Two Natures Met: George Herbert and the Incarnation by Jeannie Sargent Judge (Studies In The Humanities: Literature-Politics-Society: Peter Lang Publishing) addresses the spiritual conflicts depicted in George Herbert's The Temple from the perspective of Herbert's engagement with the mystery of the Incarnation. Herbert's commitment to his art develops as his apprehension of the fullness of the Incarnation advances. Against the iconoclasm of the Puritans, Herbert praises the stained glass windows, the vestments, and the perfumes that lead the poet to appreciate the bruised and broken body that gives him poetic lines and eternal life.
Though Herbert's work is often compared to Donne's, the strongest influence on Herbert's poetry is the Bible, which Herbert calls the book of "infinite sweetnesse" in "The H. Scriptures. I." He reminds us in "The H. Scriptures. II" that the verses work together combining "all the constellations of the storie," and the gospel story of salvation through Jesus is paramount. As Richard Hughes claims, "What Herbert felt about the Incarnation is, without question, the central issue of his poetry [...] the church demonstrates the doctrine of the Incarnation in two ways, the first historically in the Vita Christi, the second sacramentally in the Eucharist; and this is, up to a point, Herbert's way”.
To date, no one has conducted an extensive investigation that The Temple presents the reader with an artistic vision of the gospel Jesus through the eyes of a seventeenth-century witness and with his legacy, the sacrament of the Eucharist; therefore Judge consider Herbert's commitment to a personal and aesthetic treatment of the Incarnation in The Temple. Although she does not maintain that it is the central subject in the poems, it is a significant one. Because Herbert himself is so immersed in the Incarnation that the concept inspires almost all his work, Judge looks at the early history of the doctrine and to examine the intimate relationship that develops from Herbert's felicitous discovery of the Incarnate Jesus as friend, confidant, redeemer, and, above all, muse. This discovery releases Herbert's voice and leads him to identification with the Incarnation. The hypostatic union also inspires the creativity of form that appears in the "double motions" of "Coloss. 3.3" and shapes the cabinets of "Ungratefulnesse."
The word is a bridge to the incarnation as the sacrament of the Eucharist, the very heart of mystery: here, the signifier and signified were identical, the subject knew no separation from the object of worship, the material and spiritual come together, transcendence was manifest in immanence, the past and present were united, remembering and reenacting knew no difference, the individual was joined to the community. Chrysostom spoke of the Eucharist as a mystery, Eusebius described the Eucharist as a "mystical liturgy," Gregory of Nyssa called it a "mystical action" and Gregory of Nazianzus called the altar a "mystical table." In the Apostolic Constitutions, the Eucharist is described as the "mystical sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ." The term was also used to describe the "discovery by faith of the mystery of Christ as the key to the scriptures." Gregory of Nazianzus writes, "I must be buried with Christ, rise again with him and inherit heaven with him, become God's son, become God! . . . That is for us the great mystery. That is what it means to us that God became incarnate, a poor man, for us. He came to raise up the flesh, to save his own image, to put men together again. He came to make us perfectly one in Christ who came to be perfectly one of us, to bestow on us all that he his.." He not only alludes to mystery; he evokes it: Christ came to bestow, not all that he has, but all that he is on man.
If poetry can embody this mystery, it is surely achieved in George Herbert's magnificent anthology of lyrics, The Temple. A seventeenth-century Anglican pastor, Herbert has enjoyed widespread appreciation: he was called the "blessed Herbert" by a midcentury Puritan, the "divine" Herbert by a late-century Presbyterian, and during the Restoration, a Cambridge divine even wanted to canonize him. While The Temple is regarded by both early modern and postmodern readers as a triumph of literary imagination, in its own time it was also perceived as a source of religious inspiration and even as a model for practical devotion. In his Poetry of Meditation, Louis Martz said that it is "hardly too much" to call its main section, The Church, "a book of seventeenth-century psalmody." Barbara Lewalski wrote that "Herbert seems to have conceived his book of lyrics as a book of Christian psalms, and his speaker as a new David, a Christian Psalmist."" Several have noted that among Herbert's precedents, it is Sir Philip Sidney Psalms (1–43) that are indeed the closest approximation in poetry to Herbert's The Temple. Sidney's translations—which moved John Donne to write a poem in praise of them—were based on the Coverdale and Geneva Bibles and are marked by such simplicity of phrasing, and metrical variety (especially different stanza forms) that one critic was prompted to describe them as beginning a new school of English versification. In short, Herbert's The Temple was then and is now widely regarded as the greatest compendium of religious lyrics written in England's great age of religious poetry.
