Although many studies of Milton’s theology refer to the arguments that appear in the Miltonic De Doctrina Christiana, the account provided by John Hale in Milton’s Scriptural Theology is distinctive; rather than construe the treatise as a gloss on Paradise Lost or on another of Milton’s poems, Hale engages De Doctrina on its own terms as a work of Latin theology in the Ramist Protestant tradition. As a result, the study is notable for its detailed attention to the Latin constructions, considering the grammatical, dialectical, and rhetorical features of Milton’s theological arguments. The central recurring theme of the study is the animating personality of Milton that appears through the details of Latin idiom, habits of thought, and modes of argument.[...]
Because of its combination of Latin learning, engaged appreciation, and lively theological argument, Hale’s monograph provides a challenge and a benefit for any reader who is interested in Milton’s theology. Against those who want to categorize Milton as an “Arian,” a “subordinationist,” or even a “Unitarian,” Hale maintains that the details of the argumentation do not actually quite support such designations (101). Against those who would dismiss the treatise as merely subjective musings, Hale maintains that the sense of personhood that permeates the treatise offers an experience of something more: “The mind and self which so reveal themselves in his Latin have a strangeness which translation (literal or freer, both) must muffle” (110). Any future work on Milton’s theology will need to account for this study, not only allowing for the analytic and synthetic claims that it offers but also reckoning with the degree of Latin fluency required for such work.~Phillip J. Donnelly, Milton Quarterly 55 (2021): 45–57
Milton spoke of De Doctrina as “my best and most precious possession” (haec, quibus nihil melius aut pretiosius habeo). In this book, John K. Hale confronts De Doctrina as Milton’s “best”, and in many senses personal, contribution to theology.
Its theology is distinctive in several unorthodoxies, and their zestful advocacy; and in some orthodoxies too, like his measured account of Predestination. At the very least, De Doctrina is Milton’s one and only worked-out Credo. And it figures, albeit belatedly, in histories of the great mid-century Trinitarian debate: it is on the wider map of theology; it counts.
Through close reading of the Latin itself, the author assesses the work and its aim, its degrees of success and its by-products, as these reveal Milton at his “personal best.” While to a candid appraisal—or to historians or methodologists of theology—his best might not seem the very best ever, this work remains unutterably precious to Milton, and close reading reveals the passion and energy of his mind in its acts of thought. To understand the personal dimension of Milton’s theology is to understand, and evaluate, his mind in action.
Foreword: Milton’s Personal Best
Preliminaries: Authorship, Medium, Audience
Chapter One: Milton’s Address to Readers
PART ONE: MATERIALS
Chapter Two: Axioms
Chapter Three: The Biblical Citations
Chapter Four: Working from Wollebius
Chapter Five: Named Theologians as Interlocutors
PART TWO: ARTS OF LANGUAGE
Chapter Six: Philology
Chapter Seven: Pagan Allusions
Chapter Eight: Pronouns
PART THREE: TRINITY
Chapter Nine: Milton’s De Filio
Chapter Ten: Theologies Compared
Appendix One: Further Etymologies
Appendix Two: Hobbes and Dryden