John Donne: Prayer X. Lente et serpenti

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff


John Donne

O ETERNAL and most gracious God, who as thy Son Christ Jesus, though he knew all things, yet said he knew not the day of judgment, because he knew it not so as that he might tell us; so though thou knowest all my sins, yet thou knowest them not to my comfort, except thou know them by my telling them to thee. How shall I bring to thy knowledge, by that way, those sins which I myself know not?

If I accuse myself of original sin, wilt thou ask me if I know what original sin is? I know not enough of it to satisfy others, but I know enough to condemn myself, and to solicit thee. If I confess to thee the sins of my youth, wilt thou ask me if I know what those sins were? I know them not so well as to name them all, nor am sure to live hours enough to name them all (for I did them then faster than I can speak them now, when every thing that I did conduced to some sin), but I know them so well as to know that nothing but thy mercy is so infinite as they.

If the naming of sins of thought, word and deed, of sins of omission and of action, of sins against thee, against my neighbour and against myself, of sins unrepented and sins relapsed into after repentance, of sins of ignorance and sins against the testimony of my conscience, of sins against thy commandments, sins against thy Son's Prayer, and sins against our own creed, of sins against the laws of that church, and sins against the laws of that state in which thou hast given me my station; if the naming of these sins reach not home to all mine, I know what will. O Lord, pardon me, me, all those sins which thy Son Christ Jesus suffered for, who suffered for all the sins of all the world; for there is no sin amongst all those which had not been my sin, if thou hadst not been my God, and antedated me a pardon in thy preventing grace.

And since sin, in the nature of it, retains still so much of the author of it that it is a serpent, insensibly insinuating itself into my soul, let thy brazen serpent (the contemplation of thy Son crucified for me) be evermore present to me, for my recovery against the sting of the first serpent; that so, as I have a Lion against a lion, the Lion of the tribe of Judah against that lion that seeks whom he may devour, so I may have a serpent against a serpent, the wisdom of the serpent against the malice of the serpent, and both against that lion and serpent, forcible and subtle temptations, thy dove with thy olive in thy ark, humility and peace and reconciliation to thee, by the ordinances of thy church. Amen.