Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Letter B - BUNYAN, JOHN

BUNYAN, JOHN
Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics





John Bunyan is one of the most popular religious writers in English. His most famous work, The Pilgrim's Progress, has been more widely read, and translated into more languages, than any other 17thcentury text apart from the Authorized Version of the Bible. As a Puritan classic, The Pilgrim's Progress combines two aspects of spirituality that are rarely found together. The first is practical spirituality-the application of biblical doctrines and principles to the practical details of everyday social and domestic life. The book is written from a perspective of total Christian commitment and abounds with references and allusions to the Bible, and yet at the same time it is based on close observation and an intimate knowledge of ordinary people, their foibles, predicaments, and mundane lives. The second kind of spirituality is artistic, and involves the original, creative use of attributes and capacities like the imagination. Bunyan's achievement is to fuse these two dimensions of spirituality by representing Puritan virtues and values through allegory rather than through anecdote or direct description. What is most remarkable is that this fusing of dimensions was achieved by a writer of humble origins with little formal education who spent many years of his adult life in prison. Bunyan was born near Bedford in England in 1628, the son of a tinker. He followed his father's trade intermittently, although he also spent 3 youthful years in the parliamentary army. A conversion experience in his mid-20s led him to lay preaching at a Free Church in Bedford, and he also began writing theological and evangelical texts. The restoration of Charles II to the English throne in 1660, however, curtailed the freedom of nonconformist preachers, and he was arrested for holding a "conventicle" (an illegal religious meeting). His absolute refusal to submit to the discipline of the Church of England meant that his prison sentence was drawn out from the original 3 months to a total of 12 years. The prison regime was fairly relaxed, however, and he was free to read and write, to preach inside and sometimes even outside the prison, and to support his family by making shoelaces. After 1672, he was less troubled by the religious authorities, and apart from one further brief imprisonment in 1677 he continued preaching as far away as London until his death in 1688.

The Pilgrim's Progress was begun in prison, but not published until 1678. It is an allegory describing the adventures of the hero Christian on his journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. The symbolic names of characters (such as Faithful, the giant Despair, Mr. Worldly Wiseman and Little-faith) and places (the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, Doubting- Castle) point to the author's intention of identifying Christian vices and virtues, satirizing human vanity and hypocrisy, and drawing attention to the difficulties that beset anyone trying to live a truly Christian life. The purpose of the story is thus a spiritual and moral one, but its simple, homely style has made the story accessible to children, who (as with the stories of C. S. Lewis) may appreciate the adventures without fully understanding the spiritual symbolism until later. The second part of the story, published in 1684, tells how Christian's wife Christiana makes the same pilgrimage.

Altogether, Bunyan wrote some 60 works. Apart from The Pilgrim's Progress, the most famous is his autobiographical Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666), which describes the long spiritual struggles he underwent in his 20s, leading to his career as a preacher. His influence on the development of English literature is significant, and can be detected particularly in Defoe and the early English novel. But his influence on the spiritual life of the country is arguably his most lasting achievement.