James H. Sims
A central problem Milton faced in writing De doctrina christiana was how to adhere to the authority of the Bible alone when some of the "arbiters of or . . . supreme authorities for Christian belief" whom he claimed not to recognize were so well known to him that they were sometimes useful, both negatively and positively, in defending his interpretations.1 He had found in reading some of the "more diffuse volumes of divinity" that the authors "sometimes violently attacked the truth as error and heresy, while calling error and heresy truth and upholding them not upon the authority of the Bible but as a result of habit and partisanship."2 Yet on page after page of De doctrina he appeals to the authority of human interpreters by name (for example, Ambrose and Erasmus, CPW, 6:244-45) and uses traditional Protestant interpretations of texts without identifying his sources. As C. A. Patrides has said, Milton "unhesitatingly rejected human traditions if they happened to conflict with what he considered to be the sense of the Scriptures, yet readily invoked the Fathers if he found them supporting his individual--Protestant--interpretation of a particular idea."3
And the tension is not merely that between Scripture and external tradition; even within the canonical tradition that has preserved the Bible as one book, for example, divorce is condoned by Moses in Deuteronomy and condemned by Jesus in the Gospels. Milton's mighty efforts to reconcile the Old and New testaments on this subject gave the world his four tracts on this aspect____________________
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Publication information: Book title: Milton and Scriptural Tradition:The Bible into Poetry. Contributors: James H. Sims - Editor, Leland Ryken - Editor. Publisher: University of Missouri Press. Place of publication: Columbia, MO. Publication year: 1984. Page number: 192.
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