Studies in Spenser, Milton and the Theory of Monarchy

By Ruth Mohl | Go to book overview

MILTON AND THE IDEA OF PERFECTION

THE IDEA of perfection has been an important concept in the philosophical and religious thought of all ages and all peoples. It seems, like morality, to be implicit in life itself. There is no history of the idea, but several studies of its occurrence, in its oriental, classical, medieval, and modern forms, make apparent its universality.1 The Li Ki of the Chinese, conceived of as "the complete and natural discharge of all duties"; the teleos of Aristotle, of which he says in his Metaphysics: "Things are complete in virtue of having attained their end"; the translation of teleos into the Latin perfectio, meaning "completion," but used later to describe a state of excellence both human and divine throughout the history of Christian theology--all these forms of the idea of perfection have certain traits in common as well as their own specific differences. That the idea of perfection was much discussed in Milton's day, when so many controversial issues were struggling for expression and solution, is easy to understand, and his own frequent use of the terms perfect and perfection2 shows his concern for an accurate interpretation of the concept. It is the purpose of this paper to study his use of the term, in both prose and poetry, in an effort to determine the meaning it had for

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1
Cf. Frederic Platt, "Perfection", Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. James Hastings ( New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1917), IX, 727-37; R. Newton Flew, The Idea of Perfection in Christian Theology ( London: Oxford University Press, 1934); Martin Foss, The Idea of Perfection in the Western World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1946); Radoslav A. Tsanoff, "The Notion of Perfection", The Philosophical Review, XLIX ( January, 1940), 25-36; R. Garrigou-Lagrange, Christian Perfection and Contemplation, transl. Sister M. Timothea Doyle ( St. Louis: B. Herder Book Company, 1946). Dr. Flew Preface cites other studies written from Wesleyan, Catholic, or other perfectionist viewpoints.
2
Bradshaw Concordance to the Poetical Works and the Index to the Columbia Edition of The Works of John Milton ( New York: Columbia University Press, 1931) provide exact references.

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