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The patience to prevent that murmur: the theodicy of John Milton's nineteenth sonnet.

IN the poetic hiatus between John Milton's Poems of 1645 and the composition of Paradise Lost, the onset of the poet s chronic blindness brought him, in his nineteenth sonnet, to the subject of patience:
 When I consider how my light is spent,
 Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
 And that one Talent which is death to hide,
 Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent
 To serve therewith my Maker, and present
 My true account, least he returning chide,
 Doth God exact day-labour, light deny'd,
 I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
 That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
 Either man's work or his own gifts, who best
 Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
 Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
 And post o're Land and Ocean without rest:
 They also serve who only stand and waite.


Milton produced twenty-four sonnets over the space of twenty-eight years and in this period he stretched the genre to its full capacity. After abiding by familiar Petrarchan topics situated firmly within the "Courtly Love" tradition in the poetic exercises of his youth (Sonnets I-VI), Milton adapted so apparently slight and constrained a poetic form to the service of diverse majestic modes: the panegyric (X, XV, XVI), the jeremiad (XVIII), the epigram (VIII), the polemic (XI, XII), the lamentation (XXIII), the allegorical drama (IX, XIV), and the Horatian familiar ode of hospitality (XX, XXI). In Sonnet VII, "How soon hath Time," and Sonnets XIX and XXII, the two "sonnets on his blindness," Milton sublimates the sonnet genre into a species of internalized spiritual contemplation. Milton included his celebrated nineteenth sonnet among the twenty-two new English poems that appeared in his 1673 Poems, etc. Upon Several Occasions, an edition enlarging upon his 1645 Poems. Given the nineteenth sonnet's overt reference to the failure of his sight, a date for its actual composition has been variously conjectured between 1651 and 1655, Published one year before his death, Milton's so-called "first sonnet on his blindness" transforms a genre associated with courtly romance, an initially secular form, into a medium for dramatic metaphysical inquiry.

In his mature verse, Milton was to accommodate the sonnet form to his theodical requirements of proclaiming God's providence and justifying God's ways. Both Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes climax with sonnets that announce God's purposes. First, Eve's fourteen-line unrhymed hymn on love, both human and divine, constitutes the last lines uttered by a human character in Paradise Lost (PL XII.610-23). In the hymn Eve attests her love for Adam and extols God's providence, that through her descendants "the Promisd Seed shall all restore" (PL XII.623). Second, as Louis Martz observes, Milton inserts into the choral exodos of his tragic poem Samson Agonistes a sonnet with a unique rhyme-scheme running ababcdcdefefef (SA 1745-1758; Martz 288-89). Like Eve in her speech, the chorus reflects upon the wonders of God's "unsearchable dispose," a divine providence "ever best found in the close."

The nineteenth sonnet, I will be arguing, comprises a meditation upon divine providentialism. Formally, the sonnet belongs to the Italian or Petrarchan type, which consists of a bipartite structure divided into an octave and a sestet of blank verse with the rhyme-scheme abbaabbacdecde. There is a line of critical vision that accepts the processual nature that this sonnet form lends to the poem, the peripety of the sonnet's psychic drama taking place at the volta, or "turn," between its eighth and ninth lines, that is, in the transfer from the octave to the sestet. The nature the sonnet's dramatized process takes, however, is less readily agreed upon. Fitzroy Pyle charts a switch in mood whereby "an angry sense of frustration at the onset of blindness gives place to steady hope" (Pyle 386-87) and, overall, "a record of impatience recollected in a state of patience" (Gossman 372). Paul Baumgartner's interpretation builds upon Pyle's thesis and regards the nineteenth sonnet as a turning-point in Milton's embrace of "a new and real conviction in the Christian virtue of patience and in its corollaries, dependence on and submission to, the will of God" rather than "a damaging falling off into pessimism and lassitude" (Baumgartner 204, 206). Accordingly, Baumgartner identifies patience in Milton's last major poems as active service, a virtue anticipatory of Milton's three major protagonists--Adam, Jesus, and Samson. Kazuaki Saito and Catherine Belsey trace the speaker's emancipation from a preoccupation with self to a fuller understanding of patient service (Saito 193-208; Belsey 25-26, 31-32).

While I agree with previous critics that a major shift of mood between the octave and the sestet contributes to the sonnet's total effect, I would argue that the sonnet's structure evinces an explicit Protestant poetic. In my opinion, a close reading that appraises the sonnet's theology and the complex workings of its Protestant poetic still needs to be addressed. This article aims to meet that need. The octave's relentlessly fearless and finally desperate interrogation of the seeming inequity of God's ways is settled in the sestet by Patience, an intercessory deus ex machina, who translates the sonnet into a particular statement of the necessity of human faith in the complete efficacy of Christ's redemption, that much more than in the insufficient merit of human works or gifts. This revelation is sufficient to restore the octave's divided subject-speaker and to reconcile the differences in divine-human relations. The sonnet virtually comprises a Christian psychodrama that articulates a vision of atoning grace which, while not rigorously Antinomian, yet subsumes the Mosaic Law by providing a resolution to, rather than merely revealing, the problem of human sin and the inadequacy of human effort. Milton was to maintain this position on the Mosaic Law's operation in Paradise Lost in the Archangel Michael's teaching for Adam that the "Law can discover sin, but not remove" (PL XII.290). Traditionally, this sonnet has been critically received as an occasional lament on the subject of the poet's physical debilitation or as expressing a painful sense of vocational belatedness, and a surface reading does yield this interpretation. However, an extremely complex theological substructure is in evidence that examines the efficacy of faith versus works, the doctrine of justification by faith, and the possibility of the operation of grace in the darkest moments of human existence.

In quest of a cure for his blindness, Milton engaged in a correspondence with the eminent Athenian physician Leonard Philaras. Two extant letters are dated 1652 and 1654. Milton's second letter details suis verbis the symptoms of his ailing eyesight. The second epistle contains what must be one of the most rhapsodic self-diagnoses of bodily infirmity ever to appear in English literature. Written over the period in which Milton composed his nineteenth sonnet, this epistle gives us some insight into his state of body and mind. The poet describes an iridescence or rainbow effect at the early waning of his vision, as if "some [goddess] Iris seemed to snatch it from me [quam aspexissem lucernam, Iris quaedam visa est redimire]" (CE XII.66). The letter goes on to consider the vatic qualities that deprivation of sight might betoken by citing and comparing Milton's own experience with the mantic vision of the "Salmydessian seer Phineus [Salmydessii Vatis Phinei]" who, for his impiety, was afflicted by Zeus with blindness and old age (Arg. II.181-86). (1) Milton has the fortitude to entertain the possibility that his sight may never be restored to him. He shares with Philaras the comfort he derives from the same Deuteronomic text that the Son uses to resist Satan in the Gospel temptation narratives, a text Milton reproduces in Paradise Regain'd (Cf. Matt. 4:1-4; Luke 4:1-4; PR I.347-50). Milton writes: "Because if, as it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word proceeding from the mouth of God, that is, why should not someone be at rest in this same idea, that it is sufficient to have sight, not in the eyes alone, but in the leadership and providence of God." (CE XII.70). (2) The sonnet's scope, like that of Milton's letter to Philaras, arguably follows a similar pattern, moving from an agitated state to rest, finally, in God's disposal of events. The sonnet opens out from the physical to the psychic, from the particular situation of the speaker's private anguish to the universal predicament of reasonless human suffering, and from the despondency of the unfortunate to the providential understanding of divine, participatory patience.

The critic Charles Gayley's anatomy of the didactic structure of the Italian sonnet is an instructive tool for reading Milton's sonnet: "The octave bears the burden; a doubt, a problem, a reflection, a query, an historical statement, a cry of indignation or desire, a vision of the ideal. The sestet eases the load, resolves the problem or doubt, answers the query, solaces the yearning, realizes the vision" (Gayley 86-7). Gayley's choice of the metaphor of a burden eased corresponds with the central idea of Milton's sonnet, which pivots upon the speaker's evolving and improving perception of God. The speaker's disquiet is relieved by the solace gained both from a correct understanding of sin assuaged by grace and by God's lightening of the burden of sin that accompanies that awareness. Catherine Belsey's study of the sonnet's syntax finds this change of mood manifested in the contrast between the troubled hypotaxis of its octave and the measured parataxis of its sestet. Belsey is correct, I believe, in concluding that the reader's first task is to isolate "the doubting voice of the human speaker from the authoritative voice of virtue" (Belsey 25). Of these two distinctive voices in the sonnet, the first, which dominates the sonnet's octave, belongs to that of "a specific individual, a subjectivity struggling to make sense of the world amid a welter of subordinate clauses" (Belsey 25). The second voice, appropriate to the soothing cadences of Patience, intervenes to allay the octave's "individual voice, speaking, struggling, feeling," and, for the duration of the sestet, intercedes with consolations that are "authoritative, clear and paratactic" (Belsey 32, 25).

