States of Exception and Pauline Love in John Donne’s Sermons and Poetry

  • Paul Cefalu


In this opening chapter, I assess John Donne’s views on Protestant iconoclasm as represented in the sermons and the poems “The Cross” and “Good Friday.” The first section reviews Donne’s positions on divine right theory and political theology, particularly the nature of analogical relations that obtain between God and the secular magistrate. Against recent criticism that argues for the absolutist political theology of the sermons, I suggest, drawing on the work of Agamben and Santner, that Donne’s political theology levels hierarchical distinctions between sovereign and subject: Every subject is exhorted to establish an interiorized “sovereign within” as a first step toward imitating Christ’s virtue and elevating God. The establishment of such a metaphorized internal commonwealth opens up the possibility of self-worship, which in turn issues in a metaphoric “state of emergency,” and the intervention of God’s “sovereign” exceptionalism. Since such Godly intervention is ultimately contingent on the subject’s degree of backsliding—backsliding which is always tied to an exercise of creaturely free will—the outcome of this dialectical process is paradoxically to limit, or at least make predictable, God’s otherwise arbitrary power to declare a state of exception in order to punish refractory sin.


Political Theology Mirror Stage Iconic Sign Holy Ghost Devout Individual 
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  1. 1.
    Debora Kuller Shuger, Habits of Thought in the English Renaissance: Religion, Politics, and the Dominant Culture (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), 164.Google Scholar
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© Paul Cefalu 2007

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