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Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls (it will either be for John Donne or Agnes of Rome) February 22, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — revwaf @ 2:03 pm

I may have been a tad optimistic about yesterday’s match-up between Samuel Seabury and Hilda of Whitby’s being fairly equal.  It was not.  Whitby handed Seabury his hat in the biggest LM roust yet (79% to 21%).  So off she goes to hold her own against Ignatius of Antioch and may the best woman win 😉

Today’s unlikely pairing is a 16th/17th century metaphysical poet and priest and yet another early church martyr.  As follows:

(Dunne wrote a poem “The Flea.” Got “some” is meant to be ambiguous)

John Donne was born into a Catholic family in London in 1572 during a strong anti-Roman Catholic period.  To quote one source “Religion would play a tumultuous and passionate role in John’s life.

John entered Oxford at age 11 and also studied at Cambridge.  He never received a degree due to his Catholicism.  He next studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and then went on to spend most of his inheritance on women, books, and travel (not surprisingly most of his love lyrics and erotic poems come from this era).

A turning point in Donne’s life came when his brother Henry was arrested for harboring a Catholic priest, then dying of the plague in prison.  John began to question his Catholic faith – and wrote some of his best writings on religion.  At 25 he was appointed private secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England and went on to become a Member of Parliament in 1601.  John lost his job with Egerton, though, and was thrown in jail when it was discovered that he had secretly married Egerton’s 16 year old niece Anne More.  Eight years later they finally reconciled (and Ann’s father coughed up her dowry).  Ann gave birth to 12 children in 18 years (yikes!!!), finally dying after the birth of #12.  Donne switched from love poems to more religious subjects, though he expressed his deep grief over Anne’s death in “17th Holy Sonnet.”

At some point Donne converted to Anglicanism (sources disagree about the actual date) and was also (by the way…) ordained as a priest in 1615.  He gained the reputation of being a great preacher in addition to his vast literary skills.  He became Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1621, and it was there during a severe illness in 1624 that he wrote “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions,”   (better known today as “No Man Is an Island”).  As his health continued to fail him he became obsessed with death; shortly before dying he delivered a “pre-funeral sermon” “Death’s Duel.”  Donne died in 1631 and was buried at St. Paul’s.  His tomb survived the Great Fire and can be visited in Wren’s “new” cathedral to this day.  John Donne was a prolific writer, poet, and satirist, chief among the Metaphysical poets.  His work fell out of favor for a time but was revived in the 20th century and influenced such modern poets as W.B Yeats and T.S. Eliot (whom Donne defeated in Lent Madness’ Play-in Round).

Agnes is almost always depicted holding a lamb. That’s because her name sounds like “Agnus” which is Latin for “lamb.”

Agnes of Rome (not to be confused with Agnes of Assisi, Agnes of Bohemia,  Agnes of Montepulciano, or Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu (aka Mother Teresa) …

I am shamelessly copying the write-up of Agnes in Calendar of Saints: Lent Madness 2013 Editionbecause it’s really good.  Concise, to the point and mercifully sparing us the graphic martyr details some of the other sources seem to relish in.  You can paste that in your search engine and then find it on Amazon and you can order it direct to your electronic devise for the low, low price of just $4.99.  That way if you get stuck in doctor’s waiting room or bored on a long flight you can whip out your kindle or iPad or what have you and learn even more about our wonderful saints.  So here is the shortened version of Agnes’ prematurely shortened life:

“Under orders from the Emperor Diocletian, in 304, the giant politico-military machine of the Roman Empire went to work to rid itself of the troublesome subversives called Christians.  Many children were the innocent victims of this efficient blood purge.  Agnes of Rome is a famous example.

She was reared a Christian, and though just a young teenager when the persecution began, Agnes wished to witness for the faith.  A Roman official was attracted to her and might easily have saved her life.  He offered her jewelry and many pleasant gifts if she would renounce the Lord and her parents and worship the Roman gods.  Infatuated by the innocent girl, the official then attempted to seduce her.  She resisted and he became enraged.  He had her tortured and publicly stripped and abused.  At the culmination of this hideous ordeal she was killed with a sword.

The Roman world was stunned by the story of Agnes’ suffering, much as our world was stunned by The Diary of Anne Frank.  In the next generation, when Christianity was made legal, a shrine was erected to her honor in Rome.’”

Now I have to point out that there are several rather different versions of Agnes’ story (google “Agnes of Rome” sometime and see what you get!).  I have even heard some speculation that she wasn’t actually a real person at all but simply the embodiment of the Lamb of God (“Agnus Dei” – get it?).  One of my favorite stories from the annual St. Stephen’s Episcopal Day School’s blessing of the animals event took place several years ago.  As I worked my way through the chaotic gathering of finned, furred, and frantic creatures (“Bless Hermie the Crab and the boy who loves him…”) a girl thrust a large, plush lamb at me.  “What’s its name?”  I asked.  “Jesus,”  she replied, then– slight pause – “Lamb of God.”  I swear no one can make this stuff up and it’s one of the reasons I love what I do!

Musings:  Um, the story of the young girl who would rather be martyred than a) renounce Christ and b) be married off to a pagan – that has a slightly familiar ring to it, doesn’t it?  Could it be – no, we couldn’t possibly have just read that same story less than a week ago?   Really?  Two early church virgin martyrs in less than a week but no St. Stephen?  Only one Celtic Saint?  So last Friday we get Lucy (who defeated John the Baptist, John the Baptist!!!) and this week we get same-story-different-girl Agnes.  If there is any justice in this world this John shall not undergo the same fate as The B did.  I am voting for John the Donne because I like his writings and want him to avenge John the Baptist.  (Yeah, okay, I am writing this with my tongue stuck firmly in my cheek!).

Vote early (but not often) and encourage your friends and family to vote here.

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2 Responses to “Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls (it will either be for John Donne or Agnes of Rome)”

  1. Bill Wilson Says:

    Agnes in a landslide. Martyrdom trumps eloquence any day.


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