Intimacy and the Body in Seventeenth-Century Religious Devotion
James M. Bromley
Loyola University, Chicago
Bromley, James M. "Intimacy and the Body
in Seventeenth-Century Religious Devotion". Early Modern Literary Studies
11.1 (May, 2005) 5.1-41 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/11-1/brominti.htm>.
- Within mid-seventeenth century religious discourse, various models of intimacy with God were imaginable. An analysis of these models’ differences, I believe, can shed some light on the models of relationality that were important to early modern subjects and that were sites of contestation within early modern culture. I begin with Joseph Hall, who, in his 1637 tract on meditation entitled
The Remedy of Prophanenesse, insists on the abject status of the worshiper’s body in the meditative practices he claims are foundational for intimacy with God. This intimacy is an essential part of Protestant religious life and the figure of Christ frequently represents the divine in this relationship. In the poetry of George Herbert, however, the abjection of the body in Protestant meditation conflicts with an understanding that the body of Christ is the necessary site for salvation. Herbert is keenly aware of the absence of Christ’s body in both historical and theological terms; consequently, his model of salvific intimacy with God is based in desire for that which is absent or lacking. Herbert interiorizes this desire, purifying it of any contaminating traces of embodiment, in order to articulate a disembodied relational model. This is, however, a paradoxical move, as interiorized desire is interior to precisely the body which such purification seeks to disavow. Consequently, Herbert reintroduces a disciplined body whose threat to his relational model is contained. In contrast, the poet Richard Crashaw is untroubled by the absence of Christ’s body. In his articulation of embodied intimacy with Christ, he appropriates and adapts the doctrine of transubstantiation. Crashaw also finds examples of his model in the intimacy between Christ and figures from the Gospels. For Crashaw, both Christ’s body and the worshiper’s body are opened up through devotion, not to reveal a space of interiority, but to reveal a body seeking to transgress the limits placed on it by the division between interior and exterior. Not caught in the absence/presence dichotomy of desire seen in Herbert’s poems, Crashaw’s devotional subject welcomes the corporeal into intimate relations with God. The existence of two radically different articulations of intimacy points to a moment in the early modern period when it was possible to understand the relationship between intimacy and the body in multiple ways. Yet, despite Herbert’s more tenuous grasp on his model of intimacy, it is Crashaw’s embodied relational model that is rejected—on nationalist, religious, and aesthetic grounds—as a model for intimacy with God.
Intimacy and Religious Devotion
- In modern understandings of the term, “intimacy” tends to be a descriptor
reserved for secular relations. Religion becomes involved only when it comes
to its legitimation of certain kinds of interpersonal relations
(2). In her study of Renaissance dominant culture, Debora Kuller Shuger reminds us that religion was “the cultural matrix for explorations of virtually every topic: kingship, selfhood, rationality, language, marriage, ethics, and so forth” (Habits 6). For this reason, it makes sense to include religion, and, particularly, the human-divine relationship of central concern to religion, when discussing early modern forms of relationality. Shuger’s assessment of religion’s status as a central interpretive category in early modern culture, however, runs counter to much of the critical work that investigates early modern Christianity’s articulation of the human relationship with God. Analyses of this relationship frequently insist that religion borrows from, rather than informs, other models of relationality,
such as the monarch-courtier courtesy model, the parent-child familial model,
or the husband-wife marital model (3). These attempts to
fit the human-divine relationship into other relational models foreclose the
possibility that models of intimacy with God could transgress the norms
associated with other human relations (4). What is valuable
about these attempts is that they nevertheless insist on the human-divine
relationship as a central problematic within religious discourse
(5). Shuger, however, overstates her case when she claims “both ethical and theoretical concerns are subordinate to the need for intimate contact with God” (Habits 12). While I agree with her assertions about the central role the human relationship with God played in early modern culture, Shuger oversimplifies this relationship between ethics and intimacy. She ignores the way that ethical models necessarily inform and are informed by an individual’s understanding of his or her relationship with God. Rather than insisting on the subordination of the ethical, I propose a model of interaction between concerns about intimacy with God and ethical concerns—specifically ethical concerns about the body.
- It is tempting to assert that such an interactive model has already been
proposed within the dispute between Caroline Walker Bynum and Leo Steinberg
over the relationship of the erotic to pre-modern modes of devotion. In his
survey of pre-modern representations of Christ, Steinberg observed a recurring
motif in the depiction and emphasis on Christ’s genitals. There were, he argues,
“plausible theological grounds” (3) for these references to Christ’s sexuality.
Bynum, in addition to rightly calling attention to Steinberg’s problematic
equation of genitality and sexuality, has argued instead that Christ, rather
than being an erotic figure, is a nurturing figure. She contrasts their projects
accordingly: “He…stresses the maleness of Christ in fifteenth-century art
and piety, whereas I, beginning with food symbolism, find a Christ whose humanity
is symbolized in female as well as male images” (Holy Feast 307n3).
Despite her claim that she emphasizes both genders in representations of Christ,
her overall argument in Holy Feast and Holy Fast problematically equates
nurturing and the feminine. More importantly, though, Bynum’s contrast of
their projects suggests that what they are disputing is not the nature of
the human relationship to the divine, but the individual gender identity of
Christ. This interpretation of their projects seems to change in a later essay
where Bynum argues against what she believes is Steinberg’s assertion that
an erotic response to Christ would have been seen as appropriate in late medieval
and early modern Christianity. She claims that Steinberg, with other modern
readers, ahistorically assumes that premodern people would “immediately think
of erections and sexual activity when they saw penises” (Fragmentation
85). While she interestingly suggests that sexual arousal has a history, Bynum
incorrectly recasts Steinberg’s concerns as having to do with the erotic relationship
between Christ and the Christian signified by “bodily occurrences that we
would attribute to sexual arousal” (Fragmentation 88). However, Steinberg’s
argument is limited to the theological and representational understanding
of Christ as a sexual being, not as a sexual object. Christ’s aroused penis,
according to Steinberg, signifies Christ’s status as fully human while nevertheless
fully divine, but Steinberg does not make any claims about the nature of the
human relationship, erotic or otherwise, to the hypostatic Christ.
Ultimately, Steinberg and Bynum conflict over the subjectivity of Christ, but subjectivity is not equivalent to relationality. The pathways and interrelations between the two fields are complex. In terms of sexuality and the erotic, making claims about sexual identity, as Steinberg does, is different from making claims about an erotic relationship. While subjective identification may emerge from an erotic relationship and while certain identity formations seek to delimit the relational forms available to an individual, the mere existence of an erotic relationship does not necessitate a certain kind of subjectivity for those involved in it. If subjective identification emerges from relationality, fractures and faultlines within the relational field may produce conflict and contestation within subjectivity. These conflicts only seem to originate within subjectivity but are actually a part of the relational field from which those subjectivity effects emerged. Steinberg and Bynum both assume that subjectivity is a site of conflict and contestation while the relational field from which subjectivity emerges somehow lacks similar fissures. Ignoring the possibility that the conflict over the gendered and sexual identity of Christ may be symptomatic of a larger conflict over the nature of the human-divine relationship, neither Steinberg nor Bynum adequately addresses devotion as a human-divine relational mode.
- The implications of this focus on identity formation rather than relationality
can be seen in the argument Debora Kuller Shuger makes in The Renaissance
Bible, where she retreats from her earlier assertion in Habits of Thought
regarding the centrality of intimate contact with God in early modern Christian
life. Shuger finds Christ’s passion to be an important, complex site of encounter
with God for the early modern subject, but, instead of pursuing the relationship
between the human and the divine in her inquiry, Shuger analyzes “the production
of an unstable, internally riven selfhood” (Renaissance Bible 100).
According to Shuger, this selfhood results when the early modern subject apprehends
Christ’s “sense that he has been abandoned by his Father” (Renaissance
Bible 107). The early modern subject’s encounter with Christ’s passion
and extreme suffering suggests a variety of interpersonal dramas—of identification,
horror, or even arousal to give a few examples. However, for this interpersonal
drama, Shuger substitutes an internal drama, occurring separately within two
highly individuated figures—Christ and the early modern subject. This “internally-riven
selfhood,” however, is only the result of the complex mechanics of intersubjective
relations, both between Christ and God the father and between the early modern
subject and Christ. As she retreats from the relational into the self, Shuger
deflects her attention from the process to the product.
This retreat from relationality into the self in an otherwise insightful work such as Shuger’s characterizes Richard Rambuss’
Closet Devotions as well. His argument about how “religion and sex have
done…each other’s affective work” (101) has broken down a long-standing phobic
barrier about the contamination of the sacred by the sexual (6). According to Rambuss, Christianity offers “the display…of a male body iconicized in extremis—a nearly naked man offered up to our gazes…for worship, desire, and various kinds of identification” (11). In other words, central to Christianity is the experience, through devotional practices, of a relationship with Christ’s body, especially in its suffering during the Passion. However, Rambuss’ discussion of devotional practices does not explicate this relationship, but instead pursues “the relations between religious practices and the self’s sense of itself” (8). His argument about the early modern prayer closet as a devotional site for the production of modern interiority (105-106) deflects the discussion away from the promising thesis of religious practice as in part an erotic relation. If devotion is a form of human-divine relationality, then modern interiority’s emergence from devotional practices suggests that selfhood emerges from the relational. While interiority and selfhood are worthy objects of inquiry in themselves, Rambuss does not pursue an analysis of the relational that, in his account, clearly makes subjectivity possible. Modern interiority, I would argue, emerges in part because of conflicts over the nature of the human-divine relationship, but those conflicts have not been fully examined. More specifically, these conflicts deal with the involvement of the body in that relationship. While acknowledging the erotic, and frequently homoerotic, content of devotional intimacy, I will develop, in this paper, an account of three different solutions proposed to resolve the problematic status of the body in human-divine intimacy.
