[Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

Larry Isitt isitt at cofo.edu
Mon Jan 5 11:25:42 EST 2009


Hannibal writes:
Arianism for instance -- but to what extent is any doctrine clearly espoused or expressed in Milton's poem?  Poetry, especially of a dramatic kind, seems an exceptionally poor way to articulate theological positions, since ambiguity and dialogue are part of its essential nature.  There is also the problem of representation.  It's all very well to say, as one might (and Milton does), that higher truths must be accommodated to man's limited, fallen understanding, but this would suggest that such accommodations are clarifying, whereas in fact they are often deeply confusing.  Case in point -- how can the reader NOT assume that Father and Son are not homoousios if they are having a conversation like two separate persons?

That a poem is not a treatise let it be granted, but that one cannot find in a poem the truths of a treatise is far from evident. Suppose, to take a bizarre example, that Hitler had chosen also to write an epic poem in addition to his Mein Kampf. To say thereon that we would be unjustified in discovering anti-semitism in the poem because it is poetry and not the prose treatise would be absurd. Milton, if truly Arian, would likewise never let the opportunity slip by to represent that view of the Son. It was the how to do it in order to escape punishment under anti-Trinitarian laws that was the problem in his day. The parallel here to Hitler is not accidental and not inappropriate if we realize how ardently anti-Trinitarian writers were in opposing the hated Nicene and Athanasian creeds endorsed in the 39 Articles.

not Homoousios--yes, precisely! And this is what Milton is saying outright in the De Doctrina concerning the differing natures of Father and Son: "the Father and Son differ from each other in essence" (Yale 6.262). Father and Son, two individuals conversing--no problem for an Arian poet and the Arian premise that two persons must have two essences, not one shared essence (as is the demand of orthodox Trinitarianism). What has been the main dramatic necessity of the poem is also what has muddied the theology. In both De Doctrina and PL Milton argues and presents a Son differing in essence from the Father and having a physical body prior to the incarnation and resurrection as presented in the Bible. The failure to keep separate the pre-incarnate Son (no physical body) from the incarnate Son born in Bethlehem is where Milton departed from orthodoxy; he cites many passages of Scripture in his treatise arguing backward from earth to heaven the incarnate Son's pronouncements to the eternal Son's existence. He treats of the same in PL. Evidence of differing essence is most clearly seen in the angels' hymn to the Father (3.372-75): the Son throughout the epic is never called by these attributes--Omnipotent, immutable, immortal, infinite, eternal. Yet the Father is "Eternal King" and the like routinely. To withhold these ultimate attributes from the Son is Milton's poetic and safe subterfuge for undermining Nicea and is the unmistakable mark of an Arian. Names for deity were extremely important for Milton.  I offer this from his chapter "On God" in De Doctrina: "The NAMES and ATTRIBUTES of God show either his nature or his divine power and virtues" (Yale 6.138).  To find his hidden Arianism by examining the some 200 names for the Father and a similar number for the Son is not misplaced reasoning.

Larry
________________________________
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Hannibal Hamlin [hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com]
Sent: Sunday, January 04, 2009 1:27 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

I'm not sure Johnson is the best guide to anything in Milton, and the "absence of evidence" argument seems problematic generally.  I am still unconvinced that PL (among other poems) is not more fundamentally incompatible with De Doctrina, or indeed with any theological tract.  Several posts have addressed points of specific doctrine -- Arianism for instance -- but to what extent is any doctrine clearly espoused or expressed in Milton's poem?  Poetry, especially of a dramatic kind, seems an exceptionally poor way to articulate theological positions, since ambiguity and dialogue are part of its essential nature.  There is also the problem of representation.  It's all very well to say, as one might (and Milton does), that higher truths must be accommodated to man's limited, fallen understanding, but this would suggest that such accommodations are clarifying, whereas in fact they are often deeply confusing.  Case in point -- how can the reader NOT assume that Father and Son are not homoousios if they are having a conversation like two separate persons?  Much of the action and dialogue of PL muddles attempts to derive from it clear theological positions, it seems to me.  I suppose one might take a Fishian position here, and argue that all this is just a test, that we need to resist the temptation to heresy and stand on what we know to be theologically/morally true, but this just returns us to the question I began with, whether we derive our theological measure from the 39 Articles, the Bible, or De Doctrina.  If Milton really wanted to "justify the ways of God to man," to express theological truth as he understood it, why on earth would he choose a poem as the form in which to do it?  This may sound sophomoric, I know, but my reason for posing my earlier question was that I'm not sure Milton criticism has really solved some of the most basic problems posed by his poems, despite the appearance of theological/doctrinal clarity in much critical writing.  This may be critically heretical, but it also seems to me that it's partly the lack of clarity that makes the poems so interesting.

Hannibal


On 1/4/09, Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu<mailto:mgillum at unca.edu>> wrote:
Yes, this is a helpful thread. Thanks to all.

In support of Lewis's view, as far as I recall the Father never speaks of
what the Son is not (e. g. "not of one essence"), but only in positive terms
of what he is. These positive descriptions are generally compatible with
orthodoxy. The Son's subordinate position is dramatized (but not
emphatically), and not stated as doctrine. The very orthodox Samuel Johnson
noticed nothing doctrinally objectionable. One might expect Johnson to have
his antennae up, Milton being anti-Anglican and politically objectionable to
him.

