Among the most contested issues of the Reformation was the number and nature of the sacraments, above all the specific mode and operation of the Eucharist. The Catholic Church had long taught that the Mass, or Sacrament of the Altar, is an unbloody re-enactment of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary, with the material elements of the Sacrament transformed into the substance of His Body and Blood, while retaining the accidental species, or appearance, of bread and wine. The most extreme denial of this doctrine came with the "memorialism" of the first-generation Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, who maintained that the Lord's Supper is no more than a commemoration of the Last Supper, that the elements remain mere bread and wine. Neither Luther nor Calvin wished to go so far. According to the "receptionism" of Calvin, the Body and Blood of Christ are really present in the faith of the elect communicant who receives the sacrament; and according to Luther's teaching of consubstantiation, Christ is truly present in the elements of bread and wine because he is already present everywhere.
Now neither the Lutheran nor the Calvinist formulation of the Eucharist provides any more actual assurance than Zwingli's that God is objectively and factually (ex opere operato) present to the communicant. In the Calvinist construction, Christ becomes present only in the subjective experience of the faithful recipient -- a sign that he already has grace rather than a means of attaining it. Even Luther's notion of "ubiquitarianism" can be turned around to say that Christ is no more present in the Sacrament than anywhere else. "Such an argument," M.M. Ross tartly observes, "defends the Real Presence by abolishing it" (48).
The slipperiness of this middle ground creates problems for the interpretation of those poets who have come to be associated with the "middle way," or via media, of the Church of England. The poetry of George Herbert provides an especially provocative instance since he has been regarded, at least since the time of Isaac Walton's famous Life, as the epitome of an Anglican piety moderating between the extremes of Rome and the Swiss Reformers. If the various Protestant positions are not, however, essentially distinct, then the via media turns out to be a chimera, and the doctrinal integrity of Herbert's devotional poetry is put in question. Two centuries after Herbert, and still eight years before his own reception into the Catholic Church, John Henry Newman was wrestling with this dilemma in The Prophetical Office of the Church (1837):
Protestantism and Popery are real religions; no one can doubt about them; they have furnished the mould in which nations have been cast: but the Via Media, viewed as an integral system, has scarcely had existence except on paper, it has never been reduced to practice but by piecemeal; it is known, not positively but negatively, in its differences from rival creeds, not in its own properties; and can only be described as a third system, neither the one nor the other, partly both, cutting between them, and, as if with critical fastidiousness, trifling with them both . . . .
In 1837 Newman admits "that there is force in these representations," and while he "would not adopt them to their full extent," he further concedes that "it still remains to be tried whether what is called Anglo-Catholicism, the religion of Andrewes, Laud, Hammond, Butler, and Wilson is capable of being professed, acted on, and maintained . . . " (qtd. Cameron 17). With Newman the outcome is clear, but for Herbert controversy remains.
Over the course of the past two decades, the dominant critical trend has been to abandon Walton and the via media and subsume Herbert, along with the seventeenth-century devotional poets as a group, under the rubric of "Protestant Poetics." From this perspective Herbert has been portrayed as a decisively Reformation poet whose theology of justification and the Eucharist became increasingly anti-Roman as he matured. The distinctive features of the poetry of The Temple have thus been interpreted as reflections of Protestant doctrine and any influence of Continental Catholicism dismissed as marginal. A second alternative has been to diminish the significance of doctrinal concerns as such and to locate the particularly Anglican center of the poetry in novel deployments of language and logic. According to this view Herbert embodies a specifically "Anglican" preference for corporate worship and Christian practice over abstract doctrinal positions; theology is couched in a peculiarly Anglican equivocal logic or simply disdains definitive propositions about God.