III Joseph Hall’s “Divine Optics”
- Early in his career, Joseph Hall (1574-1656) (8), bishop
of Exeter and later Norwich, wrote the anti-Catholic Mundus Alter Idem
(1605), and the well-known tract on meditation known as The Arte of Divine
Meditation (1606). During the early 1640s, he became involved in the religious
controversy over the status of the episcopacy in England, in which he wrote
An Humble Remonstrance to the High Court of Parliament (1641), which
led to a heated pamphlet debate with John Milton and the group of Puritan
divines known as the Smectymnuans. In a lesser-known meditative tract, the
1637 Remedy of Prophanenesse, Hall outlines a devotional practice that—in
response to “a saucy kind of familiarity” (327) that, to him, has inappropriately
crept into the human-divine encounter—will produce instead “a reverential
awe of the holy and infinite majesty of God” (328) (9).
This reverence, achieved through Hall’s meditative practices, is the centerpiece
of a human-divine intimacy predicated on the disavowal of the body. As a consequence
of his characterization of this intimacy as a disembodied relationship, Hall
encounters considerable difficulty articulating the derivation of pleasure
- The word “intimacy” and its related forms such as “intimate” had only been
circulating in English print for about 50 years (10) when
Joseph Hall, in The Remedy of Prophanenesse, first referred to the
human relationship with God explicitly as intimate:
…there is need of a double apprehension; the one, of an incomprehensible excellence and inseparable presence of God; the other, of a most miserable vileness, and, as it were, nothingness of ourselves. The former is that which the Spirit of God calls the sight of the Invisible; for sight is a sense of the quickest and surest perception; so as in seeing of God we apprehend him infinitely glorious in all that he is, in all that he hath, in all that he doth, and intimately present to us, with us, in us. (329)
In this tract, Hall plays on the sense of the intimate as a kind of relationship and the intimate sphere as part of the inner self. The use of “intimate” to describe aspects of the inner self might also be said to refer to a relationship, that of the self to itself. For Hall, the right relationship to the self produces the right relationship with God and vice versa. More specifically, the self’s disavowal of the body and the body’s nonparticipation in intimacy with God inform Hall’s meditative practices. This defense against the body is clear in Hall’s elaboration of a technique that he calls “divine optics” (338), wherein the sight of God is the goal. Hall is very careful, though, to distinguish this form of sight from physical sight: “Here is no place for that, not so much heresy, as stupid conceit, of Anthropomorphism. A bodily eye can only see bodies, like itself; the eye must answer the object: a spiritual object, therefore, as God is, must be seen by a spiritual eye” (331). This dismissal of the “stupid conceit” of anthropomorphism indicates that, for Hall, there is no place in the proper relationship with God for the somatic responses that frequently characterize mystical experience. Such experiences depend on Christianity as an Incarnational religion, an aspect of Christianity that Hall clearly wants to downplay in favor of a more disembodied spirituality.
Instead, the goal of Hall’s meditative practice is “an inward adoration of God” (349). The interiorization of meditative experience prompts a considerable difficulty when Hall attempts to articulate a sense of the pleasure that comes from fixing our spiritual lenses on God: “neither is it easy to determine whether of these do more justly challenge a precedency in the heart: whether the eye be so fixed, because it is well pleased with the sight; or whether it be so pleased and ravished with that happy sight, because it is so fixed” (340). Pleasure either propagates a devotional mindset or results from a devotional mindset, but Hall is unsure which model obtains. Hall clearly assumes that pleasure is a proper response to the sight of God: “neither is it possible for any man to see God as interested in him, and not to love him and take pleasure in him” (340). In fact, God’s proprietary concern in human beings as their Creator necessitates a response on the part of humanity of both love and pleasure. Since pleasure, at least in part, characterizes the proper relationship with God and since the goal of Hall’s meditative practice is the establishment and maintenance of such a relationship, Hall’s inability to account for the precise operations of pleasure poses a significant problem for his meditative practice. To resolve the problem he has stumbled into, he inscribes pleasure in a dialectic with desire. Writing of acts of devotion, Hall indicates that “the act itself is an abundant remuneration; yet it doth not want many sweet and beneficial consequences, which do justly quicken our desires to attain unto the practice of it” (341). Pleasure is both superfluous to meditative practice, which is a reward in and of itself, and central to it. The pleasure of meditation produces desire for more pleasure, which then commits Christians to the discipline of meditation.
- This discipline causes Christians to focus on the inner life rather than
the material world as the site where desire can be satisfied. Extending beyond
proper inward adoration of God, meditative practices can discipline the subject’s
body so it poses no threat to this inner life: “Religious adoration begins
in the heart, but rests not there; diffusing itself through the whole man:
and commanding all the powers of the soul and all the parts of the body to
comply in a reverent devotion” (Hall 351-352). Here, after his defensiveness
against corporeal involvement in “divine optics,” Hall brings the corporeal
back in to his meditative practice. The body’s role, however, is testimonial,
for something must bridge the gap in signification between interior and exterior
to prove that, in fact, the proper inward state has been achieved: “where
the heart stoops, it cannot be but the knees must bend, the eyes and hands
must be lift up; and the whole body will strive to testify the inward veneration”
(352). The disciplinary compliance of the body allows the body, almost spontaneously,
to signify, through actions such as genuflection, that the believer has achieved
the proper internal disposition. Insofar as it is aligned with a noncorporeal
inwardness, proper reverential awe has no access to signification and must
appropriate the signifying power of the body. Hall relies on the concept of
a testimonial body when he deals with the invocation of God’s name: “certainly
if the heart be so throughly possessed with a sad awe of that Infinite Majesty
as it ought, the tongue dares not presume, in a sudden unmannerliness, to
blurt out the dreadful name of God: but shall both make way for it by a premised
deliberation, and attend it with a reverent elocution” (353). Almost as soon
as the tongue is personified, the specter of its potential, uncivil noncompliance
rears its head, but one cannot do away with the tongue altogether. The tongue
does not cease its important signifying operations; instead, it channels its
abilities into signifying the inward state of proper, due reverence to God.
Yet, the possibility always remains that the signifying capabilities of the
tongue, and, more generally, the body will exceed the narrow scope of its
assignment, becoming rude, unmannerly, undisciplined, and uncivilized.
In its lurking, potential noncompliance, the body threatens the soul’s achievement of an inward disposition favorable to the sight of God in a way that has more than just the otherworldly consequence of threatening salvation. In his discussion of the proper relationship between the clergy and the laity, Hall turns to the horticultural image of “herbam impiam, or ‘wicked cudweed’ whose younger branches still yield flowers to overtop the elder” (358). Newer, younger flowers grow above, and therefore block from view, the older flowers. This aptly named impious herb is a useful image for Hall’s discussion of the impious disrespect of clerical hierarchy that he claims is concomitant with an improper relationship with God. The conditions, however, must be favorable for the growth of this plant: “it is an ill soil that produceth them” (358). The inward disposition must be fertile for the production of reverential awe for Christ’s representatives on earth. In a striking metaphor, Hall states: “I am sure that where the heart is manured and seasoned with a true fear of the Almighty, there cannot be but an awful regard to our spiritual pastors: well are those two charges conjoined, ‘Fear God, and honour his priests,’ Ecclus. vii. 31” (358). Proper manuring and seasoning produces the right kinds of “plants” and will prevent the sprouting of the “wicked cudweed” of impiety. The resulting properly pious disposition serves the earthly church by providing it with members who do not challenge sacerdotal authority. Yet, as Hall maintains, the proper disposition of the heart allows the heart to command the compliance of the rest of the body (351-352). Therefore, in Hall’s formulation of intimacy with God, the disavowal and the discipline of the body have profound political consequences. Such comments cannot but be addressing the religious controversies over the episcopacy in which Hall participated as a vocal defender of the hierarchical institution of the Church. While the content of intimacy affects interpersonal relations in a way worthy of analysis on its own merits,
The Remedy of Prophanenesse shows that the participation of the body in intimacy had clear connections to other political developments in early modern English society.
IV “An intangled, hamper’d thing”: Intimacy and the Body in George Herbert
- Joseph Hall’s concerns may seem, on the surface, at a remove from those
of the religious metaphysical poets George Herbert and Richard Crashaw. However,
as Louis Martz and Barbara Kiefer Lewalski both have shown, the religious
poets of the seventeenth century were steeped in the meditative tradition
in which Joseph Hall was a major English figure (11).
Hall’s treatment of the body in meditation has much more affinity with Herbert’s
poems than with Crashaw’s poems, but all are united by a concern about the
body’s place in intimacy with the divine. While Hall and Herbert suggest a
similar role for the body in relationality, what distinguishes Herbert from
Hall is the former’s ambivalence about the disavowal and discipline of the
body, which the latter asserts almost without reservation as necessary in
fostering the human-divine relationship. In his poems, Herbert constructs
a personal relationship with God that requires God’s presence. This intimacy,
however, is difficult to sustain because of the historical and theological
absence of Christ’s body. In response to this problem, Herbert articulates
a model of intimacy based on desire for the absent body of Christ. Without
a body of Christ with which to be intimate, the speaker of Herbert’s poems
subjects his own body to disciplinary surveillance. Casting the body as a
threat to interiorized desire, Herbert struggles to represent an inwardness
purified of traces of undisciplined embodiment. Consequently, Herbert’s achievement
of intimacy with God paradoxically rejects embodiment while depending on the
body as the abject other of inwardness.
- When Herbert’s persona reflects on his ability to access God in a poem
such as “Prayer” (II), he remarks with delight about “what an easie quick
accesse, / My blessed Lord, art thou! how suddenly / May our requests thine
ear invade!” (1-3). This ease and surety are uncharacteristic of the poems
in section of The Temple entitled “The Church.” Critics have observed that
continual wrestling, restlessness, and ambivalence more properly characterize
Herbert’s poetry (12). These characteristics definitely
apply to Herbert’s sense of God’s historical absence, as we see in the poem
Sweet were the dayes, when thou didst lodge with Lot,
The first two stanzas of this poem fondly recall the Old Testament God’s corporeal
presence and intervention in human history. Remarking on the intimacy with
which the poem begins, Helen Vendler claims that “For Herbert, the attractive
part of this speculative reconstruction of Old Testament days was clearly
the representing of colloquial relations between God and his creatures” (189-190).
