Katrin Ettenhuber, Donne's Augustine: Renaissance Cultures of Interpretation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. 267pp. ISBN 978-0-19-960910-9.

Patrick J. Murray
University of Glasgow

Murray, Patrick J. "Review of Katrin Ettenhuber, Donne's Augustine: Renaissance Cultures of Interpretation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011." EMLS 16.2 (2012): 9. URL: http://purl.org/emls/16-2/revetten.htm

  1. In their 1990 essay '“Studied for Action”: How Gabriel Harvey Read His Livy' Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine, through an analysis of the marginalia of Gabriel Harvey, the scholar, writer and companion to Edmund Spenser, sought to 'contribute to the historical understanding of the ways in which trained readers assimilated and responded to classical heritage' (30). In so doing, Grafton and Jardine's study served to explain how a prominent Renaissance scholar approached, examined and analysed canonical texts. Encompassing such aspects as hermeneutic methodology and the actual physical practicalities of scholarly reading in the Renaissance study or library, 'How Gabriel Harvey Read His Livy' has emerged as a landmark essay in the field of early modern research.
    Katrin Ettenhuber, in her recently published Donne's Augustine: Renaissance Culture's of Interpretation (2011), ploughs a similar furrow to Grafton and Jardine, substituting, as the title of her book suggests, St. Augustine of Hippo for Livy and the poet and preacher John Donne for Harvey. Primarily concerned with how Donne, the dean of St Paul's during a period of intense religious debate and tumult, engaged with the writings of his forebear in his sermons, this book examines how Donne read, analysed and utilised such Augustinian concepts as charity, casuistry and humility.

  2. Donne's Augustine is a valuable addition to the research field for several reasons. Firstly, it represents the first extensive close-reading analysis of Augustine's presence in Donne's preaching, sermons and homilies. The sheer volume of Augustine in Donne's work – over a thousand citations in the prose works which reference to sixty-one Augustinian texts, and 155 of 160 extant sermons alluding to or quoting the patristic authority (3) – highlights the fecundity of the book's central subject for Donnean scholars. Secondly, and in the elucidatory spirit of Grafton and Jardine, it details the ways in which one prominent early modern thinker read (in every sense of that word) one of the key intellectual authorities of the age – as Ettenhuber points out, Augustine was a towering presence in the energetic intellectual, theological and philosophical discussions of early modern Europe, representing 'by far the most frequently cited authority in English writing of the early modern period and just as ubiquitous in Continental thought' (8). In doing so, Donne's Augustine provides the 'first sustained account of Donne's reading habits: of the books he consulted in search of Augustinian material, and of the intellectual precepts and procedures that guided him in collecting, digesting, and re-presenting Augustine's texts in his work' (3). Fourthly, it tackles the 'politics of quotation' within the wider humanistic discourse of the Renaissance, heavily influenced by the ad fontes paradigm. Lastly, this intertextual coming together is given the frisson of biographical parallel: where the youthful and occasionally indiscreet Augustine of the Confessions gives way to the monumental theologian of maturity, so the bawdy Jack Donne of the Songs and Sonnets spends his later life as one of the most prominent clergyman of his age.

  3. In her introduction, the author sets out the bibliographic context of Donne's engagement with Augustine. Thus, Ettenhuber provides a detailed and explanatory catalogue of the major editions of Augustine's work that were available to thinkers and divines in the Renaissance, in particular the three major Works collections of the 1500s, as collated and edited by Johann Amerbach (1506), Desiderius Erasmus (1528-9) and the theologians of Louvain  (1576-7). Providing a biographical background to the texts through which Donne encountered and read Augustine, this survey also allows the author to map out the parallels between the key features of certain editions of Augustine and Donne's sermons. An attendant consequence of this approach is a fascinating insight into the publishing and editorial judgements in the world of early modern print, and their influence on how contemporaries read their Augustine. This is in essence a detailing of, to borrow Ettenhuber's phrase, 'textual digests and textual digestion' (46), and is typified in the discussion of Erasmus's edition, which, the author informs us, not only contained a novel approach to the ordering and categorisation of its ten volumes, but also included such apparatus as marginalia, captions, commentaries, synopses, etymologies and, significantly, an exhaustive index (38). The last of these features in particular, Ettenhuber writes, 'allowed preachers and controversialist to spot Augustinian passages in a much more economical and target-orientated way' (38).

  4. Ettenhuber's ensuing methodological approach is through individual analyses of different periods of Donne's homiletic career, and distinct texts from the Donnean canon. Here, the author seeks to 'present five case studies designed to illustrate different modes of Augustinian reference and recourse in Donne's work' (105). The demarcating boundaries of these individual case studies vary. In chapters three and four the author's focus is primarily textual, the first examining the Augustinian presence in the Essayes in Divinity (widely accepted as being written pre-ordination in 1615) and the second looking at Biathanatos, the thinker's famous treatise on suicide and its presence in the Bible. Meanwhile, in chapter six the focus is determined by the wider political context, examining as it does Donne's Whitsunday sermon in relation what Ettenhuber terms the 'crisis of 1629' (185), a period of political upheaval in England encompassing Charles 1st's dissolution of parliament in March and the agreement of peace with Catholic France and Spain in April. Donne's reading of Augustine, therefore, is elucidated in a wide range of contexts including literary, personal and political.


Works Cited



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© 2012-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).