Gordon Wheeler, Roman Catholic bishop of Leeds, said in an essay in the London Tablet (7/8/67) that our age seems weak in its sense of history. Interestingly enough, the observation occurs in a discussion of what the bishop calls our “crisis of spirituality.” Our flight from the supernatural and rejection of fundamental Christian priorities, according to Bishop Wheeler, might be lessened by a renewed sense of past heroism:

Our age, which has been called almost officially the “Age of Anxiety,” stands particularly in need of inspiration from persons of the past who loved truth for its own sake and who put spiritual values first—the men and women who are indeed for all seasons. One of many in this category is the poet Crashaw, whose depth of Christian persuasion carries no propagandizing at all but only the joy that came from his own living knowledge of the faith.

Richard Crashaw (1613–1649), one of the “metaphysicals,” as Dryden named the group of seventeenth-century English poets that included George Herbert and John Donne, lived at the beginning of the ill-fated Age of Reason. He had just passed his twenty-fourth birthday and was still at Cambridge in 1637, when Descartes’s epoch-making “Discourse” first appeared. As was true of the other metaphysicals, Crashaw’s intellect remained untouched by the so-called new enlightenment; his reason stayed loyally under the domination of revealed Christian truth. The asceticism and singlehearted devotion to truths of the spirit of this “poet and saint,” as his contemporary Abraham Cowley named Crashaw, are mentioned as outstanding traits by all who wrote of him.

Crashaw’s extraordinary command of poetic imagery and verse technique makes his religious poetry unforgettable. At the end of ...

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