We Come Too Soon to the Name

From “Sermon 63 on Candlemas” (1622)

St. Augustine cites and approves of the moral philosopher Seneca, “Whoever hates wicked people hates all people.” For if a person will none but honest people, where shall he find any practice, any object of his love. So if a person will hold friendship with none, nor do offices of society to none, but to good-natured and gentle and supple and sociable people he shall leave very necessary business undone…

“God makes his sun to shine on the good and on the bad, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” God has made of one blood all humankind: how unkindly then, how inhumane it is to draw blood! We come too soon to the name of the enemy, and we carry it too far. Plaintiff and defendant in a matter of trespass must be enemies. Disputes in a problematic matter of controversy that is not concerned with foundations must be enemies. And then all enmity must imply irreconcilableness; once enemies, friends never again. We come too soon to the name, and we stand too long upon the thing.

John Donne (1572-1631) was an English cleric, poet, and scholar, acclaimed as one of the finest preachers of his day. He is widely considered the preeminent metaphysical poet, prized for his inventiveness in the use of metaphor and his dramatic, vigorous style. He was ordained after a political and military career, serving as chaplain at Lincoln’s Inn, and for the last ten years of his life, as dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Donne is commemorated on the liturgical calendar of several Anglican churches on March 31.


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