John Hale writes…
Donald Cullington and I have almost completed our edition of John Milton’s De Doctrina Christiana, for the Oxford Complete Milton series. Because our commission was to transcribe and edit, translate and appropriately gloss its 100,000-plus Latin words, Milton’s original words, we haven’t added much to the contextualizing of its systematic theology. That was where the work’s previous editor, Maurice Kelley, put his herculean effort. Lifting my head, to look round me again, what have we been missing? This blog post is an example.
Yesterday I was indexing the following passage, which closes off its whole chapter, II. 7. Atque in hac ferme sententia doctissimos quosque theologorum, Bucerum, Calvinum, Martyrem, Musculum, Ursinum, Gomarum, aliósque video fuisse. “I see, too, that this was more or less the view held by all the most learned theologians–Bucer, Calvin, [Peter] Martyr, Musculus, Ursinus, Gomarus, and others.”
The humdrum sentence and the little list do not set the heart aflame, nor even carry much conviction: one suspects these theologians to be “all the most learned” because, circularly, they have “more or less the same opinion as me.” Even as rhetoric, the climax is lame.
Now lame rhetoric is not like Milton, here or anywhere. What is this finale striving for?
One surprise is that he gives the final word to authorities. De Doctrina announces itself in its opening Epistle as his personal credo, deriving solely (duntaxat) from scripture, proceeding by amassed citations, and for his own use.
The next surprise is the list itself. The names come in A-Z order, except for Gomarus after Ursinus. That implies Milton read, collected, and listed alphabetically; or a source did, or his helpers did. Then at a later stage, Gomarus was added. But maybe this blog post will reach someone who knows Gomarus on the topic of Sunday worship; knows something which would indeed make him a key witness?
At present, the six names look a mixed bag. Bucerus, first up alphabetically, was well known to Milton, who had translated Bucer’s work on divorce. Milton agreed with Bucer when writing voluminously in favour of divorce for incompatibility, on scriptural grounds (Matt. 10 etc.). Bucer was not a very big name, but he was known in England, where he had lived as a Protestant exile. More important, he is also named in Rivetus’ discussion, which our excellent predecessor Maurice Kelley cites (Yale Prose Works, Vol. VI, 714 n. 19).
Rivetus cites the same five, but in a different order: Calvin, Bucer, Martyr, Musculus, Ursinus. This order is not A-Z. It moves from big to little, and/or it’s chronological. So Milton or his atelier has re-ordered alphabetically, and perhaps added Gomarus later. Gomarus (pub. 1628) is not chronologically later than Ursinus, so did Milton read him later, for himself? This too would awaken a thirst to know more about Gomarus. Did the version which was being recopied by Picard here show two stages of work in Milton’s study or scriptorium?
And yet the manner of the reference needs closer attention first. Video fuisse, “I see that this was the view.” On other occasions too Milton cites at second hand. This hearsay is both true to his paramount allegiance, to scripture, and a little disappointing. Who wants to make excuses for the blind Milton?
Calvinus is a very big name indeed, bigger even than Miltonius. What’s curious is that Milton does not mention him in De Doctrina except here, on the underwhelming topic of Sunday church. He is a felt presence at other times, because Milton labours to formulate the right connection of works with grace. His Arminian position was hard-won. Yet in tilting against the opposition he doesn’t name Calvin. At the moment, in blogging mood, I explain this to myself as a home-grown or autodidact quality of the whole theology (compatible with his derivative way of citing the big fish) or a side-effect of uneven reading of theologies (mostly Ramist ergo post-Calvinic compilations, those being composed in the same schematic way as he compiled).
Martyr is the Italian exile, Peter Martyr Vermigli. Milton would relish reading P.M. as both favoured polygamy because of Old Testament patriarchal practice. Some of his reasoning turns up in Milton’s own recommendations, in De Doctrina I. 10.
Of Musculus and Ursinus , like Manuel in Fawlty Towers, “I know nothing.” It would be good if this blog were to catch the attention of a reader who knows Musculus or Ursinus independently (for even Kelley was not interested in them for their own sake)?
And so with Gomarus, Johnny-come-lately to Milton’s six. How true is it that the six are in hac ferme sententia doctissimi quique theologorum, “all the most learned theologians”? How does Milton know they are all the most learned if he hasn’t read them deeply for himself? What do those who know the work of all six, on their own terms, think of the grouping? and of the accolade? and in general of this mode of corroboration?
Such questions pour forth from a humdrum chapter: there will be others from more crucial places. We hope that our work will encourage such questioning.