Criticism, Spring 1994 v36 n2 p189(24)

Discourse and direction: 'A Priest to the Temple, or, the Country Parson' and the elaboration of sovereign rule. Swartz, Douglas J.

Abstract: George Herbert's prose treatise 'A Priest to the Temple, or, the Country Parson' has been used to prove his renunciation of politics for the Church. However, a closer analysis shows that he renounced a political life built on social status for one built on hard work and personal value. The treatise shows how he used the church government and propaganda from the pulpit to continue influencing local politics.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1994 Wayne State University Press


In "The Printers to the Reader" of the poems of The Temple, first published in 1633, George Herbert's literary executor Nicholas Ferrar maintains that the watershed event in Herbert's life was his sacrificial and sincere "Quitting" of his "deserts and all the opportunities that he had for worldly preferment" for the sake of a calling to the priesthood. Ferrar presents the decision as a self-aware retreat from the ways of the world into the "Sanctuary and Temple of God," and highlights the deliberation behind Herbert's "choosing rather to serve at Gods Altar than to seek the honors of State employments." This emphasis is crucial to establishing the freedom and sincerity, the "condition and disposition of the Person" behind the poems, and the genuineness of his vocation: the bare supplement to the "naked simplicity" of the poetry that Ferrar wishes to supply. The poems will in turn attest to the ordained fit between the Person and the Office he chose, and was chosen, to fill: "As for the inward enforcements to this course (for outward there was none) which many of the ensuing verses bear witness of, they detract not from the freedom, but add to the honor of this resolution in him." The combination of Herbert's authentically "inward" willingness to choose his vocation with God's causing him "to be compelled to this service" works to verify Herbert's status as "a companion to the primitive Saints, and a pattern or more for the age he lived in."(1)

Though modifying (somewhat) the hagiography of Ferrar's preface, modern criticism has continued to rely on this "pattern" as a key to Herbert's personal development: Herbert's life leads compellingly towards a sincere and inwardly prompted retreat from worldly ambitions for the sake of a simpler and more authentic religious vocation. Herbert's prose treatise, A Priest to the Temple, or The Country Parson, has been and to a large extent remains an important element in the construction and perpetuation of a narrative of Herbert's retreat from the accidents of his birth and status for the essence of his genuine calling. From the time it was first "exposed to publick light" by Barnabas Olney in 1652 as part of Herbert's Remains, the text has been regarded as an ideal version of the pastoral practice of the English Church; recently, it has been praised as a "delightful glimpse into one patch of seventeenth-century English life."(2) Herbert scholars have often emphasized the way in which the text presents an integrated community and an integrated self. Often, this ideal has been presented, quite naively, as a reflection of actual practice and social reality.(3)

The narrative of Herbert's withdrawal from the world into the pastoral idyll of The Country Parson has been challenged by a number of critics, and the emerging consensus seems to be that Herbert was not unaware of or uninvolved in social life or political issues, that his life was not in fact characterized or culminated by retreat or reclusiveness.(4) But while these critics have successfully shown that Herbert's writing engages the political issues and discourses of early Stuart England, the Herbert who emerges from these studies remains curiously above or removed from politics or political positions, rather than immersed in or aligned with them. The focus remains, moreover, on the person behind the poems, and the ways in which Herbert's personal response to the political can enhance our understanding and estimation of him as a literary figure.

My purpose is to shift attention from the text as a component of Herbert's personal history to its description of the official capacity of a rural priest. In this essay I argue that Herbert's The Priest to the Temple, or the Country Parson not only does not provide evidence of a retreat from politics, but also sets forth a program for the extension of the government of the state church of early Stuart England over a wide range of detail in a country parish. As such, it should be seen as working in cooperation with rather than in departure from or opposition to the worldly endeavors of "State employments." The text represents an ideal and comprehensive version of church government: government of and by the church. Ferrar's preface lauds Herbert's "obedience and conformity to the Church and the discipline thereof": his "example, exhortations, and encouragements drew the greater part of his parishioners" into a like devotion (4). In his exemplary service to the "Church and the discipline thereof," the putative parson of Herbert's manual for rural priests, I will argue, functions as a hegemonic intellectual devoted to the imposition of obedience and conformity to the official forms, practices, and norms of the Church of England in order to create religious unity, binding the members of the parish to each other and, through the priest's mediation, to the institution of the state church.

To analyze Herbert's country parson as an official intellectual, I begin with a question from Gramsci: "But why call this unity of faith 'religion' and not 'ideology,' or even frankly 'politics'?"(5) I will treat the text frankly as ideological and political, a governmental treatise: The Country Parson is an attempt to direct the local elaboration of the state church in the reign of Charles I. ("The Author to the Reader" of The Country Parson is dated 1632.) "Elaboration" is a cultural principle that Edward Said has highlighted in Gramsci's work; it refers to the "insight that thought is produced so that actions can be accomplished, that it is diffused in order to be effective, persuasive, forceful, and that a great deal of thought elaborates on what are a relatively small number of principal, directive ideas." Elaboration's function is "to refine, to work out some prior or more powerful idea, to perpetuate a world view," not merely through crude propaganda or coercion, but through the somewhat autonomous production of knowledge, cultural activity, and the management of detail.(6)

Herbert describes the parson's intellectual activity in terms which suggest the operation of this process. His acquisition of knowledge comes "by way of expounding the Church Catechism"; it is obtained with the objective of instilling the principles of the catechism in the lives of his parishioners. "The Country Parson is full of all knowledge," Herbert writes, and this knowledge is obtained, organized, and exposited in order to render the world view of the Church Catechism ideologically effective. The Country Parson is a kind of meta-discourse, elaborating the "directive ideas" of the official discourse of the Church in order to guide and govern the flow of discourse in a rural parish.(7)

