[Milton-L] Re: orthodoxy

Katarzyna M Rutkowski Katarzyna.Rutkowski at Colorado.EDU
Fri Jan 22 14:41:47 EST 2010


It is important to remember that the notion of what constitutes the orthodox is itself radically relative, both in the seventeenth century and now. People often assert their orthodoxy in contrast to specific views that they consider suspect, so orthodoxy is contingent and historical. Yes, there is a doctrine set down by the official representatives of an organized religion; but then as now many who consider themselves to be "orthodox" have not devoted themselves to the intense study of those doctrines. For instance, my relative claims that she is a devout Catholic; but she has never read the Bible, and when I explained the concept of transubstantiation to her (a principle fundamental to Roman Catholic orthodoxy) she argued that no Catholic in his or her right mind would believe such nonsense. In short, for most orthodoxy is defined locally and situationally, and can even vary greatly from one church, temple, synagogue, etc. to another. Furthermore, the claim to orthodoxy is a common rhetorical device that discredits another particular view as heterodox. Although I would never say that Milton was unstudied in Christian doctrine, I will point out that his claims to orthodoxy are embedded in texts that are reacting directly to the specific religio-political (with emphasis on the term "political") controversies of his day. Therefore, the pertinent question is not: was Milton orthodox? but rather: when and why does he assert his orthodoxy?

  
Kat Rutkowski, Ph.D.
University of Colorado at Boulder


---- Original message ----
>Date: Fri, 22 Jan 2010 12:00:11 -0500
>From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu (on behalf of milton-l-request at lists.richmond.edu)
>Subject: Milton-L Digest, Vol 38, Issue 50  
>To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
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>Today's Topics:
>
>   1. RE: "the only great Christian writer this nation has
>      produced" (Dr. Larry Gorman)
>   2. Re: "the only great Christian writer this nation has
>      produced" (James Rovira)
>   3. Milton's Cosmos and Universe (Horace Jeffery Hodges)
>   4. Re: "the only great Christian writer this nation has
>      produced" (Horace Jeffery Hodges)
>
>
>----------------------------------------------------------------------
>
>Message: 1
>Date: Thu, 21 Jan 2010 14:02:47 -0600
>From: "Dr. Larry Gorman" <larry at eastwest.edu>
>Subject: RE: [Milton-L] "the only great Christian writer this nation
>	has	produced"
>To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>Message-ID:
>	<C9B29323C4DC4542B370D31000731CA803211F3B at SFO.eastwest.edu>
>Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
>
>My own evaluation would differ.  I don't consider Tolkien or Lewis or
>Bunyan great imaginative writers, and I find Tolkien most interesting
>when explore the heroic rather than the Christian ethos.  I'm not a big
>fan of Brecht, nor am I a communist, but I would think his orthodoxy as
>a writer is suspect.  I'm not at all sure that Eliot's writing profited
>from his orthodoxy, although perhaps orthodoxy made Ash Wednesday and
>The Four Quartets possible.
>
> 
>
>If orthodoxy doesn't impede or help the creative writer, it is
>irrelevant to the text, and discussing it is a form of refined gossip.
>When I think of a writer's orthodoxy, I think of the story, not the
>stated belief.  What I state seems the shell of my beliefs.
>
> 
>
>My assumption is that orthodoxy by its very nature moves one from the
>imaginative to the doctrinaire.  Religion can be more than an ideology,
>but it can and does easily degenerate.  Orthodoxy is the degenerate
>tendency of religion.  Religions require it:  It allows them to define
>themselves.  (Definitions are limiting and structuring.)   Someone like
>Flannery O'Connor obviously found orthodoxy important in her own life,
>although she did have a taste for Teilhard de Chardin.  But Wise Blood
>or The Violent Bear It Away-they are the products of an imagination
>obsessed with Christian images.  I believe the writer when she tells me
>that she tried to structure them in an orthodox way.  I don't know that
>she succeeded.
>
> 
>
> 
>
>________________________________
>
>From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
>[mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of James Rovira
>Sent: Thursday, January 21, 2010 1:15 PM
>To: John Milton Discussion List
>Subject: Re: [Milton-L] "the only great Christian writer this nation has
>produced"
>
> 
>
>The assumption below seems to be functioning like an ideology,
>expressing an expectation that runs contrary to all observed evidence
>(J.R.R. Tolkein, O'Connor, C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, Bunyan, the author of
>the Shepherd's Play, those who painted icons, etc.) and to the expressed
>opinion of authors such as O'Connor (in Mystery and Manners).  Since the
>elements of every story, novel, or poem do not necessarily involve the
>elements of orthodoxy, there's no reason that orthodoxy should either
>impede or help the creative writer.  The opinion expressed below seems
>to proceed from an assumption that a truly orthodox writer will only
>write about the subject of his or her orthodoxy strictly within confines
>defined by that orthodoxy.  Yes, that would be a doctrinaire fiction
>indeed, and probably quite dull, but even that can be creative.
