Four versus Five: A little conundrum in John Milton’s Christian Doctrine

Sunday, June 16th, 2013 | MICHAEL COP | No Comments

John Hale writes…

The editing of Milton’s De Doctrina Christiana which Donald Cullington and I have now completed (September 2012), is prompting fresh enquiries, mercifully shorter. One tiny specimen is the conundrum, Why Milton’s text makes a mistake in saying (MS 362, Oxford edition p. 762) that the celebrant at a Roman Catholic Mass “murmurs four words [Hoc est corpus meum, This is my body]” whereas a celebrant, now as then, must say five [Hoc est enim corpus meum, For this is my body]. The five are required by papal ordinance, many times printed so, millions of times said. The words of the institution of the Eucharist are parataxis, but in the liturgy are run into the syntax of the whole utterance by Jesus at the Last Supper so as to give the reason why (enim, “for”) the disciples, then believers, are to “take and eat.” Although the discrepancy makes no substantive difference, what does its occurrence signify?

In context, Milton is taking over from his main theological source, Wollebius, a forthright listing of some seven points of difference between the Roman and the Protestant versions of the Eucharist, ranging from liturgical practice to high theology (transubstantiation, what happens to the bread when eaten). Milton keeps close to the seven points, and keeps much of the Latin wording, for instance the point here that the celebrant of a Mass “murmurs the words downwards” (demurmurat) by contrast with their open proclamation in a Protestant, commemorative rite. So the differentiating between four and five is part of the appropriating. It may be casual or deliberate: the fact remains that Wollebius knows what the priest says, in the obligatory Latin of the Mass, while Milton distorts the wording. The little puzzle is compounded by the fact that in the original Greek of the biblical words of institution there were not four, but five (1 Corinthians 11. 24, touto mou estin to soma. The three Synoptic gospels have the same five words, albeit with mou at the end). Milton’s change is purely within the Latin, and concerns his use of the Protestant Latin translation of Junius-Trenellius-Beza. What reasons, conscious or unintended, may have led him to think in Latin and say “four”?

Possible reasons include: (a) scribal error in Milton’s manuscript (b) Milton couldn’t count (c) he couldn’t read Wollebius, being blind (d) he omits what is a mere detail of Catholic liturgy (e) he insists on the biblical Latin (f) something else and (g) some combination of these. The lengthy experience of transcribing the MS, and editing and translating it, should have some speculation or inference to offer. I think it does.

Mere scribal error is unlikely. The scribe at this point is Jeremie Picard, a professional scribe making a fair copy. The evidence abounds that Milton, despite blindness, had his MS read back to him, and made changes both small and large, from piffling corrections to rethinking matters of substance. So even if the scribe misheard or couldn’t count, Milton checked.

Milton’s scheme of exactly fifty chapters, both for De Doctrina and for his connected Art of Logic, suggests he could count adequately. Not to wax indignant about a slur on his numeracy, this suggestion should be dismissed because of the manifest care he took, for decades, with the arrangement and detail alike in the work he termed his most valued possession.

The third idea is no better. Milton had teams of readers to read out to him. In hearing not reading Wollebius, he did not lose his grip.

The fourth reason has more to it. In hearing Wollebius read to him, Milton might well, in composing on that basis, take on board his source’s gist as much as his wording. There are plenty of instances of his varying and changing or extending Wollebius while essentially agreeing with his view. In that case, he heard “five” but dictated “four.”

This reason would blend into the next, that he ignored what was a mere detail of Catholic practice. It made no material difference to his argument.

But the next reason is alternative to that last one: it did matter to him, and he overrode exactitude in favour of the words of “scripture alone,” scriptura duntaxat as he insists in his title and everywhere. By this reasoning, he would be insisting on the Latin wording, where it was four, not the Greek or whatever underlay that. If this looks pedantic, at least it is not carelessness. And Milton was well capable of pedantry, as any consideration of his remarks about Latin lexis or pronunciation would confirm. Etymology is a favourite weapon.

A wider question arises: how did Milton know the Roman belief and practice? How well did he know it? How did he inform himself? Was it mainly from Protestant printed polemic? Or from any practising Catholics, for example from the friends made in his Italian Lehrjahre and its subsequent correspondence? Which Catholic writers does he quote in De Doctrina, and has he read them in the original?


Editing De Doctrina Christiana

Monday, September 24th, 2012 | MICHAEL COP | No Comments

John Hale writes…

The narrative of the editing of De Doctrina Christiana for Oxford’s new The Complete Works of John Milton is like that of the Muppet Movie, a “narrative of very heavy duty proportions”. Our task began back in 1993, when I joined a group researching the authorship of De Doctrina. Because Milton’s authorship had been questioned, this multidisciplinary group tested it by diverse means – statistical, bibliographical, stylistic and so on. With the authorship upheld, my task shifted around 2000 to transcribing the manuscript, before editing and translating it, for the new Oxford University Press Complete Works of John Milton. In 2003 I was joined by Donald Cullington. Ten years later, we are free men again, and looking forward to holding the two thick volumes in our hands. Publication day was 13 September in the UK, though the authorial copies haven’t arrived yet.

