[Milton-L] finding the bad in what you find good, installment 3

Richard A. Strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Mon Apr 18 11:25:26 EDT 2016


Yes, important quote from the Westminster Catechism.  As Calvin and others make clear, the elect were ALWAYS saved by faith.
RS

________________________________
From: milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu] on behalf of Michael Gillum [mgillum at unca.edu]
Sent: Monday, April 18, 2016 7:47 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] finding the bad in what you find good, installment 3

The word "save" effectively reinforces the typological significance of purification rituals. Milton might be using it with an implied "according to their belief," or perhaps with a touch of irony. But some Protestants believed that holy persons in the Hebrew Bible actually could have been saved by grace but through the influence of "types" on their faith. Consider this from the Westminster Larger Catechism:

The covenant of grace was administered under the Old Testament, by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the passover, and other types and ordinances, which did all fore-signify Christ then to come, and were for that time sufficient to build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they then had full remission of sin, and eternal salvation. (Answer to Question 34)
Michael

On Sun, Apr 17, 2016 at 7:27 PM, Horace Jeffery Hodges <horacejeffery at gmail.com<mailto:horacejeffery at gmail.com>> wrote:
I'd want to leave open both possibilities. but in either case, Milton's views on the holy, the unclean, the clean, and the common would be (potentionally) relevant to a poem of this sort.

Jeffery Hodges

On Sun, Apr 17, 2016 at 3:22 PM, Gregory Machacek <Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu<mailto:Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu>> wrote:
Well, one often tries to leave open the possibility that the speaker of a poem is not simply to be equated with the author.  Harold Skulsky's reading calls for us to speak of Milton's "surrogate" in the poem.

But insofar as you regard the speaker and Milton as equivalent, feel free to answer for Milton.  (Milton in communication with whatever audience you imagine he was trying to reach.)



Greg Machacek
Professor of English
Marist College


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From: Horace Jeffery Hodges
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Date: 04/17/2016 03:21PM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] finding the bad in what you find good, installment 3


Gregory Machacek:  Should a Christian speaker speak of anything in the old law as “saving”?  Can a Christian speaker use that theologically charged word in such a context as this?  Isn’t almost the most fundamental difference that Christians understand between the old law and the new law that nothing under the old law can save (but can only convict)?

Jeffery Hodges: Shouldn't the questions be about Milton specifically rather than a hypothetical Christian?

Jeffery Hodges

On Sun, Apr 17, 2016 at 11:54 PM, Gregory Machacek <Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu<mailto:Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu>> wrote:
So, in connection with Jeffery’s comment, I’ll take what was going to be installment 4 and offer it as installment 3.
To Jeffery:  Please know that I’m not opposed to reading “old” as carrying the semantic weight that you propose it could carry (and therefore, prosodically, pyrrhic spondee).  But to the extent that one does place a vocal stress on “old,” as John C. has remarked, one implies a contrast (as you yourself point out, with the new law), and that contrast is one that the poem doesn’t (explicitly, at least) reference.  All I’m saying is that with “th’old law” one has to make a choice between two options, both of which are bad:  1) downplay the word, in which case it’s filler, or 2) stress it, in which case it implies a contrast that no other portion of the poem explicitly picks up—one half of a contrast that kind of hangs there without its other half.
Now to everyone: But the old law and the new law bear on another thing that’s troublesome about this line.  Let me get to it through a series of questions, questions that I put to the list in all sincerity (I genuinely want to hear people’s answers), even though you will soon see they are also tendentious.
In English, to speak of an Israelite woman who had completed her post child-birth purification ritual, is the expression that one would choose (if one weren’t under the exigency of rhyme) to say that she had been “saved”?  My first question is just that:  is what the Levitical post child-birth purification ritual does well described, in English, as “saving” a woman?  And not even “saving” her from uncleanliness, which is to my ears itself an awkward enough expression, but “saving” her full-stop (since by this stage of the poem she doesn’t need to be “saved” from impurity; she’s in the previous line already been described as “washt” from that).  Is what purification in the old law does well expressed as to “save”?
And now I’ll ask a more pointed version of that same question.  Should a Christian speaker speak of anything in the old law as “saving”?  Can a Christian speaker use that theologically charged word in such a context as this?  Isn’t almost the most fundamental difference that Christians understand between the old law and the new law that nothing under the old law can save (but can only convict)?
You can likely see where these questions are driving.  I think this is one of these cases where rhyme constrained an author to “express things otherwise, and for the most part worse, then else he would have expressed them.”  I think the dimension of the dream image that Milton is trying to describe in these two lines (When I saw my late espoused saint in a dream she appeared to me to be pure) brings in its trail, given one of the words Milton uses to describe that purity, a very theologically discordant assertion—that purification in the old law saves—and that discordance comes about largely just because Milton needs another –ave rhyme (it’s a sound that has relatively few rhyme words) to complete his octave.
P.S.  It’s becoming clear to me that I am going to have simultaneously to demonstrate why sonnet 23 is a poor poem and defend engaging in such an enterprise at all, since we have both conversations running through this thread.  Why would anybody even engage in such a perverse undertaking as to demonstrate that a poem many people report as finding profound and touching is “in fact” poor? So, as a rapid-fire set of answers to this:
“If a poem can be read meaningfully it is good, and irregularity can be meaningful. Bad verse should simply be ignored, not labored over. Our role is to enhance appreciation, not diminish it.”
from Hugh R.  One, I agree whole-heartedly that irregularity can be meaningful.  I’m not looking for regularity in “Purification in”; I’m looking either for regularity or for meaningful irregularity and finding that “Purification in” is not a meaningful irregularity, but simply a weak stretch within the overall rhythm.  Two, we can’t ignore bad verse and enhance appreciation of good without a prior determination of which is which, so evaluation was at some stage presumably a necessary activity.  Three, I’d want you to know that I spend 90% of my work life believing in and trying to achieve precisely that ideal that you articulate of enhancing people’s appreciation of literature.  But four, we’re all adults here; if the flaws I point out in sonnet 23 aren’t flaws, they won’t diminish the appreciation of this sonnet of anyone here.  Five, if they are flaws, pointing them out might come with the compensating value of enhancing readers’ appreciation of better composed passages.  (There's a sixth and lastly that wouldn't be quick, so I'll look for another occasion).



Greg Machacek
Professor of English
Marist College


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From: Horace Jeffery Hodges
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Date: 04/16/2016 04:46PM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] finding the bad in what you find good, installment 2

Greg Machacek: In fact, there isn’t an old law and a new law; there’s an old covenant (of the law) and a new covenant, of grace.  “Old Law” is redundant; the word “Law” all by itself would have conveyed the notion old.  “Old” here is what in newspaper verse we can recognize as filler.

Jeffery Hodges: But one finds in the New Testament these opposing expressions: "old law" vs. "new law" and "law of works" vs. "law of grace," and they are used throughout the Christian tradition all the way down to our time. The term "old" need not be considered mere "filler."
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