|Response to Nick
||[Feb. 24th, 2006|01:17 am]
Somebody left a comment to an older post in this community asking a couple basic questions about Milton, and since nobody's posted anything here recently and it was a good question, I'm putting my response here instead of as a reply to that comment.|
John Milton the name rings a bell, i've heard of him, but have never read any of his work. Came across Paradise Lost/Regained today and it was amazing. Reading a couple passages from both books i was impressed. What i would like to find out is whether Milton was a Christian (reform theology) and if not, from what worldview perspective was he writing?
[This is a bit rushed, since I have schoolwork to do tonight--but I can't pass up a question about Milton, come on!]
Milton was a Christian, and a very Protestant one. I don't know how much historical background you have, but just briefly:
He lived in England during the seventeenth century, which was a time of immense religious (and related political) struggle. Part of this struggle was the English Civil War, in which the king and his Laudian/Arminian (ritualistic, liturgical, theologically more favorable to free will than predestination) state church were overthrown and replaced by a series of governments of varying success which, while overall somewhat more favorable to extreme Puritan/other Protestant sects, predominantly promoted Presbyterianism. Milton began his public career writing propaganda for the rebels during the Civil War and afterwards was employed for years as the state Latin secretary. While he was vehemently opposed to the Laudian church, and outwardly conformist enough (just barely) to remain within the post-War government, he found many of the same flaws in the new Presbyterian church: it was oppressive, dictating overmuch to individual consciences what they should believe and how they should worship.
Theologically as well as ecclesiastically Milton was something of a rebel; his views seem to have grown more radical as he grew older (as one reason, most suggest disillusionment at the Protestants' failed attempt to create a reformed Christian state after the Civil War), although evidence for them in all their complexity can be found throughout his literary career. Two of his most important beliefs seem to have been: an "Arminian" view of the role of human will and choice in salvation, ie. his theology was not Reformed; and a gradual rejection of the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity--his rationale for this is clearly laid out in On Christian Doctrine (published posthumously, but it is the accepted view among scholars that Milton is definitely its author) but comes through a bit in some of the poetry, for example parts of Paradise Lost, which he seems to have been writing at the same time. Another theological issue often associated with Milton is divorce--at the beginning of his career he published a series of tracts arguing that divorce is permissible for Christians not only in cases traditionally allowed by the church (eg. adultery) but also when the married people are not suited to one another intellectually or personally.
If you want to get a good idea of Milton's worldview in his own words, I suggest that you read his famous tract called Areopagitica--the one where he writes against censorship. His arguments are compelling and interesting and reveal a good deal of his own beliefs and premises. It's not short, but there are probably some good abridged versions floating around the web.
[Members of this community, feel free to add anything else you think is important and correct me if I've said anything stupid. Thanks!]