Kim Maxwell ~ Stanford
The Terror of Paradise Within, Happier Far. A Reading of the Christian Doctrine

Milton's Christian Doctrine may be seen as exploratory, in part to justify its uniqueness and internal problems, in part to account for its discrepancies with Paradise Lost. This paper will argue that its explorations often amount to simply bad theology. Milton's positions on the Godhead, the divinity of Christ, the Creation, election, faith and works, and perserverance, as examples, start from a sense of offense at the paradoxes of orthodox positions, but then refuse to engage the maze of new contradictions his own positions entail. For example, Milton rejects Creation ex nihilo as confounding our sense of reason, but then fails to explain how he can reconcile Creation ex deo with divine transcendence, divine judgment, and human free will, all features of the universe he elsewhere vigorously defends. He trades one paradox for another, the second with more pernicious theological implications than the first. This paper explores a few critical positions in this respect by way of suggesting the Christian Doctrine is best seen as a site of enormous religious anxiety between the visible and invisible churches, between the inherent solipsism of the inner light and the possibility of any rational defense of public Christian faith. If one must read the Christian Doctrine onto Paradise Lost, it should be read this way, that "their solitary way" is not to "paradise within, happier far" through "deeds to thy knowledge answerable," but through the personal agony of faith that knows no words. If one must position Milton historically, it would be more to anticipate the collapse of doctrine in the age of reason generally than recapitulate or augment the long theological tradition he inherited.


Respondent: John Leonard ~ University of Western Ontario