By the end of the poem, however, the speaker believes that the next time such
an intervention will take place will be at the apocalypse, and any relationship
will be retributive and violent. Herbert cannot look to a future reestablishment
of this relationship, and the refuge God takes in the heart is not depicted
as a move that brings God closer to humanity. As Michael Schoenfeldt points
out in Prayer and Power: “the poem concludes not with a realization
of the greater intimacy God’s habitation of the heart makes possible, but
rather with a desolate vision of universal conflagration” (174). God’s presence
is dramatically limited from near physical omnipresence to “some one corner
of a feeble heart” (12). This corner, according to F. E. Hutchinson’s edition
of the poems, is equated with the portion, or “thirds,” of an estate to which
a widow was usually entitled. While it may seem advantageous that Herbert
can so precisely pinpoint God’s presence in the heart, Herbert is all the
more frustrated because in that corner of the heart God is immured. Further
threatening God’s presence, Sin and Satan fight to gain this little part of
the heart left to God. Presence might as well be absence without any means
to break down those walls and gain access to God before Sin and Satan expel
Him from the heart completely. Schoenfeldt claims Herbert here mourns the
“loss of the opportunity to struggle with God” (Prayer 174). This opportunity
to struggle depends on an intimate, bodily contact with God. The obstacles
to such intimacy—God’s self-imposed internment in the heart and His wrangling
over turf with Sin and Satan—are causally linked to the passage of historical
time that gives the poem its name. Intimate contact with God has been lost
to history, a history in which “the world grows old” and the hope for future
intimacy depends on the end of history itself. Additionally, Herbert’s references
to Old Testament figures implicitly invoke the division of historical time
into the new and old dispensations. References to the body of God intersect
with references to the split of history that occurs at the incarnation. This
intersection indicates that this poem, though it never explicitly mentions
Christ—whose Incarnation, after all, represents God’s last, embodied intervention
in human history—alludes to Herbert’s sense that a Christian requires intimacy
with Christ’s body for salvation.
Struggle with Jacob, sit with Gideon,
Advise with Abraham, when thy power could not
Encounter Moses strong complaints and mone:
Thy words were then, Let me alone.
One might have sought and found thee presently
At some fair oak, or bush, or cave, or well:
Is my God this way? No, they would reply:
He is to Sinai gone, as we heard tell:
List, ye may heare great Aarons bell.
But now thou dost thy self immure and close
In some one corner of a feeble heart:
Where yet both Sinne and Satan, thy old foes,
Do pinch and straiten thee, and use much art
To gain thy thirds and little part.
I see the world grows old, when as the heat
Of thy great love, once spread, as in an urn
Doth closet up it self, and still retreat,
Cold Sinne still forcing it, till it return,
And calling Justice, all things burn. (1-20)
- Christ’s body as a necessary conduit in the relationship between the human
and the divine finds frequent reiteration in Herbert’s poetry. In fact, Herbert
puts this message directly in Christ’s mouth in “The Sacrifice.” Speaking
to Judas of his betrayal, Christ says, “canst thou finde hell about my lips?
And misse / Of life, just at the gates of life and blisse? (42-43). His body,
or more specifically his mouth, is the gate of bliss wherein one connects
with the divine. In “The Bag,” Christ, speaking to believers, asserts that,
at the moment when “there came one / that ran upon him with a spear” (25-26),
his body became a heavenly postman’s satchel:
If ye have any thing to send or write,
The wound in Christ’s side, deep enough to penetrate to Christ’s heart, carries messages from man to God. In this poem, Christ promises that “hereafter / …the doore / shall still be open” (37-39), but, theologically and historically, Christ’s body and his side wound disappear at the Resurrection. Consequently, the issue of the historical absence of that body always returns to vex Herbert. In “Whitsunday,” Herbert remarks that, for nearly 1600 years, since the death of the Apostles, Christ “shutt’st the doore, and keep’st within: / Scarce a good joy creeps through the chink” (21-22). The chink in the door and the wound in Christ’s side clearly are connected images. The same door that was to be open hereafter has been closed since shortly after the first Pentecost. Herbert’s major concern in “Whitsunday” is the impact of this disconnection on his poetic inspiration, for he plaintively asks “Where is that fire which once descended / On thy Apostles?” (5-6). This fire caused the Apostles to speak in tongues, and Herbert connects his poetic production with this Pentecostal moment. Herbert implies, however, that a possible cause of the absence of inspiration may be the historical split with the apostolic succession that occurred during the Reformation. This historical split adds another impediment to intimacy with God by cutting off any tenuous link Reformed Christians have to that first Pentecost.
I have no bag, but here is room:
Unto my Fathers hands and sight,
Beleeve me, it shall safely come.
That I shall minde, what you impart,
Look, you may put it very neare my heart. (31-36)
- The Apostles present at the first Pentecost were intimate with Christ’s
body, not only in the most basic sense that Christ’s historical body was physically
present to them, but also in the sense that Christ and his Apostles formed
a community together and shared their lives for three years according to the
biblical accounts. A convivial intimate moment between Christ and his Apostles,
the Last Supper is commemorated in the Eucharist, but the Reformation questioned
that sacrament’s linkage to the actual, salvific body of Christ. The Reformed
sects rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, where the elements of the
bread and wine turn into the actual body and blood of Christ while retaining
the appearance of bread and wine. Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and their followers
advanced and debated various positions intended to take its place (13).
Officially, the Anglican Church, in the Thirty-Nine Articles, explicitly rejects
transubstantiation. Instead, the Articles rely on a Calvinist position that
Christopher Hodgkins calls “metaphysical soul feeding” where “the Holy Spirit
raises the believing communicant up to union with Christ in heaven” (26).
“Believing communicant” is an important phrase here because Anglican doctrine
avoids answering the question of the exact nature of Christ’s Eucharistic
presence in favor of an examination of the believer’s faith.
- While this “metaphysical soul feeding” may represent the official Anglican
position, the English Church, in the years leading up to the English Civil
War, is well known for its internal complexities and conflicts (14).
Therefore, the official position, in itself, does not necessarily indicate
what Herbert may have believed. The critical consensus puts Herbert squarely
within what is referred to somewhat anachronistically as the via media, a
moderate, conformist, largely Calvinist position within the Anglican Church
(15). From this positioning of Herbert, Hodgkins asserts
that Herbert’s understanding of the Eucharist derives from Calvin’s reluctance,
which Hodgkins calls “reverent ignorance,” to take a clear stance on the matter
of the presence of Christ in the sacrament. Hodgkins’ assessment, casting
Herbert as a passive receptor and transmitter of doctrine, is typical of work
on religious poetry that posits a deterministic relationship between theology
and religious poetry. This deterministic position implies that the only possible
responses to the Reformation were wholesale resistance to or wholesale adoption
of theological innovation (16). Religious poetry can respond
to, debate, and accommodate theology to articulate positionalities more complicated
and more precise than represented by even the theologically specific descriptor
via media Anglican. In his discussion of Herbert’s relation to controversy
over the sacraments, Robert Whalen implicitly invokes a model of dialogue
between theology and poetry. Avoiding an interpretive reliance on theology
to provide a context for Herbert’s poetry while maintaining the importance
of that poetry’s theological valences, Whalen claims that “Herbert deftly
avoids such controversy by focusing on the elements’ internal operations,
maintaining their carnal status while accommodating a Reform emphasis on individuals’
souls as the collective and primary site of divine presence” (118). While
I do not agree with Whalen that Herbert skirts controversy in his poems, at
least Whalen’s argument portrays Herbert as a subtle interlocutor of theological
innovation. Herbert senses a contradiction within Anglican doctrine between
the salvific necessity of bodily contact with Christ and the disavowal of
the body in the Eucharist. He actively engages with the Anglican theological
position on the sacraments in order to resolve this contradiction.
- This engagement, it turns out, functions in an important way in Herbert’s
articulation of disembodied intimacy. The doctrine of Eucharistic presence
had formerly provided a bridge over the gap of historical time between Christ
and Christians, but Anglican doctrine removes that bridge and leaves Herbert
without a body of Christ with which to be intimate. Herbert’s poem “The Search”
alludes to the potential recovery of intimacy with God that Eucharistic presence
could provide: “Whither, O whither, art thou fled / My Lord, my Love? / My
searches are my daily bread” (1-3). Herbert echoes the Lord’s prayer, but
he also equates his search for Christ with one of the Eucharistic elements.
His persona actively tries to recover a sense of intimacy lost as a result
of both doctrinal change and the passage of historical time. In this poem,
Herbert engages the problems posed by both the historical and theological
distance between the human and the divine, a distance which “doth excell /
All distance known” (57-58). The search, here, is allowed to stand in for
the fulfilling substance itself, much as, in psychoanalytic terms, desire
becomes constituted as lack (17). God’s absence is the
central problematic of this relationship, and fulfillment comes not in His
eventual presence, but in the continual searching for that which is impossible
To support this relational model, Herbert casts the body as the abject other of intimacy based in interiority. In
The Temple’s “The H. Communion,” Herbert represents the disembodied intimacy with God that comes as a result of the Anglican focus on the spiritual rather than material aspects of the Eucharist. The poem insists on the separateness of the spiritual and the material, referring to “the wall that parts / Our souls and fleshy hearts” (14-15). The non-divine, but human-made Eucharistic elements of bread and wine can affect only the material body. In contrast,
onely [God’s] grace, with which these elements comes,
Here, grace penetrates into the subject and carves out a space for inwardness.
In Bodies and Selves, Schoenfeldt argues that, in this poem and for
Herbert generally, “corporeality and spirituality are not separate realms,
but contiguous arenas with mysterious yet necessary communication between
them” (101). Indeed, the poem suggests as much by labeling the relationship
between the material and the spiritual as “friendship.” In the classical period
and in the Renaissance, friendship was commonly figured as one soul inhabiting
two bodies. However, the inequality with which Herbert treats the two elements
in the poem belies any benign sense of communication and equal interchange
between the spiritual and material elements whose friendship constitutes the
Eucharist. The material does not have the same power to traverse the partition
between body and spirit that the spiritual has. The man-made, material elements
only “at doore attend / Dispatches from their friend” (23-24). The spiritual
elements accompany the material elements, but they also goes on to penetrate
the soul, while the original material substances are “to spirits refin’d”
(23). Thus, their original form is not even adequate for the operations commanded
in the dispatches they attend. Friendship, ultimately turns into subordination,
for these dispatches are instructions from the superior spiritual element
of grace, presumably, though not explicitly, to help “controll / [the speaker’s]
rebel-flesh” (16-17). The transgression of the boundary between spiritual
and corporeal only serves to control the corporeal.