Milton's sonnet is cast as a miniature theodicy. The speaker's querulous tone as he considers how his light is spent (l.1) reflects one who wonders how, in his affliction, he will be able to live out the remaining moiety of his life. "Consideration," rooted in the Latin word considerare, is a loaded verb fraught with metaphysical speculation as the speaker "examines the stars" (con + sidera) or reads the cosmos's sidereal signs for a just cause for his suffering. Following the storm that Satan sends to tempt the Son in Paradise Regain 'd, Satan quips on this etymology of the word "consider" when he sarcastically advises the Son not to interpret the tempest as a heaven-sent omen, because such a slight phenomenon is "in-con-siderable" and not worth "scanning the stars" for its cause. The storm, Satan claims, is "to the main as inconsiderable, / And harmless, if not wholsom, as a sneeze / To mans less universe" (PR IV.457-59). How the speaker of Milton's sonnet considers the aspect of the heavens in macrocosm, perceiving therein either a charitable or an inclement God, will necessarily influence how he pieces together the significance of his putatively wronged and vulnerable self as microcosm. From the speaker's initial perspective, at least, that microcosm is wretchedly situated in a "dark world and wide." In Paradise Lost, Milton associates this voiced, sonorant, bilabial glide with its alliterative "w" sounds with the fractured, fallen state that all creatures must endure. As early as The Passion (c. 1630), the figure of the poet, fusing his lament for the crucified Son of God with a company of angelic mourners, complains that, upon the pages on which he writes his words of grief, "my tears have washt a wannish white" (l.35). In the exordium to Paradise Lost, the narrator asserts his ambition to sing of the fruit of the Forbidden Tree, "whose mortal tast / Brought Death into the World, and all our woe" (PL I.2-3); the epic's fourth and final invocation deplores human disobedience "That brought into this World a world of woe" (PL IX.11); and, at Eve's Fall, "Nature from her seat / Sighing through all her Works gave signs of woe" (PL IX.782-83). From the outset, the sonnet's speaker fashions his estranged condition as one not symptomatic of his physical loss of sight, but rather illustrative of his fallen, isolated, and confounded ontological state, common to all, in a blighted world.

The speaker's perception of a God with an apparently unjustifiable providential design and a doubtful moral stature informs the octave. This God is imagined as a calculating Deity of weights and measures, psychostatically hanging out the scales upon which to balance the worth of the speaker's soul. Harry Robins remarks that the Matthean parable of the talents comprises the nucleus of the octave (Matt. 25:14-30), and it is difficult nowadays for readers to appreciate Milton's trenchant interlingual pun between "literary talent" and the slothful servant's "single talent [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]" (Matt. 25:24). Like the idle servant of the parable, the speaker's life, so he believes, is to be disbursed profitably in quantifiable units proportionate to the spending of his talent so that he, the negligent mis-spender, will be deemed spiritually bankrupt. However, the situation of the parable's servant, wasting his single talent, does not map neatly onto the speaker's condition in the sonnet. In the parable, the man going on a journey entrusts a sum of money to his three servants, "to each according to his own ability" (Matt. 25:15b). (3) All three servants have been entrusted to make capital out of their respective portions, so that the first and second servants double their investment of, respectively, five and two talents, whereas the third servant is fittingly impugned by his master for squandering his one talent, since he "went out, dug in the ground, and buried his master's money" (Matt. 25:18). (4) For this reason, the master calls his servant a "worthless [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]"' "indolent [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]" and "useless" or "unprofitable slave [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]" (Matt. 25:26, 30). The sonnet's speaker learns his lesson from the parable and appreciates that his "one Talent [...] is death to hide"; yet, unlike the parable, that signal epithet [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or "without use" is not, as one might expect, attributed to the speaker, but to the talent itself, in the speaker's phrase, "Lodg'd with me useless." E. Honigmann points out that the uselessness of the talent puns on the fact that the coin is without "use," that is, without usury or interest (Honigmann 175). Likewise, the commercial meaning of the word "lodge," "to deposit in a place of security or custody" (OED def. I.3), naturally evokes the squandered service of the wasteful servant, who fails "to invest [his master's] silver with the bankers" (Matt. 25:27). (5) Departing from the parabolic model, the speaker modifies the narrative to suit his own perception of events. By the speaker's account, it is God, and not the speaker himself, who is culpable of creating an impossible situation for His servant by depositing the talent, not in the earth, but within the sightless human clay of the speaker's body, incapacitated from performing any worthy service. The servant's position is compromised from rendering a "true account," a phrase that repeats, even as it distances itself, from the slothful servant who was able to "settle his account [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]" with his master (Matt. 25:19b).

So far, all of the speaker's efforts to accommodate his Maker to his personal idea of God result in an unattractive picture of a supercilious, disgruntled Creditor. This defamatory view of God is not worlds apart from the Deity addressed in the twenty-three-year-old Milton's seventh sonnet, where the speaker rather gloomily regards the clockwork course of his life struck out "in strictest measure eev'n" and the management of his days, for good or ill, exactingly assessed in his "great task-Masters eye" (ll.10, 14). The speaker of the nineteenth sonnet is rather less elegiac and reserved about his Maker, and, in a fusillade of hard, plosive consonants, splutters out the indignant charge, "Doth God exact day-labour, light deny'd?" The poetic economy of the speaker's indignant challenge to his God, compressed into a single, compact line of blank verse, warrants attention. The alternating guttural and dental accents in the first half line, so difficult to pronounce aloud, render the utterance rough, intemperate, and unfinished. The line's awkward prosody compounds the jarring sense of the speaker's incredulity and outrage: two heavy stresses in the discordant initial spondaic substitution of the first foot, "Doth God"; the postponement of the caesura, the natural pause in the line, because of the run-on phrase, "day-labour"; the abrupt and retarded caesura after the comma, in the middle of the fourth foot; and the closure of the pentameter upon the terse, disjointed trisyllable, "light deny'd." The speaker has come to resemble Milton's grumbling Samson who, blind at the mill, questions God's ingenuity at Creation for designing human vision to be "To such a tender ball as th' eye confin'd" (SA l. 94). In his exasperation, the speaker also resembles the remiss servant of the Matthean parable who brazens out his Master: excoriating him as "a cruel man [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]" with no conception of suffering and an eye only to reward, who reaps the benefits where he does not sow and harvests goods where he does not scatter seed (Matt 25:24). It is the function of the sestet to effect a reversal of this detraction and enlighten the sonnet's speaker that an accurate idea of God reveals Him to be not unacquainted with grief.

The speaker's question, whether understood as an erotema, that is, an indignant rhetorical question, or as a prayerful petition, radically interrogates the intrinsic nature of Deity. The speaker's challenge, "Doth God exact day-labour, light deny'd?", is not only an unreasonable demand, enforcing more of the petitioner than he can humanly perform, but it also constitutes an implied charge against God's reprehensible exaction that puts the Godhead in the dock, so to speak. "Exaction" is technically the enforcement of the payment of a penalty or a debt, the collection of dues or taxes, or the summoning of a defendant to appear in court, making of his God a bailiff or tyrant. This conflicted view of God strains under the pressurized image of the speaker's "Soul more bent." One is initially tempted to read the word "bent" as "inclined," but the resolution of the result clause, "more bent / To serve therewith my Maker [...] least he returning chide," degrades the readiness to perform glad service into a chore of subjugated servility. To be "bent / To serve" evokes an oxymoronic, spiritual-material dissonance, because it signifies an animistic bending, a bowing or stooping of the soul under the load of "more",--an interminable weight one is unable to shoulder. The strain of the first quatrain's unappeasable vision of a talionic, retributionist Deity offers a limited release in the volta, or "turn," of the second quatrain. The sonnet transfers from indirect to direct speech; the incipient movement within its structure switches from a flawed human perception to a divine subjectivity descanting on God's true nature. The very posing of the speaker's question, "fondly," initiates a reversal in the power-exchange, polarizing, handy-dandy, the octave's role-playing of the speaker as judge and of God as the accused. A reading of "foolishly" for "fondly" would highlight the awkwardness of the speaker's presumption (OED def. 1); an older meaning of the word "fond" that had currency until the middle of the seventeenth century was "to seek," so that the speaker here asks "inquiringly," or even, to adopt the Late Medieval usage of "fond," puts God to the proof. Rendered thus, the speaker is, as the sestet bears out, somewhat rashly tasking God for a theodical explanation, a justification of His ways to men.

