John Donne on Sunday

From a sermon Preached at St Paul’s (Easter Day [28 March] 1623)


“Upon those words of the apostle, If there were no Resurrection, we were the miserablest of all men [1 Cor. 15:13, 19], the School reasons reasonably; Naturally the soul and body are united; when they are separated by death, it is contrary to nature, which nature still affects this union; and consequently the soul is the less perfect, for this separation; and it is not likely, that the perfect natural state of the soul, which is, to be united to the body, should last but three or four score years, and, in most, much less, and the unperfect state, that in the separation should last eternally, for ever: so that either the body must be believed to live again, or the soul believed to die.


“Never therefore dispute against thine own happiness; never say, God asks the heart, that is, the soul, and therefore rewards the soul, or punishes the soul, and hath no respect to the body; Nec auferamus cogitationes a collegio carnis, says Tertullian, Never go about to separate the thoughts of the heart from the college, from the fellowship of the body; Siquidem in carne, & cum carne, & per carnem agitur, quicquid ab anima agitur , All the that soul does, it does in, and with, and by the body. And therefore, (says he also) Caro abluitur, ut anima emaculetur, The body is washed in baptism but it is that the soul might be made clean, Caro ungitur, ut anima consecretur, In all unctions, whether that which was then in use in baptism or that which was in use at our transmigration and passage out of this world, the body was anointed, that the soul might be consecrated; Caro signatur, (says Tertullian still) un anima muniatur; the body is signed with the Cross, that the soul might be armed against temptations; And again, Caro de Corpore Christi vescitur, ut anima de Deo saginetur; My body received the body of Christ, that my soul might partake of his merits. He extends it into many particulars and sums up all thus, Non possunt in mercede separari, quæ opera conjungunt, These two, Body, and Soul, cannot be separated for ever, which, whilst they are together, concur in all that either of them do. Never think it presumption, says St Gregory, Sperare in te, quod in se exhibuit Deus homo, To hope for  that in thy self, which God admitted, when he took thy nature upon him. And God hath made it, says he, more easy than so, for thee, to believe it, because not only Christ himself, but such [humans], as tho art, did rise at the resurrection of Christ.* And therefore when our bodies  are dissolved and liquefied in the sea, putrified in the earth, resolved to ashes int the fire, macerated in the air, Velut in vasa sua transfunditur caro nostra [our flesh is poured out as if into a vessel], make account that all the world is God’s cabinet, and water, and earth, and fire, and air, are the proper boxes, in which God lays up our bodies, for the resurrection. Curiously to dispute against our own resurrection, is seditiously to dispute against the dominion of Jesus; who is not made Lord by the resurrection, if he have no subjects to follow him in the same way. We believe him to be Lord, therefore let us believe his, and our resurrection.”


* Seems to be a reference to Matthew 27:52 (qtd in context), “51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; 52 the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’”

Selection take from: John Donne: A Critical Edition of the Major Works,  edited by John Carey; Oxford: OUP, 1990



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