Milton and Scriptural Tradition: The Bible into Poetry

By James H. Sims; Leland Ryken | Go to book overview

Preface

The essays gathered in this volume approach from various perspectives and with differing emphases the question of how Milton responded as an artist to Scripture and to scriptural Tradition -- of how he transformed the Bible into poetry. Yet, except for Leland Ryken in his Introduction, the essayists do not define the phrase scriptural tradition; they do not describe the particular aspect of the many-sided Milton coupled with that phrase by the noncommittal and. These scholars imply by their discussions, however, an understanding of "scriptural tradition" very much like Milton's own: "scriptural" excludes the apocryphal, the noncanonical, and "tradition" is limited to the interrelationships and literal meanings of the texts that comprise Scripture and to what can be reasonably inferred from those texts, taking into account the principle of the analogy of faith -- that is, treating the Bible as one inspired book without internal contradictions and, therefore, interpreting particular passages in the light of the clear tenor of the whole of scriptural teaching. Certainly much that appears in Milton's works and some of the material in these essays will not fit within such a narrow definition; but tradition from pagan, parascriptural, or speculative sources, even that tradition which results from the theological systems of individual Christian thinkers ( Saint Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther), is always distinguished by Milton from that tradition which his Spirit-led reason convinces him is firmly rooted in the text of Scripture, correctly understood. For instance, for his epic voice, the biblical description of Eden and the list of four rivers that flow from it ( Gen. 2:8-14) locate the Garden as "Assyrian," not Ethiopian, though Mount Amara has been "by som suppos'd / True Paradise" ( PL, 4.281-82). The Ethiopian hypothesis yields the striking image of the "shining Rock / A whole day's journy high" (283-84), but Milton's narrator cannot admit unchallenged error into his account, no matter how scenic an effect he could achieve. Mount Amara can be admired and can lend its aura of secluded security to the Mount of Eden, but the believer-poet must finally reject it as unscriptural for the truth's sake.

-vii-

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