Styles of Belief, Devotion, and Culture

Picturing the Religious Life

[Click on image to enlarge] While conflicts intensified in England over issues of doctrine, liturgy, worship, and church organization, the religious poetry of the early seventeenth century and various pictorial images represented the religious life in terms that spoke to these conflicts.

The frontispiece to the Authorized Version of the Bible (1611), popularly known as the King James version, at once identified the king with the holy book of Christendom and also, with its twin images of Moses and the high priest Aaron flanking the title, firmly asserted the role of the bishops in the Church of England (the bishops claimed descent from Aaron) against Presbyterianism.

Images from the popular emblem books of the early seventeenth century drew sometimes on continental Catholic and sometimes on Protestant traditions. The first two here are of the Jesuit "school of the heart" kind, specifically the Schola Cordis by Benedict van Haeften (1629); they are sometimes suggestive of George Herbert's "heart" imagery. The representation of both the Divine child and Anima (the soul) working on the heart suggests human cooperation in the work of redemption. By contrast, the next three heart images are from the Emblemata Sacra by the Lutheran Daniel Cramer; often suggestive for both Donne and Herbert, they represent the hand of God acting alone and powerfully on the human heart.

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The two emblems below invite specific comparisons. The image of the risen Christ in the heart — suggesting the New Testament church replacing the Old Testament Temple, which stands in the background — is from Zacharias Heyns's Emblemes Chrestienes (1625) and illustrates Herbert's governing concept in his volume of religious poetry, The Temple. The other image, originally from the Jesuit Hermannus Hugo's Pia Desideria (1624) and included in several Protestant collections, invites comparison with Marvell's Dialogue between the Soul and the Body (NAEL 8, 1.1699–1700).

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The famous Bernini sculpture of Saint Teresa in ecstasy with the Seraph seems much like the conception the Roman Catholic poet Crashaw attributes to a painter in The Flaming Heart (NAEL 8, 1.1651–53).

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