Theory and Theology in George Herbert's Poetry: Divinitie, and Poesie, Met

By Elizabeth Clarke | Go to book overview

1
Herbert and Savonarola: The Rhetoric of Radical Simplicity

Savonarola De Simplicitate Christianae Vitae, first published in 1496, deserves detailed consideration by scholars of Herbert, as it is one of the few books that we know Herbert to have possessed and loved. 'Sauonorola in Latine he hath of the Simplicity of Chr. Religion and is of great esteme wth him' wrote Arthur Woodnoth in a letter to Nicholas Ferrar.1 Herbert was not the only reader of the Dominican monk in Protestant England. Short of Protestant heroes, Foxe enlisted him in his widely available Booke of Martyrs. In London, where in 1500 the printing industry was as yet embryonic, Savonarola was one of less than fifty authors printed that year, and an English translation of one of his works was bound up with the first prayer book in English. Savonarola was thus an important influence on a developing Protestant devotional literature, and we shall be considering this in more detail in Chapter 3. The writings of Savonarola treat many of the theological controversies of the sixteenth century, and were used to further both the Reformation and Counter-Reformation in Europe. From his death in 1496 onwards, printing presses in Paris, Antwerp, and Cologne churned out an astonishing number of Savonarola's sermons, treatises, and meditations. Savonarola's works were placed on the Index because he bypassed the hierarchy of devolved authority in the Catholic Church, a heresy which endeared him to the Reformed community. According to him, the Christian can experience intimate communion with God outside of the external ceremonies of the Church, beyond the scope of the office of the priesthood: in the holy place that is his heart. Moreover, his attack on the externals of religion extended to a derogation of the use of rhetoric in religious discourse: for

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1
In Nicholas Ferrar, The Ferrar Papers, ed B. Blackstone ( Cambridge, 1938), 268.

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