John Amos Komensky was born in 1592 in Moravia. Well educated at several European universities, he became minister of a church at Fulneck, Moravia. War caused him to flee to Brandeis but his wife and children died along the way. In a hut in Brandeis he wrote the spiritual masterpiece from which our selections are taken, The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart.
The wars in Europe continued to harass Komensky all his life. He lived in Silesia, then England, where the civil war in 1642 forced him to move to Sweden. He was appointed Moravian (Unity) Bishop of Lissa in 1648. Poland and Sweden began to fight, resulting in Komensky’s home and library being destroyed by fire. He moved to Amsterdam. He died there and is buried at the church of the French Protestants. Following the scholarly custom of the day, Komensky took a Latin name, Comenius, by which he is found in most historical writings.
According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, Komensky is considered the father of modern education. He advised Protestant governments all over Europe. He was the first to promote universal education, picture books for children written in their native tongues (instead of Latin), and other innovations. His life belies the notion that those who believe in heaven and hell do not focus on improving life on earth.
This selection is one of those that is not happy and bright. But, to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, the “good news” of Christ does not begin with comfort and affirmation. Hang on; our next installment continues with Komensky’s vision of Christ.
John Amos Kemensky, from The Labyrinth of the World, Chapter 26
(The Pilgrim beholds the Dying and Dead. The Bottomless Abyss beyond the World.)
3. Looking now about me, I behold the ways of the dying, of whom there were many; and I see a mournful thing–to wit, that all gave up the ghost with horror, lamentation, fear and trembling, knowing now what would befall them and whither they would go. Although I was afraid, yet wishing to ever acquire more knowledge, I walked through the rows of the dead to the limits of the world and of light. Here, where others, shutting their eyes, blindly cast forth their dead, I threw off the glasses of Falsehood, rubbed my eyes, and leaned forward as far as I dared. And I behold awful darkness and gloom, of which the mind of man can find neither the end nor the ground; and there was here naught but worms, frogs, serpents, scorpions, rottenness, stench, the smell of brimstone and pitch that overwhelmed body and soul, generally unspeakable horror.
(The Pilgrim falls to the Ground terrified.)
4. Then My bowels quaked, my whole body trembled, and, terrified, I fell swooning to the ground, and cried mournfully: “Oh, most miserable, wretched, unhappy mankind! This then, is your last glory! This the conclusion of your many splendid deeds! This the term of your learning and much wisdom over which you glory so greatly! This the rest and repose that you crave after countless labors and struggles! This the immortality for which you ever hope! Oh, that I had never been born, never passed through the gate of life! For after the many vanities of the world, nothing but darkness and horror are my part! O God, God, God! God, if you are a God, have mercy on wretched me!”