This is the month, and this the happy morn,
Wherein the Son of Heaven’s eternal King,
Of wedded maid and Virgin
Mother born, Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace. [i]
Except for passing reference to Paradise Lost many people may only know of Milton via Dan Brown’s Inferno. And while I was aware of Milton’s poetic skills, I was unaware of his role in the events of the Puritans’ and Cromwell’s efforts to purge England of her Monarchy and lead her to a stricter form of Protestant worship. [ii] I did not know of his theological writing such as On Christian Doctrine where he apparently expresses an Arian view of divinity [iii] or On the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce in which he argues a case for divorce, after his wife returned to her family after a few months of marriage. I had never heard of On the morning of Christ’s Nativity (the first verse of which is above) and seems to have been his first recognized work. I would have never thought that Paradise Lost was written after the return of the Monarchy in 1660 and he “retired” into private life. Milton’s life is much more complex that I realize, and I wonder how that rich complexity is reflected in his seminal works Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.
Milton’s hitherto unexplored complex rich life brought my attention to the unknown dimensions of Haggai’s life and the lives of Thessalonian Christians. How much more would we be able to glean from scripture if we read it in the context of the writers, audiences, etc? It’s an argument for reading scripture with the bible in one hand and a good one volume commentary in the other. Of course, if we are to bring scripture into our context we should a copy of the New York Times in the … opps out of hands, but you get the point.
Another gleaning from Milton’s life is an apparent change in his thinking and/or belief over time. We should all be open to the leading of the spirit into hitherto unexplored revelations of the glory, abundance and grace of the God’s inconceivable presence.