Two Natures Met: George Herbert and the Incarnation

By Jeannie Sargent Judge | Go to book overview
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The Incarnation Two Natures Met To Be Thy Cure

Most readers of The Temple acknowledge George Herbert's attachment to the Incarnate Jesus as his audience, muse, confidant, and master. They believe that the poignancy and artistry of the poems depend upon the pilgrim's willingness to be true to his feelings, to be sure that his “soul unto the line accords, as he says in “A true Hymne.” Nevertheless, any attempt to establish intimacy between God and the human soul through the Incarnation must first acknowledge the infinite distance between the divine and the human. That this boundless distance has always existed is a given in the Christian canon; that it became a restrictive barrier on the occasion of the fall is also a given. The difference then, between a prelapsarian and postlapsarian world, is that prior to the fall, when the divinely ordained arrangement had not been breached, God made this distance passable. He waived the privilege of estate, bestowing his bounty and presence on his human creatures while they, in turn, simply knew God's love and proximity. After the fall, what Adam and Eve once enjoyed naturally, they were no longer privileged to know. The infinite distance became impassable and would remain so until someone worthy atoned for the offense to God. Rapprochement occurs when the Word of God becomes incarnate and makes amends for Original Sin. For a Christian poet like George Herbert, it is significant that the Atonement is effected through the Word of God.

The Christian church teaches that while God redeemed humanity through the Incarnation, human nature remains fallen—subject to the consequences of sin: sickness, death, temptation to evil, and consumed with questions, doubts, and anxieties unknown to its prelapsarian state. Having lost the innocence of their created nature, the redeemed feel torn by con

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