Discipline and charity: John Milton's Christian virtue as self-completion

Verda Mankowski Jaroszewski, Marquette University


Since the time of the publication of Paradise Lost in 1667, John Milton's epic has undergone diverse critical assessments. Because the work deals with the Biblical myth of the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the critical debate centers around the reason for their sin. Milton chose this topic because he understood the profound universal need of human beings to possess an inner state of paradisal bliss. He also believed that individuals inevitably are careless with this endowment. A crucial aspect of the critical problem pertains to the reason Adam and Eve are careless with God's bounty and blessing, and why they succumb to temptation. John Milton's own experience as a leading figure in the political and social struggles of the Renaissance--both his successes and failures--led him to perceive the acceptable means of accomplishing the retrieval of paradise. He understood this to be a spiritual state which would be impervious to the manifestations of evil. Milton revitalizes the myth of Adam and Eve by making a distinction between their pre-lapsarian and post-lapsarian existence. Most expert readers have detected his belief in the efficacy of discipline and charity as two paramount traits which make this possible. However, I believe he was proposing a particular combination of these attributes as significant. Milton asserts that there should be a conjoining of the intellectual and emotional faculty of human beings, which when moderated, leads to the incomparable experience of the perception of divinity. Milton is shadowed by an entire religious tradition, still Medieval in attitude, but subtly open and creative because of the Renaissance. He alters the emphasis on man's depravity, and formulates his own explanation, suited to the new outlook of the progress of history and his own artistic temperament. Milton surpasses other noted commentators who diminished the role of humans in retrieving righteousness after the Fall. In his artistic depictions, stereotypes of male/female interaction dissolve. The manner in which he accomplishes this task is by asserting that an undeveloped intellectual and emotional capacity leads to the inappropriate enactment of discipline and charity, which are the means by which the individual accomplishes the purpose of existence. Milton believed the essential requirement of every person was the possession of Christian virtue. By acquiring this indispensable trait, the individual enjoys the self-completion of ethical righteousness, the benefit of enlightened self-knowledge, and the affirmation of spiritual affinity with the divine.

Recommended Citation

Jaroszewski, Verda Mankowski, "Discipline and charity: John Milton's Christian virtue as self-completion" (1997). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9811392.