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An unknown author wrote a morality play named ‘Everyman’ during the late fifteenth century. It is largely believed by historians that some monks or priests would have written this play.
Generally, morality plays were regarded as a collaborative effort by the clergymen and inhabitants, typically the tradesmen and the society members of the English town. With the passage of time, lines in the morality plays would get transformed, new ones added, and even the old ones get deleted. Thus, Everyman is perhaps the result of numerous authors and eras of literary progress.
As it is common from any morality play, Everyman is also a play that is filled with clear and high levels of moral – something that is evident all through the entire play, right from the beginning till the end.
This play by an anonymous author (s) answers a wide range of questions concerning the spiritual life and death of human beings; the most apparent one being the quote from the Holy Bible that reads “What must I do to be saved?” Yet, the most interesting and prominent answer offered to the purpose of death, and this is exactly the primary objective of this paper.
“Everyman” essentially speaks of two vantage themes of death, namely, the purpose of God in the death of His own creation, and the eternal plight of Everyman. The viewpoint of the author on both the physical as well as the spiritual death can be potted in a simple sentence.
Good part of this particular play is regarding Everyman having been called upon to offer an explanation of his life. All the people who claimed his friendship had left him by the time he met his end, and only the Good Deeds he did during his lifetime actually accompanied him before the ruling throne of God. Hence, the author portrays Death in two different ways: first as the servant of God who does His mandatory deeds and second as just the instrument using which God entails “a reckoning of every man’s person,” although judgment may be escaped because of the good deeds done by an individual during his/her lifetime.
When Death is seen for the first time in the play “Everyman,” it is actually called by God to bring people to the throne of judgment; “That needs on them I must do justice, on every man living without fear.” With respect to the author’s insight pertaining to the doctrine or salvation is actually against the Biblical beliefs. Essentially, it is not just counter-Biblical, but unorthodox.
Lawrence V. Ryan, in his article titled “Doctrine and Dramatic Structure in Everyman,” claims that “the theology involved is indispensable, not indefensible.” Ryan describes the ways in which the play “Everyman” replicates orthodox mysticism by comparing the communication made by God in the play with the Scriptures addressing slightly similar yet different aspects. The perception and treatment of death by the author can be better understood if we look at the entire play as well as the theology revealed therein.
The doctrine contained within this play is unfolded by the author through God speaking. The first disclosure is with relevance to an individual’s perception about God. There are two superseding notions with respect to the character of God or lack thereof that heavily influence the entire play.
First is the sanctity of God, and second is the power of God, for sanctity of God is what necessitates payment for man’s sin, and His sovereignty that saves man from sin.
God is restricted in terms of the salvific power, and thus power, for God said, “I could do no more than I did, truly.” However, the same can be understood better as the emphasis of the following sentences of the play has upon people; “And now I see the people do clean forsake me.” Thus, the author strongly believes that man is partly and principally responsible for his own salvation. Salvation means deliverance and deliverance from sin.
According to the Holy Bible, the entire mankind has sinned, and there is none who is righteous by God’s standard. Some people live good lives and some live bad lives; however this doesn’t alter the fact that all are sinners. If we are sinners we are bound to die.
The most important thing we need to know is that God is different from us in one very important way. He is righteous and keeps His word. If He says that ‘the wages of sin is death’, then it is so. Sin must be paid for by death. God cannot simply forget about our sin, for He would then be breaking His word, and if He did this, He would be no longer righteous.
According to the word of God, it is just by believing. However considering the personal experiences of individuals we can conclude that the afterlife testifies about an individual’s salvation.
Repentance is the act of turning away from committing those sins, of not doing them anymore. It is of changing our life in such a way as I no longer want or desire to commit those sins. We are the ones who decide whether to walk in the light or the darkness.
God gave us the free will to make our own choices and If we decide to walk in the darkness then our salvation will not be taken away from us, nor will we have the fear of losing our salvation. So it is a choice that an individual makes to follow the ways of the world rather than the ways of our Lord and therefore our own free will determines whether we are going to keep our salvation or give it up.
In the play “Everyman,” death is depicted purely as a threat that God uses to get His creation to be kind towards Him, and finally levels his life out. Yet, contrary to the claims made by Ryan in his article that this play offers “orthodox teaching on the matter of man’s salvation,” it is not true that orthodox teaching about salvation are presented in this play. Rather, heterodoxy related to both salvation as well as death is presented in the play, since salvation is attained from death.
Louis Berkhof explains eternal death as “the full weight of the wrath of God descending on the condemned.” This is seamlessly in complete alignment with the Scripture because, in Romans chapter 6 verse 23, it is stated that “the wages of sin is death.” Therefore, if God would not judge the human beings who lived in rebellion to God throughout their lives, like in the case of Everyman, the He would not be the Holy God that He is called in the Old Testament.
Human beings are so blinded and charmed with self-love to such an extent that every person imagines that he possesses a mere right to laud himself. This is obviously evident when a person tries to justify his actions based on their righteous deeds. Hence, in order to state that man might evade death due to the numerous good deeds done throughout his life is to simply water down the sovereignty of God and also to repudiate the teachings of Scripture about death. The Bible in the book of Hebrews chapter 9 verse 27 teaches us that when a person dies they either wake up in heaven or Hades (hell), it says "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment."
God is more than able to keep us and we can rest assured in that knowledge. We can be confident of our salvation because we stand not by our own goodness and strength, but by God’s grace. However salvation can be forfeited, if we willfully depart from the faith. Although it is difficult for us to understand why someone would do such a thing, we do not face the same persecution and provocation as did the Hebrews. It is possible for us to willfully walk out on God and deliberately depart from the faith. The fact is that we all are going to die.
Anonymous. (1996). Everyman. Nick Hern Books.
Berkhof, L. (1996). Systematic Theology. . Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Ryan, L. V. (1957). Doctrine and Dramatic Structure of Everyman. Speculum. 32(4), 722-735.
Schmidt, Y. A.-G. (2011). Literature and Spirituality. Boston: Pearson.
Spirit, H. (2009). The Bible. In T. S. God, Holy Bible (p. 1460). Newyork: Word to World corporation .