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Vol II No. 5

A Primer: Donne's Holy Sonnet XV

by D. N. Keane

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
– Collect for Advent

John Donne (born 1572 – died 1631) was the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral London, from 1621 to 1631. As such he knew the Prayer Book collect for Advent I well. Holy Sonnet XV reflects his engagement with it, as well as the proper epistle and gospel readings for that Sunday.

The collect encapsulates the foci of Advent. This first season of the church’s year begins on the Sunday nearest November 30 and roughly coincides therefore with the month of December (up to December 25). The name is an Anglicization of the Latin word for ‘arrival’ or ‘coming’. The season, as also the collect, has in view two arrivals of Christ: first, when he ‘came to visit us in great humility’ and second ‘when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead’, which is the telos, the end or purpose of his first coming. It may surprise many, who

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