Pilgrim's Progress

Justifying the Ways of God to Men: Context and Ideology in Paradise Lost and The Pilgrim's Progress College

‘I may assert eternal providence,

And justify the ways of God to men.’

(Book I, II. 25-26, p. 4)

It would be strange for any reader not to see that John Milton’s most famous work, Paradise Lost, is a deeply religious text, simply by glancing at its title; when one reads the epic it suggests that Milton felt convinced of his faith as a Protestant Christian considering the effort, time, and the several references to the Bible found within it. However, whatever Milton’s conviction was with regards to religion, his famous words found above also show that there was a certain sense of ‘the failure of religion’ at the beginning of the long eighteenth century. Why does he need to ‘justify the ways of God to men’ (emphasis added)? If God’s ways need to be justified, surely such a justification is in reaction to doubts and criticism cast on God and religion in the first place. John Bunyan also begins his most famous work, The Pilgrim’s Progress, by acknowledging a sense of unease with regards to religion was not uncommon. In an attempt to relate to the audience, Bunyan asks ‘Wouldst thou read Riddles, and their Explanation, / Or else be drownded in thy Contemplation?’ (p. 7). Though both works are in support of Christianity, both works...

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