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  • Writer's pictureSt Michael's Church


On 31 March the Church remembers the priest and poet John Donne. He was was born in about the year 1571 and brought up as a Roman Catholic. He was a great-great nephew of Thomas More, although this seems to have had little influence on him, as he led a somewhat colourful youth and was extremely sceptical about all religion.

John Donne, by unknown English artist, circa 1595

He went up to Oxford when he was fourteen, studied further at Cambridge and eventually discovered his Christian faith in the Church of England. After much heart-searching, he accepted ordination and later the post of Dean of St Paul's Cathedral. Much of his cynicism dissolved and he became a strong advocate for the discerning of Christian vocation, and in particular affirming his own vocation as a priest, loving and loved by the crucified Christ.

John Donne died on the 31st March in the year 1631. His love-poetry and religious poems took on a renewed life in the twentieth century and his place both as a patristic scholar and as a moral theologian are confirmed by his prolific writings and the publication of his sermons.

Both the Epistle reading (1 Corinthians 1. 18–25) and Gospel reading (Matthew 13. 52–58) today mention scribes. In his letter, Paul speaks fairly dismissively of them in suggesting that they have no insight to offer which can be measured against God's wisdom.

Jesus also shines a spotlight on scribes but allows for the possibility that they can draw upon ancient wisdom but blend it with fresh thoughts about how God is opening up his kingdom through the ministry of Jesus.

John Donne explored this idea in his poem A Hymn to God the Father. It is a beautiful poem, which contains a repeated pun on the poet's name ('done'/'Donne'). In the poem, Donne speaks openly about his own sin and asks God that, at his death, Christ will shine a forgiving light upon him. It could, I suppose, be the prayer of any one of us.

Fr Simon

A Hymn to God the Father, by John Donne Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun, Which was my sin, though it were done before? Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run, And do run still, though still I do deplore? When thou hast done, thou hast not done, For I have more. Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won Others to sin, and made my sin their door? Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun A year or two, but wallow'd in, a score? When thou hast done, thou hast not done, For I have more. I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun My last thread, I shall perish on the shore; But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore; And, having done that, thou hast done; I fear no more.


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