Such attempts to resolve the problem of the via media are carried out at the expense of an important element in Herbert's poetry. John Wall, for example, observes that "The Church," the long central section of The Temple, is framed with eucharistic references (198); Wall does not, however, observe that these references consistently evoke a sense of the divine presence reminiscent of the eucharistic imagery in the Catholic poetry of Herbert's era. In one of the most moving passages in The Temple, for instance, Herbert seems to draw upon a figurative evocation of the Mass in the verse of the Jesuit martyr, St. Robert Southwell. This parallel is less interesting as an example of literary influence than as a particularly striking instance of how Herbert's poetry voices a yearning for a sense of the divine presence unavailable within a strict interpretation of Anglican doctrinal and sacramental formularies. Herbert was profoundly affected by the sacramental heritage of the Catholic Church. Although he undoubtedly regarded himself as a Protestant and rejected the authority of the Roman magisterium, Herbert's poetry cannot be successfully interpreted without reading its eucharistic images in the context of Catholic teaching. In this respect, then, the via media is less a conscious compromise between Geneva and Rome than a retreat from the radical sacramental theology of the Reformation; that is, from the theology of Thomas Cranmer and the Book of Common Prayer as well as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. In the poetry of The Temple, as well as in the sermons of Andrewes and the liturgy of Laud, a time bomb is set ticking that will blow up in the face of John Henry Newman some two centuries later.
Efforts to deny the Catholic elements in the eucharistic theology of Herbert's poetry inevitably require special pleading. Ilona Bell, for example, insists that the poet rejects any sense of Christ's sacrifical presence in the sacrament, and the poem "Home" is adduced to make the point: "the meditation is a failure--the speaker does not feel Christ's presence. . . . The sacrifice has ended, and Christ ascended to heaven" (81). "Home," however, is not a poem specifically about the Eucharist or the Crucifixion, despite one reference to "the pace / The bloud did make, which thou didst waste? / When I behold it trickling down thy face" (7-9); it is rather a poem about the longing for heaven, which, to Protestants and Catholics alike, is man's true home. Bell's example, therefore, is not an adequate basis for denying Catholic influence on the eucharistic poetry of The Temple. When Herbert does turn to meditate upon the sacramental meaning of the Eucharist, as in "The Priesthood," he is filled with reverence and awe:
But th'holy men of God such vessels are,
As serve him up, who all the world commands:
When God vouchsafeth to become our fare,
Their hands convey him, who conveys their hands.
O what pure things, most pure must those things he,
Who bring my God to me!
Wherefore I dare not, I, put forth my hand
To hold the Ark, although it seem to shake
Through th'old sinnes and new doctrines of our land.
Onely, since God doth often vessels make
Of lowly matter for high uses meet,
I throw me at his feet!
If Herbert's reference to "old sinnes" might suggest the abuses in the medieval Church, which the Reformation (Catholic and Protestant alike) set out to correct, then the "new doctrines," which join in to shake the "Ark," can only be an attack upon Reformation excess, especially Puritanism. Some doubt is thus cast upon the existence of a firm Protestant consensus in seventeenth-century England, which is such a crucial element in the theory of Protestant poetics. More important is the deep sense of Christ's dauntingly real presence in the sacrament manifest here. No one's hand trembles as he reaches out to seize a piece of bread. As far as it goes, the poem is not incompatible with Catholic eucharistic doctrine; and its reverent tone reminds us that Herbert approved of kneeling to receive communion. "The Feast indeed requires sitting," Herbert writes in Chapter XXII of The Country Parson, "because it is a Feast; but man's unpreparedness asks kneeling" (259). The argument as well as the tone of "The Priesthood" echoes a sonnet by Lope de Vega, who likewise evokes the priest's sense of unworthiness in handling the consecrated Host:
Cuando en mis manos, Rey eterno, os miro
y la candida victima levanto,
de mi atrevida indignidad me espanto,
y la piedad de vuestro pecho admiro. (II, 183)
[When in my hands, eternal King, I look at you and elevate the
spotless victim, I am fearful of my bold unworthiness, and I
marvel at the mercy in your breast.]
While Herbert is obviously not expressing, as his Spanish contemporary does, the full teaching of the Eucharist as sacrifice, he nonetheless intimates a sense of awe in the presence of the sacrament that is only appropriate to such a belief.
Richard Strier, however, maintains that "Herbert's eucharistic theology (like that of Cranmer and the English Renaissance Church as a whole) is closer to Calvin's than Luther's" (xiv); that is, that Herbert has no belief in the real presence of Christ's body and blood in the sacrament. Strier is certainly correct about the official belief of the Tudor church. John Jewel's authoritative An Apology for the Church of England (1562), for example, only allows that "Christ himself" is "presently given unto us as that by faith we verily receive his body and blood" (emphasis added). It is denied that "the very nature of bread is changed" (33). Jewel's view corresponds very well to what comes closest to an "official" Anglican teaching in the Articles of Religion,#28, in the authoritative Latin form of 1571:
Panis et vini transubstantiatio in Eucharistia, ex sacris literis probari non potest. Sed apertis Scripturae verbis adversatur, Sacramenti naturam evertit, et multarum superstitionum dedit occasionem. Corpus Christi datur, accipitur, et manducatur in Coena, tantum coelesti, et spirituali ratione. Medium autem quo corpus Christi accipitur, et manducatur in Coena, fides est. Sacramentum Eucharistiae, ex institutione Christi non servabatur, circumferebatur, elevabatur, nec adorabatur.
