…[George] Herbert emphasises that all knowledge, from any source, is good. “There is no knowledge, but, in a skilful hand, serves either positively as it is, or else to illustrate some other knowledge”. We have already seen, for example in the second of this series, that Herbert deployed imagery from every field of knowledge known in his day ”“ science, rhetoric, philosophy, economics and so on ”“ in his poetry. There is no hint in his work that there might be any kind of conflict between religious truth and other kinds of truth.
This is very important in my own understanding of my faith, and in how I read the Bible and everything else. God is truth. So any kind of truth cannot be something for Christians to be afraid of, whether it is the discovery of evolutionary processes, the detection of the Higgs boson, or archaeological investigations that show that a particular Old Testament story is an inaccurate portrayal of historical events. If these things are true, then God is in them, and we should be unafraid of correcting older perceptions of the truth.
Having said that parsons should esteem all knowledge, Herbert goes on to say that the Bible will, of course, be their most important source of wisdom. But the first thing he says is not that the Bible contains facts, but essential food: “There [the parson] sucks and lives.” There is an echo of his earlier poem here, with its reference to sucking honey, but the force of the image here is of breastfeeding. Herbert is imagining, as the medieval mystics did before him, that he and we are like children at the breast when it comes to reading the Bible.