We are the fourth such collaborative edition. The first edition was in 1825 by Charles, later Bishop, Sumner. Miraculously he completed the work in only two years. He had some help, whose nature and limits are not clearly defined, from William Walker; also from green tea and a wet bandage for the forehead  to enable him to “sit up night after night until three or four o’clock in the morning.” He saved some time, and introduced distortions of Milton’s Latin bible, by using the English King James version for the teeming citations which comprise half of the whole huge text. The next collaboration, that of James Holly Hanford and Waldo H. Dunn for the Columbia collected Milton (1930s), has left no record of how their work was done. It derived much from Sumner’s. Third came volume VI of the Yale Prose Works edition. Yale is unsurpassed in its annotations and scholarship, both historical and theological. But it offers no Latin text. Milton’s own words are not to be found. John Carey’s brilliant translation, which rightly included his own fresh rendering of the thousands of biblical citations, is widely used nowadays, as if its lucid and concise self-consistency might replace Milton’s diverse and uneven Latin, which ranges from high to low to confused register.

Our own edition seeks fidelity, the fidelity of transcribing the manuscript afresh, warts and all, and only emending when it becomes nonsense; and correspondingly of translating with literal accuracy, and completeness, as aims we place ahead of elegance. We did it like this in order that the English might show more of Milton’s real style, which is often otiose, excessively periodic, turgid or partisan; soaring and sinking by turns; in a word, idiosyncratic. Computer applications have helped, naturally, and retirement is another advantage we have enjoyed. Our routine has been the opposite of Sumner’s. Not late nights, but early mornings. As the work neared its eventual completion, 3 or 4 a.m. became for each of us the time of starting not finishing for the day. No green tea nor wet bandages in sight.

In the intervals of copy-editing, and of four stages of proof-reading (OUP are marvellously thorough!), we have been writing notes, essays, talks and blogs, on some of the trains of thought which the requirements of time and of the edition precluded. A joint essay is appearing in December in Milton Studies. These by-products are continuing, in the form of an address to the recent International Milton Symposium in Tokyo (August), to the forthcoming British Milton Symposium meeting (October), and in a talk in Washington DC on my way home (November). Publication in America is later than in the UK, so this talk should serve to keep the pot boiling, as do the various blogs written for OUP and for the Otago research theme.


John K. Hale and J. Donald Cullington’s The Complete Works of John Milton: Volume VIII De Doctrina Christiana

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012 | MICHAEL COP | No Comments


We are very pleased to announce that John K. Hale and J. Donald Cullington’s The Complete Works of John Milton: Volume VIII De Doctrina Christiana has just appeared with Oxford University Press:

The second of eleven volumes of Milton’s Complete Works to be published contains his systematic theology, De Doctrina Christiana. It is his longest work and was, Milton said, his dearest possession. In it, he works out his religious beliefs from Scripture; what Scripture does not mention, such as the Trinity, he energetically refutes. The work exists in manuscript and was written in Latin for European as well as home consumption. Its chapters are conceived and arranged according to the binarizing logic devised by the Protestant martyr Ramus.

De Doctrina Christiana first appeared in print nearly two hundred years ago but the previous editions are now overdue for replacement. For this ground-breaking edition, the manuscript has been freshly transcribed, with fuller textual apparatus and commentary than in any of its few predecessors. The edition aims above all at accuracy, clarity, and completeness, presenting Latin and English on facing pages, amplifying the Biblical citations where necessary, and adding extensive annotations not only on the text and its transcription but also on the content and context of Milton’s ideas. The provenance and history of the work are expertly narrated, enabling readers to get closer than ever before to its composition. Milton’s Latin is examined in unprecedented detail, and the translation aims to reproduce the nuances and changes of register which characterize his Latin in all its individuality – from the high-flown rhetoric of his arguments in favour of divorce and polygamy, and against tithing, to the plainer style of those sections where he states his main points more dispassionately but bolsters them with strong and wide-ranging Biblical support. The structure of this massive edifice is clarified by the addition of charts which show the Ramist scheme he followed, whereby the primary division between faith (Book One) and worship (Book Two) is mirrored by smaller and smaller subdivisions whose relationship to the whole can be seen at a glance.


Milton and the Radicals

Sunday, July 15th, 2012 | MICHAEL COP | No Comments

John Hale writes…

During his recent U3A lecture series on radical religion 1640-1660, Andrew Bradstock asked me about John Milton’s relationship, if any, with the radicals, and notably the Quakers. He said, “Was he, as Christopher Hill famously maintained, carrying on a dialogue with them, sharing their intellectual convictions but held back from commitment by ‘patrician social prejudices’?”