The Country Parson establishes as its ideal objective the almost absolute control, through the priest and his mastery of religious discourse, of parishioners' spiritual, moral, political, and material lives. His authority and his practice are based on a personally internalized and enlivened elaboration of what I will call the official discourse of the state-ecclesiastical. I refer first, specifically, to those documents instituted "by public authority" and so solely sanctioned for use in public worship and private devotion by ministers of the state church, such as the Homilies, Book of Common Prayer, Catechism, Canons, Royal Decrees for the Peace and Order of the Church, and Directions to Preachers. Second, and more generally, I refer to the broad Bakhtinian category of an "official discourse," here the monological property of state church whose ideal aim was to incorporate and govern virtually all aspects of the lives and religious consciousnesses of all members of the society, and to restrict the production of religious discourse to publicly authorized individuals.(8) The official documents of the Church--the catechism, in particular, but also the Prayer Book and the canons--are for my purposes the form assumed by the text's instantiation of official discourse; through its "particular" application to the circumstances of a rural parish, the parson aims at the uniform imposition of its criteria and categories on parochial life and individual lives. This is the ideal "mark to aim at" (202) set forth in the text, which the putative parson endeavors to fulfill with an emphatically monological denial of "other selves beyond the one [it] posit[s] as normative."(9)

The parson himself is not restricted to repeating or reading out the forms of official discourse. Instead, the parson's individualized production of religious discourse--in particular, the catechism--both is determined and regulated by the official, and gives the official ideological life by localizing and individualizing it. The parson makes an extensive study of "Fathers," "Schoolmen," and "later writers, out of which he hath complied a book, and body of Divinity, which is the storehouse of his sermons, and which he preacheth all his life, but diversely clothed, illustrated and enlarged. For though the world is full of such composures, yet every man's own is fittest, readiest, and most savory to him.... This body he made by way of expounding the Church catechism, to which all divinity may easily be reduced" (206). The Country Parson itself can, in many ways, be seen as the official discourse of the Church of England, "diversely clothed, illustrated, and enlarged," not simply equivalent to that discourse, but nonetheless "easily reducible" to it in its central directive ideas. As a member of the class of intellectual "functionaries or officials," the parson is allotted a certain amount of "creative intellectual activity"(10) to contribute to and, in minor ways, modify rather than merely repeat official discourse. While the specific contents of the book he compiles is of his own choosing, and his "composure" is of his own making, it is nonetheless directed and determined by a publicly authorized text. The catechism, in Raymond Williams's sense of the term, determines the parson's production of religious discourse, not by prescribing its exact content, but by creating objectives and setting limits: by giving direction. Herbert's text, and the religious discourse of his parson, elaborates official discourse codified in the catechism by applying it to "particular" cases, and by "exacting" its truth from individuals.(11)

Herbert's country parson is an educated specialist, one whose knowledge and expertise set him apart from the parish over which he exercises authority. Herbert entered the priesthood at a time when the Church of England's efforts to provide university-educated, socially elite individuals to oversee parishes had begun to show success.(12) While increasing somewhat the prestige of the ministry, this achievement also in many cases increased the distance between priest and parishioner. What was gained in the elimination of "scandalous" or "dumb-dog" priests was perhaps lost by the more frequent perceptions of "clerical exclusivity";(13) the benefits of an increased focus on pastoral care among graduate clergy were perhaps offset by a clergy "socially and culturally distanced from their charges in an altogether novel way" and so "less attuned to local customary standards of devotion and behaviour which they were charged with transforming";(14) the weight given the opinions of the "accredited expounders of Christianity"(15) of the newly professionalized clergy was perhaps counterbalanced by the suspicious regard given their "evident position as watchdogs of the establishment."(16)

It has been argued that, beginning with the accession of Charles in 1625, the distance between lay people and the clerical class was increased by new emphases on enforced conformity and on the privileged status of the clergy (much of which centered on the use of the word "priest"). The so called "Arminian" faction, represented by such men as Richard Neile, Richard Montagu, and, most notoriously, William Laud, and favored by Charles, emphasized the importance of the clergy in administering the sacraments and leading Prayer Book worship, stressed liturgy and catechism over the sermon and the lecture, and elevated bishops over lesser clergy and parsons over their congregations. In addition to "strengthening the authority of the clergy and the ecclesiastical hierarchy," the Arminians aimed at "restoring the Church to a central role in the life of the State."(17) As the 1630's progressed, "enlarged claims for the secular power of the clergy" were used ot "undermine the power of local gentry elites."(18) The use of the church as an agency of government supportive of central royal authority dates to the Reformation in England;(19) Arminianism, Christopher Hill argues, "gave these policies ideological form and coherence as well as offering the government in the machinery of the church the nearest it ever got to a bureaucracy."(20)

Looking at the poems of The Temple, it is clear that Herbert was not a theological Arminian; A Priest to the Temple, however, is very much in keeping with the centralizing conformity that characterized Arminianism's governmental program. The country parson represents central authority and its official discourse in the parish in two interrelated ways: by "composing" himself so as to be seen as its embodiment and lively image, and by seeing that its imperatives are observed by, and made effective in, the lives of his parishioners. In all of his varied activities, the parson's position in the parish is central: as interpretive authority, social authority, political authority, even legal and medical authority, the parson occupies a preeminent place in the parish: "The Parson desires to be all to his parish."(21) In this position, the parson manifests those things "wherein a Christian is most seen" (203, italics mine), in a rectified life, in the authentic and authoritative performance of the forms and offices of the Church, and as a representative subject of the King and the State, responsive to and responsible for their interests and requirements. All of these aspects of his exemplary visibility are subsumed under this title of "Deputy of Christ."

The parson, humble rural priest in status though he may be, then, has an elevated position in the parish. From this position, he performs the functions of keeping watch, observing, overseeing, looking out for the interests of the state-ecclesiastical.(22) Literally and figuratively, the parson looks down on his parish: Preaching from the pulpit, his "joy and throne," in a "kind of state," he both sees and is seen; "standing on a hill, and considering his flock" (238), the parson anatomizes and itemizes the sins, failures, and foibles of his flock; or taking a panoramic view of the parish in a "particular Survey," discovering widespread "Idleness" to be the "great and national sin of this land"; in "Condescending" to be a lover of "old Customs ... because Country people are much addicted to them"; face to face in a catechistical encounter, the parson utilizes methods that "will draw out of ignorant and silly souls, even the dark and deep points of religion": the parson's superior position is reiterated throughout the text. Even in those functions in which this superiority is not quite so directly indicated, the parson's low estimation of the morality, spiritual and intellectual capacity, and culture of his rural charges is unmistakable: because of their incapacity and incorrigibility, his main task is vigilance, maintaining constant surveillance and supervision over their lives.