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)
- In the second half of the poem, the speaker reflects on Adam’s ability
“to heav’n from Paradise go, / As from one room t’another” (35-36), much in
the way, it seems, grace traverses the partition between the corporeal and
the spiritual. The simile, however, suggests an embodied transport of Adam
to heaven and back to Paradise. The Eucharist seeks to restore this traffic
and seems to restore Adamic intimacy with God. However, the poem doubts its
own conclusion that the Eucharist “hast restor’d us to this ease” (37). The
speaker would not have to instruct God to “take / My bodie also thither” (25-26),
if he were able to participate in the somatic traffic with heaven found only
in Eden. Indeed, the anxiety caused by the “rebel-flesh” as the habitation
of “both sinne and shame” (18) suggests that the corporeal threatens this
type of intimacy. “Before that sinne [which] turn’d flesh to stone” (29),
embodied transit to heaven from earth was easy. The body, petrified by sin,
is now too heavy to make the journey and this heaviness potentially impedes
the soul’s traffic with heaven. The intimacy Herbert must settle for is only
a pale version of Adamic intimacy with God, for Herbert conceives of the body
as an impediment, rather than as a participant. The poem “Home” contains Herbert’s
clearest rendering of the threat posed to the achievement of intimacy by this
interference of the body. The speaker pleads for death in order that he may
be with God:
Oh, loose this frame, this knot of man untie!
Trapped in the mortality of the body, the soul is kept from rising toward the divine. “My flesh and bones and joynts do pray” (74), the speaker says, but what the body prays for here is its own destruction so that it will no longer threaten the soul. At its own expense, the body serves the interests of the soul’s disembodied intimacy with God.
That my free soul may use her wing,
Which now is pinion’d with mortalitie,
As an intangled, hamper’d thing. (61-64)
- The destruction of the body for the sake of intimacy in Herbert’s poems
hardly resembles the “message of individual liberation amid a regime of self
control” (Bodies 12) that Schoenfeldt credits Foucault with discovering
in ancient Greek practices. Schoenfeldt, referring to these practices of self-cultivation,
documented in Foucault’s second and third volumes of The History of Sexuality,
believes that “Herbert’s entire corpus participates in [them]” (Bodies
192n50). However, Schoenfeldt problematically equates two Foucaultian concepts:
self-cultivation, which Foucault associates with certain ancient Greek practices,
and self-examination, which Foucault associates with medieval Christianity
onward. Self-mastery is for Foucault a practice of freedom because it is a
victory over “interior bondage to the passions” that allows “the full enjoyment
of oneself” (Use of Pleasure 31), including the enjoyment of the pleasures
of the body. For Foucault, Christianity, from the medieval period on, is a
penitential system, full of codifications that produce in the believer “the
duty to explore who he is, what is happening within himself, the faults he
may have committed, the temptations to which he is exposed” (“Sexuality and
Solitude” 178). This practice was not instituted as a means to achieve an
enhancement of corporeal pleasures. Foucault adds that “moreover, everyone
is obliged to tell these things to other people, and thus to bear witness
against himself” (“Sexuality and Solitude” 178), much as the prayers of the
bones and the joints bear witness against themselves in “Home.” In the poem
“Confession,” Herbert refers explicitly to these confessional duties of penitential
Wherefore my faults and sinnes,
The penitential system rewards self-examination and confession with the removal
of afflictions, for “onely an open breast / Doth shut them out, so they cannot
enter” (19-20). Diligent maintenance of this openness requires constant examination
and subsequent renunciation of the self, as Foucault indicates (“Sexuality
and Solitude” 178). Schoenfeldt would like to link this turn inward to “individual
liberty…through the individual’s exercise of self-discipline” (Bodies
13). Certainly, this inward turn is productive of a subjectivity effect, but
it is clear that such an effect comes at the expense of the body and the experience
of its pleasures. Instead, the subject is caught in an endless cycle of self-examination
and renunciation, which is imposed on the subject and without which the subject
loses its very intelligibility (18).
Lord, I acknowledge; take thy plagues away:
For since confession pardon winnes,
I challenge here the brightest day,
The clearest diamond: let them do their best,
They shall be thick and cloudie to my breast. (25-30)
In “Home,” then, the disciplined body renounces itself because of the threat it poses to disembodied intimacy with God, a model Herbert first proposes to resolve the problematic historical and theological absence of Christ’s body. At the end of “The Church,” in the poem “Love” (III), Herbert represents the achievement of this kind of relationship with God when his persona finally sits down for a meal with God. The image of the believer sharing a meal with Christ as love is intimate and is reminiscent of the Last Supper. In response to Love’s invitation to dinner, the speaker replies “I the unkinde, ungratefull? Ah my deare / I cannot look on thee” (9-10). Love senses that such hesitancy results from the speaker’s sense that his very corporeality interferes with the human-divine relationship and constructs a response accordingly: “who made the eyes but I?” (12). The speaker has not been a good steward of the body, for he complains “I have marr’d them” (13). Although Love asserts that Christ has borne the blame for the sinfulness associated with the human body, these lines localize the sinfulness of the speaker, and ultimately his reluctance to break bread with God, almost entirely within the body. In its convivial final image where the speaker finally consents to participate in the meal, the poem seems to invite the body back in to intimacy with God. However, the body is only invited after, as the poem “Decay” notes, “all things burn” (20). Along with all materiality, the body has been through the purifying fires of the final judgment and, reunited with the soul, is only then capable of participating in intimate relations with God.
The sequence of poems leading up to “Love” (III), including “Death,” “Dooms-day,” “Judgement,” and “Heaven” defers the achievement of embodied intimacy until after the apocalypse and final judgment. Barbara Kiefer Lewalski has argued for the importance of Pauline theology in understanding Protestant poetry. As Lewalski writes, “the Pauline terms—election, calling, justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification—mark the important stages (some of them concomitant rather than sequential) in the spiritual life of any Protestant Christian” (16). Election and calling are activities undertaken by God whereby He selects certain persons and notifies them of their salvation. Justification and adoption set the guidelines for the relationship between God and the elect: “As justification defines the Christian’s new legal relation to God the law-giver, so adoption defines his new personal relation to a loving God” (17). Sanctification and glorification involve, respectively, the process of and the achievement of “the perfect restoration of God in man” (18). As such, they reflect a turn inward once the relational mode, as it is elucidated in justification and adoption, is stabilized. The Protestant religious poetry of the Renaissance, for Lewalski, variously dramatizes these stages. Lewalski specifically ties the narrative trajectory of
The Temple to “the slow process of sanctification” (25), a turn inward to deal with “the speaker’s frequent distresses and anxieties” (25). It is, as I have been trying to demonstrate, not entirely clear that Herbert’s understanding of human-divine intimacy has stabilized enough for him to move beyond justification and adoption to turn inward to begin the process of sanctification. Certainly “Love” (III) indicates that the certainty about the mode of relationality appropriate for intimacy with the divine does not arrive before the end of the believer’s life, but takes place outside of time in post-apocalyptic Heaven. In fact, Herbert’s deferral of this achievement of human-divine intimacy indicates that, by the end of “The Church,” he has not really resolved the problem of historical absence first outlined in “Decay.” Herbert’s poems imply that the method pursued in the sanctification stage depends upon the relational mode articulated in the stages of justification and adoption or even that these three stages are ultimately indistinguishable.
While I would not argue that Herbert is disingenuous in his religious practice because that seems as unlikely as it is unknowable, it is also not entirely clear that Herbert is always as completely, unquestioningly, and unequivocally doctrinally faithful as Lewalski’s argument suggests. Herbert may express in his poetry that such narrativization of Christian life is not reflected in experiential reality; at the very least, he indicates that it unduly restricts him and is even unhelpful in resolving his own religious concerns. I have been trying to suggest that Herbert’s turn inward has everything to do with his attempt to articulate a workable model of human-divine intimacy in light of ethical concerns about the sinful nature of the body. Herbert explores interiority as he attempts to work out in poetry various fractures within Anglican theology that bear on his persistent need for human-divine intimacy.
V Richard Crashaw’s “Soft subject for the seige of love”
- Crashaw approaches intimacy with the divine in a significantly different manner.
Simply put, the historical and theological absence of Christ’s body so vexing
to salvational intimacy in Herbert is not a problem for Crashaw. Crashaw’s
extended meditations on figures from Christ’s life attempt to bridge the distance
between the seventeenth century and Christ’s historical body. These figures
from the Gospel provide Crashaw with models of embodied intimacy with Jesus.
In addition, his meditation on the Eucharist claims for the sacrament the
power to cross this historical divide. The Eucharist, in Crashaw, presents
the communicant with the actual body of Christ. Ultimately, in the poems that
directly reflect on that body of Christ, Crashaw represents an intimacy not
grounded in interiority or the desire for an absent body. Instead, the overflowing
body of Christ transgresses any division between interior and surface imposed
upon it. Intimacy with the divine, then, is guaranteed through the believer’s
participation in the pleasures of the excesses of the boundaries of the body
George Herbert’s infrequent reliance on biblical figures to provide models of intimacy with God offers a point of distinction helpful in understanding Crashaw’s sense of relationality through mediating figures. One may be struck by Herbert’s relative lack of reflection on the figures that populate the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. When Herbert does turn his attention to one of these figures, in the poem “Marie Magdalene,” he reflects on Mary Magdalene’s unworthiness to be intimate with Christ. The speaker asks, “she being stain’d her self, why did she strive / to make him clean, who could not be defil’d?” (7-8). Since embodied intimacy is so vexing for Herbert, the poem encounters difficulty articulating what happens between Mary Magdalene and Christ, where she, the unclean one, is to clean Christ who is incapable of being unclean in the first place. Consequently, the poem shifts its attention to Christ “who did vouchsafe and deigne / To bear her filth” (13-14). The speaker admits that the result of Mary’s presumption is that “in washing one, she washed both” (18). However, the poem, propelled by Mary Magdalene’s unworthiness, focuses on acts of humility, both in Mary Magdalene’s stooping to wash her Savior’s feet and Christ’s self-abnegation in offering himself as a sacrifice for human sinfulness.
