[Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

Jason Kerr aelfric at gmail.com
Fri Jan 2 18:25:13 EST 2009

As I recall, in a chapter of Milton's Peculiar Grace, Steve Fallon does just
what John Rumrich suggests should be done and uses PL to work through a
difficulty in DDC. I don't have the book or the details to hand, but I
suspect (given the subject of the book) it had to do with the Father's
speech about predestination in Book 3 and the corresponding section(s) of
DDC. Perhaps a fellow list-member can compensate for my faulty memory.

I join Roy Flannagan in not being much persuaded by arguments using genre to
explain apparent inconsistencies between tract and poem. If there are
inconsistencies, they're just inconsistencies in Milton's thought. But I
like Roy's idea that Milton didn't do anything gratuitously: always having
something to think through--and doing it in writing--seems particularly
Miltonic to me. Incidentally, that's why the prospect of inconsistencies in
Milton's thought doesn't particularly bother me; isn't not having something
to work through (or at least on) somehow akin to death?

Jason A. Kerr

On Fri, Jan 2, 2009 at 5:44 PM, John Rumrich <rumrich at mail.utexas.edu>wrote:

> 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.
> John
> 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
>>                        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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The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

          —Czeslaw Milosz, from "Ars Poetica?"
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