The speaker's challenge contains the condition for its own satisfaction in its allusion to John 9:4, the story of the healing of the physically and spiritually blind man at Siloa's brook, a narrative to which the first invocation to Paradise Lost very likely appertains (PL I.10-12).
 I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day. The
 night approaches, when no one can work. As long as I am in the
 world, I am the light of the world. Once he had spoken these words,
 he spat on the ground, and he made clay from the spittle, and with
 the clay he anointed the eyes of the blind man. (John 9:4-6) (6)


Jesus's teaching implicitly disrupts the speaker's definition of an implacable God by introducing a miraculous and promissory context of physical and spiritual illumination, and by suggesting a Son who cares for his creatures and manifests God's ways through the healing miracle of sight.

In the autobiographical digression to his Defensio Secunda (1654), Milton strove to scotch the invidious charge in the Regii Sanguinis Clamor that his blindness was a divine act of retribution, an accusation frequently renewed against him by his enemies at the Restoration, by presenting a representative list of sightless Classical, Biblical, and Christian worthies. Milton offers once more the example of mantic Phineus, as well as the instances of Isaac the Patriarch, Hieronymus Zanchius the theologian, and, rather tendentiously, "for a time, perhaps, Jacob [aliquot fortasse, Jacobum]" (CE VIII.62, 64, 66). Before remarking upon his own blindness, Milton supplies the example of the Johannine blind man at Siloa's brook: "When, finally, it is most certain from the divine testimony of our saviour Christ, that the man healed by him, neither by any sin of his own, nor by any of his parents, was blind right from the womb" (CE VIII.66). (7) After considering the type of the Johannine blind man, in an unexpected move, Milton practically makes debilitation requisite to receiving a pure interior vision of God.

"There is, by the authority of the Apostle, a certain way through weakness to the greatest strength. May I be the weakest of persons, as long as, amid my weakness, that immortal and finer vigor is put forward to greater effect; as long as, amid my darkness, the light of the divine face does all the more brightly shine out; for then I will be at once the most infirm and the most mighty, at the same time blind and most insightful. Thus, through this infirmity should I be consummated, through this should I be perfected; thus, through this obscurity should I be irradiated." (CE VIII.72) (8)

The reference to the outshining "divine face [divini vultus]" might very well allude to the Pauline revelation of "the radiance of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor. 3:13-4:6), but Milton's primary allusion here is to another Pauline text, "My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). (9) During the early years of his blindness, Milton made it his custom, when making a gift of a book to a friend, to have his amanuensis inscribe Milton's personal motto in koine Greek, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], or "[my strength is] made perfect in weakness," before adding his personal signature to the edition. (10) Milton executed this autographic ritual in an album for Dr Christopher Arnold, Professor of History at Nuremberg, on November 19, 1651, and, again, for the Swiss minister John Zollikofer, on September 26, 1656 (CE XVIII.271). Despite the fact that both signatures were made five years apart, Milton's sentiments do not appear to have altered between his experience of his fading and then extinguished sight. The larger context of the Pauline passage in which Milton's motto occurs clearly proclaims the paradox of a strengthening faith consequent upon a relationship with God in Christ, a paradox intimate with the Pauline explanation of Jesus's experience of the Crucifixion as all-powerful in his weakness:
 [The Lord] said to me, my grace is sufficient for you, for strength
 is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, instead I will boast most
 gladly about my weaknesses, that the strength of Christ might
 provide shelter [lit. a "tent" or a "tabernacle"] over me. Because
 of this I revel in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in
 persecutions and troubles, all for Christ's sake. For when I am
 weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10) (11)


The inbreaking of a similarly Christ- and cross-centred vision preoccupies the sestet and exposes the flaw in the speaker's judgement of God in the octave. As with the word "fondly," the possible fallacy in the speaker's perspective is strengthened by the diminution of the status of his utterance to a "murmur." Murmuring is always a highly suspect sound both Biblically and Miltonically, where the word tends to designate an untrusting questioning of God's goodness. In The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, Milton applauds how the Roman poet Manilius, in the poetic theodicy Astronomica, "without murmuring and with an industrious cheerfulnes, he acquits the deity" (CPW II.294). (12) He also entitled the eleventh of his possible outlines for tragedies on Old Testament themes, "the murmurers. Num. 14," so named after the backsliding wilderness generation of Israel (CE XVIII.235). In the second part of Milton's theological treatise De Doctrina Christiana, under the category of "autarky [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]," the virtue wherein humans are content within themselves at the lot divinely apportioned to them, the treatise opposes a "murmuring against [obmurmuratio] God's providence in providing for the things of this life" (CE VII.230). (13) The potentially seditious act of murmuring, then, comes to signify for Milton a capricious faith in God and a grudging faulting of God's ways.

Literary examples of impious murmurings are myriad. In the Pentateuch, the children of Israel murmur against Yahweh, Moses, and Aaron throughout their wilderness wanderings (Exod. 15:24; 16:2-12; 17:3; Num. 14:2, 27-29; 16:11, 41; 17:5, 10; Deut. 1:27 Cf. Josh. 9:18; Ps. 106:25; Isa. 29:24). In a passage that Milton's sonnet, with its final lesson to stand and wait, seems to anticipate, the First Letter to the Corinthians warns Christians, against the example of Israel's Exodus generation, "not to murmur [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] as some of them did murmur [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]," and "that the one thinking he stands, let him look to it lest he should fall" (1 Cor. 10:10a, 12). (14) Among the "Metaphysical" poets, John Donne's final Lenten homily, Death's Duel (1630), delivered when Donne was quite literally at death's door, was "stiled the Authors owne funeral Sermon," and, in it, Donne berates "the impatient Israelites in their murmuring" (Donne Sermons Vol. 10 pp. 229 and 235). Similarly, George Herbert's poem "The Bunch of Grapes" includes in its enumeration of the woes of the Exodus generation the "murmurings" of Israel's backsliding along with "sands and serpents" (Herbert Works 128). The canonical Gospels portray Jesus's persecutors murmuring against him for dining with unclean people, suffering the woman with the urn to anoint him, and proclaiming himself the bread of heaven (Matt. 20:11; Luke 5:30, 15:2, 19:7; John 6:41); all of these Gospel texts employ a conjugation of the Greek verb [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "to murmur," for the blamers. Jesus's parable of the vintagers or workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16) shares a similar message with the parable of the talents and in that similitude the vintagers (for whom read God's followers) also "murmur [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]" against their landowner (for whom read God), and defy God's apparent injustice in distributing the wages, that is, free grace, equally among all the workers (Matt. 20:11). Milton appropriates the verb of murmuring similarly: in Paradise Lost, at the close of Book IV, Satan, baffled by and resisting God's judgement on the scales which are held aloft in the heavens, "fled / Murmuring, and with him fled the shades of night" (PL IV.1014-15; John 13:30). (15) A "murmuring sound / Of waters" tempts Eve to the surface of the lake where she indulges in overweening self-regard (PL IV.453-54). Adam's state under Raphael's tutelage, "yet sinless, with desire to know," despite the narrator's confirmation of impeccability, is ominously likened to a tantalizing "streame, / Whose liquid murmur heard new thirst excites" (PL VII.61, 67-68). All of these murmurings reinforce the speaker's possible impiety in murmuring against his Maker.