In contrast, Crashaw’s poem “The Weeper” registers little sense of Mary Magdalene’s unworthiness. Whereas abasement and downward movement dominate Herbert’s poem, Crashaw’s poem focuses instead on the mutual elevation brought about by Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Christ:
Twas his well-pointed dart
Mary Magdalene’s tears cement the intimacy of their bodies and provides pleasure for her, Christ, and even the speaker who, throughout the poem alternates between a vicarious experience of the Magdalene’s pleasure and Christ’s pleasure. Helen C. White has condemned the poem’s layering of liquid imagery as an example of “the lapses in Crashaw’s style” (229). Through such copiousness, however, Crashaw celebrates this corporeal contact. Mary Magdalene’s tears not only represent her own achievement of salvific intimacy with Christ, but they also add to the glory of Jesus. One might even say that this intimacy secures the pleasure and satisfaction of both participants.
That digg'd these wells, and drest this Vine;
And taught the wounded Heart
The way into these weeping Eyn.
Vain loves avant! bold hands forbear!
The lamb hath dipp’t his white foot here.
And now where’re he strayes,
Among the Galilean mountaines,
Or more unwellcome wayes,
He’s followed by two faithfull fountaines;
Two walking baths; two weeping motions;
Portable, and compendious oceans.
O Thou, thy lord’s fair store!
In thy so rich and rare expenses,
Even when he show’d most poor,
He might provoke the wealth of Princes.
What Prince’s wanton’st pride e’re could
Wash with Sylver, wipe with Gold.
Who is that King, but he
Who calls’t his Crown to be call’d thine,
That thus can boast to be
Waited on by a wandring mine,
A voluntary mint, that strowes
Warm sylver shoures where’re he goes! (18.1-22.5)
The intimacy and the pleasure represented in “The Weeper” is and is not erotic, for the poem suggests the very fictiveness of the distinction between the erotic and the nonerotic. While the poem recognizes that the somatic and the erotic are imbricated just as the intimate and the sexual are imbricated, “The Weeper” refuses to delineate where the erotic valence of this intimacy begins or ends. In its representation of Christ and Mary Magdalene’s pleasurable bodily encounter, the poem includes the erotic but ultimately breaks down the distinction between the erotic and the nonerotic by celebrating instead the entire variety of pleasures possible in intimate contact between two bodies. The poem begins by figuring Christ as Eros, or Cupid. This figuration complements the association of fertility with the Magdalene’s tears:
O cheeks! Bedds of chast loves
In addition to the doves nesting in her cheeks in this stanza, her cheeks are
also figured as a seedbed for stars (stanza 2) and grapes for wine (stanza
11). Even as her tears are associated with reproductive sexuality, they provide
pleasures traditionally understood as nonsexual. Yet, a distinct line between
the sexual and nonsexual aspects of the imagery related to the tears cannot
be drawn and, consequently, such a conceptual division between the erotic
and the nonerotic becomes inadequate for dealing with the poem. In stanza
5 “a brisk Cherub somthing sippes” (5.2) from the Magdalene’s supply of tears,
which provides him nourishment and inspiration, for “his song / Tasts of this
Breakfast all day long” (5.5-6). Christ’s pleasure in these tears is imagined
both in terms of a fertile harvest which contributes to his “fair store” (20.1)
and in terms of the production of silver currency from “a voluntary mint”
(21.5) (20). The enhancement of Christ’s pleasure is figured
simultaneously and inseparably as sexual, economic, and political. At the
same time, Crashaw does not render the erotic as the “merely erotic,” as though
sexual relationships are somehow inferior to other kinds of relationships.
Instead, I would suggest that Crashaw was uninterested in making the distinction
altogether, welcoming the erotic without compartmentalizing it in his representation
of the human-divine relationship.
By your own showres seasonably dash’t;
Eyes! Nests of milky doves
In your own wells decently washt,
O wit of love! that thus could place
Fountain and Garden in one face. (15.1-6)
- For Crashaw, intimacy is spontaneous and inevitable when in contact with
the body of Christ. In fact, it is inexplicable when, as in the poem “But
now they have seen, and hated,” such contact does not result in pleasurable
intimacy. Crashaw’s incredulity extends, somewhat humorously, even to animals
in “Upon the Asse that bore our Saviour,” where the speaker chides the Palm
Sunday donkey because he “hast ne’re a word / to praise [his] Lord” (7-8).
While the poem does not explicitly attend to the anatomy of Christ, if one
is to picture Palm Sunday, one requires the image of Christ straddling the
donkey on his way into Jerusalem. Therefore, the specific bodily contact the
donkey has with Christ implicitly is localized in Christ’s groin. Nevertheless,
Crashaw opines that even the donkey should say something to commemorate his
intimate encounter with Christ.
Crashaw does not limit himself to the epideictic mode of “The Weeper” where he praises such intimacy for its own sake. His poem “Sancta Maria Dolorum” suggests the possibility of learning this kind of embodied intimacy with Christ by example. Translating a hymn about the Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross, Crashaw emphasizes her bodily communion with Christ during his excruciating ordeal:
O costly intercourse
This son and mother exchange each other’s pain in a way so graphic that Crashaw seems to indicate there is more than a disembodied sympathy in their “faithfull, mutuall floud” (2.9). Mary’s bodily participation in her son’s suffering, “Leaving her only so much Breath / As serves to keep alive her death” (4.9-10), is the basis for their intimate relation. Yet, in stanza six, Crashaw’s speaker shifts the focus to the didactic power of this violent scene when he pleads, “O teach those wounds to bleed / In me” (6.1-2). The wounds to which Crashaw refers can belong either to Christ or to Mary. Ultimately, it does not make a difference, since Crashaw represents the identification of Mary with her suffering son as so complete that their wounds would be indistinguishable. The completeness of the identification of Mary with her son is what makes it possible for her to function as a model of embodied intimacy with Christ.
Of deaths, and worse,
Divided loves. While son and mother
Discourse alternate wounds to one another;
Quick Deaths that grow
And gather, as they come and goe:
His nailes write swords in her, which soon her heart
Payes back, with more then their own smart;
Her Swords, still growing with his pain,
Turn Speares, and straight come home again. (3.1-10)
For the rest of the poem, the speaker reflects on how necessary this lesson in the power of identification to produce intimate contact is to his salvation. He imagines the possibility of traversing historical time to participate with Mary in her imitative study of Christ’s suffering:
By all those stings
Crashaw’s endeavors in poetic reflection upon Gospel figures will allow him to experience Christ’s crucifixion and to achieve salvific intimacy. The rhyme of “fix” in “crucifix” with the word “mix” is particularly revealing. The mixture of wounds—Crashaw’s identification with Christ’s suffering—provides the fix—the rehabilitation of salvation—and also affixes Crashaw and Christ in intimate contact based in participation, not in desire for that which is absent and unattainable.
Of love, sweet bitter things,
Which these torn hands transcrib’d on thy true heart
O teach mine too the art
To study him so, till we mix
Wounds; and become one crucifix. (10.5-10).
As though the mediating figures from the Gospels were not enough, Crashaw also draws on the resources of the Eucharist to achieve bodily communion with Christ. As Clive Hart and Kay Gilliland Stevenson point out, “the transubstantiated Eucharist brought the communicant into direct contact with Christ’s physical sacrifice on the cross” (109). In “Adoro Te,” a translation of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Latin Hymn about the adoration of the blessed sacrament, we see Crashaw’s clearest articulation of the intimate possibilities of the Eucharist. The poem contrasts Aquinas’ faith, based in hearing the word of God preached, with the tactile-based faith of St. Thomas, the doubting Thomas from the Gospel:
Your ports are all superfluous here,
Aquinas seems to advance the idea that his faith is stronger than St. Thomas’ faith because it relies on a disembodied act of hearing. However, hearing does involve both the bodies of the speaker and listener as much as St. Thomas’ touch involves two bodies. A hierarchy of the senses operates in Aquinas’ argument, whereby touch involves more presence than hearing does. We are to conclude that Aquinas’ faith is stronger because it persists without the tactile support of Christ’s body itself:
Save That which lets in faith, the eare.
Alleage and show
That faith has farther, here, to goe
And lesse to lean on. Because than
Though hidd as God, wounds writt thee man,
Thomas might touch; None but might see
At least the suffring side of thee. (9-10, 19-24)
Sweet consider then, that I
Aquinas gives witness to his faith just as loud as if he were able to touch Christ in the flesh. We are to admire the strength of his faith in the Resurrection as Aquinas overcomes the obstacle to faith presented by the historical and theological absence of Christ’s body.
Though allow’d nor hand nor eye
To reach at thy lov’d Face; nor can
Tast thee God, or touch thee Man;
Both yet beleive and wittnesse thee
My Lord too and my God, as lowd as He. (27-32)
- The strength of Aquinas’ faith, however, is not limited to his hearing
the word of God as he states early in the poem. He, too, has encountered the
body of Christ. Although Aquinas’ encounter differs from St. Thomas’ in manner,
Aquinas’ encounter is equally as productive of salvation. Crashaw translates
Aquinas regarding the Eucharist: “Oh dear memoriall of that Death / Which
lives still, and allowes us breath” (37-38). Crashaw makes an allusion to
the inspirational salvific potential of Christ’s living presence in the Eucharist
in the epigram “On the Miracle of the Loaves”: “Now Lord, or never, they’l
beleeve on thee / Thou to their Teeth hast prov’d thy Deity” (1-2). George
Walton Williams’ edition notes that “to the teeth” is a colloquialism that
refers to the completeness of the faith Christ inspires in those who encounter
him. I think, however, that Crashaw plays on the expression’s literal meaning,
for the mastication of the loaves will certainly complete the faith of those
who chew on them by proving that the loaves are not a figment of their imagination.
