[Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

Michael Bryson michael.bryson at csun.edu
Fri Jan 9 15:30:32 EST 2009

Paradise Lost is also deeply "classical" in its
"tone, reference, coloring" (if not theology, though
I would argue even that point, given what I see as a
profound Platonist/Neoplatonist element in the poem
that aligns rather nicely with certain Greek
Orthodox theological ideas--deification being merely
one example off the top of my head; another would be
the idea of the divine that abides within all things
in what the Heyschast tradition refers to as the
energies of God [essentially, the divine as
manifested in creation]), but it is not therefore
simply and reductively a "classical" poem (whatever
that might mean).

My point is merely this: Paradise Lost does, indeed,
contain many "Christian" elements, but the poem is
not contained by those elements. It is larger than
that, much larger than that.

I'll leave the rest unaddressed (accusations of
intellectual perversity and blindness, etc.). But I
must say this: anyone who knows anything of me or my
work, knows that muffling the Bible (or references
thereto in Paradise Lost or any other work) is the
last thing I have any interest in.

Michael Bryson

---- Original message ----

  Date: Fri, 9 Jan 2009 13:23:09 -0600
  From: Larry Isitt <isitt at cofo.edu>
  Subject: RE: [Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana
  To: John Milton Discussion List
  <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>

  “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

  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,
  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
  >> 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,"
  >> not to be tolerated in the well-regulated
  >> commonwealth. And I remember that Calvin's
  >> Catholic antagonists called him an "atheist."
  >> call PL a "Christian" poem, therefore, implies
  >> 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
  >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
  >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
  >Christianity" he tackles the complexities of the
  Trinity with the
  >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
  >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
  >-Bob Dylan
  >Milton-L mailing list
  >Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
  >Manage your list membership and access list
  archives at
  >Milton-L web site: http://johnmilton.org/


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