Reformation Spirituality is a study of the specific religious experiences and beliefs that Herbert writes about, both in his poetry and in his prose. As such, it also examines the spiritual landscape of seventeenth-century England, a period, for all of its controversies, still dominated by the understanding of God and the human condition articulated by Martin Luther and systemized by John Calvin. Reformation spirituality, which was different both from medieval Catholicism and later Protestantism, is itself little understood by literary historians, who have tended to look to medieval or Counter-Reformation ideas and practices or to a simplistic distinction between “Anglicans” and “Puritans” as ways of understanding the religion of the time. This study presents Reformation spirituality phenomenologically, from the inside. Just as Reformation spirituality illuminates Herbert’s poetry, Herbert’s poetry illuminates Reformation spirituality, showing the experiential and mystical dimensions of an important religious tradition.
“The Word of God,” which was the controlling metaphor of both the Reformation and Herbert’s poetry, the Reformation view of the Church, the new dignity of the “secular” sphere of life, and the impact of the Reformation on the arts and on poetry in particular are all considered in terms of Herbert’s poetry, which stands as that movement’s greatest poetic voice.