The sestet's "resolution" or "easing of the load," to adopt Gayley's phraseology, arrives unexpectedly within the sonnet. Before the octave has been rounded off, there is a fresh development in the introduction of the quasi-allegorical figure of "patience." The counsel that Patience brings to the speaker occupies the rest of the sonnet and governs the sestet. One clue to the identity of Milton's Patience is the Passional association of the word from the Latin patiens, which may be translated as "the one who suffers." The Oxford English Dictionary cites the primary meaning of "passion" as "The suffering of pain" (OED I), and the primary meaning within this definition is "The suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross (also often including the Agony in Gethsemane)" (OED I.1a). Milton's De Doctrina classes a patient attitude as "that whereby we are at rest in God's promises, supported by a reliance upon the divine providence, power, and goodness, and whereby we thoroughly bear with equanimity those evils, sent for our good, as if from our father, that must necessarily be thoroughly bourne" (CE XVII.66). (16) De Doctrina marshals four Old Testament proof-texts under this category of "PATIENCE" (2 Sam. 16:10; Isa. 28:16; Lam. 3:29), one of which highlights the patience of Job, that "In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly [neque attribuit insulsitatem Deo]" (AV Job 1:22; CE XVII.66). Job avoids the same insolent faux pas that the sonnet's speaker "fondly" or, perhaps, "foolishly" commits. De Doctrina's New Testament proof-texts on the subject of patience, ten in all, are arranged under a single theme, the duty of a Christian to wait, hope, and expect better things, and a Christian believer's responsibility to bear up, fortified by the consolation of the crucified Jesus's exemplary suffering. All ten texts, with one exception, are overtly concerned with this Passional theme: Jesus's injunction to his followers to take up one's cross and follow him, saving their lives by losing them (Matt. 16:24-25); Jesus's teaching that his disciples will be hated for his name's sake, but that "by patience [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]" they will gain their lives (Luke 21:19); Paul's exhortation to wait "through patience [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]" and the hope of salvation, through the resurrected Christ's intercession (Rom. 8:25); having "the patience [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]" to love your neighbour and to endure the reproaches of others, as Jesus did under persecution (Rom. 15:4); finding strength in one's weakness when, "for Christ's sake", one suffers "weaknesses, insults, compulsions, persecutions, and distresses" (2 Cor. 12:10); being strengthened with joy by Jesus "for all patience and longsuffering [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]," in whom believers have redemption, which is the remission of sins (Col. 1:11); the direction of the heart to the love of God and "to the patience of Christ [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]" (2 Thess. 3:5); the need of "patience [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]" and faith in Jesus's single sacrifice (Heb. 10:36); the believer's need to be "longsuffering [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]" until the Second Coming (Jas 5:7-8); and, finally, the ability to follow in the steps of the pattern of the suffering Christ (1 Pet. 2:19-21). For De Doctrina, and, I am suggesting, for Milton's theodical sonnet, the virtue of patience is intertwined with Christianity's primary example of God's interest in human suffering in the image of the crucified Jesus.

The preemptive action of the sonnet's figure of Patience is swift and decisive, and an answer comes "soon" and "to prevent" the speaker's reply. Prevention has a powerful valence in Christian theology. (17) The Richardsons, early commentators on Paradise Lost, appreciated the doctrinal nuance behind the word "prevent" in the Son's sacrificial offer in Book III, which "Comes unprevented, unimplor'd, unsought" by humans (PL III.231): "Prevent from Praevenire to come Before. This Grace is not Preceded by Merit or Supplication; it self Prevents, or Goes Before; 'tis a Free Gift" (Richardson 108). The Oxford English Dictionary defines "to prevent" theologically as "To go before with spiritual guidance and help: said of God, or of his grace anticipating human action or need" (OED def. I.4), "in order to predispose to repentance, faith, and good works" (OED def. I.4b), and, under "prevention," the OED flags up a primary theological definition "the action of prevenient grace" (OED def. 1). Prevenient grace is not preceded by merit or supplication; rather it occurs "previously to any desire or motion on the part of the recipient" (OED def. 2, under "prevenient"). (18) Article ten of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Anglican Church, on the subject "Of Free Will," employs prevention to describe the Son's saving work. For those initially inclined to dismiss the possibility of Milton's regard for the Articles, it is helpful to recall that Milton had to sign a copy of the Articles as a condition of leaving Cambridge with his B.A. and M.A. degrees; that the pretext for Milton's famously being "Church-outed" pertained to the fact that prelatical "tyranny had invaded the Church" (CPW I.822-23); and that in Of True Religion (1673), Milton's last bid to preserve the Commonwealth, the Puritan Independent did not deem it repugnant to draw upon the authority of no less than four of these Articles in his appeal for the consolidation of "all Protestant Churches" on "the main Principles of true Religion" (CPW VIII.419-420). (19) One cannot overstate the force of The Book of Common Prayer in shaping doctrine in the hearts and minds of seventeenth-century English men and women. The tenth Article reads:
 The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot
 turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good
 works, to faith, and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power
 to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace
 of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and
 working with us, when we have that good will. (BCP; my emphasis)
 (20)


In Paradise Lost's Council of Devils (PL II.1-506), Satan's own preventive action functions as a self-serving political manoeuvre, the aim of which, in contrast to the Son's voluntary self-humiliation at the Heavenly Council (PL III.56-415), is non-participatory, anti-communitarian, and self-glorifying. On volunteering to undertake his voyage alone through Chaos to corrupt Eden, Satan "prevented all reply" and declares that "None shall partake with me," namely, to prevent anyone from stealing his thunder (PL II.466-67).

Prevenience is an operative principle in Milton's epic for denoting the Son's gracious intervention. At the Heavenly Council, the Son makes his generous sacrificial offer even while Satan is "Coasting the wall of Heav'n" on his mission to corrupt Eden (PL III.71). After the human Fall, the voice of God promises the Son's future defeat of Satan upon the cross in the oracular protevangelium, a prophecy made, albeit in veiled terms, even before man is condemned with the sweat of his brow and woman with her pains at childbirth (Gen. 3:15; PL X. 179-92). At the beginning of Book X, the Son enters newly fallen Eden as "both Judge and Saviour sent," resolving to "temper so / Justice with Mercie" (PL X.209, 77-78). After the abrupt dentals and consonantals that depict the Son's drop, "Down he descended strait" (PL X.90), the assonances of the verses that follow, as if to herald the Son's glad arrival, sound out corrupted nature's greeting of him and seem to turn back the age of gold (PL X.90-102). As the phrase "the Sun in Western cadence low" conveys in the soft lilt of Milton's verse, a peaceful stillness spreads throughout nature at the Son's advent; the gentle declension of the Sun mimics the Son's descent as "mild Judge and Intercessor both" (PL X.96). A pathetic fallacy becomes a pathetic verity in the soothing influence of the Son upon nature: "From Noon [...] gentle Aires [...] To fan the Earth [...] and usher in / The Eevning coole [...] the voice of God [...] by soft windes / Brought to thir Ears, while day declin'd" (PL X.93-99). Indeed, this Judge outdoes Creation's clemency and is even "from wrauth more coole" than "The Eevning coole" itself (PL X.95). When fallen Adam and Eve approach, this healing tranquillity breaks, for they come "loth"
 discount' nanc't both, and discompos'd;
 Love was not in their looks, either to God
 Or to each other, but apparent guilt,
 And shame, and perturbation, and despaire,
 Anger, and obstinacie, and hate, and guile. (PL X. 109-14)


Adam's answer to his Maker is offensive and "brief" (PL X.115; Cf. X.109-15). Of a far different kind, "The gracious Judge without revile repli'd" (PL X.118). De Doctrina's account of grace begins by supplying the protevangelium as a reminder of God's gracious initiative, that "THE COVENANT OF GRACE itself is first made public on God's part, Gen. 3:15" (CE XVI.98). (21) In a near gloss of Paradise Lost's narrative, De Doctrina states under its fourteenth head of doctrine, "CONCERNING MAN'S RESTORATION AND CHRIST THE REDEEMER":
 For God, in pronouncing punishment upon the serpent, since up until
 that time man had not confessed his sin, except [to speak]
 malignantly, God promised that he would raise up from the seed of
 woman one who would bruise his head, Gen. 3:15, before he had got
 to the point of passing sentence concerning man; and in this way he
 prefaced his condemnation of man with a gratuitous redemption. (CE
 XV.252) (22)


De Doctrina and Paradise Lost are scrupulous about throwing into relief the gracious prevenience of God that anticipates human endeavour even before the repentance of sin and the recognition of divine mercy. After the gradual conversion of Adam and Eve in Book X that culminates in a show of penitence, Book XI opens with a vision of "from the Mercie-seat above / Prevenient Grace descending" (PL XI.2-3). The Richardsons comment upon these lines, "the Grace came before any Act of Theirs [Adam's and Eve's] procuring" (Richardson 478). The celestial theatre of the Son's vicarious intercession and supplication, a mercy unknown to Adam and Eve, is discovered to the reader, once again even before the source of that grace, the Redemption, has been disclosed in the Archangel Michael's revelation (PL XI.1-71).

This digression steals us a little further. To return to the sonnet, the figure of Patience formally anticipates the subject of the sestet to which it properly belongs by intervening even before the octave has been completed. The intervening gesture of Patience in preventing the speaker's murmur at the close of the octave is a speech-act providing grace even as it defines patience as the fount and origin of grace. (23) Mark Pattison acknowledges this formal irregularity concerning Milton's transgression of the sonnet's volta, or "law of pause," and the ingenuity on Milton's part, "a most effective suspense and turn; but it [the volta] is placed not after the eighth line, where rule places it, but in the middle of the eighth line" (Pattison 49). The interruption of Patience forestalls the speaker's further blasphemy and additionally presents to the speaker what Luther recognized as the justification of humanity by faith in the cross, "'a totally other face of the entire Scripture,' when Luther famously acknowledged the 'righteousness' of God in Romans 1:17 as the gratuitous giving of faith. It was all a matter of God's bounty, not his just wrath" (Christopher 169).

