George Herbert

and All Saintly Parish Priests


George Herbert
George Herbert by Robert White in 1674. From National Portrait Gallery (UK)

Public Domain

George Herbert was a classical scholar and gifted musician who gave up a promising career to study for the priesthood. George 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 College. In 1618 he was made reader in rhetoric and in 1620 became public orator of the university. He was noticed by King James I and seemed marked out for a career as a courtier or in public affairs.

To the great surprise of his friends, he decided “to lose himself in a humble way” and seek ordination. For Herbert, the “cure of souls” was the greatest work anyone could undertake. It was a time of real inner struggle, as he had become increasingly dissatisfied with his 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”.

In 1626 he was ordained deacon. William Laud persuaded him to accept the small country parish of Fugglestone with Bemerton, near Salisbury in Wiltshire. He was presented to the living and ordained priest in 1630 and was married earlier the same year to Jane Danvers.

He is known as a great poet, and devotional lyricist. His poems are steeped in the characteristics of the man himself, full of warmth and a genuine love of godliness. His collection of poems includes such well-known hymns as “Teach me, my God and King”, “The God of love my shepherd is”, and “Let all the world in every corner sing”.

In his most famous prose work, 'A Priest to the Temple; or, the Country Parson, his Character, and Rule of Holy Life', He presented a vision of the clergy which became a model for future generations. 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. 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.

BORN: 3 April 1593, Montgomery, United Kingdom.

DIED:1 March 1633, Bemerton, Salisbury, United.Kingdom.