C H A P T E R I
The ChristianPoet in His Times
JUDGING from the kinds of poems he produced and from his
attitudes and statements about poetry, Prudentius' self-
consciousness as a poet is fundamentally Christian. By this
I mean that he is not simply a poet professing and occasion
ally expressing a religious point of view (as Claudian does),
but one who in writing is primarily motivated by religious
concerns. The purpose of this chapter is to define these
religious concerns, especially in respect to their individual
and social dimensions. Such
C O N T E N T S
CRITICAL INTRODUCTION 3
CHAPTER I: The ChristianPoet in His Times 29
CHAPTER II: Psychic Warfare and Worship:
The Form and Mode of Conversion 109
CHAPTER III: Salvation History and the Soul 168
CHAPTER IV: The Assault Upon Vergil 234
morning I saw half a score of wild geese fly away
in the crisp cool air; they were right overhead at first
and then farther and farther away, and at last they sep-
arated into two flocks, like two eyebrows over my eyes,
which now gazed into the land of poetry.
JN, vol. 1, Journal DD: 96[a], p. 243
As the poet’s song echoes with a sigh from his own un-
happy love, so too will all my inspired talk about the
ideal of being a Christian echo with a sigh: Alas! I am
not a Christian, I am only a Christianpoet and thinker.
JN, vol. 5, NB10: 200, p. 379
machia,} Such reductive conclusions have continually been
drawn.14 Even Charles Witke, who has written with fine
sensitivity on Prudentius' lyrics and who is deeply informed
about the history of Christian hexameters, vastly misjudges
Prudentius' classicism: thus Prudentius "is a Christianpoet
because of his ability to write within a culture which was
12 Christianorum Maro et Flaccus—Richard Bentley, Horatius Flac-
eus (Cambridge, 1711), on Carm. II. 2. 15.
13 For Horace in Prudentius, see Herrmann Breidt, De Aurelio
Prudentio Clemente Horatii
complete sense only
when viewed from the Christian perspective that Antony's
allusion to the messianic psalms explicitly invites"59 seems
at once unfounded, pretentious, and false. Bryant repeatedly
finds unique advantages to being a Christian which I must
confess that I fail to discover. Somehow, Mr. Bryant feels,
the Christianpoet has a poetic advantage over the non-
Christianpoet, though I cannot imagine what theological
grounds could justify such an assumption. In the beautifully
drawn pagan atmosphere of Antony and Cleopatra, one
feels as far removed as
especially to the work of Hans Spanke. For a summary, see his
Beziehungen zwischen romainischer und mittelalterlicher Lyrik (Berlin, 1936).
Idem, "Aus der Formengeschichte des mittelalterlichen Liedes" (in the journal
Geistige Arbeit [Sept. 5, 1938]). On the question of priority (southern France or
St. Gall?), d. idem in HVift, XXVII, 381 and ZfdA (1934),1.
22 Alfred Weber, Kulturgeschichte ais Kultursoziologie (Leiden, 1935), 389.
scruple as the question-may the Christianpoet mention the Muses?-
could not affect him. The Commedia is not an epic in the
. 35). In other poems a "friend" or messenger—
or a better self—takes the divine part in directing or rebuking or aiding
the speaker, providing thereby an analogue to the catechising which
Herbert urged so forcefully as central to the duties of the country
parson.35 In "Artillerie" a seeming shooting star rebukes the speaker
for expelling good motions from his heart. In "Jordan (II)" a "friend"
provides a directive to the would-be Christianpoet struggling to divest
his praises of artifice and self-display, to "Copie out" the sweetness love
has already penned
, by entering the
service of Christ, is freed from that most restrictive of all bondages,
the bondage to himself, so the mind is freed from the strictest limits
of its own nature.
From these basic interpretations it is usually expected that further
development will move in the general direction of systematic theology
or of philosophy and logic, but that is not the direction in which we
shall move. Our concern is primarily with the great Christianpoets,
who express a full vision of Christianity operating in the fullness of
life. The poets with whom we shall
these views in
Milton on Himself (New York: Oxford University Press, 1939).
2 Ben Jonson, "Prologue," Every Man in His Humour.
3 Comus, I460.
4 Vaughan, "Idle Verse," Silex Scintillans; Herbert, "Sonnet to his Mother";
Crashaw, "On a Treatise of Charity"; Marvell, "To Mr. Richard Lovelace."
5 Of Education, CPW, n, 404, 405.
β The Reason of Church Government, CPW, 1, 812.
M I L T O N ' S E T H I C S
study . . . joyn'd with the strong propensity of nature" he might be-
come a serious Christianpoet for his nation in all times.7
The time-honored concerns