[The transubstantiation of the bread and wine in the Eucharist cannot be proven out of sacred letters, but in fact is contrary to the plain words of Scripture, overturns the nature of the Sacrament, and gives occasion for a multitude of superstitions. The body of Christ is given, received, and eaten in the Supper only in a heavenly and spiritual manner. The means by which the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is faith. The Sacrament of the Eucharist, according to the Institution of Christ, is not to be reserved, carried about, elevated, or adored.]
In order to argue that Herbert s poetry evinces no movement away from this receptionist position associated with Calvin, Strier must deprecate the eucharistic significance of the poet's language: "Herbert frequently uses Eucharistic-sounding language--language of blood, wine, and tasting--metaphorically." Strier does not bother to explain why a poet of firm Calvinist sympathies would, in a time of religious controversy, use such ambiguous figures that would lay him open to a Catholic interpretation. He insists that neither "The Agonie" nor "Divinitie" is to be read as "specifically Eucharistic." Such a reading, Strier urges, would involve a misinterpretation of line 21 of the latter: "To do this, however, is to read 'he doth bid us take his bloud for wine' backwards. Coleridge saw this. His commentary on the line was, 'Nay, the contrary: take the wine to be blood'" (46-47,n. 41).
Now Strier's remark is very odd. In the first place he omits some rather significant further comments by Coleridge: "Nay, the contrary; take the wine to be blood, and the blood of a man who died 1800 years ago. This is the faith which even the church of England demands; for the Consubstantiation only adds a mystery to that of Transubstantiation, which it implies" (536 [emphasis in original]). To be sure, Coleridge gives an inaccurate assessment of the beliefs of the Tudor church regarding the Eucharist, apparently thinking that it accepted consubstantiation and interpreting that in a way that "implies" the Catholic doctrine. He is apparently surprised that Herbert, who is assumed to accept this doctrine, has gotten the phrasing "wrong." Hence Coleridge is really not a good witness for Strier's view; even though both have read the crucial line without seeing its actual intention, Coleridge has a keen sense of Herbert's traditional sacramental orientation.
Here, then, is the stanza from "Divinitie":
But he doth bid us take his bloud for wine.
Bid what he please; yet I am sure,
To take and taste what he doth there designe,
Is all that saves, and not obscure. (21-24)
In quoting this stanza Strier omits the second half of line 22, "Yet I am sure," and then complains of the stanza's obscurity (46). Now the omitted half line suggests a typically Anglican attitude of the Stuart era, that what matters in receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist is a belief in the fact of the real presence without worrying about how it might be accomplished. This vagueness is beginning to obtain by the end of the Elizabethan period. The treatment by Richard Hooker in Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polio, (V.67.5-6) typifies the wish to have it both ways: "The bread and the cup are the body and blood because they are causes instrumental upon the receipt whereof the participation of his body and blood ensueth." But, "The real presence of Christ's most blessed body and blood is not therefore to be sought for in the sacrament, but in the worthy receiver of the sacrament" (II.322). Yet Hooker does not remain content with this plain Calvinist or "receptionist" formulation "'This is my body', and 'this is my blood', being words of promise, sith we all agree that by the sacrament Christ doth really and truly perform his promise, why do we vainly trouble ourselves with so fierce contentions whether by consubstantiation, or else by transubstantiation the sacrament itself be first possessed with Christ or no?" (II.323). Ross (61) rightly observes that Hooker's view is not reconcilable with Catholic teaching, but he does not consider why men like Hooker refrain from an unambiguously Protestant statement that would have stilled Puritan suspicions, or why Andrewes, whose influence on Herbert is great, is even less explicitly "Protestant."
