February 27: George Herbert, Priest, 1633

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George Herbert

About this Commemoration

George Herbert is famous for his poems and his prose work, A Priest in the Temple: or The Country Parson. He is portrayed by his biographer Izaak Walton as a model of the saintly parish priest. Herbert described his poems as “a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed betwixt God and my soul, before I could submit mine to the will of Jesus my Master; in whose service I have found perfect freedom.”

Herbert was born in 1593, a member of an ancient family, a cousin of the Earl of Pembroke, and acquainted with King James I and Prince (later King) Charles. Through his official position as Public Orator of Cambridge, he was brought into contact with the Court. Whatever hopes he may have had as a courtier were dimmed, however, because of his associations with persons who were out of favor with King Charles I—principally John Williams, Bishop of Lincoln.

Herbert had begun studying divinity in his early twenties, and in 1626 he took Holy Orders. King Charles provided him with a living as rector of the parishes of Fugglestone and Bemerton in 1630.

His collection of poems, The Temple, was given to his friend, Nicholas Ferrar, and published posthumously. Two of his poems are well known hymns: “Teach me, my God and King,” and “Let all the world in every corner sing.” Their grace, strength, and metaphysical imagery influenced later poets, including Henry Vaughan and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Lines from his poem on prayer have moved many readers:

Prayer, the Church’s banquet, Angel’s age,

God’s breath in man returning to his birth,

The soul in paraphrase, the heart in pilgrimage,

The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth.

Herbert was unselfish in his devotion and service to others. Izaak Walton writes that many of the parishioners “let their plow rest when Mr. Herbert’s saints-bell rung to prayers, that they might also offer their devotion to God with him.” His words, “Nothing is little in God’s service,” have reminded Christians again and again that everything in daily life, small or great, may be a means of serving and worshiping God.


I    Our God and King, who didst call thy servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a pastor of souls, a poet, and a priest in thy temple: Give unto us the grace, we beseech thee, joyfully to perform the tasks thou givest us to do, knowing that nothing is menial or common that is done for thy sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

II    Our God and King, you called your servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a pastor of souls, a poet, and a priest in your temple: Give us grace, we pray, joyfully to perform the tasks you give us to do, knowing that nothing is menial or common that is done for your sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Exodus 28:29–30

Philippians 4:4–9

Matthew 5:1–10

Psalm 23

Preface of a Saint (1)

Text from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

Additional link: collection of George Herbert works – http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/herbert/

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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11 thoughts on “February 27: George Herbert, Priest, 1633

  1. New Hebrew Scripture reading: It is about the urim and thummin. Does this in any way match the commemoration and the other lessons? Really? Somebody is going to have to explain.

    Bio. As the two poems mentioned in the bio are hymns in the Hymnal 1982, might the hymnal’s #’s be mentioned?
    He needs a ‘He died in 1633.’statement, which perhaps includes the information that he is buried in the chancel of the tiny church in Bemerton, near Salisbury Cathedral.

      • The purpose of the Scripture readings in commemorations, I hope, is to remind us of God, and the way He used the commemorand in accordance with His purpose. The poem is about ‘putting on Christ’, to use Paul’s phrase, while the Exodus reading is about Aaron putting on the ‘breastpiece of judgement’. This could be a fruitful comparison, but I haven’t read the Exodus passage in enough depth to be sure. Michael’s point, that explanation is needed, still stands. The relevance of the scripture readings to the occasion should be obvious to all attending, or at least to all Christians attending.

  2. I thought it was odd to say he was “of an ancient family”. Aren’t we all? What is the purpose of such a statement? sounds like we are celebrating his “good breeding”.

  3. It’s ‘A Priest to the Temple’, not ‘in the Temple’.

    If we want to commemorate poets who are Christians, he is certainly a good candidate—but not before John Milton.

    In the collect, the habit of quoting hymns or other phrases associated with the commemorand, in this case ‘God and King’, the incorrect ‘Priest in the Temple’, and ‘nothing is menial or common’, smacks of cliche and should be avoided. This is another example of a collect that would be improved by saying less:

    Almighty God, you called your servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a pastor of souls and a poet, Give us grace, we pray, joyfully to devote our own abilities to your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

  4. We sang “Come My Way, My Truth, My Life” this morning at the 10 am Eucharist at St. Johns, Clayton, CA.
    This is one of my favorite hymns, as Herbert provided us a poetic vision and Vaughan Williams provided beautiful music.

  5. The “ancient family” always reminds me of Pooh-Bah, the Lord High Everything Else, who boasts of being “of pre-Adamite ancestral descent.” I don’t think Herbert would approve. But then the whole feast (which I admit must stay) always drives me (layman though I am) back to the Rev. Justin Lewis-Anthony’s book, If You Meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill Him.

  6. A better subtitle would be:”Poet and Parish Priest”.

    This commemoration should be moved to the date of his death, March 1.

    Once again, the first paragraph summarizes the story. I suggest that it become the third paragraph.

    Line 1, second paragraph: substitute “at Montgomery, Wales, on April 3, 1593” for “in”.

    Line 2, second paragraph: substitute a period for the comma after “Pembroke” ; and substitute “. He later became” for “, and”. (He was presumably not acquainted with the King and the Prince at the moment of birth!)

    Line 2, second paragraph: move all the sentence after “acquainted” to follow “court.” in line 3, beginning “, and became”.

    Line 2, third paragraph: begin “In 1630,”, deleting “in 1630” from the end of the sentence.

    Line 7, final paragraph: add “Herbert died on March 1, 1633.”

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