It was kind of Jess to let me have such an amount of space to go through Pilgrim’s Progress. It is a powerful book, and one that has lasted; though I wonder whether a future generation of youngsters will know it as mine did, and suspect not.
It was not an unproblematic choice for a place like this where our hostess seeks to create an oasis of calm between the City of Atheism and the Castle of Sectarian Disputes. In the eyes of Mr Dawkins Onlywiseman, and that of the Rev. Relevanceonly Fraserman, the application of reason and the nostrums of this age are what are required. In the old Castle, Puritan Barebones and Fr Sedevacantist mount their ancient tussles, as much against those within their denominations and against each other; like Cavafy’s senators, they need the barbarians to give a purpose to their purposeless lives. They all love noise – preferably of conflict – even if they have to stir it up themselves.
Well, no need to do that in Bunyan’s day – it was on tap, so to say. No reader with discernment can fail to see that Bunyan is a fierce anti-Papist. Aye, well well he might have been, as in his day it was identified with the enemies of his country – and the smell of the fires of Smithfield lingered. What do we do with that now?
We do nothing. We acknowledge it. We can explain it if we want. Edward Norman wrote a marvellous study of Anti-Catholicism in Victorian England which really says all there is to say on the subject. Catholics were, for Englishmen (and Scotsmen) much what Jews were for the Germans – and thank God the result was not the same.
Do I agree with Bunyan on Catholics? No I don’t. Why not? Well, in my own place I have said something of my background in Loyalist circles, so I not only know that sort of thinking, I was part of it. I stopped for a simple reason. I began to think for myself and examined what I’d imbibed from childhood.
There are some, who, as part of that process find a road to Rome. Such thoughts never came my way. I’ve never found Bishops or high sacramentalism something I needed. I’ve no problem with those who disagree, but equally no desire to follow them. It isn’t that I can’t see what it gives to those to whom it gives it, it is more that to me it gives nothing.
I want, as Christian did, to hear the word of God put forward with power and with learning, and I want to hear it reflected upon. It is is in that marvellous Book that God speaks to me, aye, and in my prayers too. I’ve no need of a priest or a bishop or indeed any man between me and my Maker. He will judge me, and I’ve no one save myself to blame for my many shortcomings. He has searched my inward parts and He knows all; I am content to throw myself on the mercy of the Triune God, trusting not in my righteousness, but in the Blood of the Lamb.