[Disponible en español]

Decorative Initial Lsaac Williams' Cathedral, a Tractarian imitation of George Herbert's poetic anthology, The Temple, links the architectural features of the physical cathedral with the spiritual qualities of Christ's Church. Williams's volume, subtitled "The Catholic and Apostolic Church of England," opens with a quotation from the Book of Timothy: "The house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." This quotation effectively associates the physical body of the cathedral with the spiritual presence of Christ that should ideally inhabit the Church.

According to G. B. Tennyson's Tractarian Poetics, the Tractarians emphasized the doctrine of reserve, used frequent analogies in a watered-down version of Biblical typology, and viewed poetry as an emotional outpouring. The Tractarians brought this outpouring under the strict control of emotional reserve in order to set themselves apart from the Evangelicals, whose belief in the felt experience of conversion, coupled with a willingness to be persecuted (as Christ had been), often resulted in the flashy excesses of such preachers as Spurgeon.

This kind of association may fall into the category of typical Tractarian analogy. By way of contrast, a poet who uses Biblical typology, consciously or not, would probably emphasize the Biblical passage where Christ calls Simon "Peter, the rock of My church," and thus make more complex connections between the rock of Christ's church and Christ Himself. However, Williams is content to draw passive associations, rather like a lazy student who says of one work that it reminds him or her of another. Williams links the Western Front of the cathedral to "Baptismal Promises"; the cloisters, to a jumble of "ecclesiastical sonnets" (whose unwieldy range of subject matter extends from "The City of God" to "The Church in Scotland" to "The Consolations of Baptism"); the nave, to traditional creeds such as the "Lord's Prayer" and also to the "Churchmen's Friends," which include George Herbert. Williams invokes Herbert almost as a poetic Muse:

Meek Herbert, ere of thee I sing,
'Tis thou must lend the string,
On Jesus' breast thou art asleep,
Or thou wouldst wake and weep,
That any one should sing of thee
Laid in thy poverty.

But all our Church doth bear along
The echoes of thy song. (164)

Here Williams unwittingly alludes to the weakness of his own poetry; its lack of emotional vitality renders "Jesus' sleeping breast" in two dimensions. His writing only echoes Herbert's, painting pretty pictures to reflect the Church instead of elaborating and extending its typological meaning in relation to Christ.

Williams devotes more text to the churchmen's friends (see "The Sepulchral Recesses"), the patriarchs and prophets (as "The Pillars of the Nave"), the apostles (as "The Pillars of the Choir"), and the ancient fathers (as depicted in the stained-glass "Side Windows") than he does to Christ, whom he covers in five scattered pages ("The Coming Christ," pp. 57-58, and "The Crucifixion," pp. 252-54). The figures he writes about are static and graceful as the physical church that represents them. Although Williams' Cathedral is aesthetically pleasing, it fails to infuse the Bible and the church with the immediacy and closeness of Christ that characterizes Biblical typology at its best.


Victorian Web Overview Religion

Last modified 1998