Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Ceremony and Community from Herbert to Milton: Literature, Religion, and Cultural Conflict in Seventeenth-Century England

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Ceremony and Community from Herbert to Milton: Literature, Religion, and Cultural Conflict in Seventeenth-Century England

Article excerpt

ACHSAH GUIBBORY. Ceremony and Community from Herbert to Milton: Literature, Religion, and Cultural Conflict in Seventeenth-Century England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Pp. xiii + 275, index. $59.95.

In her latest book, literature scholar Achsah Guibbory seeks to enrich our understandings of seventeenth-century writers George Herbert, Robert Herrick, Sir Thomas Browne and John Milton by locating some of their best-known writings in the very specific context of the religious divisions of Caroline England. Guibbory quite rightly traces these divisions to claustrophobic, internecine struggles in the Church of England between forces Guibbory has chose to designate "ceremonialist" and "puritan." Ceremony and Community thus strikes a brave note in a field infamous-even as it touts one of its latest methodological breakthroughs as "new historicism"-for studied ignorance of early modern England's religious history. Guibbory also distances her study from the "continuity" model that is the hallmark of the British-historical academy's revisionist view, noting that, despite the recent historiographical trend to dismiss the revolutionary character of the age, "there persists a sense that the seventeenth century constitutes a crucial period in the emergence of die modern world" (p. 1). The author sees the religious conflicts of this crucial age as hallmarks of its cultural significance, and her intention is to "show how imaginative literature functioned" to express and define the spirit of the age.

Guibbory begins her study by describing in terms both anthropological and rhetorical the significance of the Laudian church's "battles over ceremonial worship." She employs a rather broadly conceived (and necessarily reductive) scheme: that Laudianism, with its overweening attention to the beauty of holiness, advocated a ritual approach oriented to "communal, public worship" whereas so-called "Puritanism" tended to fragmentation of the social order, due to its Calvinistic sense of the "division between the godly and the reprobate" (p. …

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