Luke the Evangelist vs. John Donne

Today's match-up pits two writers against one another. Evangelist vs. Poet. In other words if you've ever experienced the agony of writer's block, this battle's for you.

No one seemed to experience voter's block yesterday as Hilda of Whitby held off a feisty Ignatius of Antioch to advance to the Elate Eight. She'll face the winner of Martha of Bethany vs. Harriet Tubman (good luck with that).

While everyone knows we have the best Celebrity Bloggers in the Celebrity Blogger business, we need to say a word about our own Laurie Brock. Some of you may know that a few days ago Laurie took a spill off her galloping horse and fell onto a fence. While she's at home and recovering nicely, she did break several ribs and punctured a lung. We invite you, the Lent Madness community, to keep Laurie in your prayers in the weeks ahead. An out-of-commission priest less than three weeks before Easter is not a good thing.

While the SEC got off its duff and wrote yesterday's write-up for Hilda (one of Laurie's saints), Laurie insisted on writing today's entry for John Donne. In other words, she is so dedicated to Lent Madness that she overcame broken bones and internal injuries to fulfill her commitment. While most of us would be crying while curled up in the fetal position and cursing the world (speaking for myself), Laurie has gotten right back in the Lent Madness saddle (um, bad analogy). Of course, this shouldn't affect your voting choice since the last thing Laurie would want would be sympathy votes for John Donne.

Tim and Scott addressed Laurie's situation and the inherent hazards of Celebrity Bloggership in yesterday's edition of Monday Madness along with a response to the accusation that Lent Madness is a liberal religious gambling site. Monday Madness: It's must see (low production value internet) TV!

And finally, if you haven't liked Lent Madness on Facebook (and reaped the benefits of all the bonus material) this is the week to do so. We're on a campaign to hit 5,000 likes by the end of the week. Why? Because we like round numbers and Tim and Scott could use the affirmation as a measure of their self-worth. Thanks to all our new "likers" who heeded the call yesterday -- well over 150 of you -- to put us at 4,859 as of this very moment.

2-saint-luke-grangerLuke the Evangelist

Luke the Evangelist and author of Luke-Acts gave us many key stories of the New Testament, including stories of Jesus’ birth and the arrival of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. But the stories about Luke himself are thin on the ground. What is he hiding? He’s the patron saint of bachelors and brewers, which is suggestive. Was he part of a fraternity? He was a Greek after all.

He’s also the patron saint of painters, based on a legend that he painted an official portrait of the Madonna. Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote a sonnet about “St. Luke the Painter” that begins:

Give honor unto Luke Evangelist
For he it was (the aged legends say)
Who first taught Art to fold her hands and pray.

It is claimed that both the Black Madonna of Czestochowa and the Madonna Nikopeia were painted by Luke with the Madonna sitting as model, telling him stories of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Luke is often seen with his emblem of an ox, which either symbolizes the priestly aspect of his gospel (since it begins with the priest Zechariah) or the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ ministry. Or someone decided to make the four beasts surrounding God’s throne in Ezekiel 1 match the four gospels of the New Testament canon and Luke got the ox.

There is another story about Luke in the Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine (compiled in the 13th-Century) that claims Luke appeared to the Christians of Antioch who “had abandoned themselves to vice,” and were “besieged by a horde of the Turks.” Luckily, with Luke’s intercession, “the Christians straightaway put the Turks to rout.” And no doubt straightened up their act.

So apparently Luke kept an eye on his hometown of Antioch, which was probably tricky since he’s a bit scattered. In 357, his remains were moved to Constantinople by Constantine, then later taken to Padua, having been stolen by Crusaders. In 1992, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Ieronymos of Thebes and Levathia requested a bit of Luke and received “the rib of Luke that was closest to his heart,” which is now buried in Thebes. His head somehow ended up in Prague at some point, apparently. Other competing relics include three arms, a knee, two fingers, a tooth, and some miscellaneous bones.

A DNA test of a tooth from the Padua relics, however, suggest the remains are indeed “characteristic of people living near the region of Antioch, on the eastern Mediterranean, where Luke is said to have been born. Radiocarbon dating of the tooth indicates that it belonged to someone who died between 72 A.D. and 416 A.D.” So you know that’s legit.

