During the Renaissance, a writer named John Milton became the center of much acclaim and much controversy. His writings, though focused on various subjects, always revolved around his thoughts about religion and the human experience. Particularly, Milton wrote from the standpoint of a Christian Humanist. The term Christian, which seems fairly simple to a reader, becomes complex as Milton imposes his ideas on who ‘true’ Christians are. The term Humanist also leaves some questions in the mind of the reader about how the two terms relate. Another key word that Milton focuses on is Tradition. He uses the term to demonstrate his reasons for arguing that there is only one true way to interpret the Bible.
The word Christian means to be a follower of Christ. Milton, in his prose and poetry, argued that Christ is a supreme deity and therefore the ruler over all. However, Milton believed there was only a certain group of people following Christ correctly in the manner the Bible speaks of. This greatly has to do with ‘tradition’. Milton contends that most of mankind’s traditions are not part of the Scriptures and therefore have no validity. This was especially the case for the Catholic Church, whose tradition conflicted with Scriptures as Milton made sense of them. For one, Milton believed there was a certain order of rulership that the Bible mentions. A woman is the most subordinate then man,
man to angels, inferior angels to superior angels, and superior angels to God (Hanford 183). Since the Catholic Church gave supremacy to a woman, the Virgin Mary, over all the nations, men and angels, then the Catholics weren’t considered to be followers of the ‘true’ Christian spirit. Milton “proclaimed the validity of the original tradition and teaching and faith of the universal Church as given by the Lord Jesus, taught by His apostles, and upheld by the Fathers” (Patrides 3). Catholics taught many doctrines other than what Christ taught and therefore their tradition was meaningless. Patrides stated in his novel Milton and the Christian Tradition that Milton did not intend Paradise Lost to be a Christian Poem, encompassing the entire Christian beginning, but it was intended to be a Christian Protestant poem.
Another important aspect to Milton’s writings is the humanistic factor. Humanism focuses on the entire human experience from inward to outward as a whole. This would include war, love, religion, hell, heaven, and the cosmos (Norton Anthology 1435). Christian Humanism not only refers to the treatment of the Godhead, but also the treatment of other humans. Milton writes that to God we owe “temperance, chastity, frugality, industry, fortitude, and patience,” while we owe our neighbor “charity, meekness, veracity, faithfulness, gravity, justice, liberality, and gratitude” (Hanford 3). These characteristics make up a whole range of human emotions and experiences that Milton believed were important to focus on and how they are accomplished with a Christian spirit. For instance, Milton would pay particular attention to how a man dealt with war and with what grace he overcame the obstacle. One instance of Humanism that
appears in Milton’s work is also in Paradise Lost. “The great epic, which resounds with the grandeur and multiplicity of the world, is also a poem of which the central actions take place inwardly, at the core of the human conscience” (Norton Anthology 1435).
John Milton, although focused on a higher power, adjusts his sight to look inwardly also and capture a picture of the human experience. This leads us to see the overall view of man and his God, working and relating to each other in a fashion that was carved out by Christ and became once again prevalent to the Renaissance society.