George Herbert was born into an aristocratic family and brought up by his devout, widowed mother. He went up to Cambridge University and in 1614 secured a fellowship at Trinity Col-lege. In 1618 he was made reader in rhetoric and in 1620 became public orator of the univer-sity. He was noticed by the king and seemed marked out for a career as a courtier or in public affairs.
This classical scholar and gifted musician to the great surprise of his friends, decided “to lose himself in a humble way” and seek ordination. For Herbert, the “cure of souls” was the great-est work anyone could undertake. It was a time of real inner struggle, as he had become in-creasingly dissatisfied with his mode of life. When, as Izaak Walton engagingly put it, Herbert “chang’d his sword and silk Cloaths into a Canonical Coat”, all things became new to him; he discovered peace and “the power to change my life”.
Herbert’s friendship with Nicholas Ferrar provided a timely influence, and he drew much in-spiration for his own life in Christ from the community at Little Gidding. In 1626 he was or-dained deacon. William Laud persuaded him to accept the small country parish of Fuggle-stone with Bemerton, near Salisbury in Wiltshire. He was ‘presented to the living’ and or-dained priest in 1630 and was married earlier the same year to Jane Danvers.
In his most famous prose work, A Priest to the Temple; or, the Country Parson, his Character, and Rule of Holy Life, Herbert sets out the attributes of the kind of parson he himself hoped to become. Herbert believed that his parishioners should never have to look to him in vain for the help they needed. He set a very high standard, yet, as a humble and devoted priest, he himself fulfilled in so many ways the ideal depicted in his writings. He was well-read, moderate, disciplined, a man of prayer, and devoted to the souls in his care. Kind and hospitable, with a gracious and generous spirit, he had a transparent sincerity. Prayer and preaching had equal place in his services, each bearing upon the other. Unfortunately, his ministry as a parish priest was brief.
Herbert was one of the earliest devotional poets of the Anglican Church. His poems are steeped in the characteristics of the man himself, full of warmth and a genuine love of godli-ness. Some are still used as hymns: “Teach me, my God and king”; “The God of love my shepherd is”; “Let all the world in every corner sing”. In his other writings, Herbert presented a vision of the clergy which became a model for future generations. Although he had fewer than three years in his own parish, his life was such that his name continues to be remembered as a shining example of faithful ministry. In his other writings, Herbert presented a vision of the clergy which became a model for future generations. Although he had fewer than three years in his own parish, his life was such that his name continues to be remembered as a shin-ing example of faithful ministry.
BORN: 3 April 1593, Montgomery, England.
DIED: 1 March 1633, Bemerton, Salisbury, England