Saturday, 10 February 2018

Echoes of Atlantis

Homer, Virgil, Bunyan and Pilgrim

Here is an "in-memoriam" piece on John Bunyan and Pilgrim's Progress.  It is from the pen of Vishal Mangalwadi, of Allahabad, India.

This idea of the heavenly Jerusalem inspired great literary works such as Pilgrim's Progress (1687) by John Bunyan (1628-88), which drove biblical spirituality deep into the soul of Western civilization.  Unlike Homer's hero [Odysseus] Bunyan's pilgrim is not returning home.  Bunyan wrote, "I saw a man . . . with his face [turned away] from His own House, a Book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back."  Nor did Pilgrim follow Virgil's hero [Aeneas] to found another imperial city.  Pilgrim set his face on a journey to the celestial city, the City of God.  His weapon was not a sword, but a book--the Bible.  His goal was not to battle the proud and impose his law upon the conquered.  His first goal was deliverance from his own burden of sin and overcoming overpowering temptations.

Bunyan's hero is poles apart from Homer's heroes, Achilles and Odysseus.  Achilles is huge, swift, immortally beautiful, and the "most terrifying of all men".  Odysseus is a trickster, a master of disguises and artful deceptions, who is able to endure countless hardships to cleaver to his one virtuous purpose--to return home to his family.  But in England, Bunyan's vision of the hero as a pilgrim won out.  For four centuries following Bunyan, English speaking Christians have sung of the heroism of pilgrimage into the subconscious of their culture:
Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither, One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather,
There's no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avow'd intent
To be a pilgrim.
Bunyan was thrown in prison for three months for refusing to follow an Elizabethan Act against religious freedom.  He ended up spending a total of twelve years in prison on different counts and occasions, giving him time to write sixty books.  Pilgrim's Progress was translated into Dutch, French, and Welsh within his lifetime.  Since then it has been translated into more than two hundred languages.  After the Bible, it is the second most translated and published book.  It was through this book that Puritanism entered the mainstream of English religious life.

Bunyan's pilgrims succeeded where Homer's and Virgil's heroes could not, as Bunyan's pilgrims built cities and nations that were clean outside because they emphasized cleanliness inside--in the inner life of the spirit.   [Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2011), p.187f.]

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