As Schoenfeldt and Malcolmson suggest, Herbert imports the principles of Stuart hierarchy into the parish.(23) According to the "Form and Character" delineated in A Priest to the Temple, the country parson is to exercise what amounts to absolute authority within the parish; moreover, his authority within the parish bounds is held, ideally, jure divino. He is, like the king in the realm, a "Deputy of Christ," God's "Viceregent"; his position derives, without apparent mediation, from the institution of God: having ascended into heaven, Christ "constituted deputies in his place, and these are the priests" (201). From this "evident" definition--one that was actually the source of much dispute--Herbert derives the "direct steps of Pastoral Duty and Authority." The parson's authority is further defined in patriarchalist terms in "The Parson as Father," a characterization which applies, certainly to monarchical authority, but also more generally to nearly all formulations of governmental authority in seventeenth-century England from James I to Milton to Winstanley. Taken together, these define the parson's authority as instituted directly from God and through the most "natural" governmental unit; this authority is therefore in no way owing or accountable to the "people" over whom he maintains it.(24) Within the parish bounds, the parson's power is almost boundless: he stands "in God's Stead": "Wherefore there is nothing done, either for good or ill, whereof he is not the rewarder, or punisher" (254).

Herbert's treatise is thus articulated within and articulates a hierarchical and specifically absolutist elaboration of church government, one very much in keeping with the "Arminian" and even Laudian attempts to elevate the status of the clergy, both socially and in worship. The parson's function as "resident intellectual"(25) is to extend the governmental effectiveness of centralized command and uniform forms over a wide range of parochial and individual detail, through supervision, oversight, education, example, and, in the extreme case, coercion. A devoted servant of and apologist for the state and church, the parson works not only to encourage but to ensure his charges' participation in the prescribed forms and required duties of the state-ecclesiastical: the parson's church is and must be the state church.(26)

A Priest to the Temple should be seen in connection to Stuart ideals of and efforts towards the centralization of government and authority.(27) In his description of the king's headship over the political body in The Trew Law of Free Monarchies, James wrote, "discourse and direction flows from the head, and the execution according thereunto belongs to the rest of the members, every one according to their office."(28) James expresses a typically Stuart aspiration for the uninterrupted elaboration of his government, with all the parts responsive to the "discourse and direction" of centralized authority. The priest of The Country Parson responds unhesitatingly to the "Command" of superior authority and suits "things accordingly to that end"; and in the terms of his own particular "office," the parson is installed in the parish with the power of governing the "discourse and direction" within it. The parson stands in relation to his churchwardens, lesser parish officers, as he stands to superior authority: "If himself reform anything, it is out of the overflowing of his conscience, whereas they are to do it by command, and by oath" (243). The parson's position in the relay of authority, however, makes his part in responding to command more variable and flexible, though no less compliant. (29)

While it has been suggested that the rural setting and focus of the treatise align Herbert with the party of the "country" opposed to the values of the Court, a close look at the position and functions prescribed for the rural clergy in the text suggest a concentric rather than eccentric relationship to the governmental center.(30) Thus we find "The Parson in Reference," being "sincere and upright in all his relations ... is just to his country." Justice here entails being responsive to military levies and "any other country duty," finding the means to accomplish "the end of any command." The parson projects the central authority of Stuart government in the country. (And, as we shall see, the parson's vocation is defined by the task of achieving the introjection of that authority in individuals.) The parson's religious rounds are encompassed by his consideration of things that "concern the commonwealth." Preparing himself for the "customary exercises" of Sunday, the parson checks his calendar for any additional requirements "from the State." Having completed the "public duties" of canonically prescribed morning preaching and afternoon catechizing, he distributes his "privy purse" of private visitations, "even as princes have theirs, besides their public disbursements." In his social rounds, the parson "takes occasion" to urge his compainions "to apprehend God's good blessing to our Church and State; that order is kept in the one, and peace in the other, without disturbance or interruption of public divine offices" (211-12).

In addition to being an official relay for the commands of the state, the parson is to act as a local administrative agent of central government. The parson conducts a "particular survey" of his parish, a survey which is keyed to a "general" survey, through which he attempts to redress locally the "great and national sin" of "Idleness." Idleness, of course, is an inducement to any number of more lewd and self-wasting actions, and so is a religious concern. The "necessity of a vocation," however, also "concerns the commonwealth," that "none should be idle, but all busied"; the parson therefore becomes a labor agent, and "showeth that ingenuous and fit employment is never wanting to those who seek it" (248).(31)

Religious concerns are also mixed with a particular governmental program in the parson's exercise of charity, "the body of religion." Here the parson finds himself negotiating between this unconditional and potentially unbounded spiritual virtue and the provisions of "that excellent statute," the Poor law of 1604, which treats the parish as the administrative unit of poor relief and social discipline. The parson's approbation of the Poor Law, with its distinctions between the deserving poor and idle vagabonds, combines with his religious imperatives to produce a fairly typical blend of compassion for suffering and a desire for more thorough social control. Keith Wrightson writes of "that mixture of relief and control represented by the poor laws, providing in its balance of communal identification and social differentiation a powerful reinforcement of habits of deference and subordination."(32) Looking for occasions for the exercise of charity, the parson immediately begins to "distinguish" according to the terms of the statute: "He first considers his own parish, and takes care that there not be a beggar or idle person in his parish, but that all be in a competent way of getting their living. This he effects either by bounty, or persuasion, or by authority, making use of that excellent statute which binds all parishes to maintain their own" (220). The parson's practice of charity enhances his own personal status by making the recipients of his bounty beholden specifically to him: "making a hook of his charity," he "causeth them still to be dependent on him." By making his dole "unexpected to them but resolved to himself, he wins them" to greater faith and more respectable life. Concealing his religious ends in his administration of the poor law, the parson stands "in Gods stead" as a personal force, a merciful but unpredictable providence. The parson's role is again central to the point of exclusivity of other parish members whose rate-paying, after all, finances the relief that the parson appropriates to his own pastoral purposes.