Following this turnabout, Patience corrects the sonnet's speaker with a reminder of the insufficiency of human merit by "man's work or his own gifts." De Doctrina twice eschews any temptation on the reader's part to credit human efforts, and instead ascribes all merit to both Jesus's justification of humanity in God's eyes and the Christian Saviour's satisfaction of God's justice on the cross. On highlighting the twofold administration of redemption, first, of Christ's complete satisfaction of the penalty of human sin on the cross, and, second, of humanity's conformation to Christ's image, De Doctrina pronounces as unwise any temptation to infer a doctrine of sufficent human merit alone:
 the restoration of man, if we heed Christ's satisfaction and our
 conformation with him when he was emptied [on the cross; Cf. Phil.
 2:8], proceeds from merit [...] Nor should we be afraid lest in
 this way we are led into a doctrine of our merits: for that
 conformation of ours [to imitate Christ] adds not a jot to Christ's
 no more than our works add to our faith: for faith justifies, yet
 that faith is not one that is without works: and if we merit
 anything, if in any way we are worthy, God has made us worthy in
 Christ [...] the restoration of man is solely a matter of grace.
 (CE XV.336, 338) (24)


Having argued that a philosophy of good works is the fit expression of a living faith and a grateful believer, the treatise introduces a qualification that "Merits are not established in this way [Nec tamen merita hoc modo stabiliuntur]" (CE XVI.40). An argument in favour of good works "does not derogate from Christ's satisfaction at all, and since our faith is imperfect, and works of faith proceeding from faith cannot placate God in any way, except insofar as they are propped up by God's mercy and Christ's righteousness, and these two things alone sustain them" (CE XVI.42). (25)

The octave's formulation of service to God, then, must receive a fresh definition that does not place a premium on "works" or "gifts," a definition that rests securely upon the dominant Protestant doctrine of the major efficacy of an individual's saving faith in the Son's justification and satisfaction. At this point in the sonnet, Patience introduces a new Gospel intertext, Jesus's teaching on the "milde yoak" and spiritual rest, to revise and reevaluate God's rashly presumed talionic justice presented in the octave:
 Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you
 rest [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]. Take up my yoke upon you
 and learn from me, that I am humble and lowly in heart, and you
 will find rest [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] for your souls.
 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matt. 11:28-30) (26)


Under its twenty-seventh head on "Christian Liberty," De Doctrina interpolates this verse along with other Pauline texts that evoke the imagery of a yoke or burden eased by faith in the Son of God (Gal. 5:1; 1 John 5:3-5).

De Doctrina recognizes that
 CHRISTIAN LIBERTY is where, WITH CHRIST AS LIBERATOR,
 WE ARE LIBERATED FROM THE SERVITUDE OF
 SIN, AND, ACCORDINGLY, FROM THE PRESCRIPTION OF
 THE LAW AND OF MEN, AS IF WE WERE MANUMITTED
 [SLAVES], AS WE HAVE BEEN MADE SONS SINCE BEING
 SLAVES, ADULTS SINCE BEING CHILDREN, SO THAT
 WE MAY SERVE IN CHARITY THROUGH THE SPIRITUAL
 LEADERSHIP OF TRUTH. (CE XVI.152, 154) (27)


The octave's declared onus of sin is translated into the sestet's revelation of the sufficiency of sustaining grace; the speaker of the sonnet must realize his status as God's adopted child in Jesus Christ rather than as God's slave. The yoke is a potent cruciform symbol. As a crosspiece or framework fitted about the shoulders of beasts of burden, a yoke is proleptic of the cross that Jesus is supposed to have endured for humankind. The Son teaches the mildness and ease of bearing one's own cross because, by the exchange of persons, human sin is imputed to Jesus and not to humankind on the cross; correspondingly, the cross that each Christian believer must bear is, by the Son's remedial imputation of righteousness to all believers, so much the lighter. The reception of this grace is transformative of the believer's understanding of God, in much the same way as the sonnet's speaker's understanding of service undergoes a radical transfiguration from a perception of servitude or slavery under a legalistic Deity to that of grateful, filial service under a gracious God. Both the "rest [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]" Jesus promises in the Matthean passage on the mild yoke and De Doctrina's doctrine of Christian liberty join in the Pauline Epistle to the Hebrews in the evocation of the "rest [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]" granted by that second Joshua, Jesus, in his atoning sacrifice (Heb. 4:8-11). Milton has Michael's imparted vision to Adam tie together these strands of theological ideas in his typological reading of Joshua / Jesus, leading back "long wanderd Man / Safe to eternal Paradise of rest" (PL XII.313-14). Michael's words that announce the work of Joshua-Jesus as the liberator of Israel-humankind encapsulate De Doctrina's definition of Christian liberty, the disburdening movement of the sonnet, the speaker's widening vision of God's goodness, and the speaker's own clarified relationship with God through the redemption: "From imposition of strict Laws, to free / Acceptance of large Grace, from servil fear / To filial" (PL XII.304-06).

The sonnet's "true account" that the speaker is so chary of presenting to God anticipates Adam's rigorous use of the word "account" in Paradise Lost (PL IV.622). According to Adam's exposition, which reads something along the lines of a solidly Protestant work ethic, God, like the master or landowner of the Matthean parables, takes account of prelapsarian humanity, but not of "Animals unactive" (PL IV.621): "Man hath his daily work of body or mind / Appointed, which declares his Dignitie, / And the regard of Heav'n on all his waies" (PL IV.618-20). The sestet clarifies that in the light of grace and the justification afforded by faith in Christ, through which the speaker is delivered, the culpability of that insufficient "account" in the sonnet's octave becomes redeemable. Article eleven of the Thirty-nine Articles, "Of the Justification of Man", posits: "We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings." Accordingly, the Son of Paradise Lost asks of the Father, "Account mee Man," and thereby accepts the imputation of sin to his immaculate, incarnate self by undergoing Incarnation and humiliation (PL III.238).

The method of bestowing that grace, then, becomes manifest in the sonnet's working out of salvation through Jesus's act of redemption, and the sestet of the sonnet insists upon this resolution. The image of the yoke takes up the earlier complaint that the speaker's soul was "more bent / To serve," and transfers the burden of human sin to one whose "State / Is Kingly." In Milton's early occasional poem, The Passion, the crucified Messiah is "stooping his regall head" (l.15), an attitude consistent with the Johannine Jesus's death on the cross, where he bowed his head and gave up the ghost (John 19:30); (28) and in Milton's anti-prelatical tract, Of Reformation (1641), the crucified Jesus is described as "suffering to the lowest bent of weaknesse, in the Flesh" (CPW I.519). In Milton's sonnet, the speaker's soul, "more bent," finds release through the safe knowledge of the vicariously suffering Messianic redeemer. "State," a nuanced word from the Latin verb stare, "to stand," etymologically implies a "manner of standing" or a "condition" (OED), and inescapably conjures up the Son's erect state at the Crucifixion; that this condition is "Kingly" educes the Son's ultimate glorification at the right hand of the Father, and, before this, the scandal of his role as the suffering Messiah. The title Messiah derives from Masiah, the Hebrew title for Israel's "king" or, literally, "the anointed one." A "kingly state," then, as well as suggesting ultimate regal glory, attracts meaner associations with the elements of the Crucifixion: the crown of thorns; the mock purple robe and sceptre; Pilate's challenge, "Shall I crucify your King?" (John 19:15); the Roman soldiers' scorn, "Hail, King of the Jews" (Mark 15:18; Matt. 27:29); the jeering inscription on the cross declaring, "This is the King of the Jews" (Mark 15:26; Matt. 27:37; Luke 23:38; John 19:19); and the ridicule flung from the foot of the cross that, if he were the Son of God, to come down and save himself (Mark 15:29-32; Matt. 27:40; Luke 23:35-37).

