Milton and Scriptural Tradition: The Bible into Poetry

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

Milton and Covenant: The Christian View of Old Testament Theology

John T. Shawcross

Covenant implies three concepts: unilateral covenant (God toward man), mutual covenant (God and man), and federal covenant (the group in allegiance to God). Extending these concepts, the metaphor of covenant is employed for human relationships; for example, political covenant (a fusion of mutual and federal), which describes compacts of men and men, generally of groups for mutual protection or achievement. Another metaphor of mutual covenant (man and woman) was marriage, as in John Milton's divorce tracts and especially in The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. "The Covenant" and "Covenanters," during the middle seventeenth century, however, always meant the political covenant of the National Covenant of Scotland, concluded at Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh, on 28 February 1638 and developed by the Presbyterian General Assembly in Glasgow in November 1638. The Covenant was an outgrowth of reactions against the Service Book of 1637 as Popish and of English compilation, leading to the Confession of Faith after the English Westminster movement joined with the Scots.1 The Solemn League and Covenant between the Covenanters and the English Parliamentarians, 17 August 1643, was an extension of the National Covenant, more strongly in the sphere of politics and referenced frequently by Milton in prose and poetry. Milton, it would seem, took the Covenant--that is, he subscribed to the Solemn League and Covenant--but he came to repudiate Presbyterian coercive policy.2

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1
.For a general discussion of the matter, see Jane Lane [Elaine Kidner Dakers], The Reign of King Covenant ( London: Hale, 1956).
2
.So noted by A. H. Drysdale, History of the Presbyterians in England: Their Rise, Decline, and Revival ( London, 1889), p. 314. In Tetrachordon ( 1645) Milton wrote

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