[Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Sat Jan 10 12:37:41 EST 2009

jonnyangel wrote:
> On 1/9/09 11:12 PM, "Michael Bryson" <michael.bryson at csun.edu> wrote:
> Lay your points out more precisely then. Is PL a Christian poem or not?

_A_ point would be that the very question is ambiguous: that it really
cannot be said _either_ that "PL is a Christian poem" or "PL is not a
Christian poem." If any idea in human history comes dripping with blood
it is the idea of the Trinity -- a doctrine that simply cannot flourish
without support from authoritarian institutions. Alternatively, in more
secular states, a Church can adopt a policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell,
allowing merely kneejerk nominal acceptance of the doctrine, as in the
old joke about the Anglican Church: "Interferes sneither with a man's
politics nor his religion." Milton was at the cusp of this
transformation from the bonfire and the noose to the merely nominal
Christianity Swift ironically (or seriously?) defended. If I recall
correctly, Hill points out that the last hanging for "unitariaism" was
in 1695; explicit expression of Arian views was simply not an  option in

So we have a non-Trinitarian poem in a period when it was death to be
non-Trinitarian; a poem grounded in "free" choice without even Dante's
acknowledgment that the mystery of Divine power & human freedom was a
mystery not even the angels could decipher. And of course, if the Son is
an autonomous being _and_ a deity, we have a poem which celebrates
polytheism. The "debate" between Father & Son in Book III then nearly
parallels the brief discussion between Zeus & Hera over Zeus' impulse to
save his son Sarpedon from fated death. ("Do it then" she argues, but
then the other gods....) So yes, it is a poem containing "Christianity,"
but it is also a poem wreaking havoc on many major forms of
Christianity: a poem, in fact, which 'unvelievers' can read and love
without embarassment. Frank Kermode in 1960 suggested Book III was
simply a quick and easy way to establish the theological ground rules of
the poem, allowing it to go about its real business of being a poem
about death!

And note Ureil's calm acceptance of the phenomenon of a solitary Cherub
wandering through space; compare that with Dante's Angels. Uriel is
perfectly willing to act as a sort of celestial tourist guide. (And
Milton goes out of his way to underline that it would have been
impossible for Uriel to see the Cherub as anything but a Cherub: Only
the Father himself can see thorugh hypocrisy.)

What does it mean to be a Christian poem anyhow, if one can include so
many elements that are or could be so repugnant to so many versions of


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