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OPINIONS OF MILTON.
IN what precedes we have given such particulars of the life of Milton as have been transmitted to our times. His opinions on religion, politics, and other important subjects are now to claim our attention; and it surely must be a matter of the utmost interest to ascertain what a man so eminently endowed, and so free from the restraints of authority and custom in his sentiments, thought on matters which men have agreed in regarding as those of the deepest importance.
We commence naturally with the subject of Religion, the speculative portion of which so much occupied the minds of men in the centuries immediately subsequent to the Reformation. And here we have a most valuable aid in the work on Christian Doctrine, of which we have already spoken,* and which was unknown till the present century. This is in every respect a most valuable and important work, without a parallel perhaps at its time,—exhibiting the efforts of a powerful mind to arrive at truth, disregarding authority, and guided only by the rules of logic and criticism, as far as they were known and followed at the time. It also shows the force of early prejudices, and how utterly impossible it is for even the most powerful mind totally to emancipate itself from their influence ; for we shall find Milton, while fancying he is following Scripture alone, maintaining opinions which were the 1nere inventions of the Fathers.
* See above, p. 111.
It is a question if it was possible, in the time of Milton, to arrive at the knowledge of the exact sense of the language of Scripture; and we are of opinion that it was not. The following are, we apprehend, the requisites for the Scriptural critic, and we will apply them to the case of Milton.
1. The first and most absolutely necessary is the sin- '
cere love of truth for its own sake, independent of the worldly advantages which may be connected with it. Nothing is more rare than this; but probably no man could lay claim to it with more justice than Milton.
2. The next is moral courage, that will set at naught the aryumentum ad vereczma'iam; and refuse unconditional submission to the authority of Councils, Fathers, and theologians, as well knowing that infallibility belongs not to 1nan either individually or collectively; that it is only in matters of fact that authority, when free from suspicion, is to be received; and that in matters of opinion every one is bound to produce his reasons and submit them to examination. Here too Milton will not he found wanting. _
3. The third requisite is what is termed the critical sense,—that power of discerning, by a delicate application of the principles of logic and grammar, what is genuine and what is not so in a work,—what is the exact meaning of a word, a phrase, or a passage. This, which in some cases is termed tact, was defective not only
in Milton, but in all the scholars of his time and of the preceding century; for though, like every other mental power, it is the gift of Nature, yet there is none which has more need of example and exercise for its perfection. It would surely have amazed the contemporaries of Milton to have been told that many of the letters and speeches of Cicero are not the composition of that great orator; yet what critic since the time of Tunstall, who first discerned a portion of the truth, has had any doubt on the subject? And even Tunstall himself might wonder at finding his own principles applied, successfully we think, even to three of the orations against Catilina.* In that time also no one had any suspicion that the Ilias was not one organic piece, the product of one -mind, as much as the ZEneis or the Paradise Lost; while now the ablest critics are agreed to regard it as the work of more minds than one. Again, no one will say that the scholars of the present day are more, or even as familiar with the Classics as were those of Milton’s time, and yet it is not presumption to assert that they understand them more completely;+ for knowledge of this kind, like that in natural science, is progressive, and the students of the coming centuries may elucidate passages which we deceive ourselves in fancying that we understand perfectly. All that has been said here applies with still greater force to the interpretation of Scripture, on which in the time of Milton the critical sense had only ventured to exercise itself with timidity.
4. To these internal qualities, in order to form the perfect Biblical critic, must be added what we may term the external one,—of an extensive and accurate acquaintance with not merely the Greek and Hebrew languages, but with the Arabic and the other kindred dialects of the latter. To this must be added a knowledge of the manners, and the modes of thought, feeling, and expression of the Orientals, and of the geology, geography, natural history, etc. of the East. It is needless to say how deficient Milton’s age was in all these branches of knowledge.
* See our note on Sall. Cat. lii. 1. 1' Thus there are errors, as we shall show, in Milton’s own translation of Horace’s Ode to Pyrrha.
In reading the theologic work of Milton we are therefore to expect to meet with error, such being the inevitable consequence of the circu1nstances under which he
The progress of Milt0n’s mind in theology was of course, like that of the mind of every independent thinker, gradual. He was, as we have seen, brought up in Puritanism, but certainly not in ‘the most straitest sect,’ or else even in his seventeenth year his muse would not, though it were in obedience to orders, have poured forth elegiac strains on the death of the.anti-puritanic Bishop Andrews, or have, some time later, sung the apotheosis of the wife of the Catholic Marquess of VVinchester. In the poems which he wrote on the birth and death of our Lord we meet with nothing particular, except one place, where the young poet appears, unconsciously no doubt, as a Tritheist. During the happy period at Horton he probably did not give overmuch of his time and thoughts to knotty points of theology; but on his return from the Continent he plunged at once into the religious controversies of the age. We cannot however discover any change in his theology.
Thus in the splendid peroration of his treatise Of Reformation in England,—whieh we shall give at length in
the next division of our work,—he expresses the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, “ One Tripersonal Godhead,” and in more than one place of that treatise he speaks of Arianism as a heresy. In the Animadversions, etc. he addresses the Son as “ the ever-begotten Light and perfect Image of the Father,” terms corresponding with those of the Nicene Creed.*
He also had no objection to infant baptism, for in The Reason of Church Government (book ii. chap. 2) he says :
Ye have been told, not to set your threshold by his threshold, or your posts by his posts; but your sacrament, your sign, call it what you will, by his sacrament, baptizing the Christian infant with a solemn sprinkle, and unbaptizing for your own part, with a profane and impious forefinger; as if, when ye had laid the purifying element upon his forehead, ye meant to cancel and cross it out again with a character not of God’s blessing.
In the Doctrine of Divorce (i. 14) he speaks of those “ who follow Anabaptism, Familism, Antinomianism, and other fanatic dreams.”
He also at this time held the Calvinistic doctrine of Predestination, but in the Sublapsarian form ; for he thus writes in that treatise (ii. ch. 3) :
The Jesuits, and that sect among us which is named of Arminius, are wont to charge us of making God the author of sin, in two degrees especially, not to speak of his permission: 1. Because we hold that He hath decreed some to damnation (and consequently to sin, say they) ; next, because those means, which are of saving knowledge to others, He makes to them an occasion of greater sin. Yet considering the perfection wherein man was created, and
* The following passage occurs in his Ready and Easy Method, etc., printed early in 1660 : “ Which Thou suffer not, who didst create mankind free! nor Thou next, who didst redeem us from being servants of
men ! ”—Compare Par. Lost, ii. 372 and 383. This looks like a change of opinion.