The sestet continues with two vignettes of complementary, though contrasting, modes of service. Identifying these two classes of servant-creatures has itself provoked much debate. Harry Robins finds that Scholastic angelology obtains. Robins draws upon the writings of pseudo-Dionysius's De Hierarchia Celesti and Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae to justify Milton's use of two categories of angel within the nine angelic orders. Robins interprets the "Thousands" who at God's bidding speed as the five inferior orders who post as God's couriers, and the angels who stand and wait as the four superior orders who dance attendance at God's throne, receive an immediate apprehension of God's plans, and "announce and interpret the divine mysteries and divine commands to

the administrative or active orders" (Robins 364). Fitzroy Pyle and John Smart discard Robins's Scholastic attribution on the basis that Protestant exegesis tends to found angelology upon scripture alone. Pyle also evokes De Doctrina's evident omission of the Dionysian and Thomist classification of angels in its chapter "ON THE SPECIAL GOVERNMENT OF ANGELS" (Pyle 376-78; Smart 94-96; CE XV.96-111). I am more inclined to associate the creatures that speed at God's behest more generally with His commissioned angels or messengers. The creatures' duty to "post" like messengers and their superhuman ability to speed "o're Land and Ocean without rest" connotes angels. Paradise Lost's description of God's angels corresponds to the sonnet, where God's ambassadors, the Archangels Michael and Raphael included, are "ready at command" to be God's "Eyes / That run through all the Heav'ns, or down to th' Earth" and to "Bear his swift errands over moist and dry, / Ore Sea and Land" (PL III.650-53). For my part, the sonnet contrasts angels who actively haste at God's bidding with human servants who are, like Milton, vulnerable to human frailty and can passively "only stand and wait."

The image of "Thousands" who travel at God's behest compels association with that other Passional site, the garden of Gethsemane, and with Jesus's Agony on the night before his execution. Upon Jesus's and the disciples' arrest in Gethsemane, an apostle slices off the ear of the High Priest's servant with his sword. Jesus rebukes his belligerent disciple:
 Put your sword back in its sheath, for the ones who have taken up
 the sword will die by the sword. Or do you think that I am unable
 to call upon my father, and he will at this very moment provide me
 with more than twelve legions of angels [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN
 ASCII]]? How then may the scriptures be fulfilled which state that
 it must be in this way? (Matt. 26:52-54) (29)


Here, in this Gospel episode, the aggressive apostle's attempted violent prevention interferes with the providential process of the Son's redemption. A Roman legion strictly consisted of a body of three to six thousand soldiers, making Jesus's authority of twelve legions anywhere between thirty-six and seventy-two thousand strong, which would match well with the "Thousands" of Milton's sonnet. The Agonistic allusion not only reinforces the interests of the sonnet's sestet in the Son's redeeming sacrifice; the allusion also inverts the energetic demonstrations of faith of those who speed without spiritual rest with the passive, but no less committed, faith of those who only stand and wait, secure upon the assurance of that rest and in anticipation of the future use of their talent. In this Agony scene the Son's quietism is indicative of his resolution to walk to the cross and assume, on Golgotha's top, his kingly state. Those standing who "also" serve are not necessarily esteemed as highly as those who post, but seem to be viewed in apposition with the Son, whose humiliated state is yet kingly. (30) Standing and waiting may be construed as an imitiatio Christi, where the believer bears his own cross in conformation with Christ's example. The word "only," in this context, can also mean "singly," not just "merely." In the major poetry, Paradise Lost's Abdiel, the poem's exemplary Puritan martyr, whose name in Hebrew, allusive of the "Suffering Servant Songs" of Isaiah, means literally "Ebed-El or "the Servant of God," "Stood up" for his Maker against the rebel angels and is "Among the faithless, faithful onely hee" (PL V.807, 897). During the War in Heaven, the loyal angels, bowled over by diabolic cannonry, may lapse physically, but they remain erect and Christ-like in themselves: "none on thir feet might stand, / Though standing else as Rocks, but down they fell / By thousands" (PL VI.592-94). In Paradise Regain 'd, the patient Son, perilously poised upon the temple's summit, is challenged by Satan to "There stand, if thou wilt stand; to stand upright / Will ask thee skill" (PR IV.551-52). In response, Jesus displays his consummate heroism when he matches word and deed and "said and stood" (PR IV.561).

That Milton's example of passive (or Passional) heroism may be simultaneously active and efficacious to the eye of faith conforms to De Doctrina's understanding of the paradoxical mode of accomplishment of the Old Creation and, under the new covenant in Christ, of the New Creation, too. In its discussion of why Creation de Deo is more plausible than Creation de nihilo, De Doctrina describes a Passional mechanics of the mundane Creation: "Because action and passion are related, and nothing acting outside itself can act, unless it is something which can suffer [...] it was necessary that something existed before now, so that it should receive [God's] very potent force of agency by suffering [patiendo]" (CE XV.18). (31) To support this theory of Creation, De Doctrina ascribes to the Son two Pauline texts, "the first born of all creation" and "the beginning, the first born from the dead" (Col 1:15, 18). These verses commend the Son as the first of the things that God created and as the first man resurrected, by his Passion, from the dead. The first chapter of Colossians, which De Doctrina enlists as a proof-text, expounds the meaning of these two titles in both Jesus's framing of the Heavens and the Earth at the original Creation, and in his recreative Passion inaugurating a New Creation:
 He who is an image of the invisible God, the first born of all
 creation, because in him were created all things in the heavens and
 on earth, visible and invisible things, whether thrones or
 lordships or rulers or authorities; all things have been created
 through him and for him; and he is before all things and in him all
 things stand together, and he is the head of the body, the church;
 he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, in order that he
 may be in all things holding first place, because [God] was well
 pleased to have dwell in him all his fullness and through him to
 reconcile all things to himself, having made peace through his
 blood on the cross, through him, whether things on earth or things
 in the heavens. (Col. 1:15-20; emphasis added) (32)


De Doctrina explains that this passage, which expounds the Son's office as the primary instrument of Creation and Redemption, demonstrates that the Son, through the Greek "verbal passive 'first-born' [verbale passivum [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]," acts "passively" or "sufferingly [passive]," that is, as God's purposed channel for grace instrumentally acted upon or through (CE XV.10). The seventh book of Paradise Lost, Raphael's account of the work of the mundane Creation, depicts God acting upon the willing Son in just this fashion, like a potter at a lathe, while the Son in turn manufactures the heavens and the earth. (33) That the New Creation, effected through Jesus's Passion, manifests the working of God's redeeming will through the Son's suffering, agrees with De Doctrina's conception of God's "very potent force of agency" working through suffering. Lamenting the unproductivity of his twenty-third year, the speaker of Milton's seventh sonnet finally rests in a confidence that, in God, "All is, if I have grace to use it so" (l.13). No less so is Milton's nineteenth sonnet on his blindness, in its speaker's consideration of God's ways to man, perfected by a mimetic attitude to service, as a rhetorical exhortation that the believer should adopt a fit attitude to the provision of grace in a Passional resemblance of Christ, by whose redemptive work humankind is "Sufficient to have stood," and in whom such grace is given (PL III.99).

By way of a coda, I should remark that with precise, deliberate verbal echoes Milton was later to repeat his nineteenth sonnet's modified perception of God, from a God of wrath to a God of compassion. Milton may be seen to accommodate the sonnet's theodical dynamic to the exigencies of the action of Paradise Regain'd in one of the various debates between Satan and Jesus (PR III.108-49). Satan's denigration of God here recalls the unrest of the octave of Milton's nineteenth sonnet and rehearses the resolution of the sonnet's sestet in Jesus's correction of Satan's opinion of God. Satan, like the sonnet's murmurer, makes God out to be an exacting, power-hungry tyrant who "no difference, no exemption," "nor exception hath declar'd," but "pronounc't glory he exacts" (PR III.115, 119-20). Satan's charge prompts from the Son a response of righteous zeal when he "fervently reply'd" (PR III.121). The stock epithet "fervent" is used in Milton's major verse to color Abdiel's, Adam's, and Jesus's speeches as zealous defenders of God's goodness. An abiding feature of Abdiel, "the fervent Angel," is his "zeale" when he defends God before Satan and the rebel angels (PL V.849; Cf. 805, 807, 900); zeal also fires Adam's language, who "fervently repli'd" to Eve with a capsule theodicy when the first mother questions their "happie State / Left so imperfet by the Maker wise" (PL IX.342, 337-38). De Doctrina commits one short chapter entitled DE ZELO, or "ON ZEAL," to the opposition of zeal and blasphemy. The treatise defines zeal as "an ardor and eagerness for sanctifying the divine name, or an indignation against those things which pertain to the violation of or contempt for religion" (CE XVII.152). (34) Romans 12:11 is offered as a proof-text, guiding the reader to "be fervent in the spirit", although De Doctrina warns against being "too fervent [praefervidus]" (CE XVII.154). For De Doctrina, the opposite of zeal is blasphemy, "speaking impious or opprobrious things about God [impia sive probrosa de Deo locutio]," a description that fits the censuring of God's ways committed by Satan, Eve, and indeed, the nineteenth sonnet's speaker (CE XVII.154). Abdiel explains that he confronts Satan because of his diabolic "argument blaspheamous, false and proud" (PL V.809).