This episode from Christ’s life is a precursor to the Last Supper and, consequently,
the Eucharistic feast, for, in both senses of the term, anyone who partakes
of the transubstantiated Eucharist proves the Deity to their teeth (21).
In “Adoro Te,” the Eucharist memorializes the death of Christ by being alive
itself—that is, by turning into the body and blood of Christ “whose vitall
gust alone can give / The same leave both to eat and live” (41-42). However,
here, Crashaw’s translation exposes an implicit contradiction of Aquinas’
earlier claim that he had no bodily contact with Christ. Asserting that the
Eucharist, in fact, is the source of his faith, Aquinas’ bodily contact with
the real presence of Christ in Communion makes his faith take on an uncanny
resemblance to that of St. Thomas. Tracing various articulations of faith
and of the relationship between the human and the divine back to this embodied
model of intimacy, Crashaw’s poetry does not merely record a theological debate
about transubstantiation that happens elsewhere. Read through the lens of
the epigram, “Adoro Te” reveals Crashaw, even when translating, not as a passive
receptacle for theological maxims, but interacting with doctrine, making contradictions
productive in his articulation of participatory intimacy (22).
- Crashaw’s participatory model contrasts with the desire model grounding
relationality in Herbert and Hall because Crashaw celebrates the role of the
body and focuses on experiences of corporeal pleasure, even in moments of
extreme pain. In Hall and Herbert, the subject experiences desire as lack,
satisfaction is largely unachievable, and the undisciplined body threatens
intimate relations. In Hall, the mechanics of pleasure are inscrutable, and,
in Herbert, the achievement of embodied intimacy is deferred until after the
apocalypse. Contrasting Herbert and Crashaw, Anthony Low has argued that “Crashaw’s
writings…reveal a strong bent not toward the poetry of desire, but the poetry
of pleasure, enjoyment, and of delight” (109). Low finds evidence of this
poetry of pleasure in a participatory model of intimacy: “[Crashaw] is far
from being withdrawn or cool; he is not an impassive witness; he participates
in, he feels intensely, and he enjoys what he describes; but he allows it…its
own autonomy” (113). This type of relationship with the divine, Low argues,
was usually associated with devotional practices recommended for women. Therefore,
Low concludes that this participatory model, even as it breaks down the traditional
association of passivity and women, is a particularly “‘feminine’ approach
to love” (131) (23). In his useful challenge to the long
tradition ascribing femininity to Crashaw’s poetry and devotion, Richard Rambuss
questions “accounts that fashion a paradoxically ‘female’ or ‘bisexed’ Jesus”
for “too quickly effacing the primary maleness of his body and its operations”
(38). Rambuss’ exposure of “the poetry’s erotically valenced scenarios of
male penetration of a male body” (38) promises an explication of the penetrative
relational model that informs devotion in Crashaw. Rambuss rightly confronts
the effacement of the homoerotic involved in the regendering of Christ or
the speaker of the poems as feminine. Yet, Rambuss pursues Crashaw’s model
of relationality only insofar as it secures masculine gendered identities
for Christ or the speaker. Consequently, his argument structurally has much
in common with Low’s argument that Crashaw uses relationality to secure a
feminine gender identity for the speaker. Onto the masculine gendered identity
of the speaker of devotional poems, Rambuss maps a homoerotic devotional subject
that seems to be a precursor to a later development, homosexual identity.
Ultimately, both Low and Rambuss see the relational as a stable field whose
content is a given and which only matters insofar as it participates in another
contested field, such as gender or sexual identity, in need of stabilization.
For them, relationality functions as a backdrop for a discussion of identity.
While the contestations within the field of gender and sexual identity are
important, they may also be symptomatic of larger conflicts. Fractures exist
within the textual representation of the gender identity of Christ or of the
speaker of the poems because the relational field out of which such gender
identity emerges is similarly fractured. Low and Rambuss do not pursue an
explication of the relational field from which Crashaw draws in his representation
of intimacy. As such, their accounts chronicle the destabilizing elements
within subjectivity without addressing the instabilities within the relational
that might produce unstable subjectivity effects. In contrast, I have argued
that the field of relationality is a site of contestation and Crashaw attempts
to navigate that field by bringing the body into intimacy with God.
- This articulation of embodied intimacy between the believer and the divine
depends on Crashaw’s celebration not only of the body, but also of its excesses.
Louis L. Martz has claimed that “the Baroque tries by multiplication of sensory
impressions to exhaust the sensory and to suggest the presence of the spiritual”
(266). I believe, however, that Martz errs in applying this definition of
Baroque practice to Crashaw. The Crashavian body participates in the spiritual
and is not alien to it, as Martz’s formulation suggests. For Crashaw, the
sensory is never exhausted. Somatic excesses may suggest the presence of the
spiritual, but they also lead to a heightened sense of embodiment. In an attempt
to understand the Crashavian body, Rambuss has noted that poems such as “On
the Wounds of Our Crucified Lord” evidence Crashaw’s practice of “texturing
Christ’s body with these proliferative, amorously emotive openings” (31).
Furthermore, Crashaw’s representation of the orificial body of Christ, for
Rambuss, draws on “the architecture of private refuge and inwardness” (109).
Rambuss implicitly links Crashaw’s poetry to his broader argument about early
modern religious devotion and selfhood: “the self is envisioned as refinding
itself in its private devotions, but finding itself to be dead, ensconced
in the orifices of Christ’s body, interred in its contemplations, annihilated
into a rapture at once ecstatic and mortifying, thrilling and fearful” (116).
“Rapture” suggests something carried off by something else, but, in Rambuss’
phrasing, the something else that carries off the self into rapture is decidedly
absent, thereby obscuring the relational elements encoded in the word. While
Rambuss is here speaking of Donne’s sermons, the poet he sees most frequently
emphasizing Christ’s orifices is Crashaw. While I agree that an erotic rapture
takes place in Crashavian representations of encounters with the body of Christ,
the significance of this orificial rapture does not lie solely in its employment
by Crashaw to articulate a notion of interiorized subjectivity, even if that
subjectivity is ultimately annihilated.
In fact, the rapturous opening of Christ’s body resists a subjective model based on psychic depth. If we turn to “On Our Crucified Lord Naked and Bloody,” we find that opening Christ’s body reveals not psychic depth, but another surface:
Th’have left thee naked Lord, O that they had;
Selfhood and blood here are both figured as garments one wears. If Crashaw were invoking a psychic depth model, one would open “the purple wardrobe of the side” for the sake of the space contained therein rather than the garments that Crashaw clearly seeks. What remains in the wardrobe when the garments are removed is the empty space of interiority for which Crashaw has little use; the garments, however, are another surface
(24). Thus, the metaphor suggests that breaking through the surface of the body reveals yet more surfaces. After all, excavation—in acts as various, and yet as uncannily similar, as the piercing of Christ’s side with a spear and the penetration of an anus by a penis—exposes more surface area and, particularly with the body, exposes more surfaces to the possibilities of pleasure. Thus, by casting depth as just another surface, Crashaw’s representation of Christ’s orificial, overflowing body undermines the structure on which interiority is erected, the surface/depth binarism. Deriving pleasure and ecstatic union—a type of intimate relation with God—through a contemplation of surfaces rather than cavities, Crashaw rejects inwardness even as he imagines the excavation of Christ’s body. As such, Crashaw seems to operate outside the “culture of dissection” (3) that Jonathan Sawday argues was critical in locating inwardness spatially within the dissected body.
This Garment too I would they had deny’d.
Thee with thy selfe they have too richly clad,
Opening the purple wardrobe of thy side.
O never could bee found Garments too good
For thee to weare, but these, of thine owne blood. (1-6)
Through a mimetic participation in this opening up of Christ’s body, the devotional subject achieves intimacy with Christ and undermines the very interiority on which Herbert had based his relationship with the divine. In “The Weeper,” another example, the poem traces the source of Mary Magdalene’s tears:
Twas his well-pointed dart
In response to the Magdalene’s body being pierced by Christ’s phallic dart, her tears “goe to meet / A worthy object, [their] Lord’s feet” (31.5-6). The dart that ought to produce a cavity in the body wherein inwardness can be sited, instead creates an outward flow of the heart and of the tears that cements a pleasurable experience of intimacy between two bodies. These darts frequently appear in Crashaw’s poems and expose not a disembodied space of inwardness, but more of the body and the unruly, even ejaculatory, fluids produced in states of excitation and stimulation. Each move inward, each attempt at excavation of the body results in an overwhelming flow outward that releases the body and its fluids from the prison of psychic depth and inner selfhood. This outward flow from the Crashavian body secures relationality and pleasure. Insofar as this resistance to psychic depth is premised on the participation in Christ’s suffering and the imaginative identification with his excavated body, the speaker suggests that it is possible for all believers to cultivate this mode of embodiment and to achieve fully-corporeal human-divine intimacy.
That digg’d these wells, and drest this Vine;
And taught the wounded Heart
The way into these weeping Eyn. (18.1-4)
VI “The self-shutt cabinet of an unsearcht soul”: Crashaw’s Ambivalence and The Rejection of the Crashavian Model of Intimacy
Hall, Herbert, and Crashaw offer different understandings of the role of corporeality and of desire in relationality indicate that what counted as intimacy during the early modern period was a matter of debate and could be imagined in multiple ways. Suggesting that there may be no such thing as an undifferentiated Crashavian body, Crashaw occasionally employs a model of intimate relations that both resembles Herbert’s interiorized model and conflicts with his representation of intimacy in other poems. In his “Letter to the Countess of Denbigh,” Crashaw asks Jesus, as Love, to win the Countess as a convert:
Allmighty Love! end this long warr,
While this passage only appears in one of the two versions of this poem, it resembles Herbert’s interiorized model of relationality predicated on self-examination. Similarly, in his “Hymn to the Name of Jesus,” Crashaw interiorizes the relationship between the human and the divine. “Lo we hold our hearts wide ope!” (126), the persona says, welcoming God into his inner self. He continues:
And of a meteor make a starr.
O fix this fair Indefinite.
