I have an admiration-regret relationship with John Milton, who died on tomorrow’s date, November 8, 1674.
The great Protestant English poet of Paradise Lost, took up Augustine’s doctrine of concupiscence, by which Augustine taught that the sin of lust is equivalent to the pleasure of sex, even between husband and wife. I am such a great admirer of the beauty and majesty of Paradise Lost, but not always what was taught, there. As is the case with many of our ideas about the first parents and the events in the Garden of Eden, Milton’s descriptions soon became better known than the biblical narrative itself. Milton describes in Book IX what was happening immediately after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit:
As with new wine intoxicated both,
They swim in mirth, and fancy that they feel
Divinity within them breeding wings
Wherewith to scorn the Earth. But that false fruit
Far other operation first displayed,
Carnal desire inflaming. He on Eve
Began to cast lascivious eyes; she him
As wantonly repaid; in lust they burn…
In addition, Milton’s portrait of Christ can sometimes appear only fearsome. In the Book X of Paradise Lost, when God the Father is telling Adam and Eve, the angelic host, the other two members of the Trinity, and all of Creation what must happen as a result of Adam’s and Eve’s sin in the Garden, there is no mention of the love of Christ, or of Jesus the Good Shepherd. This narrative, told of humankind and the coming of the Son of God, is filled with anger and judgment, and only the slightest hint of mercy:
What rests, but that the mortal sentence pass
On his transgression . . .
Justice shall not return, as bounty, scorned.
But whom send I to judge them? Whom but thee,
Vicegerent Son? To thee I have transferred
All judgment, whether in Heaven, or Earth, or Hell.
Easy it may be seen that I intend
Mercy colleague with justice, sending thee,
Man’s friend, his Mediator, his designed
Both ransom and Redeemer voluntary,
And destined Man himself to judge Man fallen.
God bless St. John Milton, but these are two theological ideas that every evolving Protestant is trying to overcome.