The language of seditious and blasphemous murmuring and the attribution of defamatory exaction to God, both familiar to us from the sonnet's indignant speaker, are defining characteristics of Satan's complaint. Satan, like the sonnet's murmurer, slanders God by "murmuring" and charges a Maker who "exacts" glory from his subjects as the God of the sonnet's octave "exacts day-labour" (PR III.108, 120). In the sonnet's sestet, the Christ-like figure of Patience prevents the continuation of "That murmur" by describing a good God who reveals His concern for humankind and expresses His mercy through participation in His Son's suffering. In a similar move, Paradise Regain'd's Son prevents Satan's murmur by substituting glory for grace so that "so much bounty is in God, such grace," and by insisting that God expects not glory from his subjects for His acts of grace but a response of gratitude or, put most simply, "thanks, / The slightest, easiest, readiest recompence" (PR III.142, 127-28). Grace then, as Roland Mushat Frye explains, "is the free gift of that for which God has no obligation to men, who have no right to demand" (Frye 71).

Phillip Donnelly's astute comment that "what Satan seems most unable to anticipate is the experience of gift" underscores Milton's Pauline allusion to God's universal grace that He transmits to humanity through Jesus's redemption (Donnelly 188). The Satan of Paradise Regain'd unknowingly alludes to this Pauline theme when he chides an exacting God for demanding glory "Promiscuous from all Nations, Jew, or Greek, / Or Barbarous, nor exception hath declar'd" (PR III.118-19). In the Pauline epistles to the Galatians and the Colossians an identical idiom is employed to convey the impartial bestowal of grace to all peoples without distinction of race, gender, or social status through the suffering Christ: "There cannot be Jew nor Greek, there cannot be slave nor freeman, there cannot be male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28); "where there cannot be Greek nor Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, freeman, but all things and in all things is Christ" (Col. 3:11; Cf. 1 Cor. 1:22-24). (35) To accentuate the parallel, Milton transliterates [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as "Barbarous" in Satan's speech. The tempting, murmuring Satan of Paradise Regain'd warps the free gift of God's grace into a God who taxes His subjects for glory; yet, in doing so, Satan unwittingly alludes to a refreshing idea of a good God in the very act of attempting to destroy that idea of goodness. Behind Satan's perverse picture of a partial, sadistic, and punitive God, there lies the Pauline vision of an impartial, all-loving Deity who, through his Son, erases all differences, cancels all exceptions, and admits all persons, be they Greek, Jew, or barbarian, if they are accepting of God's grace. The Son implies this in his fervent reply by insisting upon a God prepared "to shew forth his goodness, and impart / His good communicable to every soul / Freely" (PR III.124-26). In Milton's sonnet, the octave's calumny of a remorseless God is resolved by the exonerations of Patience in a sestet that consolingly glimpses a redeeming God through whom suffering is doing and for whom earthly trial is requisite to the meriting of "exaltation without change or end" (PR III.194-97). Milton's sonnet is preoccupied, then, not, as its Italian antecedent conventionally was, with lauding the transitory beauties of a mistress and the ephemeral passions of an earthly Court, but with extolling the sublime Passion of Heaven's courts. Mark Pattison convinces that Milton "found the sonnet enslaved to a single theme, that of unsuccessful love, mostly a simulated passion. He emancipated it, and, as Landor says, 'gave the notes to glory'" (Pattison 54). This intricate theodical sonnet accomplishes much more than the attitudinizing and posturing of the lovelorn Petrarchan lover and his supercilious mistress, an artifice Paradise Lost's hymn to wedded love later disdained as the "Serenate, which the starv'd Lover sings / To his proud fair, best quitted with disdain" (PL IV.769-70). The sonnet's execution far exceeds Smart's analysis that Milton's nineteenth sonnet "opens with a mood of discouragement and grief, and closes with quiet resignation" (Smart 95). Rather, its speaker works out a redemptive scheme of human salvation in fear and trembling until, heartened by the Christ-like voice of Patience and comforted by the promise of grace, the subject finally reposes in the patient attitude and fit posture of standing and waiting with "calm of mind all passion spent" (SA 1758).

Works Cited

Apollonius of Rhodes. The Argonautiea. Trans. R.C. Seaton. London: William Heinemann, 1921.

Belsey, Catherine. John Milton. Language, Gender, Power. New York: Basil Blackwell, 1988.

Baumgartner, Paul R. "Milton and Patience." Studies in Philology 60 (1963): 203-13.

Burden, Dennis H. The Logical Epic: A Study of the Argument of Paradise Lost. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967.

Christopher, Georgia B. Milton and the Science of the Saints. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1982.

Donne, John. The Sermons of John Donne. Ed. George R. Potter and Evelyn M. Simpson. Berkeley: U of California P, 1953-1962.

Donnelly, Phillip J. "Paradise Regained as Rule of Charity: Religious Toleration and the End of Typology." Milton Studies 43 (2004): 171-97.

Eliot, T.S. Collected Poems 1909-1962. London: Faber and Faber, 1963.

Frye, Roland Mushat. God, Man, and Satan. Patterns of Christian Thought and Life in Paradise Lost, Pilgrim's Progress, and the Great Theologians. London: Kennikat, 1960.

Gayley, Charles Mills, and Clement Calhoun Young. The Principles and Progress of English Poetry, With Representative Masterpieces and Notes. New York: MacMillan, 1904.

Gossman, Ann, and George W. Whiting, with a reply by Fitzroy Pyle. "Milton's First Sonnet on His Blindness." The Review of English Studies 12 (1961): 364-72.

Hanford, James Holly. Studies in Shakespeare, Milton, and Donne. New York, 1925.

Herbert, George. The Works of George Herbert. Ed. F.E. Hutchinson. Oxford: Clarendon, 1941.

Honigmann, E.A.J. Milton's Sonnets. London: Macmillan, 1966.

Manilius. Astronomica. Ed. G.P. Goold. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1977.

Martz, Louis L. Milton: Poet of Exile. 2nd Edition. Yale: Yale UP, 1986.

The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Ed. J.D. Douglas. Trans. Robert K. Brown and Philip W. Comfort. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990.

Pattison, Mark. The Sonnets of John Milton. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, and Co., 1883.

Pyle, Fitzroy. "Milton's First Sonnet on his Blindness." The Review of English Studies 9 (1958): 376-87.

Richardson, Jonathan, Jr. and Sr. Explanatory Notes and Remarks on Milton's Paradise Lost. by J. Richardson, Father and Son. With the LIFE of the AUTHOR, and a Discourse on the POEM. London, 1734.

Riffaterre, Michael. "Syllepsis." Critical Inquiry 7 (1980): 625-38.

Robins, Harry F. "Milton's First Sonnet on His Blindness." The Review of English Studies 7 (1956): 360-66.

Saito, Kazuaki. "'Through this Darkness'--On Milton's Sonnet XIX." Journal of the Humanities Division (International Christian University) 1 (1962): 193-208.

Smart, John S. The Sonnets of Milton. London: Oxford UP, 1966.

Notes

In everything we should give thanks. Accordingly, I should like to extend my gratitude to Professor Maxine Hancock for her mentoring, for her kindness, and, above all, for her sage advice to take up Milton's poetry so that his golden verses might fill the works and days of my Doctoral studies.

The following editions have been used for citation from the works of John Milton: The Poetical Works of John Milton, ed. Helen Darbishire (London: Oxford UP, 1958); The Complete Prose Works of John Milton, gen. ed. Don M. Wolfe et al. (New Haven: Yale UP, 1953-1982), 8 Vols, cited throughout as CPW; The Works of John Milton, gen. ed. Frank A. Patterson et al. (New York: Columbia UP, 1931-1938), 18 Vols, cited throughout as CE; The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, ed. J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989), 20 Vols, cited throughout as OED. Where texts are originally in Latin, koine Greek, and Hebrew, I have attempted a literal translation. In the text and the notes, the following abbreviations are employed: PL, Paradise Lost; PR, Paradise Regained; SA, Samson Agonistes; DDC, De Doctrina Christiana; AV, the King James Authorized Version.

