[Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

Michael Bryson michael.bryson at csun.edu
Fri Jan 9 23:12:48 EST 2009


jonnyangel (whoever you actually are...)

You appear not to have engaged with any..and I do
mean any...of my actual points. And as you refer to
yourself as a scholar, I would think that such
engagement would be important to you.

You and I are not talking about the same thing. No
matter. I look forward to reading your work.

All best,

Michael Bryson

P.S. And to suggest that I take Paradise Lost, which
is indeed a poem which declares its intention to
justify the ways of God to men, lightly, is merely
risible. I do some work on the importance of that
very line, in fact.

---- Original message ----

  Date: Fri, 09 Jan 2009 22:40:31 -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 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.
  >
  >Cheers,
  >
  >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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  >>
  >>
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