A Cover You Won’t Soon Forget

 15 August 2019

The cover’s Latin words and phrases are chosen equally from Milton’s topics and from his personal style in examining them. 

Its prevailing monochrome is chosen to suggest print, and bibles, and academic and clerical garb, or the pen and ink of a controversial manuscript. 

Polemic is suggested in the lineation, by jagged diagonals, tilting and crisscrossing. 

Individual words are chosen for prominent topics, for individual aptness or for typical style and reasoning:

Haeresis: In Greek, hairesis meant simply “choice,” as you find it used in Aristotle’s Ethics, for example. But in New Testament Greek it was producing the adjective, hairetikos, “heretical” (choosy, picking and choosing, by willful wrong-headedness). Milton claims to be no heretic, only one choosing in freedom, like Paul. The word exemplifies Milton’s learning and self-advantaging use of definition.

De filio: “Concerning the Son.” By far Milton’s longest and most original chapter (I. 6) in De Doctrina. He does not find any evidence for the Trinity in scripture, or else (it’s not always clear which) evidence supporting the explanation prevailing in his day: “three persons in one God.”

persona, and drama personalitatum: “person” and “the drama of personhoods”, where drama is sarcastic. The Latin words are reduced in meaning and coverage, being late Latin, marred by churchmen’s obfuscation. Strictly, he says — that is by more reductive etymologizing— it translates prosopon, the “mask” of a Roman or Greek actor. How can that help explain the Trinity?

Amesius noster: in what sense is William Ames “ours,” noster? As another English Protestant, or as a hero who went into exile for his beliefs? Or as a basic source of Milton’s own theology? Or one who agreed with him? But in the same chapter Milton flatly disagrees with him! At any rate, Ames like John Selden is one of the remarkably few thinkers whom Milton names as friend or ally.

mihimet ipsi: what is safe “for me myself”? Strong emphasis is made by the lengthened form of mihi, “to me”, and ipsi extends it further. Does this declaration in the Preface point to Protestant individualism? Egocentricity? Existential firmness… How best to describe it, is the question to which my book responds, and which Milton is asking of us. I relate it to his use of the parable of the talents. “That one talent which is death to hide”: it would be “death” to him if he were to hide his own talent for inquiry.

duntaxat: an emphatic word for “only.” Milton uses it to restrict a definition, to what he finds in scripture (rather than in traditions or liturgies), and also at times to what he is prepared to find in scripture. Once he uses duntaxat three times in the same sentence, to keep civil and church government out of Christian practice.

non nisi: similarly to duntaxatnon nisi or “not unless” helps Milton keep necessary regulation to a minimum…

nihil mihi tutius: but this time the negative expression works more like a litotes, to make a strong positive. “Nothing is safer for me” in ascertaining what beliefs are safe and sure than to go back to the Bible, and to accept nothing but what (in Milton’s judgment) is to be found there.

O vos exigua fide: “O ye of little faith!” After reasoning more and more passionately against clergy pay, and established churches which abuse their power, he lets fly against these feeble believers. Using the words of Jesus himself, more in anger than in sorrow, the allusion reproves the churches by the words, and voice, of the strongest possible authority. The Latin version seems to be Milton’s own.

by John Hale

See all the blogposts concerning Milton’s Scriptural Theology. Confronting De Doctrina Christiana:

Q&A on Milton’s Scriptural Theology

A Cover You Won’t Soon Forget

Confronting John Milton: How and Why?

Recording of Milton’s De Doctrina Christiana

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