George Herbert on Sin, Love, & the Sacrament

Miranda Threlfall-Holmes discusses one of my favorite poems, The Agony by George Herbert.  It is about how we try to measure everything, neglecting what cannot be measured; namely, sin and love.  But these can be known in their depths as they come together in the Cross of Jesus Christ.  The poem concludes with these lines on the Sacrament:

Love is that liquor sweet and most divine

Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.

[Read more...]

George Herbert on prayer

We blogged about Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, who wrote about how  she was converted from atheism in part through the poetry of George Herbert.  She is following that up with a series of articles in the London Guardian about specific Herbert poems.  That’s literary scholarship as it’s supposed to be–not a mere academic exercise but an exploration of literature for the purpose of illumination.

Read her take on Herbert’s poem “Prayer (1)”.  Read the poem at the link, and then read her discussion, linked and excerpted after the jump. [Read more...]

How George Herbert’s poetry converted an atheist

I throw out opinions on all kinds of topics, but my real area of expertise is 17th Century English literature.  To drill down to an even more specific field, as we English professors have to do, I have a specialty in George Herbert, the great Christian poet.  He was the subject of my dissertation and my first book, which has recently come back into print: Reformation Spirituality: The Religion of George Herbert

Now British journalist Miranda Threlfall-Holmes tells how the poetry of George Herbert played a factor in her conversion to Christianity from atheism.  (He had a similar impact on the French philosopher Simone Weil.)

What does this tell us about apologetics and evangelism? [Read more...]

My book on George Herbert is back in print

My first book, Reformation Spirituality: The Religion of George Herbert, is back in print.  It is basically my dissertation, which I revised for publication by Bucknell University Press back in 1985.  Recently, Wipf & Stock approached me about re-issuing it.  You can see in it the research I was doing in Reformation theology and 17th century Anglicanism that would eventually lead me to Lutheranism.  As a work of literary scholarship, it was not without impact.  Previously, most scholars interpreted Herbert in terms of medieval Catholicism.  My work on Herbert, along with that of some other folks, showed that he was a poet of the Reformation and, further, explained what the Reformation entailed by way of Herbert’s poetry.  Today, the “Protestant” reading of Herbert is pretty much the scholarly consensus.  [Read more...]

“Here, as broken, is presented”

The Banquet

by George Herbert (1633)

Welcome sweet and sacred cheer,

Welcome deare;

With me, in me, live and dwell:

For thy neatnesse passeth sight,

Thy delight

Passeth tongue to taste or tell.

O what sweetnesse from the bowl

Fills my soul,

Such as is, and makes divine!

Is some starre (fled from the sphere)

Melted there,

As we sugar melt in wine ?

Or hath sweetnesse in the bread

Made a head

To subdue the smell of sinne;

Flowers, and gummes, and powders giving

All their living,

Lest the Enemy should winne ?

Doubtlese, neither starre nor flower

Hath the power

Such a sweetnesse to impart:

Onely God, who gives perfumes,

Flesh assumes,

And with it perfumes my heart.

But as Pomanders and wood

Still are good,

Yet being bruis’d are better scented:

God, to show how farre his love

Could improve,

Here, as broken, is presented.

When I had forgot my birth,

And on earth

In delights of earth was drown’d;

God took bloud, and needs would be

Spilt with me,

And so found me on the ground.

Having rais’d me to look up,

In a cup

Sweetly he doth meet my taste.

But I still being low and short,

Farre from court,

Wine becomes a wing at last.

For with it alone I flie

To the skie:

Where I wipe mine eyes, and see

What I seek, for what I sue;

Him I view,

Who hath done so much for me

Let the wonder of his pitie

Be my dittie,

And take up my lines and life:

Hearken under pain of death,

Hands and breath;

Strive in this, and love the strife.

via George Herbert: The Banquet (1633).


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