Line 21 of "Divinitie" seems, then, to assert that what is received is "bloud" that we "take for"--that is, apprehend through our senses as--wine. Thus understood, Herbert's line is perfectly compatible with the eucharistic teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, or at least with his "Hymn for Corpus Christi Day" (Pange lingua gloriosa):
Verbumcaro panem verum
verbo camem efficit,
fitque sanguis Christi merum
et, si sensus deficit,
ad firmandum cor sincerum
sola fides sufficit.
Tantum ergo sacramentum
et antiquum documentum
novo cedat ritui;
supplementum sensuum defectui.
(Gaselee 144, 11. 19-30)
[The Word-made-flesh by his word makes true bread into flesh, and wine becomes the blood of Christ and, if sense fails, faith alone suffices to assure a sincere heart. Bowed down let us venerate so great a sacrament, and let the old model give way before the new rite. Let faith supply the defect of the senses.]
St. Thomas thus suggests that our senses "take" the sacramentally present flesh and blood of Christ "for" bread and wine (OED s.v. "take," def. 48), but "faith alone" (sola fides) is sure of the real presence. Herbert's line could quite easily be interpreted this way, or perhaps it could mean, "take this blood in place of or instead of wine" (OED s.v. "for," def. 5).
Now either of these interpretations would be appropriate because of the generally eucharistic context. While denying the relevance of this context, Strier argues that this poem and "The Agonie" are closely associated in urging the claims of faith as opposed to reason (41); but there is no need to regard this emphasis on faith as a sign of Lutheranism, especially if the sacramental overtones are acknowledged. As the lines from Pange lingua quoted above show, St. Thomas was quite emphatic about the primacy of faith alone in the acceptance of Christian mysteries. The eucharistic resonance of "Divinitie" is enhanced by its ninth line, "Could not that Wisdome, which first broacht the wine"; and this resonance is quite explicit in the closing stanza of "The Agonie":
Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the crosse a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as bloud; but I, as wine.
The closing couplet implies strongly that, what is to human sensation wine, is, in the divine economy, the blood of Christ: what "God feels" is surely more reliable than what the poetic persona tastes. Moreover, the sense of eucharistic Real Presence in these lines is embodied in language highly reminiscent of Catholic meditations on the Sacrament of the Altar (Martz 84-85,292).
One recent approach to Herbert's diffidence about spelling out eucharistic doctrine is to erect this reluctance into the distinctive principle of the Church of England. While Strier and the other proponents of the Protestant Poetics view of Herbert choose to interpret him in terms of the radical Protestantism of the mature Cranmer and the early Tudor church, an alternative is to read Herbert's irenic ambiguities back into the instabilities of the mid-sixteenth century. Thus Cranmer's doctrinal tergiversations are seen not as a result of the politic discretion of a man attempting to please a series of disagreeing (and disagreeable) masters, but rather of doctrinal aporia--a kind of anticipation of deconstructive theology. In this vein John Wall writes, "At the heart of the Church of England is not intellectual assent to a specific doctrinal position but the entering in to something done." "Essential to Cranmer's reformed church," Wall continues, "is thus not assent to a statement of belief but participation in worship enabled by the Book of Common Prayer, which brings the biblical text and the sacramental enactment of the central event of Christian history into relationship with the present moment of celebration." This view supposes, then, that "Cranmer and his followers would have found difficult to accept" such things as "the categories of thought at work in an abstracted system" that could "affirm for human language an ability to be descriptive and truth speaking" (11,12,13). It is from such a perspective, Wall subsequently asserts, that "The speaker [of "Divinitie"] adresses one of the central matters of Reformation controversy--whether and in what way Christ is present in the bread and wine of Holy Communion--and asserts that human speculation, again, is a diversion rather than a furthering of the way" (221).
This is not the appropriate occasion to debate whether such an eliding of doctrine is in any way compatible with traditional, orthodox Christianity of any persuasion. It is sufficient to point out here that the theory of discourse on which it rests was simply unavailable either to Cranmer or Herbert. In the very passage from Cranmer's writings adduced by Wall to demonstrate that "assent to a specific doctrinal position" is not central to Anglicanism, Cranmer insists that "wheresoever the word of God is truly preached, without addition of man's doctrines and traditions, and the sacraments duly administered according to Christ's institution, there is the true church . . . [emphases added]" (qtd. Wall 11-12). Cranmer is here making rigorous doctrinal discriminations and claiming truth for his assertions. The importance of written formulations of doctrine, of "verbal codes," to Cranmer's mind and heart is attested by his conduct at his execution for heresy under Queen Mary in 1556. Having hoped to save his life by recanting his Protestant beliefs, at the time of his death Cranmer recanted that recantation and first thrust into the fire his right hand, because that hand was guilty of "setting abroad of a writing contrary to the Truth," and because with that hand he had "written many things untrue [emphases added]" (qtd. Hutchinson 107). It is difficult to imagine such remorse from a man who doubted the capacity of "human language" for "truth speaking," and still more difficult to fancy him holding his hand unflinchingly in the fire for anything less than what he took to be the Truth.
