Tuesday, 14 June 2011

For Whom The Bell Tolls

The following is excerpted from a homily (Meditation 17) offered by the great British poet, the Very Rev’d John Donne, Dean of St. Paul’s, London in which he coins the famous phrase.  He was a man, like many of his generation, given to profound contemplation of his own death having survived serious illness and having lost many loved ones.
In the following he considers the nature of the Catholic Church as a single body made up of all the baptized who are on a journey together.  In his eloquent way, he calls us to prayer for those who go before us in faith.
 The Church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action 
concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. 

And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; 
and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every 
translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leave again for that library where every book shall lie open to one 
. . . The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that 
minute that this occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. 
Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this 
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece 
of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by 
the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's 
death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and 
therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for 
Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing 
of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but 
must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the 
misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousness 
if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath 
enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and 
ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man 
carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none 
coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he 
Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not 
current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our 
home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to 
death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this 
consideration of another's danger I take mine own into 
contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my 
God, who is our only security.
John Donne

In St. Paul's a memorial to Donne was erected from an etching of him wrapped in a shroud.  It survived the Great Fire of London.

Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris (Now this bell, tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.)

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