Chapter

Milton's Great Argument

Russell M. Hillier

in Milton's Messiah

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780199591886
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191725326 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199591886.003.0003
Milton's Great Argument

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This chapter reappraises Paradise Lost's bipartite great argument, the epic narrator's proposition to assert eternal providence and justify God's ways to men, in fideistic rather than in purely rationalistic terms. The chapter re-evaluates the poem's debt to Protestant and, in particular, Lutheran forensic discourse on the doctrine of justification by faith. It subsequently reconsiders Milton's idea of eternal providence in relation to both Paradise Lost's exordium and Michael's vision-narrative across Books Eleven and Twelve. Michael's vision-narrative reads both as an exfoliation of the protevangelium of Genesis 3:15 and as an education for Adam and Eve that refines their spiritual perception of redeeming grace. The chapter concludes by suggesting that a reappreciation of the discourse of redemption and its metaphoric language of exchange, debt, and surety would benefit readers of Milton's diffuse and brief epics in their understanding of Milton's poetic treatment of the mystery of salvation.

Keywords: great argument; rationalism; faith; theodicy; Luther; justification; providence; protevangelium; redemptive discourse

Chapter.  9023 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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