By the same token, although Herbert deprecated doctrinal controversy, it is clear from his poetry that he would not have been happy with the rite for administering communion in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer (the last that Cranmer had a hand in), which pointedly refrains from calling the consecrated elements the Body and Blood of Christ, and which included the "Black Rubric" that denied "any real and essential presence there being of Christ's natural flesh and blood. . . . "It was the addition in the 1559 and subsequent versions of the Prayer Book of "The body of our Lord Jesus Christ" and "The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Milward 88-89) that gave Herbert a warrant for his evocation of the Real Presence in his poetry.
So intense was Herbert's eucharistic devotion that in "The Agonie" he seems to have imitated, whether consciously or not, a particular Catholic poem. Louis Martz mentions how Robert Southwell's Gethsemane meditations anticipate, in a general way, the devotional lyrics of Donne and Herbert (43), and Ira Clark points out specific parallels between "The burning Babe" and "Love Unknown" (89). Surely, then, Herbert was not unaware of these stanzas from "Sinnes heavie loade":
O Lord my sinne doth Over-charge thy brest,
The poyse thereof doth force thy knees to bow;
Yea flat thou fallest with faults opprest,
And bloody sweat runs trickling from thy brow:
But had they not to earth thus pressed thee,
Much more they would in hell have pestred mee.
O sinne, how huge and heavie is thy waight,
Thou wayest more then all the world beside,
Of which when Christ had taken in his fraight
The poyse thereof his flesh could not abide;
Alas, if God himselfe sinke under sinne,
What will become of man that dies therein?
The middle stanza of "The Agonie" is Herbert's brilliant compression of this conceit, which Southwell, awkwardly if movingly, develops through three stanzas:
Who would know Sinne, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skinne, his garments bloudie be.
Sinne is that presse and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruell food through ev'ry vein. (7-12)
These lines, as F.E. Hutchinson points out in the commentary of his edition, make an unmistakable allusion to the winepress of Isaiah 63.1-6, with its traditional eucharistic overtones (4-88). The same allusion is made by Southwell in "Christs bloody sweat":
Fat soile, full spring, sweete olive, grape of blisse, That yeelds, that streams, that pours, that dost distil, Untild, undrawne, unstampt, untoucht of presse, Deare fruit, cleare brookes, faire oile, sweet wine at will: Thus Christ unforst prevents in shedding blood The whips, the thornes, the nailes, the speare, and roode. (1-6)
For both poets Christ's sufferings and the shedding of His Blood are intimately associated with the Eucharist, in which Our Savior is truly present under the form of "sweet wine."
Herbert's poetry maintains a remarkable poise, then, on a tightrope between the Catholic traditions of the past and the doctrinal demands of the Reformation. His aim is to capture a sense of God's sacramental presence in forms of worship, whether private devotion or liturgical ritual. For this reason "Love (III)" is the culminating poem of "The Church," and there is little purpose in trying to decide whether it is a poem about receiving communion or entering heaven, or is mainly about its title, love or aqape. Louis Martz got it right more than three decades ago in pointing out that it "simultaneously represents the reception of the sacrament and the admission of the redeemed to the 'marriage supper' of Revelation" (319). The Eucharist and the granting of the beatific vision are, of course, the two most wondrous manifestations of God's love, since both involve, in different modes, the gift of God himself--the granting of the divine presence to human beings. Both the sacramental and the eschatological presence can be re-presented simultaneously because they are, analogically, the same presence.
