The Labyrinth Of The World and The Paradise Of The Heart * John Comenius (1663)

This review is based on a Dutch translation from the hand of R. Oosterhuis from 1925 that was slightly revised and republished in 1983. It was published by Rozekruis Pers, the publishing house of the Lectorium Rosicrucianum. Involved in the Lectorium is Joost Ritman, the founder of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, who published Comenenius’ most famous book Via Lucis which was how I came to know Comenius many years ago.

The present book is a very amusing read, much easier than Comenius’ other titles. It is somewhat of a novel and an autobiography, but then put in the form of a pilgrimage, a popular way of writing in Comenius’ days (compare, for example, the Chymical Wedding of Christiaan Rosencreutz by Comenius’ acquaintence Johann Valentin Andreae.

The book starts with a pilgrim who wants to discover the world. He gets company of two guides and from the start it is clear that this is not a pilgrimage through the ‘normal’ world. The pilgrim sees the world from a distance and reports what he sees and what he thinks about it. It appears to be the guides’ task to find a fitting place in the world for the pilgrim. Starting his journey, the pilgrim gets a couple of glasses, apparently to see the world in a certain way, but he can look underneath the glasses to see how things are ‘in reality’. First the pilgrim sees the world from above in the form of a labyrinthic city. On entering the city, everybody is assigned a group. The pilgrim gets the priviledge of looking around. He sees groups such as married people, philosophers, Rosicrucians, judges, knights, the rich and the poor, the lucky and the unlucky.
Every time the pilgrim has something to complain, driving his guides insane. Even when the pilgrim is allowed to visit the tower of Fortuna and the castle of Wisdom, he is not pleased. He proves to be right in his criticism, leaves the world and then the book goes over into “the paradise of the heart” in which the pilgrim meets Christ and even God.

The pilgrims observations are recognisable and humorous and Comenius describes events from his own life with similar irony. The book makes a nice outsiders look of the world. The beginning of the ‘paradise of the heart’ part reads like a big vision, but towards the end of the book, Comenius returns to his lengthy and moralistic writing style.

This amusing book is a good start to get acquainted with the writer Jan Amos Komensky and a good read in general.

1663 / 1997 Paulist Press, isbn 0809137399

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