Our exchange came at a time when I had finished editing Milton’s Christian Doctrine for Oxford Complete Works of John Milton: does this position me to comment on what he believed, and how and why? Anyhow, I want to get out from the trees and think about the wood, and relate both to wider terrains, from a rare and relevant perspective.

Yes, Milton knew Quakers, as friends and benefactors in his blindness. And at points in De Doctrina he comes within an ace of naming them. But his ideas about interpreting scripture by the light of the spirit only sound like the Quakers’ inner light until we see that he get them from scripture itself (Book 1, Chapter 30), from which everything he believes in must come, by his announced programme (see Epistle).

Similarly he agrees with the Independents on the nature of the church: it is the gathering of local believers, just as the church of Corinth or Thessalonica was for Paul. This, or rather these, “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17: 6; this is about conversion, so Hill’s title is metaphor). So with infant baptism: with the Baptists, he is against it because scripture tells (mainly of the baptizing of believing adults. He finds the biblical evidence insufficient to establish that worship should emphasize Sunday: on this he exceeds the Quakers in informality. Paul explicitly refused to be paid: a paid clergy is therefore unbiblical anathema.

Why, then, would Milton join any one of these groups which stress some single feature of the early church, when he is driving towards reform which recovers all of the early churches’ observances? He is eager, rather, to strip away from worship — and conduct too — whatever does not get scriptural warrant. The civil power shall have no standing in church matters. Implicit faith has no standing. “Bishop” and “presbyter” are general terms or functions, nothing to do with orders and ordination. No paid clergy and no tithe. And so on.

To my mind, negatives are many, and clearer than positives. They include what offends him in England’s church and state relations, and what (without offence, just a negative negative) is simply not there in scripture. Milton does not advocate political action, beyond insisting that curbs on freedom of worship are abominable. Masters and property owners keep that standing: just as slaves remain slaves for Paul (and are not to get above themselves because of the faith), so servants, or usury, or inequalities of wealth stay put.

It’s true he owned property, which might be termed having “social prejudices” in favour of ownership, but most people did and do. His beliefs follow the pastoral Paul. This is bound to disappoint any modern radical for whom it is social–not religious–equality which makes a radical; but that is not how Milton sought to be “radical.” Milton has no programme for “having all thing in common” [Acts 2: 43-4 and 4: 32]. He doesn’t cite those verses in De Doctrina, an absence which may or may not be a significant negative.

Negatives of another kind throw more light on his belief-system. Going outside De Doctrina for a moment, I find in his other writings two great rejections, based on bitter experience. He had had a bellyful of the bishops, and of Laudian regulation in particular (coerced changes in worship, changes which gave double offence, aggravated further by an apparatus of snoops and informers to aid the coercion). And Presbytery in turn disappointed him, when it (nearly) got its hands on the levers. In the same way that elections now put into office any group which is not the one which has been abusing office (improbable coalitions preferred to jack-in- office-too-long), Milton wanted to avoid repetitions of the old order in church and state. How often we know best what we don’t want. Once bitten, twice shy.

Monarch and bishops and tithes and regulation all came back in 1660. The regime almost took his life, and compelled him into silence (and stopped publication of De Doctrina, twice over). But for our questions here, he did not budge in the negatives of experience, conviction, and — for De Doctrina — method of finding out truth.

It seems inexact, therefore, to think of Milton as “patrician.” He was not of the ruling class by origin. His father was a self-made man. Milton was not so much an “intellectual” as a zealot. His commitment was to a method. He may look “eclectic,” another term used by Hill. However, reliance “on scripture alone” will tend to take you in more than one direction, just as the mid-century paralleling of England with ancient Israel did.

Why would he be a joiner? His unnerving, doctrinaire adherence to consistency (not to mention his confident sense of vocation, and the isolation of blindness) overrode the priorities of other radicals. He seems less, not more, eclectic than they do.

I don’t fully accept Hill’s idea of Milton as an “intellectual” on these subjects. Certainly he had strong views, and availed himself of print and the cessation of censorship to write book about them. In De Doctrina, however, he reads more like a conscientious and well-organized believer, in whom strong views break out from time to time under pressure. There is something home-grown, and endearingly personal about this compilation.

If so, that could encourage a return to the older question, of the relation between De Doctrina and Paradise Lost. Do they conflict or say the same? Can one be used to gloss the other? My hunch, after long immersion, is that both works took a long time to evolve into the forms in which they are now read. That they overlapped, so that their relations shift from one topic to another. (The poem doesn’t deal in topics, but the treatise indeed does, and the MS exposes some shifts of position.) The relations between the two masterworks are asymmetrical. Closer attention is needed to growth within Milton’s thinking. Though it would be easy to get that wrong in detail, and to lapse from objectivity, some progress can be made, with the help of a new transcription of the MS and a linguistic attention to Milton’s own (Latin) words.

Translating Milton’s De Doctrina

Monday, May 21st, 2012 | MICHAEL COP | No Comments

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.