This concern for employment extends as well to the idle elite of the parish, who are encouraged to find employment, as their vocational and domestic duties give them leave, in the tasks of governmental oversight, further to extend the effective presence of central authority in the parish:

But if he may be of the Commissions of the Peace, there is nothing to that; no commonwealth in the world hath a braver institution than that of Justices of the Peace, for it is both a security to the King, who hath so many dispersed officers at his beck throughout the kingdom accountable for the public good, and also an honorable employment of a gentle- or noble-man in the country he lives in, enabling him with the power to do good and to restrain all those who might else trouble him and the whole state. (249)

Insofar as the Stuart hierarchy could only muster a limited amount of force, it depended upon the cooperation of local elites as JP's to administer the county and generate consent, and, as in the case of the clergy, it required effort to find officeholders who would be both morally reliable, socially worthy, and politically willing in the enforcement of order. Herbert's parson, in admonishing his charges to obtain "fit" employment, exhorts "all who are come to the gravity and ripeness of judgement for so excellent a place not to refuse, but rather to procure it."(33) Though in reality JPs were often something other than reliable relays of central command, in Herbert's text they are given an essential place as lower-echelon intellectuals charged with the look-out of the King's interest.

The use of the church as a propaganda channel and as a means of local government was of course widespread and shared by political and ecclesiastical opponents;(34) the mingling of the religious and the political in Herbert's treatise is remarkable, not simply in itself, but in the thorough and detailed way in which the parson seeks to shape subjects in whom the directions and imperatives of Church and State will be inseparable. State power and what Foucault calls "pastoral power" unite to create a total form of government, the state being "the centralized and centralizing power" and "pastorship the individualizing power."(35) The principle that guides the parson's shaping of the identities of his children--and the parson fathers himself forth over all the residents of the parish--grounds his authority and vocational identity on the simultaneity of Church and State: "His children he first makes Christians, and then common-wealthsmen; the one he owes to his heavenly country, the other to his earthly, having no title to either except he do good to both" (215).

Treating Herbert's pastoral guide as a political tract is bound to elicit charges of reductiveness, of seeing Herbert's parson as merely a bureaucratic functionary. My argument, however, stresses precisely the ways in which the parson of the text employs and imposes official discourse in the parish in order to reduce the number of individual options available to his parishioners; the parson exercises power in (one of) Foucault's sense(s) of the term by structuring the field of possibilities, maintaining the lives of individuals within the bounds of the acceptable, and by striving to make the terms and imperatives of government coincident with self-government.(36) The parson/priest's professed objective in the parish is "the reducing of man to the obedience of God"; the instrument guiding his efforts is the catechism, "to which all divinity may easily be reduced"; confronting individuals within his parish who hold "strange doctrines," the parson "useth all possible diligence to reduce them to the common faith"; against the "aptness" of his rural charges to view life and their place materialistically, the parson endeavors "to reduce them to see God's hand in all things" (244). In all his various efforts to produce conformity and uniformity, the parson works to locate individuals "safe and within bounds," in a calling, in belief, and in appropriate and appropriately internalized responses to the liturgy, sermons, and the catechisms.

In "The Parson in his House," Herbert develops, in the description of the parson's household government, the patriarchalist(37) principles that will be used to govern the parish, using the government of each as mutually reinforcing and defining macrocosm and microcosm: "The parson is very exact in governing his house, making it a copy and model for his parish" (215). Private life and public life, government and self-government, are to be completely conjoined. For instance, within the parson's household, the distinction between "common" and "private" prayers is made only to be blurred: while insisting on the importance of an individual's personal religious experience, the text ensures the continuity between the public and official and the private and individual by the parson's imposing presence and supervision:

... besides the common prayers of the family, he straitly requires all to pray by themselves before they sleep at night and stir out in the morning, and knows what prayers they say, and till they have learned them, makes them kneel by him, esteeming that this private praying is a more voluntary act than when they are called to others' prayers, and that which when they leave the family they carry with them. (216, italics mine)

In the intimacy of the household, the parson develops the combination of solicitude, discipline, coercion, and surveillance that will serve, writ large--"The parson is not only a father to his flock, but professeth himself thoroughly of the opinion, carrying it about with him as if he had begot the whole parish" (225)--as the governing principle in the parish: he aspires to the same immediate, detailed knowledge of his parishioners' inner and outer lives, and the same kind of contact with and control over the development of their "private" and "voluntary" spiritual experience. Individuality here is completely captured within a pastoral practice designed for exact reproduction, for uniform reduction to a "common" standard. At the same time, this process must produce individuals, genuinely "particular" cases that all reinforce, illustrate, and are governed by the general rule.

The parson's exactitude in government is based on mutually reinforcing kinds of knowledge that will also provide the means by which he rules the parish: the internal disposition, the "temper and pulse of every person in his house," and the external forms, duties, places and requirements by which they can be judged "accordingly." The parson's power lies in his capacity--by which I mean to suggest the imbrication of personal ability and official status--to discern the former and so prescribe the latter, to approach the individual and proclaim "Thou art the man!" (212), to "particularize" the general principles of official discourse in parochial and individual cases, or to manage the technology of the catechism in such a way that an individual "must discover what he is." Official discourse, in the form of the catechism, directs the parson's pursuit, organization, and exposition of religious truth; the parson, thus provided with directive power, rules, in Foucault's phrase, through the "government of individuals by their own verity" (71). Through his actual and representational status as father, and through his knowledge and mastery of "divinity" bounded by the catechism, the parson establishes himself as the central and authoritative subject who is supposed to know in the parish. The parson's role is a function of official discourse; he becomes one who, for example, "composeth himself" in the act of reading the liturgy into an icon of proper posture, reverence, and "unfeigned devotion" ("The Parson Praying" 207). A copy himself, though one with a degree of relative autonomy from simple repetition, the parson's function is modelling and providing instruction in appropriate behavior in response to the forms of official discourse in order to reproduce their essential and individualized truth. An idealized combination of institutional, discursive, social, and spatial positions contribute to the production of truth through the performance of the forms of official discourse. "Full of all knowledge," the parson's power resides in its minute and "exacting" application in the particular circumstances of parochial life.

