Alexander Pope and Christianity Essay
Alexander Pope is an eighteenth century writer who spent most of his life suffering. He had a rare form of tuberculosis which left him in constant pain. As a result of this disease, he never grew very tall. He was only about four and a half feet tall and he also experienced migraines (Greenblatt 2714).
Despite all of Pope’s impediments, he managed to write Essay on Man which portrays an extremely optimistic outlook on life. Although Pope says that he “avoids all specifically Christian doctrines,” it is doubtful that he would have this same optimistic outlook without his Christian upbringing (2714). Even though Pope’s Essay on Man is universal, applying to Christian and non-Christian alike, it is apparent that Essay on Man is largely influenced by Christianity.
The most well known line from Essay on Man is “Whatever IS, is RIGHT” (2720.1.294). This conveys the overall main message of the piece of writing. Also, it focuses on that an Almighty Being such as God has created everything and everyone with a plan. Man must trust God’s plan because whatever is God’s plan for you is how your life is supposed to be and you cannot change that plan. Pope’s purpose in an Essay on Man is to “vindicate the way of God to man” (2714). In other words, he is justifying why the world is how it is.
Pope recognizes that there is apparent evil. He argues that there is a reason for all of the evil things even if we do not see the reason at the current moment. Many passages in Epistle 1 of Essay on Man seem to be rooted in Christian belief. Line six states, “A might maze! But not without a plan” (2714.1.6). It has been said many times before that everything happens for a reason and that is what Pope is trying to express in this exact line.
God has a plan for everything and everyone on this Earth, whether it is apparent to them or not. The Bible supports this thought in passage 3:1-8 from Ecclesiastes. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8). The Christian faith holds a strong belief that there is a time for everything and that everything happens for a reason.
There are also direct references to certain Bible stories in Essay on Man. Line eight of Epistle 1 says “Or garden, tempting with forbidden fruit” (2714.1.8), a reference to Genesis 3: 1-24, the Fall of Man. The serpent pressures Eve into eating the fruit on the tree in the center of the garden. Those who are not familiar with the Christian faith would not understand this reference. Pope is saying that temptation has existed since the beginning of time which is proven through this Bible passage.
An additional theme in Essay on Man is that no man is perfect. In Epistle 1, lines 69-70 reads, “Then say not man’s imperfect, Heaven in fault; Say rather, man’s as perfect as he ought” (2716.1.69-70). In 2 Chronicles 6:36, it states, “If they sin against thee, (for there is no man which sinneth not,) and thou be angry with them, and deliver them over before their enemies, and they carry them away captives unto a land far off or near” (2 Chronicles 6:36). Also, in Romans 3:23, it says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Both of these quote are affirming that all men sin which therefore means they are imperfect.
In Section 4 of Epistle 1 of Essay on Man, it talks about how man is ignorant of the future which therefore allows him to be hopeful. In line 85 it states, “O blindness to the future! Kindly given” (2716.1.85). Not knowing what our future holds allows us to instill our faith in God. Even though we do not know what the future holds for us, God does.
Since God knows our future, we put our faith in him that if we live correctly, everything will turn out just how it is supposed to be which is hopefully exactly how we want it to be. Jeremiah 29:11 declares, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11). God tells us his plans for us are good. We trust and believe in him so we trust and believe our futures are filled with greatness.
Pride is a sin and brings humans misery in both Essay on Man and The Bible. In Essay on Man, Pope writes, “In pride, in reasoning pride, our error lies” (2717.1.123). Being prideful is a fault that humans possess. Man is always trying to gain more knowledge and try to reach perfection. Perfection cannot be achieved so this pride actually leads to a human’s despair.
Proverbs 21:4 says, “An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin” (Proverbs 21:4). These thoughts are reinforced in Romans 12:16. It states, “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits” (Roman 12:16). These two quotes both reflect the thoughts of Pope; that pride is a bad and sinful thing.
Lastly, once again at the end of Essay on Man, Pope goes back to the theme that everything happens for a reason. He says, “One truth is clear, Whatever IS, is RIGHT” (2720). This ending statement really lets us know how Pope is feeling. No matter what has happened to him or all the pain and struggles he has been through, he believes that is the right thing. This thought process is a very Christian one.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 states, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Christians believe that no matter what happens in their lives, it is God’s will and that it is happening for a reason. Even if we cannot see the reason, there is one. Since Christians believe in God whom they cannot physically see, they also believe in these reasons they cannot see or understand.
Pope claims to have written Essay for Man for everyone to relate to. While it is easily relatable to all different types of people, a lot of his main beliefs are clearly reflected in many different Bible verses. Pope mainly focuses on themes such as everything happening for a reason, no one is perfect, and that the future is unknown and hard to understand. All of these themes are covered in great depth throughout the Bible. Overall, it is quite evident that Pope’s Christian background largely influenced his beliefs that he displays in Essay on Man, despite his claims otherwise.
Pope, Alexander. “Essay On Man.” The Norton Anthology English Literature: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century. Ed.Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W&W Norton Company, Inc., 2012. 2714 – 2720. Print.