Along with other lyrics penned by other seventeenth-century poets, The Temple figures prominently in Judge’s argument that while the Reformation has been characterized as ushering in so many of the familiar features`of modernism—a rising middle class, capitalism, nationalism, restructuring of the family, revisions of hierarchical authority, preoccupations with subjectivity, the advent of scientific empiricism—something else took place: the mystery that had been the province of religious ritual came to be vested in other cultural forms. One important site of this change was seventeenth-century verse: for all their doctrinal and stylistic differences, Milton, Donne, Herrick, Crashaw, Vaughan, and Herbert make similar claims for their verse. A new understanding of language emerges from these poets—a language theory that is virtually "sacramental."
While the famous debates by the magisterial Reformers over the sacraments were already a century old in seventeenth-century England, a series of bitter, divisive, doctrinal and liturgical battles continued to be waged. Most notable was the battle between those who, like Archbishop Laud, advocated the return to the "beauty of holiness," ceremonialism, sacramentalism, and those with more iconoclastic intentions who were offended by such so-called popish practices. The temptation to search the devotional verse of the period to ascertain the correct doctrinal label for each poet has not been resisted by critics; in fact, the old battles over liturgy and doctrine continue in twentieth-century literary studies, where the discussion has been dominated by the question of whether these poems are the products of a "Protestant poetics" or betray a doctrinal and even ceremonial debt to the Roman church. A session at the Modern Language Association convention in 1986 called "George Herbert's Theology: Nearer Geneva or Rome?" where critics squared off is symptomatic. But rather than worry more over labeling these poets—they are, after all, writing poetry and not systematic theologies— Judge focuses on their use of language and discovered that they were doing something startling: now that their theology insisted that the sacrifice be remembered, rather than reenacted in the communion, they are asking that their poetry carry the mystical force of the Sacrament. Poetry is called upon to carry the performative power of liturgy. Ironically, of all places, Reformation poetry becomes the new cite of transubstantiation of the Word.
Chapter one investigates Herbert's fascination with the awesome gift of the Incarnation. Herbert's personae consider how to apprehend, appreciate, and celebrate the mysterious union that has inspired artists for centuries. For Herbert there is a personal challenge in describing the event itself because he elects to honor God alone whereas Donne and the visual artists from the medieval to the baroque address the occasion as the Annunciation. Herbert also acknowledges the sorry truth of the historic situation: though humankind prompted the need for the Incarnation, fallen beings exacerbate God's pain by their failure to recognize God's generosity and their indifference to his participation in their lives. In addition to “Ungratefulnesse," the chapter looks at "The World," "Man," "An Offering," and a few more familiar poems like "Faith," "Christmas," and "Coloss. 3.3."
Chapter two examines further humanity's inability to come to terms with the incredible sacrifice effected by the fulfillment of the Incarnation. Even when Herbert's personae are intellectually capable of grasping the severe price paid by the Incarnate Jesus, they choose various, inappropriate responses to the Passion. The Passion allows Herbert to explore the measure of emotions Christians may experience while accepting responsibility and seeking an honest place at the crucifixion. The second chapter then looks first at the well-known poems of the opening sequence of The Temple before addressing the lesser known "Ephes. 4:30," "The Familie," "The Bag," "Affliction" (III), "The Holdfast," and "Clasping of Hands." The chapter then turns to "The Pilgrimage" and "The Crosse." Judge believes the poems demonstrate that Herbert avails himself of the traditional and reformed teachings, the communal and the individual, in his contemplation of the Passion.