The parson abounds in casuistical, liturgical, scriptural, legal, medical, and even agricultural knowledge, all of which "serves either positively as it is, or else to illustrate some other knowledge" (204). Being "much versed" for instance, in cases of conscience enables him "to lead his people exactly in the ways of truth," a leadership made necessary because "everyone hath not digested" when lawful human desire and activity shade into sinfulness: "Wherefore the parson hath thoroughly canvassed all the particulars of human action, at least those which he observeth are most incident to his parish" (206-207). Marshalling and correlating general knowledge and specific cases, the parson both presupposes the applicability of the general truths of official discourse, and "discovers" it in close observation.

The manifold powers of observation define the parson's particular combination of knowledge and power. In Chapter 26, "The Parson's Eye," trained to "distinguish" in cases which by small increments lapse from lawfulness into sin, is fixed on his parish: "The country parson, at spare time from action, standing on a hill and considering his flock, discovers two sorts of vices and two sorts of vicious persons" (238). Once past the "clear and evident" vices, the incorrigible vicious, and those who are easily turned away from "evident" sin, the parson encounters those vices that require an expert's eye in the detection and definition: "... the beginnings of them are not easily observable; and the beginnings of them are not observed, because of the sudden passing from that which was just now lawful, to that which is presently unlawful, even in one continued action" (238-39). The parson, who hath "exactly sifted the definitions of all virtues and vices," is uniquely able to make the observable but not readily apparent nature of sins "whose natures are most stealing and beginnings uncertain" evident to the offender.

The individuals of the parish provide for parsons subject matter for the exercise of their callings in the actualization of their forms of knowledge. While the parson is to be "full of all knowledge,"

Country people are full of these petty injustices, being cunning to make use of one another and spare themselves, and scholars ought to be diligent in the observation of these, driving of their general school rules ever to the smallest actions of life, which while they dwell in their books they will never find, but being seated in the country and doing their duty faithfully, they will soon discover, especially if they carry their eyes ever open, and fix them on their charge and not on their preferment. (240, italics mine)

Quitting, like Herbert, chances for social advantage, country parsons can, as Malcolmson writes, achieve a social identity founded not in birth and station but in a sense of "profession and the industry it requires";(38) quitting their books, country parsons will find in this exhortation a method of intense vigilance and social control, and endless occasion for the exercise of industry in the production of the knowledge of sin. Country people, however, become the objects of this observation, and of the passage's assurance that they will "soon" illustrate the truth of the official knowledge of petty injustice. The parson's activity is disciplinary in a Foucauldian sense, as the applicability of "general school rules" is posited to authorize, govern, and regulate the management of the particulars of human experience. The parson's authority is predicated upon the simultaneity of his institutional and official knowledge and the first-hand knowledge of "country people" obtained through constant observation.

This observation requires the close inspection of his parishioners' lives and livelihoods. In order to "find his flock, most naturally as they are, wallowing in the midst of their affairs," the parson uses unpredictable visitation, "now in one quarter of the parish, now another. "To fail to do so is to risk being deceived by an unsophisticated kind of occasional conformity: on Sundays, country people "compose themselves to order ... and come to church in frame, but commonly the next day put off both" (220). An authentic calling depends on the regular riding of this fact-finding circuit: "If the parson were ashamed of particularizing in these things, he were not fit to be a parson..." (224); "exactness lies in particulars" (249). The parson's observing presence in the parish, if not exactly panoptic, is designed to produce the same awareness of being watched that the Verser of "The Church Porch" urges on the "rate treasure" of a youth: "Think the king sees thee still,/ For his King does." In contrast to the poem, however, which is addressed to a prospective member of the governing elite, the parson seems to regard country people as incapable of self-surveillance.

Similarly "exacting" disciplinary motives and methods inform the parson's conducting of divine services and preaching and his use of the catechism as a means of producing model subjects of the Church and State.

Conducting divine services, the parson makes use of the practices of copying and modelling that underlie the government of his household, in order to produce individuals whose religious experience is both authentically inward and securely official. His aim is to enliven and make effective the official forms of worship, first by internalizing and applying them to himself, and then by overseeing, in a very literal way, their guided internalization in his parishioners. Besides having the largest and only non-scripted speaking part in the performance of divine service, the parson's position again permits a kind of creative intellectual activity that is not allowed to the people, whose role is one of responding, genuinely, inwardly, to the presence and the prompting of the priest.

Through example, instruction, and disciplinary exactness and exaction, the parson leads his people to an understanding of their part in an apostolic "reasonable service." The parson utilizes both studied "gestures which may express a hearty and unfeigned devotion" and "the true reason of his inward fear" to transform himself into a living icon of proper posture in prayer. In Basilikon Doron, James I had recalled for Prince Henry the "old saying, That a King is as one set on a skaffold, whose smallest actions & gestures al the people gazingly do behold."(39) What they see, James suggests, will be what they get: other evidence will only with time and great difficulty and potential danger overcome the "preoccupied conceits of the King's inwarde intention" generated by the appearance of an imprecise "outwarde parte." Herbert similarly presupposes the priority of sight over substance--at least for the capacities of country people--preferring the more emotionally affective prayer over the more discursive sermon, and in turn the sermon based on "sayings and stories" and "moving and ravishing texts" over the less mnemonic "exhortations" or less moving "controversy." Like Hamlet directing the players, Herbert instructs parsons in the convinced and convincing expression and embodiment of sincerity:

... being first affected himself, he may also affect his people, knowing that no sermon moves them so much to a reverence, which they forget again when they come to pray, as devout behaviour in the very act of praying. Accordingly, his voice is humble, his words treatable and slow; yet not so slow neither as to let the fervency of the supplicant hang and die between speaking, but with a grave liveliness between fear and zeal, pausing yet pressing, he performs his duty. (207)

As with the "private" and "voluntary" prayers of the members of his household, the people's part in this is the internalization of an officially sanctioned and supervised form.

