The Labyrinth of the World

John Comenius (1592-1670) was a renowned Czech educator, and author of one of the most significant works of Czech literature, The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart (1623), republished in the series “Classics of Western Spirituality.”[1]  Its themes are fellowship of the believer with Christ, and the multitude of ways in which such fellowship can be distracted and undermined.  It’s a bit like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, but more worldly-wise.

Near the start, “the Pilgrim,” having reached an age when he can discern the difference between good and evil, decides to explore the world, “its various estates, classes, callings, occupations, and endeavours,” in order to find his profession and place in the world.

He ventures forth alone, only to be met by “a certain man of brisk gait, spry appearance, and quick speech,” who dismisses Pilgrim’s trust in God and skills of observation, and appoints himself as Pilgrim’s guide.  His name is Searchall, aka Ubiquitous, and he promises to guide Pilgrim through the Cretan labyrinth, a place which is completely unknown to Pilgrim.

So they head off together.  Not long after, a mysterious figure wrapped in mist joins them, named Delusion.  Pilgrim begins to be concerned that his journey is not proceeding as he had expected, and continues on in silence, with downcast eyes and unwilling legs.  Whereupon Ubiquitous accuses him of fickleness and wanting to turn back, and throws a kind of bridle over Pilgrim’s neck, the bit of which slips into his mouth.  Ubiquitous says, “Now you will go compliantly whither you began.”

Pilgrim looks and discovers that the bridle is made from “straps of curiosity” and that its bit is made of “tenacity in resolutions.”

“Then I understood,” says Pilgrim, “that in beholding the world I would no longer travel freely as before, but would be driven on forcibly by the fickleness and insatiable thirst of my own mind”(p. 66).

Then Delusion presses close, and thrusts a pair of spectacles on Pilgrim’s nose, which alters his perception of the world.  Later he learns that the spectacles “were fashioned out of the glass of presumption; and the frames in which they were set were made of horn called habit” (p. 67).

There is little Pilgrim can do about the bridle and bit, but he discovers that by raising his head and peering under the spectacles, he can see clearly and naturally.  And so he proceeds on what will become a remarkable and life-changing journey.

The second edition of The Labyrinth, published in Amsterdam in 1663, has this extended subtitle:

That is, a vivid portrayal, showing that in this world and in all its affairs there is nothing but confusion and entanglement, floundering and drudgery, delusion and deception, misery and anxiety, and finally weariness and despair; but that whoever rests at home in his heart, alone with the Lord God, comes to true and complete joy and peace of mind (p. 55).

1 John 2:15-17

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

John 15:5

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

[1] John Comenius, The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart (translated from the Czech and introduced by Howard Louthan & Andrea Sterk; New York: Paulist Press, 1998).

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