American Christianity and the Hell of Paradise Lost

HellfireIn at least some contemporary circles, the topic of the afterlife and Hell are hot topics (pardon the pun). This is especially true within numerous Christian communities as they react to the perspectives of various pastors and scholars on hell and the state on non-Christians after death. It seems safe to say that most Americans know something about the concept of hell—that fiery place of torment that you go to if you’re not up to snuff with St. Peter (or something like that). And while numerous religious perspectives conceive of something similar to the Christian conception of hell (think of Hades for the ancient Greeks), what many people don’t realize is that the hell commonly conceived of by Americans isn’t really based on Biblical portrayals of someplace called hell. Indeed, much of what we think about hell and its prince, Satan, comes not from any scriptural text, but instead from the epic poetry of John Milton.[1] In this post, we will examine some of the Hell portrayed in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Continue reading

Milton and the Divine Plan, Part II

This is the second and final post in our series considering John Milton’s conception of the Divine Plan.
John Milton

John Milton

When thinking about the God and his control over the universe, a topic which weighs heavily on everyone’s mind is death. If God has a plan, why must it include death? Milton addresses such questions in his great pastoral elegy Lycidas, written on the passing of Edward King. In this poem Milton expresses surprise and disdain that King, a man who had given up the ‘high life’ of the educated for the vocation of preaching, should perish at such a young age. “Where were ye nymphs when the remorseless deep/ Closed o’er the head of your loved Lycidas?” (Lycidas, 50-51) Milton asks. Where was God when this man died? Why was it that a man so committed to the work of the Lord died at such a young age? “What hard mishap hath doomed this gentle swain?” (Lycidas, 92) How could God let such a thing happen? Milton seems to be asking these questions, not only for King’s sake, but for his own sake as well. The death of King seems to have collapsed Milton into the realm of doubt: If God let Edward King die before he fulfilled his purpose in life, then why should he not expect the same to happen? Continue reading

Milton and the Divine Plan, Part I

Today’s post is the first in a two-post series examining John Milton’s conception of the Divine Plan. The second post in this series runs tomorrow.
John Milton

John Milton

Few people who have ever learned something about English poet John Milton (1608-74 CE) doubt his incredible talent. Not only was Milton a world class poet (I won’t delve into speculation about “the best ever”), but he was also a talented writer, a Cambridge trained scholar, an apologist for the English Commonwealth, a defender of the right to divorce and freedom of the press, and an astute theologian. Of all of these qualities Milton’s personal center seemed to involve his theological musings, as one cannot help but notice the Biblical allusions and theological connections present everywhere within his work. A fascinating issue surrounding Milton involves his apparent Arianism, that is, the rejection of Jesus as being eternally divine. Alas, this is another topic that is best saved for another post. Today, we post a different question to Milton’s theology: How did Milton seek to understand the divine plan of God? To try an answer this query, we turn to  several of Milton’s poems. Continue reading