Moreover, as the parson "composeth himself" as an image of the genuinely official, or the officially genuine, to be seen and imitated, so he watches over the people's responses and behavior, ensuring that they similarly compose themselves once he has procured their attention. The parson "composeth himself to all possible reverence"; turning his attention to the people, "he having often instructed his people in how to carry themselves in church,"

exacts of them all possible reverence, by no means enduring either talking, or sleeping, or gazing, or leaning or halfkneeling, or any undutiful behaviour in them, but causing them, when they sit, or stand, or kneel, to do all in a straight and steady posture, as attending to what is done in the church, and everyone, man and child, answering aloud both Amen and all other answers, which are on the clerk's and people's part to answer; which answers are not to be done in a huddling or slubbering fashion, gaping, or scratching the head, or spitting even in the midst of their answer, but gently and pauseably, thinking what they say.... (207-208)

It's hard not to read Herbert's exasperation in this lengthy period ("spitting even in the midst of their answer"!), and it does reflect, as Schoenfeldt has noted, his commitment to something like the "civilizing process."(40) But there's more here than the inculcation of manners, even with all that that entails as an ideological process. The management of gesture, posture, and vocal response culminates in the internalization of official forms; Schoenfeldt closes the quotation above at "gently and pauseably," omitting "thinking what they say." Given the parson's busy efforts--instructing, exacting, and causing-- to see that these external things produce the internal truth of the Prayer Book service, and, apart from by-no-means-to-be endured activities, the relative inactivity of the congregation-- answering according to the "clerk's and the people's part"--it seems possible to suggest that "thinking what they say" does not mean "thinking about what they say," but rather a thinking after the Prayer Book forms and the priest's performance of them. The "reason" that the parson is to encourage is therefore limited to the individuals' affirmation of themselves as subjects by reverent behavior and inward response in the positions established for them by official discourse: "That is what the Apostle calls a reasonable service" (208).

The parson's preaching, too, mixes personal exemplarity with the vigilant control of pastoral oversight. Despite the emphasis placed on preaching, usually associated with an anti-sacerdotal religion, the parson again diminishes the role of discursive reason as a means of communicating religious truth or of securing assent, relying on disciplinary oversight, "sayings and stories" for all and "particulars" for each, and a rhetorical self-reflexive self-effacement. What the people hear or understand is said to have less impact than what they see and perceive. The parson again uses rhetorical art to appear artless: He "procures attention by all possible art, it being natural to men to think that where is much earnestness there is somewhat worth hearing" (209). Through these means, the parson situates himself in the king-like, and so god-like, position of authority immediately over the heads of his parishioners ("the pulpit is his joy and his throne"): God sees and speaks directly through the parson. To accompany his own personal "earnestness," the parson with "diligent and busy cast of his eye on his auditors" so that they know he "observes who marks, and who not." Herbert has been praised, from Izaak Walton to recent scholarship, for the way he adapts his lofty purposes to the homely circumstances of his immediate audience.(41) But there's something a bit chilling about this scanning eye, which will not permit inattentiveness, and the parson's rhetorical distribution of particulars: "This is for you, and this is for you; for particulars ever touch and awake more than generals" (209). The parson approximates the local presence of omniscience, an effect which is coupled with omnipotence when the sermon subsequently evokes God's judgment: "Herein also he serves himself of the judgments of God, as of those ancientest times, so especially of the late ones; and those most which are nearest to his parish; for people are very attentive of such discourses, and think it behooves them to be so when God is so near them, even over their heads" (209, italics mine). Consistent with his definition of the priesthood as "direct" deputies of Christ, Herbert represents the parson as the channel through which God is present to the parishioners, effacing himself and his status as an intellectual intermediary: selecting texts, serving himself of the judgment of God, and invoking the presence of God in the words of his sermon in essence rather than in substance. Arguing that "Some such irradiations scatteringly in the sermon carry great holiness in them," Herbert suggests that the parson frame his sermon as a ventriloquy, replacing specialized knowledge with the immediate reception of God: "Oh my Master, on whose errand I come, let me hold my peace, and do thou speak for thyself; for thou art Love, and when thou teachest, all are scholars." While Herbert recently has come to be associated with an essential protestantism, he here proposes not the absence but the concealing of the institutional mediation between God and the "people."

The importance of catechizing to Herbert has of course been described by recent writers, most notably Stanley Fish. Fish distinguishes Herbert's "Socratic" use of the catechism from the more "rote" methods employed by his contemporaries, arguing that Herbert's individualized and individualizing approach to the catechism--he advises posing the questions "loosely and wildly"--involves the catechumen, and the reader of Herbert's poetry, "in his own edification," and leads erratically but inevitably to "self-discovery."(42) However, basing his analysis of Herbert's method (and motives) on "a single assertion from A Priest to the Temple"--that the end of catechizing is "to infuse a competent knowledge of salvation in everyone of his flock" and "to build up this knowledge to a spiritual Temple"--Fish removes Herbert's practice from any institutional, discursive, or political context. Herbert's irregular and individualized application of the catechism, I suggest, is less a method that marks Herbert's departure from the merely official, than a technology that enhances the hegemony of the official by placing the catechumen in the position of consenting to his own subjection to the parson and the state church. The individualizing style Herbert recommends, then, involves more priestly control than would mere repetition, because, as we have seen with prayers and preaching, the parson's personal presence ultimately determines the form and adequacy of the individual response, because it is he who both poses questions "containing in virtue the answer also" (231), and he who pronounces success.

While Fish acknowledges that the catechistical encounter is rigged and one-sided, and only has the appearance (i.e. to the catechumen) of unpredictability, his claim that this method will lead to self-discovery takes no notice of the work of institutional pressure and ideological unifying that accompanies it. However "wildly and loosely" propounded, the catechism as Herbert presents it remains the attenuated and reified "form for expounding already found, ready-made, irrefutable truth" that Bakhtin argued was the historical vestige of the more open "Socratic dialogue."(43) Fish emphasizes the form and putative end of Herbert's Socratic catechizing without suggesting how "monologism of content" reduces the selves that are discovered to individualized instances of "common truths." In this, the catechism becomes in that perhaps too-familiar Foucauldian pun, a mode of subjection.

