Chapter

The Bad Physician

Katrin Ettenhuber

in Donne's Augustine

Published in print July 2011 | ISBN: 9780199609109
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191729553 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199609109.003.0005
The Bad Physician

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This chapter investigates another neglected work by Donne: Biathanatos, his treatise on suicide (composed c. 1608; published 1647). Donne's engagement with Augustine focuses on the City of God; however, unlike the Essayes in Divinity, which closely emulate Augustinian models of interpretation, Biathanatos approaches Augustine's text in an openly hostile and oppositional manner. Donne's citations from the City of God deliberately misrepresent and distort Augustine's position on suicide, in an attempt to interrogate the rhetorical foundations which underpin Augustine's moral and theological thought. Augustine's ethics focuses not on the quality or outcome of an action, but on the motives of the agent; this emphasis on intent survives in the early modern discourse of casuistry (the art of case-based reasoning), of which Biathanatos is an example. Donne's treatise puts particular pressure on ‘charity’, the key concept of Augustine's intent-based ethics, and problematizes principles of discretion and good judgement which will come to define his preaching.

Keywords: Biathanatos; casuistry; charity; Renaissance debates on suicide; City of God; epistemology; Jesuits; equivocation

Chapter.  14195 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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