The relationship in the early Stuart church between doctrine and discipline -- between formal theological belief and outward matters including church governance, polity and ceremonial practice -- is important for our understanding of George Herbert's devotional lyrics. Eucharistic theories which entertained notions of "real presence" tended to support a sacerdotal style of divinity in which priest, ceremony and outward conformity were key features. Belief in the centrality of inward spiritual life, on the other hand, was reinforced by a theology in which the external elements are less effectual instruments than mere signs of a strictly invisible grace. This paper elucidates a sacramental poetics through which Herbert sought to reconcile the ideologically contrary imperatives of public ceremony and private religious devotion. The two are brought together successfully in The Temple, but this success consists largely in the drama resulting from the conflict the poems trace. Unmistakably inward in focus, Herbert' s devotional enthusiasm is cultivated nonetheless through a fully sacramental and sacerdotal apparatus.
George Herbert (1593-1633) has been identified as among the earliest of divines "to proclaim the new Anglo-centric orthodoxy" o the English church (Milton, 528). Whereas for earlier conformists the Church of England was a champion of true religion against anti-Christian Rome, the later Jacobean and Caroline ecclesiastical establishment sought to extricate itself from the confessional struggles of European Protestantism. This middle road, it is crucial to note, was based not on the ideal moderation it eventually came to signify in later historiography, but rather on a complex mixture of nationalism, the need to establish a greater sense of contiguity with tradition, and the growing inclination to jettison an earlier Protestant identity. Distinct from foreign Calvinism, the English middle way in the 1 620s and 1630s yielded increasingly to an emphasis on sacrament and ceremony to support the inclusivist policies of a state institution. Though most mainstream bishops and ministers sought to combine the ceremonia l and doctrinal elements of English Christianity, long-standing conflict over the church's confessional identity intensified and threatened seriously to erode relations among the establishment clergy. With its strained fusion of Reform doctrine and Roman Catholic ecclesiology, the English via media was compromised whenever sacrament and ceremony on the one hand conflicted on the other with a religious practice more devotional, scriptural and homiletic in orientation. (1)
An elaboration of C. A. Patrides's observation that the Eucharist is "the marrow of Herbert's sensibility" (Herbert, 1988, 17), this paper elucidates a sacramental poetics through which the poet sought to reconcile the potentially contrary imperatives of public ceremony and private religious devotion. There is in The Temple a marked ambivalence toward the relationship between these modes of piety, particularly as they converge on Herbert's treatment of sacrament. The two are brought together successfully, but this success consists precisely in the drama resulting from the ideological conflict the poems trace. Unmistakably inward in focus, Herbert's devotional enthusiasm is cultivated nonetheless through a fully sacramental apparatus. Similarly, while in certain respects exemplary of what Peter Lake has described as "avant-garde conformity" -- the aggressive promotion of a predominantly sacerdortal and ceremonial vision of the church (1991, 113-14) -- Herbert's verse also typifies the "internal religious exper ience" Anthony Milton identifies as a distinctive feature of both moderate and more radical Puritan divinity (12).