I have been arguing that Herbert's pastoral practice elaborates official and centralized forms at the parochial and individual level; the catechism is both the organizing principle of the parson's directive knowledge and its most immediate application. In moving from preaching to catechizing, the parson does not leave behind a central position and its unifying aspiration: whereas in preaching "there is a kind of state, in catechizing there is a kind of humbleness...." In this humble position, though, the parson maintains a dominant position and attempts to maintain uniform control over his parishioners, using a guided internalization of the catechism from "the very words" to "the substance." He uses the official form the catechism in the interest of unity, uniformity, and authority: "He useth, and preferreth, the ordinary Church-catechism, partly for obedience to authority, partly for uniformity sake, that the same common truths may be everywhere professed, especially since many remove from parish to parish, who like Christian soldiers are to give the word and to satisfy the congregation with their catholic answers" (230). The parson's concerns here extend beyond the parish bounds, and the catechism becomes a regulatory watchword(44) by which strangers, in a period marked by increased mobility and attendant suspicions of vagrants and vagabonds, can identify themselves as loyal members of the Church and State.

The parson progresses from "the very words" of the catechism to its "substance," aiming by degrees to reproduce without simply repeating the official form. Through this method of internalizing and individualizing the catechism, "He exacts of all the doctrine of the catechism." The technique of reordering and rewording the catechism --"The order being used to one, would be a little varied to another" --will lead, "if once he get the skill of it," inevitably to success. But the sureness of the result here is not simply the product of a technique; the parson uses his presence as authority, as poser of questions, and finally, as the one who determines when the end has been reached. Despite the parson's watchful eye," at sermons, and prayers, a man may sleep or wander"; in an individual encounter with the parson, "when one is asked a question, one must discover what one is." The catechumen is in position in which he must reveal himself-- the primary meaning of the word "discover" here--to an authority empowered to question him: this is another form of "giving the word," as an individual must bring forth an answer to satisfy the standard of "common truths." But, as Kenneth Burke has noted, an "orthodox statement" requires "complementary movement: an internalizing of the external and an externalizing of the internal."(45) It is not sufficient, then, that the catechumen repeat the proper answer: he must give an answer that satisfies the catechist that he has sufficiently internalized the truth of the catechism: "The saying of the catechism is necessary but not enough; because to answer in form may still admit ignorance; but the questions must be propounded loosely and wildly, and then the answerer will discover what he is" (233).

Herbert's readers and editors have been quick to add that the word "discover" here and in the previous passage carries with it the modern meaning that Fish assigns to it, and surely it does. But the politics of A Country Parson lie specifically in the parson's capacity, as an official representative of the state church, to see that the two senses coincide, that subjects of the state and church constitute themselves in official terms, and that there is no conflict between the external and the internal. The parson's use of the catechism is typical of his use of religious discourse in general: it supplies him with the directive power needed to extend the hegemony to the most particular level. The parson's use of religious discourse as a means of direction for his parishioners, then, is political at both the macro and micro levels: it confirms them in their subservient status, and limits the means and possibilities of self-discovery to those contained by its discursive and institutional regulation. The catechism is instrumental in this. As Hans Robert Jauss has written, "The right to pose questions is the prerogative of the master; to be obliged to answer and only speak when asked is the lot of the underling."(46) Here, as throughout The Country Parson, the parson's mastery is evident, his activity decisive, his knowledge exclusive, his word final, and, in the Bakhtinian sense, finalizing.

Indiana University, Northwest


(1.) Nicholas Ferrar, "The Printers to the Reader," in George Herbert, The Complete English Poems, ed. John Tobin (Hammondsworth: Penguin, 1991), 3. All quotations from Herbert's poetry and prose are taken from this edition.

(2.) David Doerkson, "'Too Good for These Times': Politics and the Publication of George Herbert's The Country Parson," Seventeenth Century News 13 (1991): 10.

(3.) See Amy Charles, A Life of George Herbert (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977); Stanley Stewart, George Herbert (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986); and John Wall, Transformations of the Word: Spenser, Herbert, Vaughan (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1988); and Doerkson. Charles in particular maintains that the text represents "the immediate experience of its author"; that country people as presented in the text are "recognizable" as genuine if generic types; and that an admirable "working knowledge of human nature" is to be found in the text (157-58).

(4.) See especially Christopher Hodgkins, "'Betwixt This World and That of Grace': George Herbert and the Church in Society," Studies in Philology 87 (1990): 456-75; Christina Malcolmson, "George Herbert's Country Parson and the Character of Social Identity," Studies in Philology 85 (1988): 245-66; and Michael Schoenfeldt, Prayer and Power: George Herbert and Renaissance Courtship (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).

(5.) Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1971), 326.

(6.) Edward Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 171.

(7.) It should be kept in mind that I am presenting the ideal aspiration of the Church rather than its actual practice or achieved hegemony. The early seventeenth century of course saw many dissenters and departures from official discourse, through non-compliance, alternative catechisms, "gadding to sermons," or other means of escaping the enforcement of canonical regulations and requirements.

(8.) In "The Church of England c.1529-1642" (History 75 [1990]), G. W. Bernard argues that the English Church was fundamentally "monarchical" in nature, and as such, was founded on "a desire that was essentially political, but which could be expressed without insincerity in more idealized language (and would be in the poetry of John Donne and George Herbert): a desire for comprehensiveness, for a church that would embrace all their subjects" (187).

(9.) Michael Holquist, Dialogism: Bakhtin and his World (London: Routledge, 1990), 52.

(10.) Gramsci, 13.

(11.) These words appear frequently in the text.

(12.) See Barry Reay, "Popular Religion," in Popular Culture in Seventeenth England, ed. Barry Reay (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985), 97; Keith Wrightson, English Society, 1580-1680 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1982), 208-21; and Rosemary O'Day, The English Clergy: The Emergence and Consolidation of a Profession (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1979).

(13.) Reay, "Popular Religion," 97.

(14.) Wrightson, 209.

(15.) Christopher Hill, The Century of Revolution (New York: Norton, 1961), 64.

(16.) O'Day, 191.

(17.) Roger Lockyer The Early Stuarts: A Political History of England (London: Longman's, 1989), 307.

