The theme of the city as a model for the world is an ancient one in Christianity. In the second part of De civitate Dei (413-427 c.e.; The City of God, 1610), Saint Augustine described two cities, an earthly one and a heavenly one. The earthly city, associated historically with Rome and metaphorically with the world itself, is for Augustine associated with sin and the present life, while the heavenly city is the place of salvation and eternal life. For John Amos Comenius, the world is a labyrinthine city, containing all of the vices and problems of human society.
Comenius brings this theme of the world as city together with the Christian allegory of the guided spiritual pilgrimage. Because the spiritual pilgrimage through the world involves reflections on world relations, this type of allegory is often strongly tinged with social satire in the work of Comenius and in that of other authors. William Langland’s Piers Plowman (c. 1362, c. 1377, c. 1393) tells of the dream vision of the narrator, who is guided by Piers to view the lives of allegorical characters. In Dante’s La divinia commedia (c. 1320; The Divine Comedy, 1802), the poet Dante undertakes an allegorical pilgrimage through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, guided first by the Roman poet Vergil and then by Beatrice. John Bunyan, in The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678, 1694), wrote the allegory that comes closest to that of the Czech writer Comenius. In Bunyan’s work, the central character makes his way from the City of Destruction, or earth, to the Celestial City of Zion, or Heaven. Many of the characters in Bunyan’s work, such as the false Mr. Worldly Wiseman, are reminiscent of characters in The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart.
The theme of contempt for a vain world may be found throughout Christian literature, appearing in the Bible, most notably in Ecclesiastes. This theme is often joined with the idea that the true Kingdom of God is to be found within an individual’s own soul or heart. Written during the Thirty Years’ War, when disagreement between Catholics and Protestants had resulted in devastating warfare, The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart was a particularly poignant turning away from a troubled world to a mystical source of inner peace.