Essay on Christianity In English Renaissance Poetry


Throughout many renaissance and enlightenment works the role and basis of Christianity ends up lost in translation. Despite the intention of many works to teach a lesson or encourage self-reflection and re-dedication to faith, the storylines veered too far from the center. The result of the works seeming pure fiction works or too boring and meticulously internalized for the reader to include themselves in the narrative. The works analyzed within this paper are Everyman (the morality play), The Sun Rising by John Donne, and Samson Agonistes by John Milton. While these works do well to flesh out the determination, commitment, and reflection within all believers, they also spend large amounts of time on unclear discussion, lengthy expressions of complicated internalization, and the condemnation of mankind for all its faults. That is not to mention the most controversial issue, God as a dictator, convinces all who read as God the angry, unfair, petty judge. Man chooses not to seek out such a God, instead of turning to their own devices. The basis of human motives revolves around the idolization of physicality.

Everyman portrays the role and interaction of death with a man. In a way this is a keystone of the Christian worldview for men are not supposed to fear the coming of death; however unrealistic it may be in life itself, death in the Bible is fair in that it is God himself returning the believer to the Kingdom. But that is as Christian as this work gets for it proceeds to bash the divine as a judgmental God. Instead of speaking of love and mercy – a notion which the author barely covers at the end – God is a ruler that demands obedience and respect as he resolves that “All that liveth appaireth fast. / Therefore I will, in all the haste, / Have a reckoning of every man’s person” (p.509, l.44-46). It is very naïve to assume man does not recognize death. Even in a society such as today when other things are idolized and aging creams appear and movies, songs make people feel immortal, it is because one will not exist forever that individuals act in such ways. It is not Christian to ignore the presence of death or to barter with it as Everyman does in his attempt to persuade death as he says, “Oh Death, thou comest when I had thee least in mind / Yea, a thousand-pound shalt thou have / And defer this matter till another day” (p.511, l.119,122&3).  Neither is it Christian to portray death as coming on its own and denying the Father (God) to child (human) relationship essential to Christianity. This work also demonstrates how a man loves money, buys friends (is cheap in relationships), takes goodness for granted, is not penitent, practices idolatry, and fails to praise God sufficiently. As wealth is the greatest vice and temptation, this work does well to investigate how money in a man's mind is equal to no need of God and idolizes earthly wealth as he believes “Alas, I have thee loved and had great pleasure / All my life-days on good and treasure” (p.518, l.427-8). It almost had Christian connotations at the end, until the author claims that man “Now hath suffered that we all shall endure, / The Good Deeds shall make all sure” (p.528, l.888-9). It is not by works but faith, and man is not the one to suffer for all to endure. 

The Sun Rising depicts man as the divine itself. Not only is it ridiculous to think that if the sun were to “Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere, / This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere” (p.1376, l.29&30), but the notion to talk to the sun itself does little to no good and is no way in line with a Christian worldview. In this work, the lovers do as they please without the least mention of God, yet it is biblical in that they love another as themselves and view them, and nature as something in the forefront of cognition. This poem loses its argument however in that the characters place faith in physical pleasure to see the beauty of God in nature and humans but not as his love or even coming from him. It even goes as far as to deny the importance of the believing community or nature of humanity as God’s gift, instead claiming that alone “She is all states, and all princes I, / Nothing else is” (p.1376, l.21-2). When a man is the ruler of his fate, wealth amounts to beauty, and one calling is to search to fulfill the desire for warmth and companionship. Man does not want to be alone, so he idolizes company. Samson Agonistes also includes the idea of an unjust God. The suggestion is that God is selfish and using a man for his purposes to glorify himself and impose mortality. Transience becomes the reason strength is viewed as man’s greatest asset. The proof of man’s worth and validity lies in his ability to attract a crowd, assert dominance, and sell his image. Faithfulness, good character, devotion, and love for others are not even considered within this work as things worth praise and following. The irony lies in that even though strength is the foundation of Samson’s fame, he despairs at this gift for God gave these abilities to earth just to take them away. Following this, nearly all of the characters attest to the common theme that man is innocent of his own causation. Despite physical pleasure again become idols, and the way substance of character alone founds the ability of man to reason himself to glory, God is still placed in the rule of judgment and lacking vindication.

They are very similar in the way they value physical beauty and pleasure over faith and substance. They also include man viewing his own words and actions as the end all be all, the deciding factor in the way their world turns. Viewing God as a separate entity, a divine existence with little contact to life on earth. While these works suggest a man in a position of caring for the earth and point to the lack of intervention, they also complain of God as a judgmental ruler or haughty child just waiting for the opportunity to punish those who do him wrong. These works in themselves pose as oxymorons as they both draw attention to God’s gift of free will as well as the existence of punishment for sin. The characters within the works blame others for their punishments and God’s judgment upon them, refusing instead to recognize the role they play within the carrying out of God’s will. In the sun rising, a man casts the blame on the sun, get a curtain of shutters. Man is portrayed as lazy or crafty when attempting to convince others to take the blame or do his bidding. Differences lie in the attitudes of the main characters. While they may have the same motivations, execution differs greatly in the ways they procure their desires.

What has changed in this worldview, a Christian one acknowledges God before action not during or after. It also includes the idea of God as a gracious loving father, not a cruel dictator. Not much has changed concerning the idolization of physical pleasure and wealth, but the acknowledgment of such a mindset has heightened awareness and increased dedication to focusing oneself on other causes. This world is now very invested in what everyone else is doing. While not all attention is good or welcome, and many people still act on their own impulses for their own benefit, this world has become much more informed of the struggles others face and can become much more invested and interactive within other cultures and communities. 

These works are relevant for it explores the dark side of human nature and emphasizes the existence of those who blame God for the consequence upon action, it teaches a community what not to do, and maintains the idea of punishment within a society of no consequences. These works draw attention to the fact that actions have consequences. While modern society celebrates individuality, human accomplishment, and a whole slew of other concepts, the idea of impeding someone else’s goals or crushing those in opposition of differences is at the forefront of discussion. People today will not acknowledge a God whom they think is going to judge them. It is also important to acknowledge the role of physical beauty in society, while these works directly reflect mentality today as much as then, they do well to prove that looks alone do no good and stress the importance of good character and humility.

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