Critical proponents of a coherent Stuart via media discern in Herbert a balance of Protestant doctrine and reverence for traditional ceremonial forms. In recent scholarship, however, the middle road rends often to veer in a decidedly Genevan direction. In Love Known, a sophisticated development of the Protestant poetics first advanced by William Halewood and Barbara Lewalski, Richard Strier avers that eucharistic terminology in The Temple is for the most part metaphorical (47). (2) Gene Veith, similarly, while allowing external forms "to have been closest to Herbert's experience," emphasizes the poet's discussion of the sacraments "in the more guarded terms of Reformed, Calvinist theology" (218; see also Clarke, 13). Christopher Hodgkins is more emphatic in identifying Herbert's via media as "very nearly Calvinist. Very, very nearly" (20). Hodgkins, like Veith, rightly points out the significant role sacrament and ceremony played in Reform theology and ecclesiology, and his analysis of The Temple persuasively challenges Louis Martz's influential view of Herbert as exemplary Anglo-Catholic. In his discussion of the church's and Herbert's indebtedness to Reform theology for their sacramental views, Hodgkins thus compares key passages from the Institutes of the Christian Religion, the Elizabethan Articles, and selected lines from several Temple lyrics (24-31). Perhaps the foremost champion of a Calvinist Herbert, Daniel Doerksen concurs with Hodgkins by seeing in the Jacobean and early Caroline church a middle road that runs directly through Geneva -- between not Rome and Calvin's Swiss church, but rather Rome and the more radical separatists or "those considered heterodox in theology" (21). But this only restates rather than answers the question of the church's confessional identity: considered by whom? Indeed, what is the standard by which anyone in the pre-Civil War religious establishment is to be identified as heterodox, particularly with respect to sacraments and their role in the spiritual life of the church? Doerksen tells us that the eucharistic element in Herbert's poetry is "overrated" by those who neglect to notice that even the most sacramental of the lyrics are about the speaker's heart (97). His observation that Herbert's religion (and Donne's) is "personal and biblical rather than institutional" (139), however, is based on a false dichotomy, as though the focus on inwardness and scri pture were not compatible with the contemporary religious hegemony. Indeed, Doerksen's study itself characterizes the conformist mainstream of the early Stuart church as predominantly and therefore institutionally Calvinist.
R. V. Young is the most recent and a very formidable critic of the Protestant poetics that has predominated in Herbert studies during the past several decades. His observation that such work "fails to do justice to either Catholic or Protestant, forcing both parties into narrow ideological categories," is long overdue. Particularly relevant to the present study is Young's recognition of the relevance of sacrament for meditational practices. "[T]he most intimate and withdrawn of private devotions," he writes, "involves the urge to escape the self' so that "solitude is only the means to a profounder communion" (88-89). Young does not consider, however, the extent to which the relationship between sacrament and devotional solitude could be one of conflict rather than cooperation, a conflict rooted in the confessional struggles of the English church. Critical of the "new-historicist inclination [to] try to explain devotional and doctrinal motifs in The Temple in terms of the socio-political imperatives of Jacobea n and Caroline culture," he is concerned that "unless the poetry is, at some point, considered in its own right as poetry, then there is, finally, no point in studying it at all" (122). The detailed close readings provided here should allay such concern. But Young's insistence that Herbert "was not bound to any of the particular party platforms current in his day" (122) too hastily dismisses the considerable body of Church of England historiography produced in recent years and its relevance for our understanding of the period's literature. Herbert's doctrinal elusiveness, I suggest, is itself a political strategy -- irenic in intent and pastoral in motivation, to be sure -- but deeply aware of the controversies it navigates. Reading The Temple in light of church politics is neither "reductive" nor does it "threaten" Herbert's "poetic vitality" (122-23). On the contrary, that very vitality is evident in his subtle and often dazzling engagement with the socio-religious turbulence of the period. Herbert's heaven ly verse in this respect is firmly on the ground, however exalting our definition of poetry "as poetry."
