Were I an Epicure, I could bate swearing

Take not his name, who made thy mouth, in vain:
It gets thee nothing, and hath no excuse.
Lust and wine plead a pleasure, avarice gain:
But the cheap swearer through his open sluce
Lets his soul runne for nought, as little fearing.
Were I an Epicure, I could bate swearing.

The Church-porch. Perirrhanterium. George Herbert 1633

The OED discusses two broader sense groups for epicure. The first relates to Epicureanism, a philosophical school. The second to sensual pleasure or cultivating refined taste. The dictionary outlines two sub-groups within the first sense.

a. A follower or student of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 b.c.); = epicurean n. 1. Now historical and rare.
Epicurus, whose philosophy was in various ways a refinement of the materialistic atomism of Democritus, distinctively taught (i) that pleasure is the only intrinsically valuable thing, though a tranquil life of moderation is the best way to secure it, and (ii) that the gods are not to be feared since they do not concern themselves at all with human affairs.

†b. More loosely: a person who disbelieves in the divine government of the world, and in a future life; a person who recognizes no religious motives for conduct. Obsolete.

From “epicure, n. and adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2021. Web. 27 April 2021.

The OED places Herbert’s usage in the latter subgroup.

†b. More loosely: a person who disbelieves in the divine government of the world, and in a future life; a person who recognizes no religious motives for conduct. Obsolete.
1545 G. Joye Expos. Daniel (xii.) f. 222 He describeth the furye of the Epicures..euen to contempne the very god.
1549 T. Solme in H. Latimer 2nd Serm. before Kynges Maiestie To Rdr. sig. Aviiiv Or els beleue (as ye Epecurs do) that after this life ther is neither hel nor heauen.
1633 G. Herbert Church-porch in Temple 3 Were I an Epicure, I could bate swearing.
1691 A. Wood Athenæ Oxonienses I. 819 A professed unpreaching Epicure and Arminian.

From “epicure, n. and adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2021. Web. 27 April 2021.

A scholar discusses Herbert’s possible intended meaning:

Obviously, this stanza is a condemnation of those who break the Fifth Commandment, “thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; because the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Ex. 20: 7). Interestingly, Herbert raises this sin above the sins of gluttony and greed in the statement “Lust and wine plead a pleasure, avarice gain.” The greater emphasis on vocal communication implies that while there is some small, inadequate excuse for some sins, no excuse exists for swearing. Swearing is a misuse of communication from which nothing can be gained. As he says, it is a sin of laziness, and even a follower of Epicurus, the pagan sect that—at least theoretically—allowed for all earthly pleasures would scorn, or “bate” it. This injunction, like many of the concrete sanctions, is directed at an individual about his or her behavior in and out of church.

p.61 ‘ONE BODY AND ONE SPIRIT’ Randi Marie Smith

Explore other instances of usage for Epicure here.

Other Interesting Resources:

Ray, Robert H., and George Herbert. “The Herbert Allusion Book: Allusions to George Herbert in the Seventeenth Century.” Studies in Philology, vol. 83, no. 4, 1986, pp. i-182. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4174252. Accessed 27 Apr. 2021.

Lisa Diane Needs PROVING ONE GOD, ONE HARMONIE: THE PERSONA OF GEORGE HERBERT’S THE TEMPLE AND ITS POETIC LEGACY

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