Pilgrim's Progress | Study Guide

John Bunyan

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Pilgrim's Progress | Part 2, Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

Great-Heart politely urges the pilgrims onward, so they continue uphill toward Palace Beautiful. The two lions from Part 1 are now accompanied by a giant called Grim or Bloody-man. Great-Heart fights and slays Grim, and the pilgrims pass by the two chained lions without further trouble. With night coming on, they reach the palace door, and Great-Heart takes his leave for now. The porter, Watchful, comes out to greet them, as do the damsels who live in the palace.

That night Christiana and Mercy converse about their journey and resolve to stay at Palace Beautiful a while if invited. In the morning Prudence—one of the damsels—catechizes Christiana's four sons; that is, she quizzes them on their religious knowledge. The boys answer questions about God and humankind, sin and redemption, heaven and hell. Days pass, and Mercy is briefly visited by a suitor named Mr. Brisk, who gives up when he learns that she makes handicrafts to help the poor rather than for profit.

Matthew, Christiana's eldest son, now grows sick because of the forbidden fruit he ate just after coming through the Wicket-Gate. The physician Mr. Skill is summoned and gives Matthew a purgative made "ex carne et sanguine Christi" (from the flesh and blood of Christ). Taking this medication according to the doctor's orders, Matthew soon recovers. The boys question Prudence about the spiritual meaning of various natural phenomena. Christiana, like her husband before her in Part 1, Chapter 3, is shown various biblical wonders, including the apples from the Garden of Eden. Great-Heart arrives, to the surprise of the pilgrims, and announces that he will guide them the rest of the way to the Celestial City.

Analysis

This chapter presents, first and foremost, a continuation of the "ask and receive" idea from Part 2, Chapter 3. Leaving the house of the Interpreter, the pilgrims are so thrilled to have Great-Heart as a protector that they repeat their mistake from the Wicket-Gate: they do not think ahead to the dangers they may face after he is gone. When he leaves them at the Palace Beautiful, they realize their error and ask him to continue further with them. Their request, really a prayer, seems to come too late, as Great-Heart is bound by duty to return to the Interpreter. Yet the fact that their prayer is not answered immediately does not mean that it goes unheard: Great-Heart comes back to lead them when they no longer expect him to.

Mr. Skill's prescription—which, unusually for The Pilgrim's Progress, includes a Latin phrase—is a direct reference to the Lord's Supper, at which Jesus instituted the Eucharist. The fact that Christ's body and blood are administered to cure illnesses may seem to suggest that, for Bunyan, the Eucharist had miraculous powers. Here, it has to be kept in mind that The Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory. Separatists like Bunyan, along with their theological allies the Puritans, did not believe in transubstantiation, as Catholics do, or in the power of the Eucharist to expiate sins. Rather, they viewed the Lord's Supper as essentially a renewal of the participants' bond to Christ and to each other. Participants were spiritually strengthened and nourished, but only if they took part with a pure and carefully examined conscience. Hence, perhaps, Mr. Skill's insistence on taking the medicine exactly as prescribed.

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