[Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

John Rumrich rumrich at mail.utexas.edu
Fri Jan 2 17:44:48 EST 2009

Following up on Roy's excellent post, consider the commonly accepted  
premise that Milton was a poet first, theologian (and anything else)  
second.  From this premise, which I tend to accept, I move to the  
lonelier claim that Milton revised his theological treatise to reflect  
the truth of his poetic sensibility as expressed in PL and even PR and  
SA.  Current understanding of the history of the MS of Christian  
Doctrine and of the history of the composition of the epic permits  
this hypothesis.  It is a hypothesis that was I believe at least  
suggested by Wm. Empson in Milton's God, though I cite this authority  
from memory rather than certain knowledge.

Why should this reversal of standard interpretive traffic-flow  
matter?  Well, unlike Maurice Kelley, who proposes that we use  
Milton's theological treatise as a key to understanding his epic, I  
think that we need to use the poetry as a gloss on his theology.  To  
understand what Milton means by "theanthropos" in his discussion of  
the incarnation in Christian Doctrine, for example, we must look to  
PR.  Empson even suggests (if I remember right) that Milton became a  
firmly convinced Arian because as he composed his epic Trinitarianism  
could not stand up to the test of his poetic imagination.

In short, if you want to understand better what Milton's heresies  
mean, read his poetry.


On Jan 2, 2009, at 3:55 PM, FLANNAGAN, ROY wrote:

> This will have to be thoughtful, but it has always seemed to me that  
> the De Doctrina gives Paradise Lost a kind of structure, sort of the  
> same way that Johnson's Dictionary helped shape his prose style.  I  
> have a hunch that Milton never did anything gratuitously: if he did  
> a Greek lexicon, it was to help with etymology as much as it might  
> have brought in some extra change through publication.  The same  
> might be true of a rhetoric, which would give him an even further  
> grasp of his own methods of persuasion. Even a history of Britain  
> would kill two or three birds with one stone, if he was thinking of  
> an Arthurian epic.  The De Doctrina organized the Bible for him, and  
> it made sense of life and morality.  It also helped perpetuate some  
> of his quirky ideas, such as divorce based on incompatibility or on  
> religious disagreement, or polygamy, if divorce didn't work.
> What I meant by working with the comparisons or likenesses between  
> tract and epic was that it has always seemed more useful to find  
> points of agreement between what happens in the epic and what is  
> described in the treatise, as with the interaction between angels  
> and humankind before and after the Fall.  I may catch hell for this,  
> but I think most of the arguments that PL is a poem and DDC a tract  
> and therefore the two will never completely mesh seem spurious to  
> me.  Someone on the list will point out a particular point in the  
> epic where Milton the poet seems to disagree with Milton the  
> theologian, and I will listen, but I may not be convinced.
> Roy F
> ________________________________
> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu on behalf of John Hale
> Sent: Fri 1/2/2009 4:20 PM
> To: John Milton Discussion List
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana
> Interesting strand.
> Best wishes, Roy, and tell us please why you think that comparing  
> "works" better than contrasting.
> What is meant by "working" in this connection?
> John
> On 3/01/2009, at 6:53 AM, FLANNAGAN, ROY wrote:
> 	The starting place, as ever, would be in Maurice Kelley's This  
> Great Argument, which matches the epic against the treatise point by  
> theological point.  Sometimes Kelley makes the treatise into a kind  
> of Procrustean bed, but what he wrote still seems well-organized and  
> concise.  That book made Kelley's academic reputation, and it might  
> have assured him a home at Princeton.
> 	Michael Bauman might speak best for the differences between epic  
> and treatise, but I think comparing the two works with each other  
> works better than contrasting them with each other.
> 	Roy Flannagan
> ________________________________
> 	From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu on behalf of Michael Gillum
> 	Sent: Fri 1/2/2009 11:41 AM
> 	To: milton-l
> 	Subject: Re: [Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana
> 	Extending Hannibal Hamlin's question, could I ask people to say  
> what they think are  important differences between ideas stated in  
> DDC and ideas stated or clearly implied in PL (as you interpret it)?
> 	Michael
> 	On 1/2/09 11:18 AM, "Hannibal Hamlin" <hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com>  
> wrote:
> 		A further question that is more hermeneutic than bibliographic --  
> to what extent can Paradise Lost (say) be legitimately interpreted  
> in light of De Doctrina?  This seems to have become common practice,  
> for the obvious reason that the theological positions stated in De  
> Doctrina are considerably easier to determine than those in PL.  But  
> De Doctrina isn't really a handbook to the theology of PL, is it?   
> If the same man wrote both works, that's certainly interesting, but  
> can we assume that both works express the same ideas, or that their  
> author was of the same mind when he wrote both works?  We might even  
> ask about the relationship about theological ideas to the (written)  
> linguistic expression of them: i.e., is it possible that language  
> can generate ideas as much as the reverse, and even that different  
> kinds of writing (dramatic fictional English verse, say, as opposed  
> to expository Latin prose) might tend to generate different ideas?
> 		Hannibal
> 		On 1/2/09, Thomas Corns <els009 at bangor.ac.uk> wrote:
> 			May I suggest reading at least the last chapter of Gordon  
> Campbell, Thomas
> 			N. Corns, John K. Hale, and Fiona Tweedie, JOHN MILTON AND THE  
> 			DE DOCTRINA CHRISTIANA (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)?
> 			If time is more pressing, then go with Michael Bauman: yes.
> 			DE DOCTRINA CHRISTIANA is being edited for the new Oxford  
> Complete Works of
> 			John Milton; John Hale is the volume editor for that volume.
> 			Best
> 			Tom Corns
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