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MILTON, PURITANISM, AND LIBERTY A. S. P. WOODHOUSE -IN ii Puritanism and Liberty," a bi-ief review-a .rtide, printed in the QUARTERLY (IV, pp. 395-404), I indicated some of the conditions under which the contribution of Puritanism to the theory of liberty and delTIOCracy was made. In the present article I propose to follow the matter out in the case of Milton, and, by a comparison with Roger \Villiams, to make clear the reason for Milton's position and for its limitations. I The doctrine of Christian liberty, grounded largely on" St.-Paul, came into new prominence with the Reformation revival of Pauline theology. Luther and Calvin formulated its main significance; and it figures in greater or less degree in most English seventeenth-century state- -ments of Protestant theology, such as the official Westminster Confession of Faith, on the one hand, and the popular Body oj Divinity by Archbishop Ussher, on the other.1 In its orthodox interpretation Christian liberty means freedom from the condemnation of the Mosaic Law through faith in Christ. The chief object of the Law was to bring men to a conviction of sin and of the need for a Redeemer. That object attained, it gave place to the Gospel. Under the La-w men were in the condition lLuther's Primary Works, ed. Wace and Buchheim, 1896, pp. 245-93" ; Calvin; Institutes, III, chap. xixj Th~ Confession of Faith, Edinburgh, 1874, pp. 64-71;' James Ussher, A Body if Divinity, London, 1702, pp. 181 ff. Puritan extremists " like the autliQr of the Power of Loot, 1643, could complain, however, that Christian Iiberry was insu fficie" ntly emphasized" in public catechisms, books,"and sermons" (p. 22; Tracts on LiberJy, ed. Haller, 1934, II, p. 289). 483 THE UNIVERSlry OF TORONTO QUARTERLY of children or servants. Under the Gospel believers are raised'to the status of sons, joint heirs with Christ, priests (as Luther asserts) and .kings. Freed from the op- ' .pression of the Law, they voluntarily obey the will of God, substituting- an ideal of love, faith, and -free activity for meticulous conformity to a complicated code, largely prohibitory in character--the spirit for the mere letter. Thus they enter into Christian liberty. The revolutionary potentialities of the doctrine turn in large measure on the degree to which the Gospel is held to have abrogated the Law. The orthodox view \vas as follows. In so far as the Layv was merely ceremonial it was" typical," foreshadowing the coming of Christ, and was wholly .. abrogated thereby. In its judicial and political aspeGts th~ Law might, not be binding 011 Christians, but Israel still furnished the hestof all models for a ·commonwealth. In its mor'al aspect orthodox Protestantism .allowed of no abrogation of the Law, for (as Ussherstated it) the "Moral Layv or Law of Nature [was] engraven by God himself in the heart of man [and] 'after in 'tables of stone in the days of Moses." Christian liberty is at the opposite pole. from licence. I t means freedom from slavery 'to self and sin, through acceptance of a higher service: in the words of the Prayer Book, God's service ' is perfect freedom. This is one of the great paradoxical truths in which Christianity is so fertile (and 'of which' no century was more acutely appreciative than the seventeenth). The similarity of the Stoic idea that only the wise man (who has gained a victory over himself) is truly free, has not escaped notice; and indeed Seneca ~eems to speak the very language of the Liturgy:- Deo parere libertas est. . Christian liberty, to adopt. the terminology of a later day, is an inward freedom achieved through the resolution 0 f conflicts on a religious plane. 484 MILTON, PURITANISM, AND LIBERTY In Milt~n these nobler aspects of the 'doctrine are not without importance , but in the Puritans in general it is the 'more revolutionary aspects· that are chiefly in evidence. Alone or in combination with 0 ther Puritan doctrines, the idea of Christian liberty issued in seven~ teenth-century England in four practical results., (I) Most important, it became the basis, in greater or less _ degree, of the Independents' demand for liberty...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 483-513
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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