>Creativity involves a mode of expression, not the content of expression.
>
>The assumption gets even more absurd when we apply it beyond Christian
>orthodoxies.  Surely Brecht was a poor dramatist because he was an
>orthodox communist, and we know of no examples of brilliantly creative
>works by orthodox Jews...
>
>Jim R   
>
>On Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 2:06 PM, Dr. Larry Gorman <larry at eastwest.edu>
>wrote:
>
>I agree with Hannibal about the relation between greatness and
>orthodoxy.  It seems to me that an orthodox imaginative can explore
>creation, sin, atonement, and grace.  The trinity seems the kind of
>point best left to theologians.  I would think that orthodoxy is a
>structuring and limiting principle for the imagination, which the
>imagination stretches and subverts.  A really orthodox writer would be
>doctrinaire.  
>
> 
>
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>Message: 2
>Date: Thu, 21 Jan 2010 15:00:37 -0500
>From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
>Subject: Re: [Milton-L] "the only great Christian writer this nation
>	has 	produced"
>To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>Message-ID:
>	<411af8541001211200i73e4a187vd10034d1dffbb24a at mail.gmail.com>
>Content-Type: text/plain; charset="windows-1252"
>
>I wouldn't disagree with most of what you write below, Larry.  Perhaps we
>should distinguish between orthodox writers and orthodox writings?
>Generalities about authors implies a predetermined judgment of their entire
>creative output.  Generalities about types of writing is another matter, and
>still complicated, but at least allows us to deal with individual works.
>
>Jim R
>
>On Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 3:02 PM, Dr. Larry Gorman <larry at eastwest.edu>wrote:
>
>>  My own evaluation would differ.  I don’t consider Tolkien or Lewis or
>> Bunyan great imaginative writers, and I find Tolkien most interesting when
>> explore the heroic rather than the Christian ethos.  I’m not a big fan of
>> Brecht, nor am I a communist, but I would think his orthodoxy as a writer is
>> suspect.  I’m not at all sure that Eliot’s writing profited from his
>> orthodoxy, although perhaps orthodoxy made Ash Wednesday and The Four
>> Quartets possible.
>>
>>
>>
>> If orthodoxy doesn’t impede or help the creative writer, it is irrelevant
>> to the text, and discussing it is a form of refined gossip.  When I think of
>> a writer’s orthodoxy, I think of the story, not the stated belief.  What I
>> state seems the shell of my beliefs.
>>
>>
>>
>> My assumption is that orthodoxy by its very nature moves one from the
>> imaginative to the doctrinaire.  Religion can be more than an ideology, but
>> it can and does easily degenerate.  Orthodoxy is the degenerate tendency of
>> religion.  Religions require it:  It allows them to define themselves.
>> (Definitions are limiting and structuring.)   Someone like Flannery O’Connor
>> obviously found orthodoxy important in her own life, although she did have a
>> taste for Teilhard de Chardin.  But Wise Blood or The Violent Bear It
>> Away—they are the products of an imagination obsessed with Christian
>> images.  I believe the writer when she tells me that she tried to structure
>> them in an orthodox way.  I don’t know that she succeeded.
>>
>>
>>
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>Message: 3
>Date: Thu, 21 Jan 2010 13:12:41 -0800 (PST)
>From: Horace Jeffery Hodges <jefferyhodges at yahoo.com>
>Subject: [Milton-L] Milton's Cosmos and Universe
>To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>Message-ID: <411350.69381.qm at web54604.mail.re2.yahoo.com>
>Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"
>
>Thanks, Carol, for your response, which is a possible reading of Milton. I still see more instability in Milton's chaos, however. Before reading your email, I posted some thoughts on my blog entry this morning, so in lieu of a direct reply (due to time constraints), I'll paste here what I posted there:
>
>
>http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/2010/01/john-miltons-chaos-chance-governs-all.html
>
>
>I suspect that the instability [of chaos] goes all the way down.
>
>
>Instability doesn't seem to stop at qualities and atoms, for qualities such as "hot, cold, moist, and dry" or "heavy, sharp, smooth, swift or slow" cannot exist without being the properties of matter, such as the four traditional elements of water, earth, air, and fire alluded to as "Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire" or the fundamental particles called "atoms."
