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In order to understand the spirit of religion in the time The Pilgrim's Progress was written, one must understand the Church of England and its rise to influence. In the early sixteenth century, Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church and set up his own church, the Church of England, for which he was the commander-in-chief. He supplanted the Pope as the chief religious authority, and mandated that all English citizens belong to his church, pay him tithes, and worship only in that church.
After some time, the English populace grew annoyed with Henry VIII and his successors, seeing the many ways in which religious ideals had become corrupt and distilled. A great deal of these dissenters began to call for a restoration of purity in the church. When they studied the Scriptures, they became confused, seeing the nonconformity of the present church in relation to the Scripture. They felt that the original faith read about in the Bible and the Scriptures had been waylaid, and trampled by newer, corrupt faiths and practices. A need was felt to restore this old faith. They used the scriptures against the Church of England, pointing out the many ways the Church of England fell short of ideal. In response, Archbishop Parker of the Church of England, denounced these men, calling them Precisions, and later, Puritans. The Puritans held the church up to the highest ideal-that found in the Bible. When the Church of England fell short of this ideal, sometimes drastically, the Puritans cried out for a change.
The Pilgrim's Progress is born out of this Puritan zeal. Bunyan, in belonging to a nonconformist church, was a member of the Puritan elite. He spent twelve years in prison for refusing to recognize the Church of England as his official religion. The later puritan ministers, like Bunyan, devoted their energies to teaching the essentials of Christianity.
Still, for all its simplicity, The Pilgrim's Progress has enjoyed fantastic success. Within the first year of its publication, two complete editions sold out. The third edition, the last to be revised by the author, is regarded as the best of the first three. By the time of Bunyan's death, The Pilgrim's Progress had appeared in print in several other languages, and had sold over 100,000 copies.