(1) Milton quotes from a passage set down in Apollonius of Rhodes's Argonautica (CE XII.68):
 [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (Arg. II.203-05)
 [And a dark torpor covered him as a veil, and it seemed that the
 earth beneath him swept him up, and he lay down, speechless, in a
 languid abstraction.]


(2) "Quod si, ut scriptum est, non solo pane rivet homo, sed omni verbo prodeunte per os Dei, quid est, cur quis in hoc itidem non acquiescat, non solis se oculis, sed Dei ductu ac providentia saris oculatum esse."

(3) The koine Greek reads: "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]".

(4) "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]".

(5) "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]".

(6) "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]."

(7) "cum denique Christi servatoris nostri divino testimonio compertissimum sit, ilium hominem ab se sanatum, neque ob suum, neque ob parentum suorum aliquod peccatum, etiam ab utero caecum fuisse."

(8) "Est quoddam per imbecillitatem, praeeunte Apostolo, ad maximas vires iter: sim ego debilissimus, dummodo in mea debilitate immortalis ille et melior vigor eo se efficacius exerat; dummodo in meis tenebris divini vultus lumen eo clarius eluceat; tum enim infirmissimus ero simul et validissimus, caecus eodem tempore et perspicacissimus; hac possim ego infirmitate consummari, hac perfici, possim in hac obscuritate sic ego irradiari."

(9) "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]."

(10) I concur here with E. Honigmann's chronology of a period of eight years, from 1644 to 1652, for the gradual failure of Milton's eyesight (Honigmann 169-74).

(11) "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]."

(12) Milton quotes the following fragment from Manilius's Astronomica:
 Sic hominum meritis tanto sit gloria maior
 Quod caelo laudem debent, rursusque nocentis
 Oderimus magis in culpam poenasque creatos.
 Nec refert scelus unde cadat, scelus esse fatendum.
 (Astronomica IV.114-17)
 [Let no men's merits have the greater glory since they owe their
 reputation to heaven, and again let us hate the wicked the more
 because they were created for guilt and punishments. Wickedness,
 from whatever source it may arise, should be spoken of as
 wickedness.]


(13) "Et obmurmuratio contra Dei providentiam in rebus huius vitae nostrae providendis. " The treatise defines autarky as "the virtue whereby a person is mightily content from within and [content] with that lot that seems to be divinely given [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] est virtus qua quis seipso maxime, eaque sorte quae divinitus data videtur contentus est]" (CE XVII.222).

(14) "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]."

(15) Dennis Burden teases out Milton's significant variation upon the classical epic motif of the deity's uplifted scales. For Homer's Achilles and Hector, and for Virgil's Aeneas and Turnus, "the scales [...] are not seen by those whose lots are being weighed [...] Milton's God on the other hand is omniscient and uses the scales not for his own knowledge but to prevent a battle" (Burden 29-30). Milton also accommodates to his scene the scales at Belshezzar's sybaritic feast where Belshazzar is found wanting (Daniel 5). Satan is fully apprised of his defeat if he bilks God, yet his next move will be his successful temptation in Book IX. The Gospel narratives infer that Judas, at the last supper, has a choice similar to that of Satan. The test Jesus sets, that the one who dips the bread will betray his Teacher, is a confrontation and an opportunity to recant (Matt. 26:20-25; Mark 14:17-21; Luke 22:21-23; John 13:21-30). The Matthean narrative adds a short dialogue in which the opportunity tendered to Judas and then lost is dramatized: "Judas, the one betraying Jesus, answered him, 'Surely you don't mean me, Rabbi?' Jesus replied, 'You yourself have said it'" (Matt. 26:25). In the Johannine version, rather than repent of his deceit, Judas "immediately departed, and it was night", just as, once Satan has been given the occasion to witness the futility of his fraud, he "fled the shades of night" to persevere in his motiveless malignity against mundane Creation (PL IV.1015). The Johannine text further strengthens this parallel between Judas and Satan, where Jesus calls Judas a "devil [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]," a technical term derived from litigation that may as readily be translated "accuser" or "informer" (John 7:60).

(16) "PATIENTIA est qua providentiae, potentiae, et bonitatis divinae fiducia suffulti, Dei promissis acquiescimus, et quae necessario perferenda sunt mala, veluti a summo patre, bonoque nostro immissa, aequo animo perferimus."

(17) Consider, closer to our own day, T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets:
 The whole earth is our hospital
 Endowed by the ruined millionaire [Adam],
 Wherein, if we do well, we shall
 Die of the absolute paternal care
 That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere. ("East Coker"
 IV.157-61)


(18) The OED offers two scriptural instances of prevenient grace: "2 Tim 1.9. Not according to our own works, but according to his own purpose and grace. Psalm 88:13 But unto thee have I cry'd, O Lord, and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee." See also The Book of Common Prayer: "By the special grace preventing us, thou dost put into our minds good desires."

(19) "With good and Religious Reason therefore all Protestant Churches with one consent, and particularly the Church of England in Her thirty nine Articles, Artic. 6th, 19th, 20th, 21st, and elsewhere, maintain these two points, as the main Principles of true Religion" (CPW VIII.419-20).

(20) Although before the English Revolution the BCP was often berated as a Papist text, and was eventually proscribed on 3rd January, 1645, the ban was lax and the Liturgy was easily available throughout the Interregnum. With the Restoration, the 1662 Act of Uniformity compelled, inter alia, consent and assent to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and the BCP.

(21) "FOED US ipsum GRATIAE ex parte Dei promulgatur primum, Gen. iii.15."

(22) "Deus enim in serpentis poena denuntianda cum adhuc homo peccatum suum non nisi maligne fassus Deo esset, promisit se ex semine mulieris suscitaturum qui serpentis caput contereret Gen.iii.15. antequam ad sententiam de homine ferendam devenisset; atque ita condemnationem hominis gratuita redemptione praevertit."

(23) Milton's sonnet could be read as a the examination of a case of conscience, a process of casuistry making sense of a unique, particular circumstance, namely the speaker's blindness, against a backdrop of eternal values. DDC appropriately figures individual conscience as "the portion of that light which each person takes [ex ilia luce quam quisque accepit]" and interprets the working of "good conscience", as a function of reason, to be a synergy of the divine and human will, "an approving of the light either of nature or of grace [approbatio ex lumine vel naturae vel gratiae]" (CE XVI.356, XVII.40).

(24) "Restitutio itaque hominis, si Christi satisfactionem respiciamus, nostramque cum eo exinanitio conformationem, ex merito est ... Nec verendum est, ne hac ratione meritorum nostrorum doctrinam inducamus; ista enim conformatione nostra nihilo plus accedit ad satisfactionem Christi plenissimam, quam nostris operibus ad fidem: fides enim iustificat, ea tamen fides quae sine operinus non est: et si quid meremur, si qua ratione digni sumus, Deus dignos nos fecit in Christo ... restitutio hominis est ex mera gratia."

(25) "Nec satisfactioni interim Christi quicquam derogatur, eum et fides nostra imperfecta sit, et proinde opera fidei non alia ratione Deo placere queant, nisi quatenus misericordia Dei iustitiaque Christi nituntur, eaque sola se sustinent."

(26) "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]."

(27) "LIBERTAS CHRISTIANA est qua LIBERATORE CHRISTO, A SERVITUTE PECCATI, ADEOQUE LEGIS HOMINUMQUE PRAESCRIPTO VELUT MANUMISSI LIBERAMUR, UT FILII EX SERVIS FACTI, EX PUERIS ADULTI, DEO PER SPIRITUM VERITATIS DUCEM IN CHARITATE SERVIAMUS."

(28) Koine Greek: "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]"; Vulgate: "inclinato capite tradidit spiritum."

(29) "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII];"

(30) Is there also potentially a further play on the word "post," which, according to the OED, verbally describes the action of giving a place or station to a subject, or can nominally denote a prop, a pillar, a square of even the rectangular cross-section of a structure, like a yoke or cross? The associations of the word, even in modern English, are hard to dismiss.

(31) "Actio enim et passio relata cum sint, nullumque agens extra se possit agere, nisi sit quod pati queat [...] necesse fuit aliquid iam tum fuisse, quod vim eius agendi potentissimam patiendo reciperet."

(32) "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]."

(33) Consider, for example, God's command to his Son: "And thou my Word, begott'n Son, by thee / This I perform, speak thou, and be it don: / My overshadowing Spirit and might with thee / I send along" (PL VII.163-66; Cf. VII.587-91).

(34) "Sanctificandi nominis divini ardor ac studium, sive indignatio adversus ea quae ad violationem aut contemptum religionis pertinent."

(35) "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]."
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Date:Jun 22, 2007
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