[Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

Larry Isitt isitt at cofo.edu
Fri Jan 9 14:23:09 EST 2009

"oppressive fundamentalist cult" So what are the beliefs from which you fled?
Zoroastrian? Hindu? You're straining at gnats and missing the camel. Par Lost is Christian in tone, reference, coloring, theology, and whatever other measures one might use to locate its heart's core. You can choose to believe salt is sugar, that Par Lost is anything but a Christian poem (as 99% of Milton's readers then and now would classify it), but this is simply perverse thinking that chooses deliberately to muffle the literally thousands of Bible references the poem contains. That must have been some cult if it blinded you this badly.

Larry Isitt
English Dept
College of the Ozarks
Point Lookout, MO 65726
417-334-6411, x3269

From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Michael Bryson
Sent: Thursday, January 08, 2009 10:05 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

So Paradise Lost "is" a "Christian" poem?

Good to know there's no debate on that point. Honestly, this is the kind of thing that keeps too many students thinking that Milton is someone they do not want to read (go check the number of times Milton is offered as a single-author course in most English departments--once a year is on the high side, while every other year is all too common). I am lucky enough to be able to teach a Milton course every semester here at CSUN, but that is a highly unusual circumstance. I deal with theology (and philosophy and history and genre and...and...and...) quite a bit in that course, but never do I insist that students (or colleagues, for that matter) simply check their judgment at the door and genuflect before a not-to-be-questioned pronouncement such as the one above.

I first read the poem in the Escondido, CA public library, and I found in it (at the age of 13) a refuge from the oppressive fundamentalist cult in which I had been raised. Does that make the poem "anti-Christian" (or, more specifically, "anti-20th-century-American cult"?) No. Neither does the experience of reading the poem in the Vatican make it Catholic, or at Westminster Abbey make it Anglican, or at Wrigley Field make it doomed.

Paradise Lost is a poem (a staggeringly great poem at that) which makes much use of themes, characters, questions, dilemmas, cruxes of thought, etc. that are at work in the various branches of "Christianity." But it also engages with many/most of the same things that are at work in Judaism(s). Does that make it a "Jewish" poem? There are points of contact that can be established between the concerns of Paradise Lost and those of Zoroastrianism, and even Hinduism. No one, I trust, will be pronouncing that Milton's poem is therefore either Zoroastrian or Hindu. (Of course, that might be a rather interesting pronouncement, valuable at least for its freshness. The same old gets to be rather, well, same old.)

A poem that deals with "themes" (for want of a better word) that appear in "Christianity" (whatever the variation), is not, due to that fact, a "Christian" poem. Paradise Lost deserves better than to be treated so reductively as one might treat the kind of garishly printed (and poorly written) pamphlets that American door to door evangelists peddle on weekend mornings. Those are, indeed, "Christian" publications. Paradise Lost is not so monumental and sub-literate a bore as that.

Michael Bryson

P.S. And what, exactly, is "the religion of Christ" much less the "gospel of Christ"? (Let's let the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholics and Anglicans and Southern Baptists and Presbyterians and Lutherans and Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses hash that out for a while, shall we?) Who, exactly, was this "Christ" person, anyhow? (Let's get John Dominick Crossan and Rick Warren to debate that one...) These are serious historical questions, and I think Milton took them seriously. And precisely what relevance does "Christ" (whoever that may have been outside the pages of the texts, both canonical and non-canonical) have in a poem where the name does not appear even once? All too many of us refer to "Christ" in published work on Milton, without, it seems, ever bothering to acknowledge that Milton seems allergic to the word in his later poetry. This, among other reasons, is why I wrote (in the Tyranny of Heaven) that Milton studies have often threatened to turn into Milton ministries.

I sincerely apologize to the members of this list if the polemical tone here is too much. But this is something I believe is a crucial point. Academic study of a poem that engages with theology, mythology, politics, etc. should not be an opening to bring one's weekend devotionals (or lack thereof) into the classroom (or the journal). But with the study of this author, and this body of work, the temptation seems impossible for many of us (on either end of the spectrum) to resist. I am not without sin here, and I am not trying (despite what may appear in these hastily-written paragraphs) to cast the first stone. But when does enough become enough?


---- Original message ----
Date: Thu, 08 Jan 2009 21:39:35 -0500
From: jonnyangel <junkopardner at comcast.net>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>On 1/8/09 4:01 PM, "Peter C. Herman" <herman2 at mail.sdsu.edu> wrote:
>> Dear All,
>> I wonder if perhaps we could try for more precise
>> terminology than "Christian," since the
>> definition of that term for Milton (and others)
>> was very much in dispute. Catholicism, for
>> example, is for Milton (and others) "popery," and
>> not to be tolerated in the well-regulated
>> commonwealth. And I remember that Calvin's
>> Catholic antagonists called him an "atheist." To
>> call PL a "Christian" poem, therefore, implies an
>> ecumenicism that I do not think is warranted by
>> either the times or the text itself.
>> Peter C. Herman
>"Christians" are simply those who believe in the religion of Christ (just
>like the Catholics). I read "Areopagitica" last semester and Milton wasn't
>an ecumenist by a long shot: he left the Catholics out (not to mention
>supporting regicide, the two handed engine ready to smite the blind mouths,
>I guess if one were to define PL as a "Christian" poem they would have
>define "Christian" by Milton's views in DDC. I certainly think the text of
>PL is supported by Milton's view of the religion of Christ (Christianity)
>that he expressed in DDC.
>I understand what you're saying in reference to calling PL a "Christian"
>poem and its implication of ecumenism, but there has never been (nor will
>ever be) a standard definition of what "Christian" is because it's always
>changing. But the one thing Christianity (in all of its various forms) has
>always shared is the belief in the religion and gospel of Christ.
>For instance, C.S. Lewis was a Trinitarian, and in his brilliant work "Mere
>Christianity" he tackles the complexities of the Trinity with the genius
>that Milton tackled PL and Einstein tackled Relativity. And Lewis loved the
>Christian theology of PL, even though there were some obvious theological
>differences separating Milton and Lewis.
>Whatever the differences over the centuries, make no mistake: PL "is" a
>Christian poem. After all, I first read it as a child in a private Christian
>elementary school that was completely Trinitarian. I have friends in the
>priesthood (one still at the Vatican) and they all have read it (and
>continue to read it) and absolutely love it.
>Peace Shalom,
>"Some things are too hot to touch/the human mind can only stand so much..."
>-Bob Dylan
>Milton-L mailing list
>Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
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