The relationship between doctrine and discipline -- between, that is, formal theological belief and outward matters including church governance, polity, and ceremonial practice (3) -- is important for our understanding of Herbert's sacramental poetics. Simply put, theories of eucharistic presence emphasizing its material aspects tended to support a sacerdotal style of divinity in which priest, ceremony and outward conformity are key features. Belief in the centrality of inward spiritual life, on the other hand, was reinforced by a theology in which the external elements are less effectual instruments than mere signs of a strictly invisible grace. These binarisms, of course, are problematic, but like all such polarities they are useful if understood as framing the ideological continuum traversed by early Stuart divines in their struggles over the church's confessional identity. Such labels, then, are less precise confessional categories than ideological tendencies, so that while there certainly were divines wh ose theological itineraries suggest a stable middle road embracing both Puritan and ceremonialist inclinations, such "Anglo-Catholics" or Puritan moderates or Calvinist conformists were not immune to the controversies that occupied their more openly polemical contemporaries. This critical flexibility is necessary in considering Herbert, who clearly valued both external and internal dimensions of religious piety. Achsah Guibbory demonstrates such sensitivity in suggesting that when Herbert's lyrics are personal and introspective they tend to "spiritualise the church festivals and ceremonies... in a way that deemphasises the material, ceremonial, and outward aspects of worship" (55). Another way of looking at this, however, is to see sacrament and ceremony as penetrating the inner devotional realm and claiming its otherwise insular space as contiguous with the trappings that are its institutional surface. In Elizabeth Clarke's attractive formulation, Herbert's poems externalize "the inward spiritual holiness wh ich is the essence of Reformed piety" (115-16). Internal and external components of religious experience converge in The Temple on eucharistic topoi, devotional and ceremonial pieties vying for the identity of Christian grace and the location of its authority, just as competing sacramental theories focus on the manner in which the eucharistic elements communicate their holy referents. A style of divinity emphasizing religious experience as integral with ceremonial forms and ritual tends toward more sensualist eucharistic formulae. Obversely, the extent to which the Eucharist was thought to contain or otherwise effectually to communicate grace is an index of its sacerdotal status and role in promoting the church's social and confessional cohesion. The Pauline admonition to examine oneself when receiving the Eucharist was important for early Stuart divines of all stripes, whether moderate Puritan, conforming Calvinist, or avant-gardeb ceremonialist. But just as Jesus's words of institution were the site of exeg etical conflict, so were the relative emphases placed on private devotion and ceremony potentially divisive. Sacramental topoi in The Temple manifest these competing claims to the identity and character of religious experience. (4)
The controversy over sacraments and other ceremonial forms that was to flare again during the Laudian archbishopric long had been a feature of the English church's struggle to establish a definitive confessional identity. Indeed, sixteenth-century views of the role and nature of sacraments were, at best, ambiguous. In the 1549 Prayer Book -- Thomas Cranmer's supreme contribution to Edwardine reform, particularly as regards the Eucharist -- the elevation of the Host at the sacring bell, the pax and holy bread were all removed from the official Church of England liturgy. Now absent from the calendar were most of the traditional feast days, and eliminated also were the very popular and widespread Jesus Masses (Duffy, 465). And yet as tenacious a traditionalist as the Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner, could find in the Prayer Book the teaching of the Mass to which he was accustomed, despite the obvious abrogation in its pages of essential features of English religious tradition (Ibid., 470). But if the Edwa rdine Prayer Book was largely an adaptation of the Roman Missal, that of 1552 constitutes dramatic Protestant revision, evident especially in the notorious Black Rubric, hastily added in response to the influential presbyterian John Knox and his disdain for popish ceremonies. It is perhaps one of the chief reasons the staunchly Roman Catholic Mary Tudor repealed the book upon her accession in 1553, for in addition to refusing the notion that kneeling in anyway implies adoration, the Black Rubric was boldly Calvinist in its denial of "any real and essential presence there being of Christ's natural flesh and blood.
For as concerning the sacramental bread and wine, they remain still in their very natural substances ... And as concerning the natural body and blood of Our Saviour Christ, they are in heaven and not here" (Cressy and Ferrell, 48). To the elimination of the elevation of the Host in the 1549 version, the new book added the removal of the prayer of consecration at Communion and eliminated as well the signing of the cross over the elements and the stone altar, the latter to be replaced by a simple table in the body of the church (Duffy, 474). Under Mary, of course, the religious centrality of sacrament and ceremony was restored. Though advocating a balance of scriptural and ceremonial emphases, Cardinal Reginald Pole stressed that "the observatyon of ceremonyes, for obedyence sake, wyll gyve more light than all the readynge of Scrypture can doe." Though "the thynge that gyveth us the veraye light, ys none of them both," neither ceremonies nor scripture, yet "they are most apte to receyve light, that are more obe yent to follow ceremonyes, than to reade" (Ibid., 531). Marian primers did go some way to restore the pre-Reformation character totally absent from the Edwardine primer of 1553. Indeed, later editions include a didactic treatise on the Mass that explicates and defends that crucial doctrine of Roman Catholic piety, the Real Presence and Sacrifice. However, elaborate affective prayers on the Virgin Mary, the saints and the Blessed Sacrament, staples of the conservative books, were now almost entirely absent (Ibid., 540-42).