And ‘mongst thy shafts of soveraign light
Choose out that sure decisive dart
Which has the Key of this close heart,
Knowes all the corners of’t, and can controul
The self-shutt cabinet of an unsearcht soul. (28-36)
Lo how the thirsty Lands
This thirst, invoking desire as lack, resembles the longing for God’s presence so vexing to Herbert’s understanding of intimacy, and here Crashaw applies it to the entire planet. Imagined in multiple, and even contradictory, ways, Crashaw’s own sense of human-divine relations is complex and conflicted.
Gasp for thy Golden Showres! with long stretch’t Hands
Lo how the laboring Earth
That hopes to be
All Heaven by Thee,
Leapes at thy Birth. (129-134)
The copresence of these models may relate to Crashaw’s conversion to Catholicism later in life. While Crashaw was nominally Protestant when he wrote some of his lyrics, his Catholic sympathies may have preceded his formal conversion, as Alison Shell reasons: “there is no contradiction in recognizing that Crashaw could assume a Catholic mentality while still a conformist, and it is helpful to approach his poetry in this light” (93). Shell attempts to resolve the contradiction between the doctrinal sympathies of Crashaw’s poetry and their composition while he was still nominally a Protestant by making him a
de facto Catholic. Retaining a deterministic view that theology drives Crashaw’s poetry, Shell resists the possibility that Crashaw’s poetry, in dialogue and debate with theology, has a more flexible, nuanced relationship to religion. Especially insofar as Crashaw writes his poems during what we might understand as a transitional period of his life, Crashaw may be navigating between two theological positions and the position he ultimately articulates may be an internally fractured one.
This assertion does not imply the minimization of differences between Catholic and Protestant theology. I believe it is helpful to understand the relationship of Catholicism to the Protestant sects in England with which Crashaw, whose father was a Puritan divine, would have been familiar. Recently, there has been a tendency, which finds its roots in Louis Martz’s
Poetry of Meditation, to minimize the theological differences between the poetry of the Catholic convert Crashaw and the poetry of the seventeenth-century Protestant religious poets. For example, Richard Rambuss’
Closet Devotions situates John Donne, Herbert, and Crashaw under the general aegis of “a devotion that is profoundly attuned to the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation” (2). The nature of this devotion, however, depends largely on a particular sect’s response to the Incarnation. While similarly central to the various Christian sects, the Incarnation was the basis for significantly different understandings of worship, salvation, and, most important for this study, the relationship to that incarnate God. Consequently, such a generalization brackets important, subtle theological differences. While Crashaw writes when he is straddling theological positions, we should not ignore the differences between those positions. It is just as possible for an individual to respond to a single set of theological doctrines as it is for that individual to respond to differences between two sets of theological doctrines.
The contradictions within Crashaw’s model of embodied relationality, however, are not largely responsible for the rejection of his model of intimacy with God. Religious, national, and literary concerns, all overlapping of course, contribute the most to the rejection of Crashaw’s model. Literary influences from the continent, especially from Spain, inform Crashaw’s Baroque aesthetic and associate his model of relationality with foreignness. Crashaw’s Catholicism additionally associates him with both foreignness and popery
(25). These two elements combined would have made acceptance of his definition of intimacy with God quite difficult from within England’s overwhelmingly nationalistic Protestantism. In his “Apology for the fore-going Hymne” where he defends his admiration of the Spanish Saint Teresa, Crashaw recorded his sense of the limitations of this blend of nationalism and anti-Catholicism:
Souls are not Spaniards too, one friendly floud
Invoking a model of friendship based on multiple souls’ habitation of the single body of Christian nations, Crashaw redefines international relations as intimate relations. An erroneous sense of the nonrelation of souls creates international division and creates even the concept of foreignness; returning souls to proper intimacy within the one body of Christian nations would heal this strife. Crashaw castigates the English for both their lack of openness to alternate models of human-divine relationship and their prejudice against “foreign” modes of piety. In English Protestantism, Lewalski identifies a general rejection of certain understandings of relationality with the divine. More specifically, English Protestant theology rejected “efforts to achieve an imaginative identification with the crucified Christ and to participate in his sacrifice by imitation” (294). Protestants associated both the identificatory and participatory models with the foreign piety of Catholicism. Consequently, the Protestant/nationalist rejection of imaginative identification models of intimacy left the field of normative relationality inhabited only by desire-based, interiorized and disembodied intimate relations, such as those Herbert represents in
The Temple and Joseph Hall advocates in The Remedy of Prophanenesse.
If Christians in the early modern period experienced their various sects as a
shared culture (26), then Crashaw’s criticisms in “The Apology” would be perfunctory.
Of Baptism blends them all into a blood.
Christ’s faith makes but one body of all soules
And love’s that body’s soul, no law controwlls
Our free traffique for heav’n, we may maintaine
Peace, sure, with piety, though it come from Spain.
What soul so e’re, in any language, can
Speak heav’n like her’s is my souls country-man.
O ‘tis not spanish, but ‘tis heav’n she speaks. (15-23).
Modern critical practice, too, has placed Crashaw within the Baroque and Catholic traditions in order to devalue his literary contributions
(27). Obliquely positioned vis-à-vis more canonical seventeenth-century English literature, Crashaw’s poetry has been associated with bad taste because of the poetry’s supposedly inappropriate celebration of the body in intimacy with God
(28). Therefore, even though Crashaw presents a fully-articulated conception of human-divine divine relations that lacks the hesitancy and compromise of Herbert’s more ‘tasteful’ model, he has not been a contender, but an aberration within a literary debate about relationality, pleasure, and the body.
(1) A portion of this paper was delivered at the conference “Interiority in Early
Modern England, 1500-1800” sponsored by Saint Mary’s University, in Halifax,
Nova Scotia. I thank Goran Stanivukovic for organizing that conference and
including me in the program. My gratitude also goes to Suzanne Gossett, James
Biester, and Jeffrey Masten for their helpful comments as I revised this essay
(2) On the history of the Western Church’s involvement
with the legitimation of same-sex relations, see John Boswell’s Christianity,
Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the
Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: U of
Chicago P, 1981) and Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (New York:
Villard, 1994). Despite Boswell’s problematic reliance on a transhistorical gay
identity, he insists on the importance of premodern religion in intimate life.
(3) See Michael Schoenfeldt, Prayer and Power: George
Herbert and Renaissance Courtship (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1991); Leah
Sinanoglou Marcus, Childhood and Cultural Despair: A Theme and Variations in
Seventeenth-Century Literature (Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1978); and
Anthony Low, The Reinvention of Love: Poetry, Politics, and Culture from
Sidney to Milton (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993).
(4) For example, in his account of human-divine
relationality in Herbert and Crashaw, Anthony Low insists on heterosexualizing
this relationship by invoking what he calls the “biblical marriage trope” (2) as
the central metaphor used to represent the relationship of God and man.
Positing a unidirectional relationship of influence between marital discourse
and religion, Low fails to account for the ways in which the same-sex
relationship between the male speaker in Herbert and Crashaw’s poems and an
always-male Godhead or, alternatively, Christ challenges, even from within a
religious framework, marriage’s status as a heterosexual institution.
The term “problematic” here is intended to invoke
Michel Foucault’s concept of problematization, which he describes as “the
transformations of the difficulties and obstacles of a practice into a general
problem for which one proposes diverse practical solutions,” in “Polemics,
Politics, Problematizations: An Interview with Michel Foucault,” 1984,
Ethics, Subjectivity, Truth, ed. Paul Rabinow, Trans. Lydia Davis (New York:
New Press, 1997) 118. See also Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, The
History of Sexuality, vol. 2, Trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990)
(6) Claims about the syncretism of the sexual and the sacred
have provoked heated debates over seventeenth-century religious verse.
In his Voice, Terminal, Echo: Postmodernism and English Renaissance Texts
(New York: Methuen, 1986), Jonathan Goldberg claimed, controversially, that
the subtitle of Herbert’s The Temple, “Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations,”
carried a sexual valence and suggested masturbation (110-11). Rambuss’
focus, then, is valuable insofar as it provides a useful response to the sex
panic that resulted from this claim in essays such as Elizabeth Clarke, “Herbert’s
House of Pleasure? Ejaculations Sacred and Profane” George Herbert Journal
19.1 (1995): 55-71; J. Stephen Murphy, “Ejaculatory Poetics and the Writing
of Ecstasy in George Herbert’s ‘Prayer’ (I)” George Herbert Journal 24.1
(2000): 19-34; and Alan Rudrum, “The Problem of Sexual Reference in George Herbert’s
Verse” George Herbert Journal 21.1 (1997): 19-32. The fear of the
contamination of Herbert’s poetry by the erotic goes back at least as far as
Rosemond Tuve’s “George Herbert’s Caritas,” Essays by Rosemond Tuve:
Spenser, Herbert, Milton, ed. Thomas P. Roche (Princeton: Princeton UP,
1970) 167-206. In this essay that originally appeared in 1959, Tuve claimed
about Herbert’s use of poetic models and language from sacred love poetry that
“when the love exchanged is between God and man…identical words and similar
phrases cease to bear a comparable significance” (181). Criticism seems
to have changed little in its attitudes toward the erotic in 40 years, for the
sex panic that unfolded in the pages of the George Herbert Journal displayed
the trenchant and appalling erotophobia that still plagues critical discourse.
(7) I would like to acknowledge here that, though my work
is critical in many ways of Rambuss' Closet Devotions, I owe an enormous
debt to the groundbreaking work in that book. Rambuss' convincing account of
the homoerotic affect coursing through early modern religious devotion is invaluable
for the study of seventeenth-century religious poetry. My critique of his work
is not directed at his specific analysis of the homoerotic content of these
poems, for his reading of the poems seems perfectly right and his diagnosis
of other critics' resistance to such a reading is eye-opening. Instead, I am
more concerned with the turn toward an analysis of selfhood that he makes as
a result of these readings. Yet I would not deny that, especially insofar as
it breaks down traditional barriers between sexuality and religious discourse,
Rambuss' work largely cleared the way for arguments such as the one contained
in this paper.
