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In expounding upon the imagery of the Labyrinth of the World, Comenius takes us—through the eyes of Pilgrim—into an imaginary world that assuredly represents the real one. During Pilgrim’s descent upon the Labyrinth of the World, he observes the organization around six principal avenues. These represent most of life’s associations and ambitions. They are the domestic, trades, intelligentsia, spiritual involvement, governance, and the military. The effort here is not to give you full rundown of the book but to whet the appetite for what God might show you through it.
After Pilgrim’s initiation with Fate, Comenius has him proceed to the world’s marketplace and wade into marriage. There does not seem to be an apparent reason why Comenius introduced one before the other.
At this point Mr. Ubiquitous leads the journey into the marketplace, where Pilgrim has his first practical introduction to the order of things. Pilgrim notices the oddity of people wearing masks in the practicum of hiding their identity or putting on appearances. Comenius allegorizes the falseness of the society of men in this way; how we strut about as “something” in crowds but when we are with equals or by ourselves, we take off the mask to be who we really are. Mr. Delusion presents this imagery as “social prudence.” This note is quite telling.
While Pilgrim noticed few in the world were idle—as in doing nothing—he also observed many were involved in activities from childish games to empty efforts. Comenius is adept at illustrating folly without being direct or disparaging. What does this realization tell us? Are childish games or empty efforts better than idleness?
Among other things the reader meets another re-occurring character: Death. She is a fascinating beast under the pen of Comenius. People, including Pilgrim, are told not to look her in the eyes as she marauds through crowds. She shoots people down with a bow. However, her arrows are gathered from the very people she shoots down. The eloquence of this allegorization is stunning. This section features another illustration.
Comenius then takes us into the realm of marriage with a strange allegorization: couples being weighed to determine their compatibility. The weighing was not about actual weight but represents a balance in other measures by which fitness for togetherness is established. Money figures into the mix. Yet, oddly enough, it was not close to the whole measure Comenius places under the microscope. Perceived respect sometimes balances the scale where money does not figure into the motive for the mate being sought. Odd Fellows often find “balance” in pairing according to the allegorical scale.
Matrimony is not seen in Comenius’s view with quite as bright an eye as many see it in real life. The biographical tinge in this book colors the picture he paints as he relates late in the chapter. One must remember, Pilgrim is not looking for temporal happiness but rather a transcendent continuum. Matrimony in a sinful world, wherein the best of intentions only further death, vanity, violence, and destruction of the world, is indeed harrowing for most. Therefore, the fright, worry, labor, and angst are as great a reality as the fleeting happiness one might experience.
Comenius was not down on marriage nor women. In fact, he was married three times. His first two wives died. In all, he fathered seven children. Unfortunately, only five went on to maturity. His closing statement is perhaps the most poignant: “both within or without, there is sorrow, and that should marriage succeed in the best cases, sweetness is indubitably mixed with bitterness.
Comenius is still weaving his web, which appears dark and gloomy even in areas commonly thought to bring us the greatest happiness. Yet, Comenius’s goal for Pilgrim is a more substantial happiness than the temporal sense. He seeks to scratch an itch that perhaps we all do.
In life, we are given to the acquisition of possessions, busyness, and family in the pursuit of happiness. Such are pursued with vigor and desire by virtually all. The question Comenius asks us: have we considered all the dynamics, to look upon as much grief, folly, and bitterness as gushingly as we do, when the world we live in is as it is and does what it does to us? It’s a reality check. Comenius allegory lays bare many oversimplifications we choose to joy over given the mountain of heartache and problems we deny to see reality in the way we choose.
Has this piece about Comenius’s book made you reconsider how we view aspects of your life? There is much more Comenius will put before us.