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George Herbert: The Country Parson and the Temple (Classics of Western Spirituality) Paperback – January 1, 1981
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About the Author
George Herbert (15931633) was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was appointed reader in rhetoric in 1618 and public orator in 1620. He attracted the attention of influential patrons, including King James I, before he took holy orders in 1626.<BR> John Tobin is a professor of English literature at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
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Both of Herbert’s works (“The Country Parson” and “The Temple”) were published after his death, making it hard to determine the actual date in which they were written. In the intro to “The Country Parson,” Herbert writes that he “resolved to set down the Form and Character of a true Pastor, that I may have a Mark to aim at” (page 54). With this in mind, it is assumed that Herbert pinned most of the work in the five years between when he was ordinated as a deacon and then a priest. The content of the work carries with it the assumption that everyone living in England at the time was a member of the Church of England. The goal of a parish pastor was then to be “the Deputy of Christ for the reducing of Man to the Obedience of God” through teaching and personal example (page 31).
The second major work of Herbert is a collection of religious poems written at various points in Herbert’s life. Combined into one volume, “The Temple” is divided into three sections with individual poems fitting the tone of their section. The first section, “The Church Porch”, is actually one long poem akin to Proverbs with practical advice for believers. The second section was simply called “The Church” and focuses on the prayers of the believers with echoes of Psalms and The Song of Solomon within the poems. The third and final section, “The Church Militant,” include poems about the history of the church similar to how the Old Testament narrative talk about the history of the people of Israel.
The poems themselves were filled with biblical language and imaginary. A.C. Charity called the technique that Herbert used “applied typology” as he used the typological language of the Bible to talk about present reality rather than a past event (page 41-42). The poem “Aaron” is a perfect example of this technique as Herbert contracts the actions of Aaron the High Priest with his own situations in being a country parson. Another technique that Herbert used was pattern poetry with the shape of the words on the page reflecting the content of the poem. “The Altar” is an example of this type of poems with the words of poem creating a picture of an altar while talking an altar.
While not a poetic connoisseur, the poems of “The Temple” did strike me as beautiful and carrying within them a lasting quality. I like how they are packed full of biblical typology and imaginary while relating to the practical world of life. “The Church Porch” was my favorite poem with the first half carrying the best material. “Jesu” was also a favorite with the imaginary of breaking Jesus’ name with our actions only to discover that he is the one who eases our pain.
“The Country Parson,” on the other hand, seemed to me to be one of rules and regulations. I understand what Herbert was trying to do; yet I personally find that such a high mark becomes a heavy burden to bear rather than a target to aim towards. In this, Herbert’s work reminded me of Gregory the Great’s book “Pastoral Care.” However, even with such a danger, both works have a vein of gold within them that can and should be mined.
This Paulist Press edition of the works of George Herbert includes Herbert's 2 major works: "The Temple" and "A Priest to the Temple." "The Temple" includes Herbert's beautiful church poetry. Although English metaphysical poetry may not be to everyone's taste, and it will be difficult for many modern readers, it's perfectly suited to mine. I love the whimsical word play and the delight in the English language that Herbert manifests. The form matches the matter, and it always seems as if the poems end when they should on a note of satisfaction and having said just what one wanted to say. Most important of all, Herbert's poetry assists me in my praise of and devotion to my Lord.
One of the most excellent aspects of Herbert's poetry is that it is not merely the individual meditations of a solitary Christian but is intimately connected to the life of Christ by being connected to His Bride, the Church. The structure of Herbert's collection, "The Temple," is aptly named. In summary, Herbert's poetry is a delight to my ears, my tongue, my mind, and my soul!
Herbert's poetry also has a very personal connection with me: I used to read it to my wife when we were courting and early in our marriage. Not only did it move her, but it also raised her estimation of me. Thank you, George Herbert!
Here is my favorite 2-line poem in the universe (from Herbert):
How well her name an Army doth present,
In whom the Lord of hosts did pitch his tent!
Herbert's "A Priest to the Temple" is subtitled: "Or The Country Parson, His Character, and Rule of Holy Life." Reading this manual on ministry gives you greater insight into where the profundity and godliness of Herbert's poetry comes from: in Herbert, the poet and priest are perfectly united. In it, Herbert addresses such subjects as "The Parson's Life," "The Parson Praying," "The Parson in His House," "The Parson in Mirth," etc. I'm using "A Priest to the Temple" in a seminary class I'm teaching on The Cure of Souls as an example for young priests to study and adapt to 21st century pastoral ministry.