"Love (III)" opens by evoking an allegorical scene: a weary, dusty traveller--a sinful pilgrim Christian--reluctantly seeking rest at an inn/church/heaven. God, as "Love" (see 1 John 4.8), is implicitly both the host of the "inn" and the consecrated Host of the Eucharist, with the term suggested by the vender's phrase, "What d'ye lack?"--roughly the seventeenth-century equivalent of "May I help you" (OED s.v. "lack." def. 3):
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack'd any thing. (1-6)
Much of the poignancy of this poem grows out of the homeliness of its atmosphere, created by the simple diction with its hints of colloquialism. The dusty traveler has come upon an "inn" that is finer than he could have imagined, far too grand for the likes of him. Similarly, sinful man can only be abashed when he reflects upon what awaits him both in the sacramental and heavenly presence of God. What is most exquisite about the poem is how--with the plainest language and the simplest allegorical figures--it evokes a sense of awesome mystery. Such is the nature of the Eucharist: an awesome mystery hidden in simple, everyday elements.
The Eucharistic implications of "Love (III)" are made plainer by recourse to "The H. Communion." According to the latter poem, Christ "doth now . . . convey" (4) himself "by way of nourishment and strength" (7) with the power of "Meeting sinnes force and art" (12); that is, He is present in the Eucharistic species, which are a channel or medium of supernatural grace:
Onely thy grace, which with these elements comes,
Knoweth the ready way,
And hath the privie key,
Op'ning the souls most subtile rooms;
While those to spirits refin'd, at doore attend
Dispatches from their friend. (19-24)
The notion that grace "comes with" the elements of the sacrament is not typical of the Reformation. Zwingli states flatly, "Sacramentes geue not grace" (The accompt 28-29), and Calvin maintains, "They do not of themselves bestow any grace, but they announce and manifest it . . . " (Institutes II.503 [IV. xiv. 17]). Jewel says that the sacraments "might seal his grace in our hearts" (30), with the Zwinglian and Calvinist implication that unmediated grace already there is ratified or manifest by reception of the sacraments. To be sure, Article 25 of the Articles of Religion calls the sacraments "not only marks of the profession of Christians, but rather certain witnesses and efficacious signs of grace" (Makower 485: "non tanrum sunt notae professionis Christianorum, sed certa quaedam potius testimonia et efficatia signa gratiae"). Herbert can be seen to build on this notion of efficacy. His elaboration of the intercourse between the physical ("these elements") and "the souls most subtile rooms," by which grace is conferred, could serve as a rejoinder to Zwingli's insisting, "The fieshe profiteth nothing. Namely, to eate it naturallye, to but eate it spiritually profytheth much, for it gyveith lyre" (The Accompt 43). Herbert treats the reception of the Eucharist as itself a means of transforming grace that restores the close communion between man and God of Adam's state in Paradise:
Thou hast restor'd us to this ease
by this thy heav'nly bloud;
Which I can go to, when I please,
And leave th'earth to their food. (37-40)
It is this understanding of the Eucharist which explains the overcoming of the traveler s reluctance by the 'sweetly questioning Host of Love (III)"; the "lack" the pilgrim feels in approaching the feast is supplied by the feast itself. The same love that first "made the eyes" (12) that "cannot look on thee" (10) has furnished the means to restore them, making them capable, finally, of the beatific vision:
Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat. (13-18)
In the simplest possible diction Herbert effects a remarkable convergence of the Christian mysteries: Christ's sacrificial passion and death ("who bore the blame"), the sacramental feast of the Eucharist, and the heavenly marriage feast of the Lamb. These mysteries are represented simultaneously because they exist simultaneously from the eternal perspective of the Deity and, by grace, are made simultaneous for the communicant: the same Christ who died on Calvary, who will receive the elect in heaven, is sacramentally present in the Eucharist. The simplicity of the language reflects the wondrous realization that the overwhelming Presence is accessible, somehow, in the most ordinary things, bread and wine, and in the most ordinary actions: "So I did sit and eat."