>
>
>In stating that there is "neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire, / But all these in thir pregnant causes mixt / Confus'dly," Milton would seem to mean that the four elements of water, earth, air, and fire do not exist except in their "causes" alone, the qualities of "hot, cold, moist, and dry," which cannot exist in isolation as properties alone. Similarly, he mentions the "embryon atoms," which suggests a lack of proper, finished form even though the ancient concept of the atoms was that they had no inner complexity, but were hard, indestructible units of matter with specific properties "heavy, sharp, smooth, swift or slow."
>
>
>Moreover, Milton describes chaos as being "Without dimension, where length, breadth, & highth, / And time and place are lost," which seems to make the abyss a deeply formless 'state' of affairs in which even atoms or elements could not fully exist.
>
>
>And "Chance governs all . . ."
>
>
>Jeffery Hodges
>
>
>
>
>________________________________
>From: Carol Barton <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>
>To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
>Sent: Thu, January 21, 2010 11:20:38 PM
>Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: [Milton-L] Milton's Cosmos and Universe
>
>
>Hi, Jeffery!
>
>It seems to me that the relational concept is semantic only, and that the discussion has begun to mix apples with oranges.
>
>The elements (earth, water, air, fire) are "entities"--complete, distinct, and distinguishable as separate units of existence in the material world--unto themselves, having the attributes of dryness, moisture, coldness, and heat, which are metonymously synonymous (what a phrase!) with those elements. They can also be components of higher forms of matter (at least according to the Platonic scheme). This is analogous, I suppose, to eggs, water, flour, and sugar--separate and distinct material "entities" all, being combined into a batter and subjected to heat to make a cake. They aren't "unfinished" to begin with--but together they create another "entity" different from any of them individually, which is "unfinished" as a cake when it exists only as batter or the ingredients of which the batter is comprised.
>
>The finished elemental "entities"--the "generals"--use unfinished materials (that is, the embyonic atoms) in the same way. The elements vie with one another to determine which will achieve supremacy over the atoms in question, and exert its influence achieve the finished product--but in Chaos, none of them ever wins. The atoms are not the progeny of the elements--more like the raw (hence "embryonic") materials used by the elements (at the Creator's direction) to form the material world. Generals have long been said to "use" soldiers to achieve their military objetives--almost as if they were the raw materials of war--and of course the devastation (to both sides) caused by the British Civil Wars and the seeming indifference of the commissioned officers to the men who fought them would never be far from Milton's mind. 
>
>But that is another argument.
>
>Bottom line: I don't think "embyonic" here implies "unstable"--merely "unfinished" or "incomplete."  
>
>Best to all,
>
>Carol Barton
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>
>Message: 4
>Date: Thu, 21 Jan 2010 13:15:18 -0800 (PST)
>From: Horace Jeffery Hodges <jefferyhodges at yahoo.com>
>Subject: Re: [Milton-L] "the only great Christian writer this nation
>	has	produced"
>To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>Message-ID: <163315.95967.qm at web54601.mail.re2.yahoo.com>
>Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"
>
>Jim, my German professor at Baylor was Catholic -- and that was way back in the mid-1970s!
>
>
>Jeffery Hodges
>
>
>
>
>________________________________
>From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
>To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>Sent: Fri, January 22, 2010 2:11:41 AM
>Subject: Re: [Milton-L] "the only great Christian writer this nation has produced"
>
>O'Connor seems an orthodox enough Roman Catholic, and believed that her own writing was possible because her doctrine gave her a way of seeing things.  It's very doubtful to me that the capacity for creative imagination is linked to specific belief in any direct way -- O'Connor would probably have been a great writer if she were an atheist or a Muslim.  The true irony is that she's hailed as an orthodox Christian by Evangelicals but wouldn't be allowed to teach at many Evangelical colleges in the US because she is Catholic.  O'Connor would be denied a teaching position at Wheaton even though she is beloved by Evangelical Christian scholars.  I'm curious if she'd get hired at Baylor.
>
>Jim R
>
>
>On Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 12:04 PM, Hannibal Hamlin <hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com> wrote:
>
>The problem with all such value judgements is that they depend upon various definition arguments. From reading Flannery O'Connor, for instance, I'd be inclined to seriously question her "orthodoxy." Indeed -- an idle thought -- might "greatness" and "orthodoxy" usually exist in writers in inverse proportion? But then of course "greatness" is even more difficult to define. And what, moreover, makes a writer "religious"? I'd make a case for both Whitman and Dickinson as religious, though they were far from orthodox. Certainly great. I suppose we could even debate the parameters of "American." What about T.S. Eliot?
>>
>>Hannibal
>>
>>
>>
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