Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


Religion in the Age of Enlightenment, Milton Pope, Shakespeare


Commenting on its status as "unmistakably a poem of its period;' Frank Brady complains that Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man . has not fared as well among readers as have other representative epics, specifically The Prelude and Paradise Lost: "While we still retain enough of the Romantic attitude toward life to understand Wordsworth, and enough knowledge, at least, of Christianity to understand Milton, the philosophical basis of Pope's viewpoint has disappeared todaf' The problem, according to Brady, lies in the relationship between reason, the quality which lends the period one of its names, and philosophical optimism, the basis for Pope's and, by extension, the period's theodicy. Embracing Leibniz's famous claim regarding the status of the present world, Brady says that "reason manifests itself in the Essayas 'philosophical optimism: the doctrine that since God is all good he must have created the best of all possible worlds: 'WHATEVER IS, IS RIGHT:" The coda-"WHATEVER IS, IS RIGHT"-is the concluding line of the first epistle of Pope's Essay and reflects a thesis that modern readers, according to Brady, find "absurd: too much evil exists in the world and in human nature itself to support any such complacent belief' Nevertheless, Brady finds such a belief, together with Pope's adoption and application of it, beneficial on the grounds that it cushions our ignorance of God's "plan"-"We can only see part of His grand design"-by reassuring us that "the wrongs of this world, if we act our parts properly, will be redressed in the next:' Unable-or perhaps unwilling-to see how a partial vision may comprise a living whole, Brady argues that "the basic question for man is where he is located" in the Great Chain of Being upon which the Essay is hung and that "man must learn to 'submit: to realize where he stands in the Chain of Being, and to recognize and fulfill the potentialities that are peculiarly his:"