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Donne's AugustineRenaissance Cultures of Interpretation$
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Katrin Ettenhuber

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199609109

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199609109.001.0001

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The Bad Physician

The Bad Physician

Casuistry and Augustinian Charity in Biathanatos

(p.137) 4 The Bad Physician
Donne's Augustine

Katrin Ettenhuber

Oxford University Press

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

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