Religio Laici (a layman’s religion) represents John Dryden’s tentative and candid examination of major religious issues of his day. From the title, one might expect a personal confession of faith. Instead, Dryden examines the principal contemporary religious currents in England and, although he reveals only general points about his own beliefs, he clearly expresses his adherence to the Church of England. The poem, consisting of 456 lines of heroic couplets, divides into several logical sections.
In the beginning, Dryden eloquently points to limitations on the power of reason in religion, stressing that even the ancient philosophers, despite all their wisdom, could discover no adequate foundation for religion through their intellectual efforts. Because he shared with his contemporaries a profound respect for the intellectual attainments of the classical Greeks and Romans, this line of reasoning effectively prepares the groundwork for Dryden’s rejection of Deism, the rational religion of his own day. A summary of basic Deistic tenets (lines 42-61) precedes a formal rejection of natural religion.
Dryden suggests that any light the Deist sees originates in revelation, not from man’s intuitive knowledge as the Deists assumed, and that, in any case, a lesser being such as man cannot atone for his own sins through his own efforts (lines (62-125). Only an unfallen being, Dryden urges, would be adequate to the task. Defending the Bible as the true source of religious revelation (lines 126-167), Dryden cites specific factors that support its authority: its antiquity, its narrative consistency, the conviction and courage of its authors, external...
(The entire section is 685 words.)