Restoration and Neoclassical Miscellanea
Posted by: Dasheek Dennis
As history is revealed and the future unfolds, religious controversy is nothing new and nothing old. The friction caused by religion tends to spark a roaring flame grander than the Great Fire of London itself; in this case, that flame being persecution. If the odds of persecution rise against you – imprisoned and silenced as you may be – how will you defend your beliefs? How will you fight back? And if so, what weapons will you employ? Worry not adoring reader. We’ll look to our friend, dissenter of the Anglican Church, John Bunyan as an example. Mr. Bunyan used two of the most deadly, yet unlikely, weapons known to man to oppose the persecution upon him and defend his Faith. These weapons I dare not mention, but for the sake of insight they’re as follows: a pen and paper. Let’s take a closer look at why sometimes the best way to fight is to write.
Refusing to renounce his convicted Christian journey, Bunyan was imprisoned for rejecting the ideals of the Anglican Church (or the Church of England) – deciding to continue his preaching. Despite the odds against him, he birthed, from the womb of Faith, a revolutionary work known as The Pilgrim’s Progress: from This World to That Which is to Come. I’m more than convinced the Church of England would have found this to be sheer rebellion because of its opposing doctrine.
You may be saying “Wait! John Bunyan was a Christian.” “The Church of England is Christian too, right?” “So what’s the deal?” The deal is that during the Restoration, the King, with the implementation of The Act of Supremacy, was the Supreme head of the Church of England. This meant that believers were not only obligated to be loyal to God in the light of the Church, but also obliged to show loyalty and allegiance to the King. In all cases noblemen were required to swear oath and allegiance to the King. Individuals who did not agree with this doctrine did not worship in the Anglican Church, and were branded as “dissenters”; Bunyan, being a Baptist, fell firmly in this category. Legislation passed hindrances for dissenters such as the Test Act, which demanded officials to receive Anglican sacrament, and as Wykes puts it “[it] was designed to destroy the political power of dissenters…” (2). As a result, the King had reign over practices concerning Faith; individuals who did not acknowledge his crown were fined, imprisoned, tagged with harsh punishments, and became the target of persecution. I guess we can see that the Anglican Church was a little more concerned with “formal obedience than real devotion” as Christopher Haigh states (52).
Bunyan’s story encouraged what the Church of England opposed which was a private revelation of the bible. The Church disdained those who met outside of the Church of England for communion, fellowship, and service (Lipking, Noggle, 2178). Many Dissenters thought it morally right to follow their own path to God, finding it unnecessary to even acknowledge the King as means of spiritual revelation; on the other hand, The Church of England found acknowledgment to the monarch to be a prerequisite to spirituality. Hence, the idea of an individual going on a solo mission to “seek an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away” (Bunyan, 2272) is an idea that would have made the Church of England’s skin curl; while “obtain[ing] it[salvation] by your own faith” (Bunyan, 2276) would have made them hiss in alarm.
More specifically to the previously mentioned, The Book of Common Prayer, the Clarendon Codes, and the Act of Uniformity were all attempts to give political power to the Church by requiring believers to take the holy sacrament within the Church (Lipking, Noggle, 2178). As a result, nonconformists were suppressed. Though publically silenced and bounded, Bunyan defends his Faith by using his main character Christian as a representative and a reflection of his contemporary imprisonment. The account of Christian’s persecution in the “Vanity Fair” flies in the face of the Church’s penal acts on dissenters. He reveals the truth by stating “But they… did not believe them to be any other than bedlams and mad… therefore they took them and beat them, and besmeared them with dirt, and then put them into the cage, that they might be made a spectacle to all the men of the fair” (Bunyan, 2276).
Bunyan rejects ideas of uniformity as the narrator states that Christian (a symbol for the average Christian) “would also walk solitarily in the fields, sometimes reading, and sometimes praying; and thus for some days he spent his time.”
An Illustration of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, demonstrating a pilgrim on a plight of their own, seeking God without company.
Bunyan uses writing as a means of war – exposing lies, and revealing truth to keep his Faith Steadfast, and convey his belief to the outside world. Possibly his methods of fighting back can be used to oppose the oppression present today since he used persecution as a tool to make known his Faith. He also implements the same response to persecution as the Apostle Paul does; possibly a quote from the Apostle Paul, who also wrote to his fellow Christians from within a prison, will help to argue Bunyan’s side of the argument as he states “… continue to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (New International Version, Phil. 2.12). Bunyan not only speaks to his contemporary audience, but to the past and the present. As of today, religious persecution (in Christianity more relevantly) is still an issue. Bunyan’s story and context provide a potential sense of solace and encouragement by letting readers know they’re not alone in their spiritual journey. Lastly Bunyan himself internalized the subtle importance of persecution as he states “it is said that in some countries trees will grow, but will bear no fruit because there is no winter there”. In other words, without the harsh times, one will grow, but will produce no good.
Bunyan, John . “From The Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come” The Norton Anthology Of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. London. 2012. 2270-2278.
Lipking, Lawrence, and James Noggle, eds. The Norton Anthology Of English Literature. London: W.W Norton & Company. 2012. Print.
Wykes, David L. “Introduction: Parliament And Dissent From The Restoration To The Twentieth Century.” Parliamentary History (Edinburgh University Press) 24.1 (2005): 1-26.