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Milton and Idolatry

Noting Milton's frequent identification of himself as Ikonoklastes, idol-breaker, this essay traces his very broad concept of idolatry throughout his poetry and prose. While his Puritan contemporaries thought of idolatry chiefly as pagan or Roman Catholic practices that offer an affront to God, Milton saw idolatry as the disposition to attach divinity or special sanctity to any person, human institution, or material object, and early to late he sought to eradicate that disposition in his readers. His focus is on the way idolatry debases and enslaves human beings and their societies. If worship and absolute obedience are offered only to the transcendent God and if his image is seen to reside in all human beings simply as such (not popes, kings, bishops, institutions, or sacred material objects) then the concomitants must be, he thought, civil and religious liberty and a republic.