The dramatic power of the scene created in this poem, as well as Herbert's other Eucharistic poems, casts doubt upon the notion that the eucharistic references in Herbert are merely "metaphorical." The preoccupation with Christ's sacramental presence throughout "The Church" can neither be dismissed nor explained away simply as a going through the motions of Cranmer's Prayer Book ritual. On the evidence of The Temple it must be inferred that Herbert believed in the Real Presence as firmly as Thomas Cranmer disbelieved. In this Herbert is representative of a problematic area in the devotional life of many seventeenth-century Anglicans, who longed to retain the spiritual consolations and ambiance of the Catholic sacramental system under Protestant auspices. They desired to reverence the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist without accepting the validity of the doctrine of transubstantiation that makes it, if not comprehensible, at least accessible to reason; they wished to respond sacramentally to the natural universe as an image of the divine wisdom and a medium of divine grace without accepting the metaphysics of Thomist realism that gives this view its coherence. Recent attempts to read Herbert under the aegis of Protestant poetics, or define his work as part of a consistent anti-dogmatic ecclesiology uniting the Church of England from the time of Cranmer until the Civil War run aground on Herbert's obvious fascination with the kind of Catholic eucharistic imagery deployed by Robert Southwell. The critics are evidently impatient and frustrated with the vagueness at the heart of the Anglican via media, which received its most splendidly indecisive formulation in the Response to Bellarmine of Lancelot Andrewes, to whom I give the final word: "Praesentiam credimus non minus quam vos veram: de modo praesentiae nihil temere definimus, addo, nec anxie inquirimus" (qtd. Herbert 548: We believe no less than you in the true presence: we do not rashly define anything about the manner of the presence nor, I add, do we anxiously inquire").
On the Mass as a sacrifice see St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 3.83.1. On Transubstantiation see Summa Theologiae 3.75-77. See also Concilii Tridentini Decretum de ss. Eucharistia in Enchiridion, #877. For Zwingli, see Edward Peters, "Introduction" to Selected Works, pp. xxvi-xxvii; and The First Zurich Disputation, in Selected Works, p. 112; and The accompt rekenynq and confession, pp. 35-50; and On the Lord's Supper in Zwingli and Bullinger, esp. pp. 190-91. For Calvin see "Short Treatise on the Holy Supper of Our Lord Jesus Christ," in Selections, pp. 512-16; and Institutes IV. 17-18; II, 555-617. For Luther see "Sermons on the Catechism -- The Lord's Supper," in Selections, p. 236; and the various texts in Works, vol. 38, esp. the controversy with Zwingli and his followers recorded in "The Marburg Colloquy and The Marburg Articles, 1529," pp. 3-89. See also Bainton, p. 108.
The definitive work of the school is of course Lewalski, Protestant Poetics. In addition to Strier and Bell, cited in this essay, Halewood and Veith are also important.
See Asals for equivocal logic; and Wall, for Anglican practice as superseding doctrine.
Herbert is quoted throughout from Works. Line numbers are given for poetry, page numbers for prose.
On Cranmer's disbelief in the Real Presence, see Ridley, pp. 279-80.
See also the "Sequence for Corpus Christi Day" (Lauda Sion salvatorem), esp. 11. 31-36 (Gaselee 146); and Adoro te devote latens Deitas, esp. 11. 1-8 (Belmonte 214).
See also Ridley, 402-03.
The poem was available in a printed edition in 1602; "Christs bloody sweat," 11. 1-12, was printed in Moeoniae in 1595.
Hutchinson refers to what he calls "a kind of inversion of the doctrine of transubstantiation" not only in 1. 18 of "The Agonie," but also in "Divinitie," 1.21 and "The Invitation," 11-12. As we have already observed, these lines can be read, without forcing, as compatible with transubstantiation. For the eucharistic associations of the winepress of Isaiah 63, see Tuve, 59-72.
Summers (89) maintains that the poem is principally concerned with heaven. Strier (78) concedes that it suggests both communion and heaven, but argues that love itself is "the primary subject." Bloch (100), Singleton (194-95), and Schoenfeldt (224ff) all see the poem as involving the Eucharist.
The unstated Host/host pun is also noticed by Schoenfeldt (200), who credits Stephen Booth's commentary in his edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets (488-89).
A shorter version of this paper was read at the International Medieval Conference at the University of Western Michigan at Kalamazoo 10 May 1991.
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PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Portrait of a Cleric (English 1675-1758)
Haggerty Museum of Art (88.2.7)
gift of John N. Estabrok Estate
PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): St. Andrew's church, Bemerton, where George Herbert was buried March 3, 1633, according to the parish registry. The grave is not marked, but is believed to be near the altar. (Photo courtesy of Jan Rhodes.)
By Robert V. Young
Associate Professor of English at North Carolina State University, guest-editor Robert V. Young is editor of the John Donne Journal, Associate Editor of Faith and Reason, and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Society for Christian Culture. He is the author of Richard Crenshaw and the Spanish Golden Age and Doctrine and Devotion in Seventeenth Century Poetry and numerous articles.