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Daniel W. Doerksen, Conforming to the Word: Herbert, Donne, and the English Church before Laud. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1997. 181 pp. $33.50. by Jeffrey Powers-Beck Daniel W. Doerksen's Conforming to the Word is a remarkable historical study of Herbert's Church of England, the work of a mature scholar who has patiently waited to publish his years of research. It is a remarkable book, above all, for its effort to transform two pejorative terms — "conformist" and "puritan" — into honorifics that capture the vital center of worship in the poet's Jacobean church. The central argument of Conforming to the Word is that Herbert and Donne were conformist members at the center of an inclusive, puritan-rich Jacobean church. This church was not a "lax hiatus" between the Elizabethan Settlement and the fractured church of Laud, but a vibrant Protestant institution, which comprised a mainstream of "Calvinist conformists" and "conforming puritans," a narrow set of Laudians, and another group of dissenting puritans (pp. 21-23). Furthermore, according to Doerksen, as ministers of this church, Herbert and Donne promoted a heavily doctrinal, Calvinist, and "word-centered" form of worship, in lieu of the "sacramentcentered " worship of Hooker, Andrewes, and Laud. Very much like Christopher Hodgkins in Authority, Church, and Society, Doerksen finds a thoroughgoing Calvinism inscribed in the Elizabethan Settlement, but, unlike Hodgkins, he sees no falling away from Reformation ideals in the church of King James. Marriage negotiations with Catholic monarchs aside, James I was a Calvinist conformist, who sought to bring "moderate puritans . . . into full participation in the English church" (p. 19). So when Herbert lamented the church's factional divisions in "Church-rents and schismes" and "The British Church," he was writing late poems amid new Laudian troubles and fondly recalling the "heyday of the British church under James I" (p. 137). While so very much has already been written about Reformation theology in The Temple (by Richard Strier, Ilona Bell, Eugene Veith, Hodgkins, and others), Doerksen takes a fresh approach to the subject by studying Herbert's local churches. By identifying the parish churches in which the poet worshiped and the clergy that preached in them, Doerksen fills a gap left by Amy M. Charles's biography of Herbert. Thanks to Conforming to the Word, we now know, for example, that as a young boy, Herbert attended the parish 126Book Reviews of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, where he heard the sermons of the vicar, Dr. Thomas Mountfort (a close friend of John Donne), and perhaps the lectures given by Dr. Robert Hill, a "conforming puritan." By Doerksen's account, St. Martin-in-Fields was both a "Royal Parish" and a home many moderate puritans, whose services were "formally 'low' " (pp. 52-57). Further in the account of churches, we learn that at Westminster School Herbert was "exposed to more a formal type of church service," but that "there is little in the [parish church's] accounts to suggest a 'high' form of worship" (pp. 60-61). The chapel that Herbert attended at Trinity College was apparently insufficient by later Laudian standards, and Trinity itself was populous with puritans. The Cambridge University church, Great St. Mary's, was "a typical pre-Laudian conforming church — which meant that it was a suitable target for Laudian attack in the 1630s" (p. 65). Herbert's rural parish church at Bemerton, which balanced the Reading Pew and Pulpit, illustrated his own Protestant "middle way between superstition, and slovenlinesse" (The Country Parson, in Works, ed. F.E. Hutchinson, p. 246). Similarly , Salisbury Cathedral, which Herbert frequently attended, was stripped of many Catholic ornaments and vestments: "Plainly, a committed Laudian must have found services at Salisbury painful, but that was not Herbert's reaction" (p. 70). Even Nicholas Ferrar's Little Gidding, which later won the scandalous reputation of an "Arminian nunnery," valued scripture over sacrament, by Doerksen's account. This "word-centered" worship was, as Conforming to the Word maintains , the prevailing mode of the Jacobean Church of England. As the argument of the book proceeds, Doerksen challenges the reader to accept the notion of "conforming puritans" as influential members of the Jacobean church. While Herbert himself...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-1192
Print ISSN
0161-7435
Pages
pp. 125-128
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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