Generous Orthodoxy  

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Note to preachers: Harvard and Yale get George Herbert, for once

Helen Vendler is University Professor at Harvard and Langdon Hammer is chairman of the English department at Yale. In this week's New York Times Book Review (10/16/05) Langdon reviews Vendler's new book, Invisible Listeners, and in the process manages to cut through to the very heart of the gospel to remind us of the mandate granted to every preacher. Note especially the phrases "the ordaining function" and "the divine agency." Langdon-cum-Vendler interpret Herbert to give us a superb Pauline definition of justification (better translated as "rectification"). Vendler is analysing one of Herbert's most well-known poems. Here is Hammer's key paragraph:

[Vendler makes a] fine discrimination in her discussion of "Love (III)," Herbert's dialogue between Love [the person of Christ] and the poet. The poet feels unworthy to join in Love's banquet, which signifies both the Eucharist and general human connection. Love, a gracious host with exquisite manners, asks if there is anything the drooping poet lacks:

A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, you shall be he.

Vendler notes the ordaining function of Herbert's "shall be." In contrast to the simple "will be" of futurity, it not only says the poet will be worthy, but promises, through divine agency, to make him so.