Home » (Experimental Thoughts) » Four Meditations on Milton.

Four Meditations on Milton.

Sin opens the gates of Hell and she with Satan and Death peer out:

Before thir eyes in sudden view appear
The secrets of the hoarie deep, a dark
Illimitable Ocean without bound,
Without dimension, where length, breadth, & highth,
And time and place are lost; where eldest Night
And Chaos, Ancestors of Nature, hold
Eternal Anarchie, amidst the noise
Of endless Warrs, and by confusion stand.
For hot, cold, moist, and dry, four Champions fierce
Strive here for Maistrie, and to Battel bring
Thir embryon Atoms; they around the flag
Of each his faction, in thir several Clanns,
Light-arm’d or heavy, sharp, smooth, swift or slow,
Swarm populous, unnumber’d as the Sands
Of Barca or Cyrene‘s torrid soil,
Levied to side with warring Winds, and poise
Thir lighter wings. To whom these most adhere,
Hee rules a moment; Chaos Umpire sits,
And by decision more imbroiles the fray
By which he Reigns: next him high Arbiter
Chance governs all. Into this wilde Abyss,
The Womb of nature and perhaps her Grave,
Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire,
But all these in thir pregnant causes mixt
Confus’dly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th’ Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more Worlds,
Into this wild Abyss the warie fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and look’d a while,
Pondering his Voyage: for no narrow frith
He had to cross.

—Milton, Paradise Lost 2.890-920

  • God, the Lord of kosmos, is necessarily the Lord of chaos. But then again, once order is established, can there be disorder at all? If there is disorder that threatens the order, then is the order anything but an illusion? It is, unless the Lord of order is also able to define order the way he would—beyond our theoretical powers—separate light from darkness.
  • What would Lucretius say about Milton’s cosmogeny? Of course, he would deny the Almighty Maker, but would he not see such a “maker” in the “high Arbiter Chance” ?
  • The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, which Milton rejects here to some degree, is very difficult to penetrate. Is there a biblical support for it? Or is it merely a hasty reaction to Platonism the same way that limited atonement is to Arminianism? How much biblical language must be explained away in order to make sense of it all?
  • Creation as ordering. Milton might clarify what C. S. Lewis’s cosmogeny has in common with Mormonism.

4 thoughts on “Four Meditations on Milton.

  1. Dante or Milton: your preference? I finished the comedy a year or so ago. Amazing. Never tried Milton. Here was the quote that prompted me to read Dante.

    “When a Christian poet, such as Dante or Milton, has to describe the underworld and its inhabitants, he has only the tongues of men with which to describe the operations of angels. He may excel, as Milton does, in idealizing the subject, or come short in this, as Dante; but what he gains in one direction he loses in another. Milton’s underworld is less fabulous than that of Dante, but it is not near so vivid. What Milton imagined, Dante imaged forth,—the first was a cartoon, but the other a statue hewed from the living stone.” (John Bickford Heard, Tripartite Nature of Man, p. 28)

    • Heard’s quote seems right except that it does not address the fact that Dante and Milton describe more than hell. Milton’s earth may be both more “vivid” and more “idealized” than all of Dante’s realms.

      Dante—a good Thomist?—better comprehends the sovereignty of God. Milton—a good Englishman?—better represents the allure of the evil one.

      • Great first point, which is why people should read all of the comedy. But its true, as you read the second and third parts, Dante’s world becomes more abstract, and flatter in that sense. But if you like theology, than these parts are incredible. Without them it is no comedy at all.

        I’ve never attempted Milton, probably due to fear of the English he writes in. Dante is read in translation and so can adapt itself to contemporary readers more easily.

      • Re: Milton’s language, I highly recommend Milton on audiobook for that very reason. When it is read aloud the language clicks and sometimes sounds surprisingly familiar.

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