The Incarnation has always struck me as the Church's liturgical affirmation that life does indeed begin at conception. Today, the feast of the Annunciation (celebration moved to Monday) and Good Friday are joined in the same day, March 25. Life has come full circle, as John Donne observes below.
John Donne was born in 1572 into a family of recusant Catholics. His mother was the great-niece of Thomas More, and was related to several martyrs. Donne's Catholicism was strong enough that he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy necessary to receive his degree at either Oxford or Cambridge (he studied at both), but after his brother Henry was arrested and racked for harboring a priest (the priest was found and drawn and quartered), Donne turned his back on the faith, writing anti-Catholic pamphlets and eventually becoming ordained into the Church of England as a way of providing for his rapidly increasing family.
Upon the Annunciation and Passion Falling upon One Day
Tamely, frail body, abstain today; today
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came and went away;
She sees Him nothing twice at once, who’s all;
She sees a Cedar plant itself and fall,
Her Maker put to making, and the head
Of life at once not yet alive yet dead;
She sees at once the virgin mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha;
Sad and rejoiced she’s seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty and at scarce fifteen;
At once a Son is promised her, and gone;
Gabriel gives Christ to her, He her to John;
Not fully a mother, she’s in orbity,
At once receiver and the legacy;
All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
The abridgement of Christ’s story, which makes one
(As in plain maps, the furthest west is east)
Of the Angel’s Ave and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, God’s court of faculties,
Deals in some times and seldom joining these!
As by the self-fixed Pole we never do
Direct our course, but the next star thereto,
Which shows where the other is and which we say
(Because it strays not far) doth never stray,
So God by His Church, nearest to Him, we know
And stand firm, if we by her motion go;
His Spirit, as His fiery pillar doth
Lead, and His Church, as cloud, to one end both.
This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one:
Or ‘twas in Him the same humility
That He would be a man and leave to be:
Or as creation He had made, as God,
With the last judgment but one period,
His imitating Spouse would join in one
Manhood’s extremes: He shall come, He is gone:
Or as though the least of His pains, deeds, or words,
Would busy a life, she all this day affords;
This treasure then, in gross, my soul uplay,
And in my life retail it every day.
Two Poem Drafts
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