The main theme in John Donne's Meditation XVII is that all in the body of Christ is connected, one to another. His thesis states, "The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all, and he uses the bell, which he held in high esteem, to express this idea to his audience. The church bell is here not only a symbol of death, but also a clock almost throughout the lives at the time of each person.
One of the symbols he uses to convey the message of unity in Christ's body is that each man is a chapter in a book, and " ¦when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language. Death is a factor that every person has in common. All that live must die, even those who are among the body of Christ. The translation is the physical act of dieing, and as Donne believed at death the spirit would become a heavenly body, and having no imperfections (i.e. sin) witch would account for the text of the chapters being in a better language. He lists diverse ways a man might die, but he pulls them all together when he concludes the God's hand is in every death, " ¦and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another. He continues by pulling in the bell, witch rings a little closer to home for everybody because he places back into the story the idea of his own death and their individual mortality, " ¦the bell that rings a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.
The church bell was an ordinary part of everyday life for the initial addressees of this speech. Donne emphasizes that "no man is an island and that every man is a "piece of the contin