-- Laura Toepfer

JD-1855John Donne

John Donne’s life preached the truth that humans are complex, rich texts. Like the stories in our Holy Scripture, one cannot read the section of Donne’s later ordained life as Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 17th-century England without reading the first chapters of his adventures as a rake and scoundrel. Donne was born into a prominent Roman Catholic family and attended several institutions of higher learning, never attaining a degree. Instead, he jumped ship to the European continent, wrote bawdy poetry, womanized, partied, and lived life out loud while writing even more poetry. After going legit (sort of -- he was still one of London’s official playboys), his wit and intelligence landed him a job as the private secretary to one of the highest officials in the queen’s court. He secured a seat in Elizabeth’s last parliament and was on the fast track to fame and fortune. Then he ruined it all for love. He secretly married Ann More and her father and John’s employer were totally opposed to the match. Yet they married. Donne got sacked and landed in jail, along with the priest who married them. Donne summed up the experience in one sentence:  “John Donne, Ann Donne, Undone.”

While Donne had quietly converted to Anglicanism some time during the 1590‘s, he began more deeply to explore his faith in the early 1600’s. He began to mingle the erotic sexuality of his early poetry with what Donne called the “amorous seeking of Christ.” He quoted Solomon to explain his erotic religious poetry (and probably his earlier erotic not-so-religious poetry), reminding us that Solomon “was amorous, and excessive in the love of women: when he turned to God, he departed not utterly from his old phrase and language, but...conveys all his loving approaches and applications to God.”

His friends began to urge him to consider holy orders. He resisted, noting that some in England considered him a pornographer and that, “some irregularities of my life have been so visible to some men.” King James, however, wanted him to become a priest, and the king’s will was done.  Donne was ordained and soon became known as a great preacher in a era of great preachers.

Many of Donne’s poems, essays, and sermons during this time reflect a fixation on death (many being code for most). During his 10-year tenure as Dean of St. Paul’s the Black Plague swept through London thrice (this is about Donne; I can use thrice). His beloved wife Ann died before he became Dean and 5 of his 12 children died in childhood. He had a painting done of himself in a death shroud before he died. Yet his words focus not on the hopelessness of death, but the embrace of God’s love that awaits us through the gates of death.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me....
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Donne’s life -- all of it -- preached. His sermons, his poetry, his satire, and his essays weave the fullness of human life together. Courageously he did not edit out the distasteful, racy parts, but allowed all the words he lived and wrote to be offered to the glory of God. Donne’s life was filled with love, loss, passion, mistakes, poverty, riches and redemption. No chapter was wasted or ignored by Donne or God.  For Donne, “[A]ll 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 leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.”

-- Laurie Brock


Luke vs John Donne

  • Luke (56%, 2,097 Votes)
  • John Donne (44%, 1,655 Votes)

Total Voters: 3,750

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116 comments on “Luke the Evangelist vs. John Donne”

    1. Oh, this isn't fair! I'm a John Donne devotee, poems and sermons both. But I voted for St. Luke because he is much more widely known (understatement!) and therefore more influential. I would have voted for both if possible.

    2. "...tend to bask in the glory of God [image] and pray for the Church Militant [image]" in Q&A made me laugh. Thanks, MapleAnglican!

  1. Unlike the saintly commentators' prediction that women will fall for Donne, I am voting for Luke, whose gospel has Jesus upholding women.

    1. Yes...agreed, to a point -- but be a bit wary of this gospeller in that regard. In crafting the stories he received it seems Luke sometimes airbrushes the women a bit. My favourite example is to compare across the gospels the story of the woman who anoints Jesus. In Mark and Matthew an unnamed woman anoints his forehead (like the prophets of old, though Jesus cites it as prophetic of his burial). What she has done is an act to be memorialized "wherever the gospel is proclaimed" (the church has rather a poor track record on that!). In John, Mary of Bethany anoints his feet but still also in an act that Jesus cites as prophetic of his burial. But in the story of an anointing woman that Luke chooses to tell, the woman is named a sinner. She stands behind him and anoints and kisses his feet and wipes same with her hair, weeping, not prophetically but only to obtain forgiveness as a terrible sinner (as women especially are, dontcha know!). She is congratulated for her love, hospitality, and penitence...but what has happened to the power and female agency in the prophetic act? Admittedly, could be different stories involved but why does Luke choose to tell that one? Airbrushing the anointing woman figure to make her less powerful makes her more socially acceptable for the time, easing the spread of the gospel, and still makes a powerful story, but something is lost.

