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Paradise Lost

by John Milton

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One of the problems with keeping these reviews so short is that occasionally you find yourself oversimplifying. When I wrote about C.S. Lewisís Preface to Paradise Lost, I referred to John Milton as ďa puritan,Ē which isnít exactly true.

Milton may have styled himself as a puritan, but his views were not orthodox. Most alarmingly, a work by Milton published posthumously, De Doctrina Christiana, makes it clear that he embraced the Arian heresy. This heresy rejects the doctrine of the Trinity, claiming instead that Christ is a created being. As Athanasius knew (see the Ancient Reading List), embracing such a heresy undermines scripture and makes Christís Atonement an uncertain thing. I find it difficult, if not impossible, to imagine someone embracing the Arian heresy and still having a right relationship with Jesus Christ.

The good news is that this particular heresy never rears its ugly head in Miltonís epic poem Paradise Lost (unless you count the fact that Christís atoning work on the cross is skipped over very quickly in the story). The bad news is that at least one of Miltonís other unorthodox beliefs finds its way into the poem.

Lewis spells this all out in chapter twelve of his Preface, so we can focus here on the only heresy that seems to me to be clearly present in the poem: Miltonís belief that God did not create the universe out of nothingóthat, in some way, matter is a part of God. Granted that it would be difficult to describe creation, Miltonís creation account in book seven implies that the universe is made from pre-existing materials, which clearly contradicts the first chapter of Genesis.

Christians need to be aware of Miltonís heresy, but the failings of the author should not cause Christians to reject his brilliant poem. As is appropriate, Lewis gets the last word: ďChristian readers who find Paradise Lost unsatisfactory as a religious poem may very naturally suspect that some of its failures in this respect are not unconnected with those heretical beliefs which, from his other works, we can bring home to the author. The suspicion will not be confirmed or removed till the Day of Judgment. In the meantime the sound course is to judge the poem on its merits, not to pre-judge it by reading doctrinal errors into the text. And as far as doctrine goes, the poem is overwhelmingly Christian.Ē

by Jeff Baldwin