In the Homily “Of the Salvation of Mankind” Elizabethans were exhorted to refer every aspect of life to their religion:
these great and merciful benefits of God…move us to render ourselves unto God wholly with all our will, hearts, might, and power; to serve him in all good deeds, obeying his commandments during our lives; to seek in all things his glory and honour, not our sensual pleasures and vainglory. (Homilies, pp. 31-32; my italics)
What, then, was the role of literature and learning in this life of total service? They were needed to help the faithful in their newly direct contact with Scripture, but they were dominated by classical letters, whose scope in ideas, imagination and expression immeasurably exceeded anything in English at 1580. These supreme models were imbued with pagan values, not Christian, and much contemporary literature followed them, in tendency at least.