Classical and Christian Influences on Literature #2


So you survived part one of this topic, very well done!
Here’s part two on the topic where I’ll explain more about the Christian influences on literature.

The subjects for this post are:

  • Christianity
    • Origin
    • Adaption of pagan beliefs
  • The Bible
  • The Reformation
    • Branches of Christianity

I will insert links to other useful websites to keep it clear and I also want you to know that most information was provided by my lecturer and from Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry; a student guide, by Isabel Rivers.


For a long time Christianity has been the world’s largest religion. Slowly this religion expanded over the centuries. I’ve found a clip on youtube that shows how Christianity spread around the world on an animated map. If you’re interested here is the link.


Christianity beliefs in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and came into existence after his death. Before his lifetime there was not yet a thing called Christianity and it is generally believed that Jesus and his disciples were Jewish.
After his death, there was a separation. The Christians believed that Jesus was the messiah who was prophesied in the old testament, while the Jews did not believe such a thing and believed that Jesus was only a prophet.
St. Paul became the founder of early Christianity.
For a long time Christianity was not accepted and it only became the state religion in the 4th century CE, because of the Roman Emperor Constantine the first who became a Christian at the end of his life.

Adaption of pagan beliefs

Classical myths amongst others were tried to be made consistent with monotheism (Christianity)  with the use of allegory. For a long time these myths were still known since many people were learned in the Classics. Eventually the pagan myths were placed into Christianity. The gods became fallen angels and demons, kings and benefactors became a part of the new religion and through allegory the myths came to be a foreshadowing of Christian truth. Gods also became planets and stars.
The works of Homer, Virgil and Ovid became subject to allegory and were moralised. Later on, a lot of the information about the classics was kept in encyclopaedias so called secondary sources, in those books ready interpretations of the myths could be found.

As I already said in my previous post on the subject, about Classical influences, the old philosophies were revised in the renaissance. I deliberately chose not to put neo-stoicism in that post because this philosophy was influenced greatly by Christian beliefs. The human should submit to God. Even though a human is free everything happens under the control of God and eventually the human would find true spiritual happiness because he or she is close to God.

The Bible

The Bible is a collection of different books which were originally written in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew and can be divided into the Old and the New Testament.
The Old Testament is a pre-Christian Jewish collection (the Tenach) written in Hebrew. The stories in the Old Testament are about the Creation and of the time before Christ.
The New Testament is written in Greek and is about the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Around 400 CE a common translation of the Bible became available in Latin, this Bible became known as the Vulgate and was used by the clergy since the common people were unable to read.
The Bible has had a large influence on Literature in many ways. In numerous books there are biblical themes present or there are quotations or indirect references (allusions) used. The Bible also had a great influence on language, diction and phrases that we still use today. For example:
An eye for an eye, turn the other cheek or a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
At the start of the 17th century, King James of England came with the revised King James Bible. While writing this Bible the writers took care in looking at older translation, which is why the bible uses such old fashioned language (also referred to as a timeless/archaic language). The translators wanted to stay as close as possible to the original Bible.

The Reformation

It is commonly accepted that the Reformation started when Martin Luther slammed his 95 statements on the church doors of Wittenberg. He wanted to reform the church from within, one of his main statements was the abolition of the indulgences (pieces of paper that people could buy in order to get a place in heaven when they died). His excommunication by the Pope and the intensity of the Reformation would eventually lead to a complete break with the Roman Catholic Church, creating Catholicism and Protestantism. (More on Martin Luther click here).

Protestantism created the possibility of actually reading the bible for yourself and having a direct contact with God. The Catholic Church used the Vulgate, a version of the Bible that few people could read and believed that the church was the only direct link with God, indispensable in the quest for salvation. Protestantism however created the possibility to translate the Bible into every language, so that all the Christians were able to read the holy book themselves and the crucial doctrine of Protestantism was also different. Justification (to be accepted by God as righteous) by faith alone, not through confessions, fasting, rituals or good work.
Other major differences between the Catholicism and Protestantism are:

  • Latin is no longer the language of the Church.
  • Church authorities are no longer in charge of what to believe.
  • While the Catholic church has 7 sacraments (Baptism, confirmation, Eucharist= lords supper, penance, anointing of the sick, marriage and holy orders) the Protestants only have 2: baptism and the Eucharist. Unlike the Catholics however the Protestant don’t believe in transubstantiation (meaning that the bread and wine actually becomes the body and blood of Christ) but they believe in consubstantiation, meaning that Christ is only spiritually present in the bread and wine.
  • The Protestants also reject papacy.

Branches of Christianity

Before the reformation there had already been a split within the church in 1054 (referred to as the Great Schism). This was the split of the Catholic Church into Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox Church.

Martin Luther wasn’t the only reformer. There are now far more branches of Protestantism. Here I’ll note some of the more common:

There are hundreds of different branches of Christianity across the world, to many for me to name in this post. If you want to get an overview of the number, find Wikipedia and search for the list of Christian denominations.


I deliberately didn’t elaborate much on Christianity because of my own lack of knowledge and I don’t want to offend anyone by saying something untrue. Still I hope that this has given you an insight on the influences¬† of the Classics and Christianity on Literature.



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