[Milton-L] crucifixion

Richard A. Strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Sat Apr 5 18:06:18 EDT 2014

Well, here goes!  I'll say it, and let the storm follow:  Milton could hardly care less about the crucifixion and still be any sort of Christian.

The Son's "heroism" in Book 3 is entirely adventitious, since, after the proem, the action of the Book OPENS with God's decision to pardon man on purely moral/rational grounds (he was misled -- but then, so were Satan's followers-- but that's another problem).  In any case, "Man therefore shall find grace" is determined, absolutely and definitively, before the whole drama of sacrifice takes place.  The critics who think Satan's heroism false and the Son's true have it backwards.  Someone had to do what Satan did, if his plan was to succeed (and it is not clear that anyone else was going to volunteer); the Son's Great Act is strictly unnecessary -- it's Milton trying to look orthodox, as if he believed in Anselmic atonement theory, when in fact he has already worked things out in his purely rationalistic way.

And of course, the crucifixion is notoriously difficult to find in the account of history in Bks XI-XII.  It takes up 3 lines (XII: 411-13), and even there, Milton finds the abjection intolerable, and immediately makes the event a military triumph and reversal of torture -- "But to the Cross he nails thy Enemies."


From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of alan horn [alanshorn at gmail.com]
Sent: Saturday, April 05, 2014 4:40 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] tree of life

why is the Tree of Life there at all? Milton seems to strip it of any function in the literal narrative and reduce it to a symbol prefiguring Christian salvation. Does this get us any closer to establishing a symmetrical relation between the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life?

The Tree of Life is the type of the cross. Jesus dying on the cross in obedience to the law of God makes good Adam’s disobedience in eating of that other tree. So Christ (the anti-type of Satan, who offered the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, or death) redeems from death all those who “offered life / Neglect not” (XII, 425-6). The Tree of Life is identified with the true church in Book IV and Satan who perches on it as he scopes out Eden to corrupt clergy (193).

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