where Donne's goal is to appeal to memory, interpretation is difficult to formulate precisely. He may use standard forms in structuring the sermon, but Donne's ruminative technique makes analysis of his position difficult. Donne can be an aesthetic joy but an analytical nightmare. Chamberlin, in discussing Donne's arts-of-discourse method, states:

As the reader's mind meditates upon the words of Scripture and follows out the networks of association, his line of thought seems to bounce back into the center and out again in another direction, like the light reflected in a never-ending ricochet. The meaning is multiplied--radiated in different directions by concordancing--bounced back and forth by the mirrors of reality, language, and emblematic signification. Grammatical procedures of invention develop the words of a text by such diversification and reflection. Memory here has room in which to play, a room "wainscotted with looking-glass." (Chamberlin, 136).

This reality is complicated by the fact, discussed by Potter and Simpson in the Introduction to the Sermons (I, 114), that Donne was well aware of the need for caution and prudence in preaching about sensitive issues. The faith-reason controversy was certainly one of these issues. Knowing exactly what Donne wanted readers to see and remember in the "`room wainscotted with looking-glass'" is further hampered by our limited knowledge of the context surrounding many of the sermons. We may never know to what extent audience, occasion, political-historical context, even Donne's own emotional and physical health determined his theology as he expounded it during the 15 years he preached. But what we can see is that Donne's position on reason is neither consistent nor easy to capture. Because Donne reflects so many theological perspectives, tracing his views on major theological issues becomes an uncertain process. As A.C. Partridge remarks in his study of Donne's style, "Any student who seeks to explicate the writing of Donne must be prepared to mend his judgments repeatedly" (Partridge, 11).


[1] In addition to texts in Works Cited. see also: Evelyn M. Simpson and George R. Potter. The Sermons of John Donne (Berkeley: U of California P. 1953-1962) X: 345-365; Robert L. Hickey, "Donne's Art of Preaching," Tennessee Studies in Literature. I (1958): 65-74 Robert L. Hickey, "Donne's Art of Memory," Tennessee Studies in Literature, 3 (1958): 29-36; Joan Webber, Contrary Music: The Prose Style of John Donne (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1963) 1-45- Winfried Schleiner, The Imagery of John Donne's Sermons, (Providence: Brown UP 1972); Gale H. Corrithers, Donne at Sermons (Albany: State U of New York P, 1972); Achsah Guibbory, "John Donne and Memory as `Art of Salvation'" Huntington Library Quarterly, 43 (1980): 261-274.

[2] For example. see Louis Bredvold, "The Religious Thought of Donne in Relation to Medieval and Later Traditions," Studies in Shakespeare, Milton, and Donne, ed. Eugene S. McCartney (New York: Macmillan. 1925) 200-201; Margaret Wiley, The Subtle Knot (Cambridge: Harvard UP. 1952) 120-136; Hiran Hayden, The Counter Renaissance (New York: Scribners, 1950) 165; George Williamson, Seventeenth Century Contexts (London: Faber and Faber, 1960) 54; Charles Monroe Coffin, John Donne and the New Philosophy (New York: Colombia UP, 1937) 288; Michael Francis Moloney, John Donne, His Flight from Medievalism (Urbana: U. of Illinois P. 1944) 47-68; Patrick Grant, "Augustine Spirituality and the Holy Sonnets of John Donne. ELH. 38 (1971); 542-561.

[3] See Terry G. Sherwood, Fulfilling the Circle: A Study of John Donne's Thought (Toronto: U of Toronto P. 1984) 1-62, Bruce C. Henricksen; "The Unity of Reason and Faith in Donne's Sermons." Papers on Language and Literature, 11 (1975), 18-30; Irving Lowe. "John Donne: The Middle Way," JHI, 22 (1061). 288-296; Sister M. Geraldine. "John Donne and the Mindes Indeavoures." SEL. 5 (1965), 115-132.

[4] See Sherwood 158-160; Donald M. Friedman, "Memory and the Art of Salvation in Donne's Good Friday Poem," ELR 3 (1973): 418-442.

[5] Potter and Simpson ed. of The Sermons of John Donne; subsequent references to the Sermons and quoted material are indicated in the text by volume, sermon number. and page number.

[6] See also Sermons IV, 7, 195; V, 13. 258; VI, 9, 199; VIII. 11, 260-261; 268-269; VIII, 19, 227-228.

[7] See also Sermons IV. 7. 195; V, 3. 90; V, 13, 257; VI, 10, 217; VIII, 11, 269.

[8] See also Sermons 1, 2, 169; 1. 8, 297-298; 111, 3, 3, 97-98; 111, 14, 294-295; 111, 17-357-359; IV, 3, 119-121; IV, 8, 216-217; IV, 14. 351; V, 4, 102-103; V, 6, 148; VII, 3, 101; VII, 8, 229; IX, 4, 114-115; IX, 16, 355-356; IX, 17, 384-385; X, 1, 46.

[9] See IX, 16--Psalms 32.8: "I will instruct thee, and teach thee in the way which thou shalt goe, I will guide thee with mine eye"; IX, 17--Psalms 32.9; "Be not as the horse, or the mule, who have no understanding; whose mouth must be held in with bit and biddle, lest they come neere unto thee"; and IV, 6--Job 36:25: "Every man may see it, man may behold it afar off."

[10] See Sermons 1, 8, 290; 111, 17, 366-367; V, 13, 247-248; IX, 17, 382.

[11] See also Sermons 1, 1; VII, 4, 136; IX, 11, 257-258.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Monk Praying Marquette University Fine Art Collection

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Church Interior Marquette University Fine Art Collection

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): William Hogarth Righteousness: Temperance e and Judgment Marquette University Fine Art Collection

Works Cited

Chamberlin, John S. Increase and Multiply: Arts-of-Discourse Procedure in the Preaching of Donne. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1976.

Donne's Prehend Sermons. Ed. Janel Mueller. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1971.

Fish, Stanley E. Self-Consuming Artifacts. Berkeley: U of California P, 1972.

Quinn, Dennis. "Donne's Christian Eloquence." ELH 27 (1960), 276-297.

-----. John Donne's Principles of Biblical Exegesis." JEPG 41 (1962), 313-329.

Partridge, A.C. John Donne: Language and Style. London: Andre Deutsch, 1978.

The Poems of John Donne. Ed. Sir Herbert Grierson. London: Oxford UP, rev. ed., 1966.


By Elizabeth Tebeaux

The Sermons of John Donne. Ed. George R. Potter and Evelyn M. Simpson. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 1962.