(8) The standard biographies of Hall include Frank Livingstone
Huntley, Bishop Joseph Hall, 1574-1656: A Biographical and Critical Study
(Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1979); T. F. Kinloch, The Life and Works of Joseph
Hall, 1574-1656 (London: Staples, 1951); and Leonard D. Tourney, Joseph
Hall (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979). For a discussion of his satires’
relationship to his meditative practices, see Richard A. MacCabe, Joseph
Hall: A Study in Satire and Meditation (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1982).
For studies that situate Hall as a moderate between the extremes of the Puritans
and the Laudians in the controversies raging in early and mid-seventeenth-century
Anglicanism, see Kenneth Fincham and Peter Lake, “Popularity, Prelacy, and Puritanism
in the 1630s: Joseph Hall Explains Himself” English Historical Review
111 (1996): 856-881; Peter Lake, “Joseph Hall, Robert Skinner, and the Rhetoric
of Moderation at the early Stuart Court,” The English Sermon Revised: Religion,
Literature, and History, 1600-1750, ed. Lori Anne Ferrell and Peter McCullough
(Manchester: Manchester UP, 2000) 167-187; and Dan Steere, “‘For the Peace of
Both, For the Humour of Neither’: Bishop Joseph Hall Defends the Via Media
in an Age of Extremes, 1601-1656” Sixteenth Century Journal 27 (1996):
749-765. For an account of the theological relationship between the work
of John Milton and Joseph Hall, see Audrey Chew, “Joseph Hall and John Milton”
ELH 17.4 (1950): 274-295.
(9) For a general discussion of Hall’s meditative practice,
see Frank Livingstone Huntley, Bishop Joseph Hall and Protestant Meditation
in Seventeenth-Century England, (Binghamton: Center for Medieval and Early
Renaissance Studies, 1984). While Huntley’s book does not, in fact, discuss
Hall’s lesser known tract under consideration in this essay, his book is an
excellent primer on Hall’s Protestant mode of meditation.
(10) The earliest use of the word “intimate” in English
print appears to be in Philotimus (1583), by the Elizabethan euphuist
(11) See Louis L. Martz, The Poetry of Meditation: A
Study in English Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century (New Haven,
Yale UP, 1962) and Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century
Religious Lyric (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1979), both of which document
Hall’s relationship with, if not influence upon, seventeenth-century religious
(12) These terms are drawn, respectively, from the work
of Joan Bennett, Five Metaphysical Poets, 3rd ed. (Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, 1964) 54; Stanley Fish, The Living Temple: George Herbert and
Catechizing (Berkeley: U of California P, 1978) 5; and Anthony Martin, “Herbert’s
“Love” Sonnets and Love Poetry,” George Herbert Journal 17.2 (1994) 38.
(13) For a useful summation of the range of perspectives
on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, see Christopher Hodgkins, Authority,
Church, and Society in George Herbert: Return to the Middle Way (Columbia:
U of Missouri P, 1993) 24-33.
(14) See Nicholas Tyacke, Aspects of English Protestantism,
c. 1530-1700 (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2001) for essays on the internal
conflicts in the English church. For a chart of the various positions
within the English church, see Daniel Doerksen, Conforming to the Word: Herbert,
Donne, and the English Church before Laud (Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1997)
22. See Achsah Guibbory, Ceremony and Community from Herbert to Milton:
Literature, Religion, and Cultural Conflict in Seventeenth-Century Literature
(Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998) for a discussion of literary manifestations
of these conflicts.
(15) For discussions of Herbert as a via media Anglican,
see, in addition to Doerksen, Guibbory, and Hodgkins cited above, see also Elizabeth
Clarke, Theory and Theology in George Herbert’s Poetry, “Divinitie and Poesie,
Met” (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1997); Louis L. Martz, “The Generous Ambiguity
of Herbert’s Temple,” A Fine Tuning: Studies of the Religious Poetry
of Herbert and Milton, ed. Mary Maleski (Binghamton: Center for Medieval
and Renaissance Studies at SUNY-Binghamton, 1989) 31-56; and Gene Edward Veith,
Jr., Reformation Spirituality: The Religion of George Herbert (Lewisburg:
Bucknell UP, 1985).
(16) Ethan Shagan has recently proposed such a nuanced model
of individual response to the English Reformation during the Tudor era in Popular
Politics and the English Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003).
Shagan’s assertion that “people had far more choices available to them than
either meek submission or violent resistance” (22) seems equally applicable
to the religious controversies at the inauguration of the English Reformation
as to those of the seventeenth-century.
(17) For a critique of the concept of desire as constituted
by lack as it informs subjectivity within capitalism, see Gilles Deleuze and
Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert
Hurley et. al. (New York: Viking, 1977).
(18) Jonathan Goldberg, in Voice, Terminal, Echo,
cited above, implicitly questions the liberty of the Herbertian subject: “the
subject that emerges in the desire to speak is subsumed with the answer that
records the subject as an inscription in another text” (102). The liberty
of the subject vis-à-vis God is also Stanley Fish’s topic in Self-Consuming
Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-Century Literature (1972; Pittsburgh:
Duquesne UP, 1994) 156-223. For a discussion of the political implications
of this cycle of examination and renunciation in Protestant England, see Alan
Sinfield, Faultlines: Cultural Materialism and the Politics of Dissident
Reading (Berkeley: U of California P, 1992) 143-180.
(19) Joseph Summers, in The Heirs of Donne and Jonson
(New York: Oxford UP, 1970), understands participation as the basis for the
relationship between Crashaw’s readers and the poems: “His poems do not usually
invite us primarily to rational understandings or even the appreciation of performance,
but to rapt participation in ecstatic joys and suffering” (105). As I
hope to show, Crashaw’s understanding of relationality more generally is indebted
to this participatory model.
(20) For a discussion of the ways in which coining could
be figured sexually, see Will Fisher, “Queer Money,” ELH 66.1 (1999):
(21) Protestant sects that rejected the bodily presence
of the Eucharist frequently did so on the grounds of their distaste at the prospect
of masticating Christ’s body in communion.
(22) For a parallel account that insists on Crashaw’s engagement
with, as opposed to transmission of, Eucharistic theology, see Ryan Netzley,
“Oral Devotion: Eucharistic Theology and Richard Crashaw’s Religious Lyrics,”
Texas Studies in Literature and Language 44.3 (2002): 247-272.
(23) Low indicates his hesitant essentialization of the
feminine by placing the word in quotation marks; indeed his account is somewhat
inconsistent on this matter. Nevertheless Low finds it significant that
“Crashaw anticipates, in effect, a feminism that argues, not that women should
be more like men and accumulate more power, but that men should be more like
women, and learn to suffer, to serve, to give, and to love” (126). This
type of “feminism” paradoxically reifies gender categories even as it advocates
cross-identification; the masculine may appropriate supposedly feminine traits,
such as the ability to suffer, serve, give, and love, but the essential ascription
of femininity to those traits remains unchallenged.
Low represents one instantiation in a critical history
of associating Crashaw with femininity that goes back at least to T. S. Eliot’s
Clark Lectures at Cambridge in 1926, reprinted in The Varieties of
Metaphysical Poetry, ed. Ronald Schuchard (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993).
For other arguments that associate Crashaw, his poems, or his personae, with all
too often essentialized femininity, see Susannah Mintz, “The Crashavian Mother”
Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 (1999): 111-129; Paul A.
Parrish, “The Feminization of Power: Crashaw’s Life and Art,” The Muses
Common-weale: Poetry and Politics in the Seventeenth Century, ed. Claude J.
Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth (Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1988) 148-162; and
Maureen Sabine, Feminine Engendered Faith: The Poetry of John Donne and
Richard Crashaw (Houndmills: MacMillan, 1992).
(24) See Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass, Renaissance
Clothing and the Materials of Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000) for
a discussion of the relationship of clothing and subjectivity in the early modern
period. My argument here is based on a sense of clothing’s inability to
signify depth, despite the attempts of sumptuary laws to fix clothing as a stable
referent for identity.
(25) The classic account of the Baroque influence on
Crashaw is Austin Warren, Richard Crashaw: A Study in Baroque Sensibility
(University, Louisiana: Louisiana State UP, 1939). For a discussion of Crashaw
as a poet whose conceits are more Baroque than metaphysical, thereby placing him
somewhat askew of the current canon of seventeenth-century English poetry, see
Louis L. Martz, From Renaissance to Baroque: Essays on Literature and Art
(Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1991). For an attempt to bring Crashaw back into
the mainstream literary scene in seventeenth-century England by aligning his
Baroque aesthetic with the emblem tradition, see Mark F. Bertonasco, Crashaw
and the Baroque (University, Alabama: U of Alabama P, 1971). For an account
of the foreign, especially Spanish and continental Catholic influences on
Crashaw, see R. V. Young, Richard Crashaw and the Spanish Golden Age (New
Haven: Yale UP, 1982).
(26) A particularly egregious example of a work that
dismisses theological controversies of the early modern period as “comparatively
minor differences between Catholic and Protestant poets” (219) can be found in
R. V. Young’s Doctrine and Devotion in Seventeenth-Century Poetry: Studies in
Donne, Herbert, Crashaw, and Vaughan (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000).
Whatever theological common ground Young uncovers in hindsight, the religious
and nationalist tensions characterizing the relationship between England and
Spain in the seventeenth century, to which “The Apology” alludes, and the
large-scale catastrophe known as the Thirty Years’ War testify to the existence
of a fractured sense of European Christianity. This poem, I believe, represents
a specific poetic attempt to make sense of a fractured political and religious
(27) Alison Shell, in Catholicism, Controversy, and
the English Literary Imagination, 1558-1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999)
links critical marginalization of Crashaw to “unconscious anti-Catholic
prejudice” (57). For a claim that Crashaw’s marginalized status is the result
of a critical projection of the improprieties of more canonical poets onto
Crashaw, see Richard Rambuss, “Sacred Subjects and the Aversive Metaphysical
Conceit: Crashaw, Serrano, Ofili” ELH 71 (2004): 497-530.
Perhaps the most famous case of this judgment on Crashaw’s style is Robert M.
Adams, “Taste and Bad Taste in Metaphysical Poetry: Richard Crashaw and Dylan
Thomas,” Seventeenth-Century English Poetry: Modern Essays in Criticism,
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Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).