Herbert's treatment of Easter, the holiest day of the Christian calendar, is the subject of Chapter three. The poems reflect the poignant emotions of the Christian faithful who cherish the message of Redemption through the Resurrection of the Incarnate Jesus. The liturgy for Easter proclaims the fulfillment of Jesus' mission on earth. It urges the Christian who has taken up the cross to cast off sorrow and share in the triumph of the Savior. When Herbert attempts to write joyful lyrics, however, he often finds him-self thwarted by his own lingering sorrow and the proximity of Easter to Good Friday. The Life of Christ reaches its fulfillment on Easter Sunday and is extended by the days leading up to the Ascension when Jesus returns to heaven to send the Holy Spirit and Comforter to his Apostles. The Spirit infuses the bereft followers of Jesus with the courage and knowledge to evangelize in his name. Accordingly, Herbert sympathizes with the Apostles whose incomprehensible joy in the Lord's Resurrection comes up against the loss of his visible presence in their lives. Herbert, who invests himself in the Vita Christi throughout The Temple, is troubled by the possibility of forging a different poetic relationship with his confidant as the historic Jesus becomes the Ascended Jesus. This chapter looks at Herbert's various reactions in "Easter," "Easter-wings," "Whitsunday," "The Dawning," and "Josephs coat" among other works that touch on the Resurrection.
Herbert discovers in The Temple that the legacy of the sacraments provides him with the opportunity of keeping the gospel Jesus present in his life and his art, but his discovery comes with time and after some resistance. Chapter four, therefore, looks at Herbert's poetic treatment of Baptism but focuses on his evolving awareness of the beauty of the Eucharist through a discussion of eleven poems: "H. Baptism" (I) and (II), "The H. Communion" and the earlier poem by this title in the Williams manuscript, "Conscience," "The Collar," "Peace," "The Bunch of Grapes," "The Invitation," "The Banquet," and "Love" (III). Herbert's personae travel a considerable, psychological terrain to dismiss the gnawing scruples that delay Herbert's full enjoyment of the links between him and his risen Lord. Judge contrasts Herbert's witty, dialectical, first poem on Holy Communion in Williams with his later poems to demonstrate the dramatic differences and heightened feelings of the speaker who embraces the aesthetic nature of the Eucharist, proving that the changes have more to do with experience and art than with dogma.
Chapter five traces Herbert's understanding of salvation as it develops from two distinct lines: affliction and joy, heaven as the sanctuary from the suffering that leads the soul to appreciate the sacrifice of the gospel Jesus and heaven as the bliss that fulfills the promises of the Incarnate Jesus. The first six poems Judge takes up follow the premise that grief is a line to God, salvation a rescue from suffering or at the very least a release from weariness: "Affliction" (V), "The Pulley," "Mattens," "The Pearl," "Grace," and "Home." The next two poems,' "Assurance" and "The Glance," feature protagonists whose commitment to the doctrine of salvation by faith makes them heroic figures and avatars of perseverance. "The Glance" also describes Herbert's idea of the Beatific Vision, which prepares us for his imaginative treatment of the heavenly experience in "The Starre, "Heaven, and "Love" (III).
Because the gospel accounts of the Vita Christi produce few or only minor disagreements among Christians, the first three chapters focus on Herbert's intense desire to incorporate the Incarnation (birth, death, and resurrection) into his own life through his contemplation of the Word made flesh. His efforts to experience—in an experiential rather than mystical way—coincide with Protestant aims. On the subjects of the sacraments and salvation, on the other hand, there were profound, bitter arguments, not only between Protestants and Catholics but among Protestants themselves. Herbert's commitment to honesty and to the tenets of the Established Church produces a personal and Protestant apprehension of the sacraments that satisfies him religiously and aesthetically: there is no doubt that Herbert's concept of salvation is thoroughly grounded in the principle of justification by faith—even though his speakers must learn, step by step, to appreciate this idea through their progress in "The Church."
insert content here