For here, the heights of fidelity become the most malign.

January 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

Donne’s repudiated text consumed R. that summer, and he tried repeatedly to write to S. concerning what he thought he understood of it. He signed and folded the first month of the break one letter a week, but tore to pieces each. Nothing he wrote seemed adequate. Repression, he considered, as he learned later Biathanatos had endured from its start, was perhaps appropriate, for Donne’s was a diabolical book made all the more so by ringing of something familiar. Expanding outward, into biblical precedent and social history, its vision of faith made sense of S.’s parting words. By Donne’s reckoning, if the example of Christ behooves his followers live as he, the effect is fatal. The one who needn’t ever die at all, God in the flesh, chose to do so, and in so choosing was not murdered by another. His was, to put it plainly, a suicide. The climax of Donne’s defense is to the point. To die to oneself, and thus as Christ, requires one risk committing the very offense for which there can be no confession. Nevertheless, because so few ever succeed in killing themselves correctly ā€” some sinful residue of the self lingers nearly without fail in the act, whether born in the throes of melancholy or at the sword of martyrdom ā€” it remains good and right for the church and state to stand in the way of righteousness. By pulling back a bit from his defense, consoling the sad-sack suicidal depressive was never his intention, the scandal of Donne’s treatise draws closer. For here, the heights of fidelity became the most malign. R. could not help but wonder, though, if it might be otherwise, and in his final unsent letter concluded: “The life of faith ends not unlike the beginning of the best sermon: as the greatest tragedy. Properly unfulfilled, both.”

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