      Donne's no peach either from a feminist perspective but I voted for him today for the sake of a friend who loves his poetry and finds it deeply inspirational. I do have Luke down as a likely finalist but he, too, has sins to atone for so I'd like him to sweat a bit getting there. : )

      1. I have to disagree with your perspective, JenniferThomasina. If anything, the anointing woman in Luke is even more prophetic because in her actions she speaks Truth to the Power of the Pharisee Simon who is Jesus' host. Jesus points out that Simon has failed in the sacred duties of hospitality, whereas the anointing woman has dared to come forward and commit an act that is not only holy, but also has strong sexual overtones to it.

        What we contemporary readers miss in Luke's telling is the cultural context of the anointing woman story. Historically in Greco-Roman cultures, people reclined on couches to eat from low tables set in a U-shape (see the BBC production of "I, Claudius."). So Jesus would have been reclining with this feet toward the outside. One of the practices of hospitality was that beggars, foreigners and other needy people were ranged along the periphery around the dinner guests, awaiting whatever food they gave or was left over. The anointing woman no doubt was among these "outsiders." For her to move from the outside toward the guest of honor was for her "not to know her place," in other words, she was a prophetic "uppity woman." And being an "uppity woman," she made history.

        As to the sexual side, in ancient Middle Eastern cultures, as in Orthodox Jewish and Muslim cultures today, a woman's hair was considered part of her sexual organs, because it has the power to inflame a man's passions. For the anointing woman to dry Jesus' feet with her unbound hair was to commit a blatant act of physical love. While this may not be so "prophetic," the fact that Jesus accepted this act from a woman to whom he was not engaged or married would have been a tremendous cultural and religious scandal. Breaking such a barrier of exclusion seems pretty prophetic to me, and Luke recounts it all.

        Just some things to think about...

        1. Indeed! Does portraying women as sexual beings empower or disempower them? And the answer is...yes! (seriously yes - 'it depends'. I stand by my original post, but I love that you see empowerment in the Lukan woman's action.)

      2. JenniferThomasina, I must disagree with you on certain points. First of all, I don't think the Church
        has done such a bad job telling the story of the Anointing Woman in Matthew
        and Mark. The Church declared those two Gospels to be canonical, thus insuring
        that this woman would be remembered forever. I believe the account of John
        and that of Luke to be two separate incidents. The details of the story differ.
        Plus, it's not the only time in the Gospels that there are occurrences that are
        similar. Matthew and Mark both have two tales of the Feeding of the Multitudes.
        You said "could be different stories involved, but why does Luke choose to tell that one?"
        My response to that is "Why not?" It happened, so why ignore it? You seem to think
        that calling the woman a sinner somehow tames her and makes her story less
        powerful. What is more powerful than the grace of forgiveness? And she had to be
        pretty gutsy to approach Jesus like she did. Luke was not being sexist when he
        named her a sinner, there are plenty of male sinners in his Gospel: Herod, Pilate,
        Judas, Peter. To be human is to be a sinner.

        1. Agree 100% - to be human is to be a sinner. Agree also that Luke is justly renowned for his agenda of inclusion, and a fine storyteller. Just suggesting to be wary of his spin sometimes - does inclusion come at a price?
          Comment on church stems from - agreed, again, there is plenty of evidence of both male and female sinners...yet somehow we've always heard more about Peter as Rock on which church was to be built than...{who was that again, that He told us to remember forever?}.

          1. You're right, Peter is far better known as the Rock than the Sinner.
            But, even though we don't know the Anointing Woman's name, we
            are still talking about her two thousand years later.

      3. I have often thought that having someone wash my feet with greasy stuff and hair would feel kind of gross.

  2. I was all set to vote for Luke, after all he is the patron saint of iconographers. However, Donne's humanity and honesty about who he was got to me and my vote.

    1. "Donne's humanity and honesty about who he was got to me and my vote." My thoughts exactly. This does not lessen my devotion to the Order of St. Luke (liturgical reform) or to the Evangelist's work. It's just that today Donne's example is what I need.

  3. As much as I enjoyed Laurie's piece on Donne and as much as I pray for her swift recovery, I have to go with Luke. Where would we be without Acts?

  4. Since "no one is an island", I connect with my fellow Cathedral Dean and huge underdog in LM. I don't think Luke even spoke English.

