Just as it is visible throughout history, the rise of Christianity commandeers a certain presence in the texts. Having not yet existed or begun to spread, Christianity finds itself absent from Virgil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Subsequent works, more specifically Augustine’s Confessions and Dante’s Inferno, however, seem to feature Christian beliefs and ideals; their basis is that of a monotheistic, religious doctrine stemming from the teachings of Christ and concerned with a relationship to God and an ultimate place in Heaven. Confessions has explicit references to the Catholic Church, particularly in the characters of Ambrose, the bishop who was influential in Augustine’s perception of the Bible, and Monica, Augustine’s devoutly Catholic mother. The book itself is a portrayal of Augustine’s slow, spiritually painful conversion to Catholicism and a promulgation of the fulfillment found when in unity with God. Dante’s Inferno, on the other hand, along with other works of the Divine Comedy, has more of a focus on the afterlife, the consequences dependent upon the kind of life that was led. Hell seems to be the destination for non-Christians and for bad Christians. Aside from this, Dante also seems to be bridging the gap between the old pagan religions and Christianity, something that had already been attempted through the appropriation of pagan practices and customs by leaders of the Catholic Church.
The schisms and reformations that took a hold of the Church, including the resulting religious denominations and general disconnect, can also be traced through the texts. Montaigne’s Essays in particular show an affinity for relativistic and humanistic ideals that are very much out of line with the teachings of the Catholic Church, most of which dictate the universal truth of God. As a Catholic in his time, Montaigne was subject to the corruption and deceit that shrouded the Church. Montaigne’s writings indeed show a break away from traditional, Catholic views into more reflective ones that seem to draw from reason and earthly happiness. Montaigne also witnessed the reformation movements of Martin Luther and John Calvin, including the split in the Catholic Church and its hasty, desperate actions attempting to rectify itself and hold on to as many followers as possible. The Christian West was thus consequently divided on Christianity and what it meant to lead a Christian life. For once, there was a difference in being Christian and being Catholic. Western literature reflected all of this. While some of Shakespeare’s works included certain religious, Christian allusions, “King Lear” failed to do so for the most part due to the subject being based on an old, pagan king of Britain, King Leir. Cervantes’ Don Quixote has certain characters that seem to exemplify the role religion played in everyday life. Sancho, Don Quixote’s squire, refers to himself as a Christian on multiple occasions, drawing several connotations that he uses to explicate his actions and beliefs. Nonetheless, he does not seem too invested in fully taking part in particular Christian practices or customs. Similarly, the role of the priest seems to be a self-righteous condemnation of the follies of knight errantry and the detrimental effects that secular literature can have on people, seeming to draw from themes present in Augustine’s Confessions. There isn’t an actual importance placed on religion itself, though, and the book seems to focus on maintaining a fictionalized history utilizing religion because it must, as a social construct present yet not totally influential in the lives of the congregation. Milton’s Paradise Lost, in contrast, deals with issues that are borne out of Christian Scripture – the fall of Lucifer and of mankind, with the Son of God playing a role in these events and promising to perform an ultimate sacrifice. Leaving off with the expulsion of Adam and Eve, Paradise Lost leaves off with the as of yet unfulfilled promise of Christ’s to die for the sake of humanity, as well as His resurrection and ascension into Heaven, the former of which marks the beginning of Christianity.
Subsequent novels in the LitHum syllabus express the same divide that existed within the Christian community; there is a difference in the significance of Christianity as well as in the prominence of the different forms/denominations that existed. Characters are not necessarily defined by their Christian religion, if they are so portrayed, but Christianity does seem to be defined in the texts by the characters that practice it. In Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Collins believes his status as clergyman to be asking that he exemplify the qualities of leading a truly Christian life. As a married member of the clergy, he shows one of the differences between the Anglican and Catholic churches, clergy members of the latter not being able to marry. With his position and his view on life, Mr. Collins is the most Christian character, and yet, he is also probably one of the most foolish. Austen’s satirization of society in her novel also seems to ring true for a debasement of religion. The main characters in the novel are assumed to partake in the national religion, of the Church of England, but the beliefs and doctrine of Christianity do not have much influence in their everyday decision-making process. Similarly, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment employs the use of Christian characters, most notable of which is Sonya, yet these have more significance to the work as a whole, providing a contrast with the main character of Raskolnikov. There are specific religious references, like the reading of the story of Lazarus, and they help to prove a point on good, evil, and what lies in between. Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, is singular in its apparent disavowal of religion. This can be taken in many ways, of course, and there are many who have studied the use of religious discourse in relation to non-religious objects and issues present in the novel. Nonetheless, To the Lighthouse is not overtly or nonchalantly religious like many of the texts from the course syllabus. Instead, it uses certain literary techniques that allow it to question and explore particular subject matters, some of which had already been answered by religion, like death and loss and the meaning of life. Overall, as can be seen, the texts from this semester provide a lens to the rise and splintering of the Catholic Church, of Christianity itself.