Michael


On 1/4/09 10:00 AM, "John Leonard" <jleonard at uwo.ca<mailto:jleonard at uwo.ca>> wrote:

> This is a fascinating and valuable thread.  I am not qualified to dispute
> points of doctrine with Michael Bauman, even if I wanted to--and I do not
> want to, as his excellent book on this subject has convinced me on just
> about all doctrinal matters.  So devastating are Michael's arguments in
> *Milton's Arianism* (1987) that I think it no exaggeration to say that the
> question of Milton's authorship of DDC that arose four years after the
> publication of Michael's book was in very large part a desperate response to
> it.  .  Having lost the *interpretative* battle for DDC, critics who had
> wanted to distance that text from heresy took the only course left to them:
> they denied Milton's authorship.  Their argument implicitly concedes that if
> Milton *had* written DDC, he was indeed an Arian.  Critics like William
> Hunter would not have made this concession before Bauman's book appeared.
>
> But one can acknowledge all this and still ask a pertinent question about
> PL.  Milton certainly held views that most other Christians would call
> "heretical."  That, I think, is now indisputable.  But does Milton advertise
> these views in PL?  C. S. Lewis thought that Milton was unorthodox in his
> private beliefs but wrote PL for all Christians.  This is a very different
> argument from that of the *Bright Essence* trinity of critics who tried to
> rescue Milton for orthodoxy.  Might Lewis's argument still have credibility?
> I put this out there as a genuine question as I do not (yet) know what I
> think on the matter.  Lewis certainly overstates his case when he says that
> no one suspected Milton of heresy until the discovery of DDC.  There were a
> few critics, including John Dennis, Daniel Defoe, Charles Leslie, and
> "Theophilus," who did in fact suspect the presence of Arian heresy in PL.
> (John Rumrich's 1996 book is very good on this.)  But other early
> commentators, including the Jonathan Richardsons and Thomas Newton, thought
> that Milton was orthodox.  True, they felt the need to argue for this view,
> and they were wrong; but they were not fools.  So my question is:
>
> Does Milton in PL go out of his way to signal his "heresies" (I use scare
> quotes because Milton himself interrogates the word, glossing it as
> "opinions") or does he tactfully understate them?  A possible analogy is his
> reticence on his Italian journey, when he made it a rule for himself neither
> to advertise nor conceal his Protestantism, but to stand by it if pressed.
> Might he have a similar attitude to Arianism and other unorthodox opinions
> in PL?  Or is he writing PL (as we might now say) "in code" for the knowing
> few?
>
>
> John Leonard
>
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Michael Bauman" <mbauman at hillsdale.edu<mailto:mbauman at hillsdale.edu>>
> To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>>
> Sent: Saturday, January 03, 2009 12:18 PM
> Subject: RE: [Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana
>
>
>> Kim,
>> I'm interested to hear precisely what  PL is if it is "neither Trinitarian
>> nor Arian, but something else entirely."  What theological category are
>> you invoking with "something else entirely"?
>>
>> I wonder what you mean when you say that an epic poem designed to "justify
>> the ways of God to man," one that deals with things like creation,
>> temptation, heaven, hell, angels, demons, Satan, predestination and the
>> fall, and that contains a lengthy and detailed summary of the entire
>> Bible, "is not doctrinal at all," to some unspecified "degree."  I'm
>> confused about how PL is not doctrinal at all -- to some degree.
>>
>> I'm puzzled about why you say that the notes to Carey's translation are a
>> better guide to PL and De Doctrina than Kelley since, if I remember
>> correctly, the notes to the Yale Prose version of De Doctrina are almost
>> all by Maurice Kelley, and in them he teaches the same points in almost
>> always the same fashion that he did earlier in his This Great Argument.
>>
>> The Son is not "the sole cause of Creation" in PL.  See 3:167, 5:836,
>> 7:163ff, etc.
>>
>> Michael Bauman
>> ________________________________________
>> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu>
>> [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu>] On Behalf Of Kim Maxwell
>> [kmaxwell at stanford.edu<mailto:kmaxwell at stanford.edu>]
>> Sent: Saturday, January 03, 2009 9:40 AM
>> To: John Milton Discussion List
>> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana
>>
>> Another point of view.
>>
>> In his latest work on the subject, Michael Lieb suggests the word
>> ³conversation² as the academic relationship between PL and DCC, one that
>> admits inconsistencies between them but resists sorting either out in
>> terms of the other.  Given what has happened since Kelly, it is hard not
>> to read his book as Procrustean and selective.  I personally find the
>> footnotes in Carey¹s translation in the Yale Prose to be a better
>> introduction to how DCC and PL converse than Kelly.  Furthermore, I would
>> defend the word on the grounds that DCC provides means of understanding
>> the degree to which PL is not doctrinal at all, rather than the means by
>> which either might improve our understanding of the other¹s doctrine.  For
>> example,  in DCC Milton makes it clear that God is unitary and
>> unchangeable, and hence cannot duplicate himself or transfer all of his
>> powers to a second, inferior God (the Son).  To work around the obvious
>> complications such a view entails regarding the Creation and the openi!
>> ng of John, he makes a careful distinction between ³creation by² and
>> ³creation through² in his DCC chapter on the subject, allocating to the
>> Son only the formal cause of the universe.  Whether this works or not  is
>> not important to its read on  PL, where the Son does have all the powers
>> of God (³second omnipotence²) and is the sole cause of the Creation, said
>> explicitly to be ³by² the Son, a position only possible on a Trinitarian
>> or polytheistic account of the Godhead, both of which DCC denies.  I think
>> DCC helps see the many ways in which PL is both Trinitarian and not
>> Trinitarian, and hence is neither Trinitarian nor Arian, but something
>> else entirely.
>>
>> Kim Maxwell
>>
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--
Hannibal Hamlin
Associate Professor of English
The Ohio State University
Burkhardt Fellow,
The Folger Shakespeare Library
201 East Capitol Street SE
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