Living Texts: Interpreting Milton

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

Milton's Heterodoxy of the Incarnation and
Subjectivity in De Docthna Christiana
and Paradise Lost

KENNETH BORRIS

In De Doctrina Christiana [Christian Doctrine], Milton defines and promotes a unique and highly unorthodox theory of the Incarnation. Even though William B. Hunter, Hugh MacCallum, Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, and Marshall Grossman have demonstrated the relevance of the Miltonic Incarnation to the portrayal of Christ and Christian heroism in Paradise Regained,it has been generally considered irrelevant to Paradise Lost.Most recently, for example, MacCallum claims that Milton's distinctive doctrine profoundly affects Paradise Regainedyet “is not found at all in the Christology of Paradise Lost.” But exclusion of this doctrine from Paradise Lost is oddly inconsistent with arguments for its relevance to Paradise Regained.As MacCallum points out, Milton's “rejection of the orthodox view”of the Incarnation “is clearly of primary significance in his treatment of the humanity of Christ.”Though MacCallum restricts the force of this observation to Paradise Regained,it applies also to Paradise Lost because, as he himself declares, that poem also “repeatedly anticipates and reflects upon the Incarnation.” Accordingly, unless Milton would wholly compromise his own beliefs on an issue so basic for his Christianity, his unique understanding of the Incarnation has major importance for Paradise Lost as well as Paradise Regained,however much concerns about potential censorship and the requirements of poetry precluded any explicit treatment of his doctrine in them. The way in which the Son comes to assume human characteristics determines also the way in which he can serve humanity as a model for Christian heroism, and that is indeed the central subject of both poems. Reflecting shifts in the cultural circumstances and possibilities of subjectivity, this major writer's heterodoxy of the

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