The Theology of “Paradise Lost” -- By: Earle E. Cairns

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 105:420 (Oct 1948)
Article: The Theology of “Paradise Lost”
Author: Earle E. Cairns

The Theology of “Paradise Lost”

Earle E. Cairns

Milton has been considered as the poetic exponent of the orthodox Puritan theology of the seventeenth century. This viewpoint, which is traditionally rather than historically accurate, was accepted by most groups until 1823 when his theological treatise The Christian Doctrine was discovered by Lemon, translated by Sumner from Latin and published in 1825. Then it was found that Milton was not a Calvinist nor even a Trinitarian. Despite this discovery, his conception of theology in Paradise Lost has had tremendous influence and the average person still thinks of Milton as one of the defenders of the Protestant faith worthy to be ranked with Luther.

A search in Milton bibliographies revealed the fact that, until recently, there was no adequate treatment of the theology of Paradise Lost.1 Dodge rightfully criticized the earlier attempts by Addison, Johnson, Macaulay and Matthew Arnold to discuss the theology of the poem by saying that they show personal bias. Addison, a Whig, eulogizes the poem and its theology; Johnson, a Tory, feels that it is subversive politically and theologically.2 One might also add the criticism that those who deal with the theology of the poem usually have had no theological training to enable them to catch the more subtle points of doctrine inherent in the poem. The usual article on the theology of the poem deals only with one point or strays from a theological to a literary treatment of the character of God, Satan or Adam and Eve.

Often it appears that each writer has a point of view concerning Milton which he thinks is a focus for his theology. Dodge, in the article mentioned above, holds that Milton’s typically Puritan viewpoint will unify his theology.3 Saurat, in his book Milton, Man and Thinker, writes that Milton’s theology is based on the esoteric doctrines of the Cabbala, a product of Jewish thought. Tillyard’s view is that Milton’s treatise The Christian Doctrine, when compared with Paradise Lost, will reveal that Milton’s theology belongs for the most part to the Renaissance and that he based it on the Bible.4 Weldon’s view seems most nearly to fit all the facts when he writes of Milton: “He seems to have drifted surely, if slowly, away from orthodox Christianity into a Christian belief and habit of his own.”5 This view will explain the heretical similarities and contrasts in the theology of Paradise Lost and ...

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