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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Milton's orthodoxy and its relation to the form of Paradise Lost Gerard, Bernice M.

Abstract

There exists a wide divergence of opinion as to whether Milton is an orthodox Christian. This thesis argues that upon examination Milton's alleged heresies come out quite clearly as transpositions of orthodox belief rather than as departures from it, and that Milton as the author of Paradise Lost emerges as an outstanding Christian apologist because he soared in his singing robes to present the orthodox Christian story of redemption with unsurpassed beauty and eloquence. This re-examination of the problem of Milton's relationship to orthodoxy centers upon Paradise Lost and The Christian Doctrine, in which there is doctrinal consistency. According to the poet's own terms of reference the appeal to Scripture as described in the Westminster Confession is the true criterion for orthodoxy. In the face of mainstream Christianity's claim that Milton's beliefs must be measured against the creedal statements, Milton holds that not only his beliefs but the creeds themselves must be weighed in the balance of Scripture. Milton's deviation from the established norm of the early creedal statements is seen to be negligible, but when he unequivocally disagrees with the Nicaean Creed which states definitively the Trinitarian position, he has been thought to put himself outside orthodoxy's circle. However, this thesis argues that Milton can only be charged with heresy if the question of his relationship to the Nicaean Creed is superficially regarded or grossly oversimplified. Accordingly, Milton's alleged heresies--his anti-Trinitarianism, materialism, and mortalism--are examined against the background not only of the content of the classical statements regarding these subjects but also of the fundamental conceptions that the statements of Athanasius, Augustine and others were intended radically to emphasize. Ultimately, the argument for Milton's orthodox imagination and intention depends upon a demonstration of the fact that Milton's theological deviations are not the result of the omission of any of creedal orthodoxy's vital elements but rather the result of emphasis of certain points. This proposition finds its crucial test in Milton's attitude toward the doctrine of the atonement. In Paradise Lost Milton uses several transpositions of orthodox belief rather than heresies and employs them to forward his poetic purposes. The process of selection and manipulation is seen to be governed not only by a powerful and positive religious sensibility, but also by an unerring sense of what is artistically appropriate. How Milton, the Puritan, achieved expression in the form of the epic is, in simple terms, the account of how his emphasis on will provides the momentum of the great argument, and how the elements of traditional Christianity are emphasized, subordinated, or transposed to suit the poet's driving purpose. Milton's announced purpose of justifying the ways of God to men is fulfilled in a strange but revealing manner. A God who is ipso facto beyond comprehension is subjected to rational analysis within the confines of epic convention. Some low moments and absurdities result. Yet, in spite of some logical impasses, Milton succeeds magnificently. Not all Adam's questions are answered but he experiences a Paradise within him, happier far. The consumation of Milton's argument and the resolution of the reader's doubt come with the realization, O goodness infinite, goodness immense! That all this good of evil shall produce, And evil turn to good; more wonderful Then that which by creation first brought forth Light out of darkness! (XII, 469-73) This ultimate triumph, so Miltonic and yet so entirely orthodox, so imaginatively satisfying and so in keeping with the whole structure of the poem, is the final proof that, doctrinally as well as poetically, we have here "nothing but well and fair".

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