Living Texts: Interpreting Milton

By Kristin A. Pruitt; Charles W. Durham | Go to book overview

The Confounded Confusion of Chaos

WILLIAM B. HUNTER

A major subject to which the author, supposed to be John Milton, of De Doctrina Christiana [Christian Doctrine] bears witness is the denial of a dichotomized universe. Ever since Jack Adamson's essay “Milton and the Creation” appeared in 1962,1 Milton's monism (argued from that treatise) has been a matter of near creedal acceptance. In brief, Adamson used De Doctrina to show that the substance of which God made the universe he did not create from nothing (ex nihilo) but from himself (ex deo). “It is clear,” the author of the treatise asserts, “that the world was made out of some sort of matter … [which] must either have always existed, independently of God, or else originated from God at some point in time” (6:307).2 He proceeds to show that the latter alternative is the necessary choice and goes on to the logical extension that, derived from God as it was, it was necessarily good: “[T]his original matter was not an evil thing. … [I]t was good, and it contained the seeds of all subsequent good.… [I]t was in a confused and disordered state at first, but afterwards God made it ordered and beautiful” (6:308). Assuming, as everyone then did, that Milton was the author of these sentences, one would necessarily read their implications into the chaos of Paradise Lost, Raphael's description of the “Scale of Nature” that orders the universe, and the narration of its creation in book 7. Thus monism: matter underlies all being, including God, from whom it derives. But as Augustine pointed out, creation ex deo runs counter to the orthodox belief that only the Son was begotten (from eternity) from the divine substance: “You [God] created heaven and earth but you did not make them of your own substance. If you had done so, they would have been equal to your only begotten Son, and therefore to yourself.”3 Such problems do not, of course, arise for an Arian such as the author of De Doctrina.

I propose to reconsider the evidence that Paradise Lost affords.

-228-

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