By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Monday, August 2, 2010

My Last Take on Milton Biography

Having just finished the David Hawkes biography of Milton, let me give my final impressions in order to avoid confusion among my own readers as to what I really think of the biography. I enjoyed and still recommend the book for its insight into the mind, life, and times of John Milton, a seminal figure in literature, in history, and in Christian writing. When Mr. Hawkes focuses on the writings of Milton, we get that wonderful insight.

Yet, like other non-believing commentators dealing with Christian or Jewish writers, Hawkes jumps to premature (I suspect, at times, wishful) conclusions when reading the writings of a Christian like Milton. For example, when Milton emphasizes the origins and obedience of the Son in relation to God the Father, Hawkes jumps too quickly to the unwarranted inference of Arianism. I think this premature judgment of the writings of some Christians as subversively unorthodox reflects the handicap of non-believing writiers who are unfamiliar with the rich diversity of Christian and Catholic theological expression (and biblical expression, for that matter). To emphasize the obedient and servant role of the Son is not necessarily to be espousing Arianism at all. Rather, such emphasis is simply reflecting one crucial aspect of the mystery of the Incarnation. I have seen the same tendency to unwarranted theological conclusions when non-theistic biblical commentators find reflected in Scripture their own mindset or lack of faith. For example, some will view the book of Job as counseling despair in the face of the cruelties of life, when, in fact, it is a much more reasonable exegesis to see the book as emphasizing the limits of the human mind in knowing the ways of God.

(I also noticed in the biography a tendency to find Miltonic references to homosexuality based on very, very thin grounds. This tendency may simply reflect the status of homosexuality as a fashionable and exaggerated issue in academia.)

One major insight that I quite enjoyed is how Milton, contrary to our stereotypical view of the English Puritan, combined throughout his life a love of Greco-Roman culture with his Christian, biblical faith. At the risk of incurring the wrath of the historical Milton, I find this to be a very Catholic combination. Tertullian famously asked, "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?" My answer and, I think, that of Milton would be: both reflect the glory of one and the same God. Of course, Jerusalem remains uniquely foundational as the conduit of direct divine revelation.