(18.) Andrew Foster, "Church Policies of the 1630's," in Conflict in Early Stuart England: Studies in Religion and Politics, ed. Richard Cust and Ann Hughes (London: Longman's, 1989), 209.

(19.) See G. W. Bernard on the "monarchical" nature of the English Church.

(20.) Cited by Foster, 307.

(21.) Herbert, 234. The parson is not to be "oversubmissive" to the local Lord and Lady, for fear of diminishing "what he is"; priests, it is suggested, should not be insubordinate to "their earthly Lord," but after establishing this early on, the text pays little attention to the role of the local nobility, gentry, or parish elites in government. He does recommend that local gentry seek to serve as Justices of the Peace, but the office is presented as a thoroughly subordinated one. "The Parson's Completeness" claims the role of judge as a part of the clergy's role; JP's seem to be mainly the eyes and ears of power. The clergy thus ideally occupies a place of considerable prestige and power, in keeping, that sought by the "Arminian" and Laudian parties in the Church struggles of the 1630's.

(22.) "Keeping watch," Michel Foucault has argued, is a signal aspect of what he has called "pastoral power." See "Politics and Reason," in Politics Philosophy Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977-1984, ed. Lawrence W. Kritman (New York: Routledge, 1987), 57-85.

(23.) Schoenfeldt notes that "The parson ... assimilates unto himself the very stuctures of authority he is supposed to reprove" (98). That Schoenfeldt seems to find this surprising, suggests to me the limits of the political and historical analysis represented by his work. The resemblance between Herbert's parson and the king is not, as Schoenfeldt seems to believe, a quirk of Herbert's biography, but a feature of the patriarchalism from which Herbert's text derives its notions of authority and government.

(24.) Herbert's assertion of the divine origin of the priestly calling exceeds that allowed by James I. Claire Cross has noted that "when Convocation in 1606 drafted canons which made reference to priests being created by God's ordinance, and in no sense elected by the people, he refused to allow their enactment." See "Churchmen and the Royal Supremacy," in Church and Society in England: Henry VIII to James I, ed. Felicity Heal and Rosemary O'day (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1977), 32. Christopher Hill characterizes the use of the word "priest" and the term "Vice-regents" as "provocative" Laudianisms. See "Archbishop Laud," in A Nation of Change and Novelty: Radical Politics, Religion and Literature in Seventeenth-Century England (London: Routledge, 1990), 67-68.

(25.) Wrightson, 209.

(26.) This is true even, or perhaps especially, of the actual church building, which is to be outfitted according to the prescriptions of "decency and order," and in which are to be found "all books appointed by authority" (246).

(27.) Malcolmson maintains, "It would be a mistake ... to assume that Herbert's insistence on the difference between parson and people is a simple justification of the Stuart principle of hierarchy in court and church." I would contend that failure to describe fully the presence and implications of this insistence is also a mistake.

(28.) James I, The Trew Law of Free Monarchies, in Divine Right and Democracy: An Anthology of Political Writing in Stuart England, ed. David Wootton (Hammondsworth: Penguin, 1986), 99.

(29.) Gramsci's distinction between the roles of "officials or functionaries" and "administrators" in the development of hegemony and domination is applicable here. The former have a higher degree of "creative intellectual activity" than the latter, who act as "the divulgators of pre-existing, traditional, accumulated intellectual wealth" (12-13).

(30.) The suggestion is Schoenfeldt's, 55. Schoenfeldt cites the work of Kevin Sharpe in Criticism and Compliment, who has questioned the opposition between court and country as centers of cultural conflict. However, Sharpe's attempt to deny the existence of conflict of any consequence has been criticized by James Holstun, "Ehud's Dagger: Patronage, Tyrannicide, and Killing No Murder," Cultural Critique 22 (1992): 108-111.

(31.) Herbert's religious and social ideal here is at odds with the reality of what many historians have described as an economic and social crisis, through the first half of the seventeenth century in general, and in particular in the years 1629-32. See Paul Slack, Poverty and Policy in Tudor and Stuart England (London: Longman's, 1988), 54-55; and Derek Hirst, Authority and Conflict in England, 1603-1640 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), 169-71.

(32.) Wrightson, 181. See also Slack.

(33.) See Hirst 42 ff., Wrightson 151 ff., and Cynthia Herrup, "The Counties and the Country: Some Thoughts on Seventeenth-Century Historiography," in Reviving the English REvolution: Reflections and Elaborations of the Work of Christopher Hill, ed. Geoff Eley and William Hunt (London: Verso, 1988), especially 290: "Effective government in England depended on the willingness of male citizens to act as agents of central institutions."

(34.) See Hill, "The State-Ecclesiastical," in The Collected Essays of Christopher Hill, Volume Two: Religion and Politics in Seventeenth-Century England (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986), 55-56.

(35.) Michel Foucault, "Politics and Reason," 60.

(36.) The degree of vigilance the parson maintains over his parishioners suggests that the achievement of the ideal aim of creating self-governing subjects remains a ways off. Compare his advice to the youth of "the Church Porch": "Think the king sees thee still/ For his King does...."

(37.) I use patriarchalist here more or less interchangeably with paternalist. See E. P. Thompson, Customs in Common: Studies in Traditional Popular Culture (New York: The New Press, 1991), who notes that in usage we find the "one carrying a sterner, the other a softened implication" (19). In ideological terms, it is probably the coincidence of the meanings that is significant: the unchallengeable authority of the patriarch is indeed "softened" by fatherly solicitude.

(38.) Malcolmson, 255.

(39.) James I, Basilikon Doron (Menston, England: The Scolar Press), 121.

(40.) Schoenfeldt, 99.

(41.) See especially Wall.

(42.) Stanley Fish, The Living Temple: George Herbert and Catechizing (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978). See also Wall.

(43.) Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, ed. and trans. Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press), 110.

(44.) Tobin glosses "give the word" as "spread the gospel," but given the remainder of the sentence's concern with satisfying the congregation, and the passage's concern with uniformity and commonality, this seems unlikely.

(45.) Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 113.

(46.) Hans Robert Jauss, Question and Answer: Forms of Dialogic Understanding (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1989), 52.