A Christmas Quote from John Donne

Here is a Christmas quote from John Donne, one of my favorite poets (along with a bit of a mystery below). These were the opening sentences of a sermon Donne preached on Luke 2:29-30 at St. Paul’s on Christmas Day in 1626.

The whole life of Christ was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha (where he was crucified) even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for, to his tenderness then, the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after; and the manger as uneasy at first, as his cross at last. His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and morning of one and the same day.” (John Donne, “Sermon Number 11. Preached at St. Pauls upon Christmas Day. 1626.” The Sermons of John Donne, edited by Evelyn M. Simpson and George R. Potter [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962], Volume 7, p. 279.)

Note: I have noticed the following lines attached to this quote online and elsewhere:

“From the creche to the cross is an inseparable line. Christmas only points forward to Good Friday and Easter. It can have no meaning apart from that, where the Son of God displayed his glory by his death.”

These are good lines, but they should not be attributed to Donne. I cross-checked Donne’s sermon in both the Simpson/Potter work cited above, as well as in Alford. (The Works of John Donne; by John Donne, Henry Alford; pp. 57-58) The additional lines do not show up in either work.

As far as I can tell, the lines were first attached to the quote in Joseph Skip Ryan’s book, That You May Believe (p. 50). Ryan credits The Book of Uncommon Prayer, edited by Constance Pollock and Daniel Pollock. The quote from Donne appears in Pollock’s book under the title, Epiphany (p. 49), but it does not have the added lines.

More recently, Ryan’s chapter was picked up in Nancy Guthrie’s new advent book, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, where the full quote including the additional lines are reproduced (pp. 20-21). This is an excellent book which is getting a lot of well-deserved attention, and most of the quotes popping up online with the additional lines reference Guthrie’s book.

So, where did these mysterious lines come from, and how did they get attached to Donne’s quote? I am guessing the additional lines were probably written by Ryan and were meant to follow Donne’s quote as commentary, but were mistakenly included within the quotation marks instead. If anyone can shed further light on this, I would be interested to know.

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