[Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

jonnyangel junkopardner at comcast.net
Fri Jan 9 22:40:31 EST 2009

On 1/8/09 11:05 PM, "Michael Bryson" <michael.bryson at csun.edu> wrote:

> 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.

Yes, PL "is" a "Christian" poem. And there is _always_ room for debate, but
there has to be something to debate first. You suggest that PL isn't a
Christian poem (which is absurd). From the beginning of the poem ("till one
greater Man/Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat") all the way to the
end, it's a Christian poem. Who do you think the "one greater Man" was/is?
Achilles? Mohammed? Santa Claus?

> 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.

What does an oppressive fundamentalist cult have to do with Christianity? If
your oppressive fundamentalist cult was based in Christianity, then the two
had nothing in common (outside of a word). There will always be a vast
disparity between humanity and divinity (which Milton fully addresses in PR
when the "one greater Man" resists the material temptations of fallible
humanity). So while I'm sorry to hear about your bad experience with (I
assume) Christianity, it doesn't change the fact that PL is a "Christian"
poem. Milton was attempting to create a Christian epic on par with -----
(and succeeded and then some).

> 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.)

I think I mentioned the various branches of Christianity in my previous
post. The important thing isn't that there are so many varying branches: the
important thing to take note of is that all of the branches are of the same
tree, and from the tree all the way to the roots of the tree is the belief
that Jesus (aka "The Son") was the intercessor, and Son of God the Father -
in short, "Christianity".

> 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.

I would say that Milton deals a little more with Christianity in PL than
merely a few thematic tips of his hat. A poem in which the author claims
that his purpose is to justify the ways of God to men (and asks the Heavenly
muse for assistance in doing so) shouldn't be taken lightly.
And how, exactly, is stating that PL is a Christian poem reductive? And
setting up a straw man argument that doing so reduces PL to the level of
Jack Chick Tract stuck in your windshield wiper really isn't working either.
In fact, I think it was Milton himself that first argued for a free press.

Your entire post reeks of your own bias of Christianity (in all of it's
various forms) and I think Milton and PL deserve more than a biased,
"reductive" rejection of his own religion and work.

> 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?)

You're missing the point here: you're missing the tree (and roots) because
you're too focused on the tangled branches.

> 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?

You _cannot_ be serious here. The reason "Christ" doesn't appear in PL is
because he hadn't taken human form - he was "The Son". It would be kinda
strange for The Son to have the "human" name of Jesus (or Christ, etc) in
heaven wouldn't it? "The Son", however, has major relevance in PL, because
he was to become the "one greater Man" Milton brings up by Line 5 in PL
(which was, incidentally, "Jesus" - see PR, although it's not necessary).

> 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 agree and disagree with this. I disagree as a Christian, but I agree as a
scholar. I think when speaking of PR, it's unwise to mention "Christ";
_simply_ because it's nowhere in the 4 books (I checked when I wrote my
paper). "Jesus" is in there, as well as various other monikers, but never
"Christ". The earlier poems are a different story: you can say Christ
because Milton wrote it. And as I stated earlier, the reason there are no
references to Christ, Jesus, etc in PL is because "The Son" (the one greater
"man") wasn't in human form (oh, kenosis...).

> 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?

First of all, it's NOT a "temptation": it is what is. Do you think it's a
300+ year coincidence that people see PL as a "Christian" poem? And as for
your question of "when does enough become enough?", I'm not sure what your
(possibly rhetorically) asking. If you're asking when is seeing PL as a
Christian poem enough, then the answer is never.

And I would refer you to the author, but A: he's dead, and B: it's not
necessary: it's all right there in the text and the author's life and
religious beliefs. 


Jonny (standing 6'6", and always at eye level with the soap boxers)

> </soapbox> 
> ---- 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,
>>> etc). 
>>> 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, 
>>> Jonny
>>> "Some things are too hot to touch/the human mind can only stand so much..."
>>> -Bob Dylan 
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