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Why Crashaw was not Catholic: The Passion and Popular Protestant Devotion

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Abstract

For centuries, the poetry of Richard Crashaw has been marginalized as fundamentally alien to the mainstream of English devotional literature. In this prevailing view, Crashaw's poetry is sensuous rather than intellectual, affective rather than spiritual, and Roman Catholic rather than natively English and Protestant. This essay challenges this view, and argues that Crashaw's poetry (written while he was a conforming Protestant) is immersed in a mainstream English crucifixion piety derived from the writings of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a devotional tradition that was immensely popular among Protestant readers and writers throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Ultimately, when we examine Crashaw's poetry within the contexts of Bernardine Passion piety and the print histories of Bernardine devotional texts, Crashaw becomes a central figure in mainstream English religious writing of his time, as native to the period's devotional traditions as Donne or Herbert. (J. R. T.)

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