Religious views of John Milton

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from John Milton's religion)
Jump to: navigation, search

The religious views of John Milton were important to his life. He wrote many of his works focusing on the nature of religion and of the divine.

Theological political writings[edit]

Church government[edit]

After the start of the Bishops’ Wars, a movement was started calling for the disestablishment of the Church of England and the religious hierarchy. Milton joined in on a pamphlet war that soon followed and produced his antiprelatical tracts. These pamphlets emphasize the need for an individual to be exposed to scripture without any interference from a church government or from a fixed liturgy that could possibly corrupt the individual.[1]

Divorce laws[edit]

Milton married in Spring 1642 but his wife soon left him. The legal statutes of England did not allow for Milton to apply for a divorce and he began examining the legitimacy of divorce.[2] Milton was motivated towards writing on the topic after reading a work of Martin Bucer that emphasized the scriptural legitimacy of divorce.[3] After publishing his divorce pamphlets, especially after Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, Milton developed a reputation as both a divorcer and a polygamist.[4] Eventually, Milton believed that a translation of Bucer's work, published as Judgement of Martin Bucer Concerning Divorce, would convince Parliament of the truth behind his previous tract on divorce, but this did not happen.[5] He continued to pursue the topic until his wife returned to him and their marriage was reconciled.[6]

Paradise Lost[edit]

Main article: Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost is Milton's epic depiction of the Fall of Man. In the story, Adam and Eve are warned against the evils of Satan and are told of the war in Heaven in which Satan challenged God's throne and was cast down in punishment. Satan, in order to get revenge against God, tempts Eve into indulging in the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Adam, in turn, joins with her in the disobedience so she will not be blamed alone. God punishes them by casting them out of Eden and exposing them to the pain of the world, but he promises them that his Son will descend and bring about their salvation.

Paradise Regained[edit]

Main article: Paradise Regained

Paradise Regained is a follow up epic based on Temptation of Christ. It is not as long as Paradise Lost and the poem places the Son, incarnated as Christ, against Satan. Through the work, Satan constantly tries to tempt Christ and to discover who he is, but he is unable to before he finally gives up and Christ defeats him.

Samson Agonistes[edit]

Main article: Samson Agonistes

Samson Agonistes is based on the format of Greek Tragedy and describes the Biblical story of Samson. When Samson is betrayed, he calls upon God to use him to effect his will and exact revenge upon God's enemies. God gives Samson the power to bring about this end, but the play does not depict the moment on stage and does not describe how God granted the power.


On the soul[edit]

Milton believed in the idea of soul sleeping or mortalism, which determines that the soul, upon death, is in a sleep like state until the Last Judgment.[7] Similarly, he believed that Christ, when incarnated, merged his divine and human identities, and that both of these identities died during his Crucifixion.[8] With such views on the nature of the human body and the soul, there is no possibility of a state of existence between death and the resurrection, and concepts such as Purgatory are outright denied. However, these views are not standard Calvinistic interpretations, but his views on what happens after the resurrection are orthodox Calvinistic doctrine: Christ, during the resurrection, would raise man up higher than the state he was in before the fall.[9]

Religious toleration[edit]

John Milton called in the Areopagitica for "the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties". "Milton argued for disestablishment as the only effective way of achieving broad toleration. Rather than force a man's conscience, government should recognize the persuasive force of the gospel."[10]


  1. ^ Wheeler 2003 p. 265–275
  2. ^ Miller 1974 p. 3
  3. ^ Patterson 2003 p. 279
  4. ^ Miller 1974 p. 122
  5. ^ Patterson 2003 p. 287
  6. ^ Miller 1974 pp. 3–4
  7. ^ Rumrich 2003 p. 142
  8. ^ Barker 1942 p. 319
  9. ^ McDill 1942 pp. 333–334
  10. ^ Hunter, William Bridges A Milton Encyclopedia, Volume 8(East Brunswick, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1980) pp. 71, 72 ISBN 0838718418


  • Barker, Arthur. Milton and the Puritan Dilemma 1641-1660. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1942.
  • Campbell, Gordon. "The Son of God in 'De Doctrina Christiana' and 'Paradise Lost'" The Modern Language Review, Vol. 75, No. 3 (Jul., 1980), pp. 507–514
  • Kelley, Maurice. This Great Argument. Gloucester, Mass.: P. Smith, 1962.
  • Hill, Christopher. Milton and the English Revolution. London. Faber and Faber, 1977. ISBN 057111170X.
  • Lieb, Michael. Theological Milton: Deity, Discourse and Heresy in the Miltonic Canon. Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press. 2006.
  • McDill, Joseph. Milton and the Pattern of Calvinism. Nashville: The Joint University Libraries, 1942.
  • Milton, John. Complete Prose Works of John Milton Vol II ed. Don Wolfe. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959.
  • Patterson, Annabel. "Milton, Marriage and Divorce" in A Companion to Milton. Ed. Thomas Corns. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.
  • Reesing, John "The Materiality of God in Milton's De Doctrina Christiana" The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Jul., 1957), pp. 159–173
  • Rumrich, John. "Radical Heterodoxy and Heresy" in A Companion to Milton. Ed. Thomas Corns. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.
  • Wheeler, Elizabeth. "Early Political Prose" in A Companion to Milton. Ed. Thomas Corns. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.

Further reading[edit]