4. Areopagitica

5 thoughts on “4. Areopagitica

  1. A fairly prominent theme of our class discussion on Monday, perhaps helped by Blum’s article, was one of division: the difference between Milton as an author and person, the difference between Milton as a writer and censor, the difference between Milton as a poet and an author of political tracts. It seems that whatever the case may be, Milton always seems to embody conflicting positions. Take, for instance, his interest in the printing press and publishing. He clearly wanted his work to be read, he self-published both Areopagitica and his 1645 collection of poetry, but we know that he also wished to limit his readership – his angst at having written the Divorce Tracts in English instead of Latin, for instance, so that the non-educated would be able to read them. This theme continues into today’s reading, as Milton writes, in his opening to The Christian Doctrine “it is to the learned that I address myself, or if it be thought that the learned are not the best umpires and judges of such things, I should at least wish to submit my opinions to men of a mature and manly understanding” (902). Milton has no interest in the uneducated, he does not seek to instruct them – his writing is only for the manly learned who can best interpret his arguments. This could be for a couple reasons: either he does not want to be attacked like he did with previous tracts (he wrote this document in Latin), or he did not plan to publish the manuscript for fear of repercussions about what he was claiming. If the latter is true, than this stipulation makes more sense as Milton would most likely only be showing the document to a selected few learned men he felt he could trust. This dichotomy, Milton’s duality, continues later in The Christian Doctrine.

    On page 980, Milton writes about the combination of the physical body and the soul in humans: “the whole man is soul, and the soul man, that is to say, a body, or substance individual, animated, sensitive, and rational; and that the breath of life was neither a part of the divine essence, nor the soul itself, but as it were an inspiration of some divine virtue fitted for the exercise of life and reason, and infused into the organic body; for man himself, the whole man, when finally created is called in express terms a living soul” (980). Within this statement, Milton makes the case of the soul and the body mutually benefitting from each other – neither can exist without the other. Additionally, Milton claims that the breath of life is not the same as the soul, as some had posited, but that it simply contributed to man as a holistic combination of both body and soul. This is all well and good, but it seems to contradict what Milton wrote in Areopagitica – that the body is merely a vessel for ideas, that the body eventually decays and dies, and that ideas are the most important part of living as they can exist long after the corporeal body rots. I am of course conflating Milton’s definition of ideas and a soul, but it seems, from the reading at least, that this was a conflation he himself made. What can account for this shift in perspective? It is impossible to know, but maybe Milton, as he grew older, started to appreciate the body for what it was, and realized that it was not simply a meat sack. Or maybe his perusal of scripture led him to the conclusion that the body is as sacred as the soul/mind, that they are equal parts of a whole. Regardless of the case, this becomes just one more example of Milton’s conflicting and disparate thoughts/writings, and a headache for those attempting to reconcile his differing opinions.

  2. Comments on Milton’s Religious Doctrine:

    Reading the preface of this doctrine, it didn’t take long for Milton to place himself in the text. After first pointing out that he did some serious truth hunting in the scriptures, and that everyone should do the same for themselves (don’t take Milton’s word for it, because the only thing that gets in the way of the truth is heresy) he then proceeds to lay out his full interpretation of the bible as if it were the absolute truth! How very Milton of him. I found it fascinating how he close-read (and compared) scripture, almost as if it were a research essay.
    For me, although I haven’t read Paradise Lost yet, the doctrine seems to be the prose version of the poem. It’s almost as if the prose and poetry work together to address the issue full on, combining human expression with textual exploration to simultaneously reach and depict the truth. From that, I thought this might be the same model (on a slightly smaller scale) as Lycidas and Areopagitica employ to address censorship. Very cool.

  3. In light of our recent focus in class discussion on the physical act of the seventeenth century printing and publishing process as well as Milton’s views and influences on said process, I thought that in preparation for tomorrows class I would look into the printing history of the Christian Doctrine. My intention was to consider the format it was printed in to gain insight into his intended audience, similar to the way we examined books in the archives. I got to poking around on the internet and a few databases, and what I found surprised me. (Here’s an article by Maurice Kelley about the doctrine that I found useful http://www.jstor.org/stable/450791?seq=1) In contrast to the other prose works we have read thus far, “The Christian Doctrine” was not published during Milton’s lifetime. A manuscript was found in 1823 that contained what is now known as “The Christian Doctrine.” The manuscript was hand written in Latin, presumably as dictated by Milton (he had gone blind at the time). The questions raised by this discovery were many: Did Milton really write it? Was he done with it? Why wasn’t it published? Although there is some remaining dispute over the authorship, most critics now agree that Milton did, in fact, write the piece (Kelley’s article, linked above, gives a compelling argument that supports this answer.) The question of it’s publication (or lack thereof) is one that seems significant and particularly relevant to our class. Perhaps Milton felt that it was too controversial, because some of his theological views would have been considered heretical. Then again, in our study of his other prose works (the divorce doctrine comes to mind), we have seen that he was willing to publish controversial religious interpretations even when they differed greatly from the cultural norm. His choice to leave this particular doctrine unpublished suggests that it was either displeasing to him and he didn’t feel it merited publication, or that he felt that if it were to be published, it’s arguments would be too extreme. Either way, or even if his reasons were completely unrelated, it does seem significant that in light of what we have learned recently, this work went unpublished and undiscovered for so long. Perhaps once we have read Paradise Lost, we will see reflections of this comparatively little known doctrine in Milton’s best known work.

    • One more thing. Andrew Bird’s new album “Break It Yourself” features a track called “Orpheo Looks Back.” A song about Orpheus, a figure to whose own songs Milton often alludes, seems relevant, but if not relevant, at least somehow tangentially linked to our course. Also, it’s a pretty good song (though I’m not sure it would drive women to rip Andrew Bird apart). Here’s a link to listen if you so desire, scroll down a ways and you shall find it. http://www.npr.org/2012/02/26/147047574/first-listen-andrew-bird-break-it-yourself

  4. In the “Christian Doctrine “ Milton poses an argument that, some people who are dissatisfied with believing that God created, heaven and earth feel this way because it is seen that all things where made out of matter, in which before God created all living things matter existed independently. However, Milton exams this idea and comes to the conclusion that God was able to produce the heaven and earth by his own strength within himself. I agree with Milton’s argument, for I believe that God is the creator of heaven and earth and that he was able to accomplish that by himself. I also agree with Milton’s argument that matter would be something that God created at the point of him constructing his creations.

    Milton stated that “ God did not produce everything out of nothing, but of himself if all things are not only from God, but of God no created thing can be annihilated” (pg.977). This connected to the “Areopagitica “(pg.720) when Milton describes how God, being the creator, has created humans. From this steamed our own creations, like a book for instance. This book, now established by the owner would continue their life inside the pages of the book. If it so happened that someone was to take this book and destroy it by fire, in this sense the book can live, through the knowledge of the reader. This demonstrates that since a reader who has read this book have now extracted the author’s message within his book. The ideas are spread through the reader, for the sake of that the created thing, this book, is not annihilated. The work of the author is still living; it is not destroyed.

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