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Title: Distance and dealings between the Christian and God in the poetry of George Herbert : 'wilt thou meet arms with man?'
Author: de Warrenne Waller, Christopher Scott
ISNI:       0000 0004 5923 7360
Awarding Body: University of Bristol
Current Institution: University of Bristol
Date of Award: 2015
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This dissertation argues that George Herbert's poetry explores the theme of the Christian's distance from God and evaluates different paths that might overcome that distance. Herbert's explorations are informed by their historical context in which emerging secular learning and the post-Reformation culture unsettled traditional ideas about sacredness and access to the divine. A range of contemporaneous theological and spiritual discourses (especially those of Calvin and Perkins) that attempt to understand the Christian's dealing with God are analysed in the first chapter, where I contextualise Herbert's writing in relation to other Protestant articulations of religious experience - notably the experience of the Holy Spirit. I show how Herbert privileges the rite of the eucharist as an experiential path to God rather than the experience of the Holy Spirit in preaching celebrated by other Protestants. Chapter 2 examines the conceptual basis of God's remoteness: the metaphysical distinction between the material and the immaterial modes of being which underlies Herbert's vision of man composed of body and soul. Herbert's exploration of human agency reveals an ontological dualism under strain in his culture which was questioning its rational basis. Herbert does not seek rational solutions to these difficulties but literary resolutions. Chapter 3 highlights the manner in which Herbert's work evinces fears that Renaissance reason was too worldly in its orientation. By way of reaction, he attempts, not without ambivalence, to affirm the primacy of Christian faith as a path to God. I examine Herbert's use of Bible typology to reach God in Chapter 4. Despite typology's fruitful spiritual potential, it does not always bring sacred meaning or solace to The Temple's speakers. This failure is explained with reference, on the one hand, to the contemporaneous critical intellectual culture (particularly regarding Renaissance intellectuals' understanding of Scripture; an understanding that could challenge basic Christian teaching) and, on the other hand, to an underlying anxiety about the loss of certain features of pre-Reformation spirituality that formerly provided a sense of the proximity of the sacred. Herbert celebrates Scripture as a quasi-mystical means of approaching God but, again, not unambiguously. Chapter 5 discusses Herbert's language of rebellious complaints "about God's distance. Here I show how this language encroaches upon controversies about the sacred symbol of the cross, highlights the naivety of the worldview of the book of Job and spills over into the speaker's vociferous blaming of God for cruelly distancing Himself from pious Christians. The idea that Herbert's technique of writing God a voice is blasphemous (as maintained by some critics) is discussed in Chapter 6. I argue that this fictional device, which effectively brings God onto the page, does not constitute an offence to orthodoxy since Herbert's skilful use of divine speech often leads the speaker towards doctrinal correction rather than doctrinal deviation. Chapter 7 argues that Herbert's idea of the Church (a motif profoundly embedded in his poetic project)holds out the firmest promise for attaining divine proximity. For the Church to fulfil such a role it must be consensual and Conformist. But Herbert's consensualism does not exclude muted attacks on radical Protestants. His evocation of divine presence in the material church building feeds into his literary Temple which celebrates sacred space, sacred rites and sacred time. Yet even that Church-related access to God is has its limits.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available