    1. I always say that having 12 apostles speaking 12 languages at once would make everything incomprehensible so what must have happened at Pentecost is that they all spoke English loudly and clearly so that everyone could understand them as if they were hearing their own languages. Luke, of course came along later, so Dean Werner is probably right that he did not speak English.

  5. The choices are getting as hard as choosing a Pope! But Luke wins by a whisker for me - championing the marginalised & vulnerable. My favourite Gospel writer.

  6. What a choice. I have always adored John Donne, and the write-up emphasized his modernity, his wholeness, his incredible appeal as a man who lived life fully. Yet, Luke has given us similar qualities... in scripture, for heaven's sake. He clearly got to talk to Mary. (I didn't know some people think he might have painted her. How cool.) He liked women. And he knows how to tell a good story. So my vote goes to that well-rounded man....Luke!

  7. I do admire Donne (even with all the puns) and am happy to have come to know him better. But it's Luke the healer, the painter, and the writer for me today--no bones about it. Wishing you swift healing and ample comfort, Laurie. Here's a little recovery music--'t+Fence+Me+In

  8. I looked back at the original write up to remember how many of my favorite stories were written by Luke. I have been a Donne fan for many years, and certainly enjoyed studying him in grad school, but the Bible wihtout Luke would be a much lesser thing, so I'm voting for Luke. In a contest between two writers, the Biblical author has to win.

  9. Who are we kidding? In this match-up, I'll take what I can. Vote for Donne!!! I wrote his entry while lying on the bed in pain, knowing that I had to get his story out there to inspire all. (Actually I was sitting on my some pain because I was writing to go against Luke, but I appreciate all of the thoughts and prayers).

  10. Poor Luke seems more like an icon than a real person, and saints have to have been real, with all the flaws and passions of the rest of us -- we imitate them because they give us hope that we too can grow in holiness. Donne for me.

  11. Despite the Apostle's putative role in incessantly interviewing the Mother of God for their post-crucifixion writings about Jesus (see Colm Toibin's fanciful novella, The Testament of Mary), Luke gets my vote, although I see and admire Donne's full humanity displayed in a life well lived.

  12. Ah, well! No choice here for me... My paternal grandmother's maiden name was Donne, and family legend has it that we are somehow related - albeit on the wrong side of the sheets! Family ties it is!

  13. I feel great empathy with Donne when he says, “some irregularities of my life have been so visible to some men.” Me, too. I am inspired by the example of his later life.

  14. This contest was extra tough, as I really like John Dunne, and I'm sure I'd enjoy his earlier works. But in the end, Luke, the one who tells us most about Jesus, gets my vote.

  15. Honestly, it was a tough call. I voted for John Donne, though, partly because he seemed the underdog --he was paired up with a Gospel writer!-- partly because I don't know where emo teenage me would have been without Donne and his rather emo poetry!

  16. Poor Luke, in his photo today, it is clear that he has a worse scoliosis than Richard III . He also seems to be riding on the back of a large steer( no balls) It's no wonder he only got to 24 chapters. 28 in Acts; maybe he lost the beef. However, his most memorable lines were translated into English by people who knew Donne. "O Death be not proud, sans cow still wins.

  17. I adore Luke, but I frequently need to be reminded that Jesus manifest himself for the sinners- most especially the fornicators, the tax collectors, and low lifes- and that He redeems us all regardless of our sins.
    Donne is such a marvelous example of a feet-of-clay saint who truly appreciates that redemption is a gift, not something earned. It's Donne!

  18. I recall a story a prof told in a 17C lit class years ago: After some ecclesiastical dust-up, Donne - to prove he was penitent and fully re-committed to the whole Jesus thing - took the chalice when offered to him and downed it in one go. There's a holy badass factor there that I love love love. Donne - the real live gifted flawed human merely being - is the man to vote for today.

  19. AGAIN a difficult choice! First, prayers for Laurie. And despite her eloquent appeal for Donne I am voting for the physician since his descendants are essential to her recovery. Both contestants were such marvelous writers-to my shame I've read little Donne & intend to remedy that. Also I think perhaps he could be the patron saint of those in recovery (if only from our own foolishness.) Still, bachelors need all the help they can get in this man-bashing age so as to embrace their good caring souls rather than following Donne's womanizing influence.

  20. On a huge hill,
    cragged and steep,
    Truth stands,
    and he who would find it
    about and about must go.
    -John Donne

    As for Luke getting the ox, it's not as bad as getting the axe.