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other work of Milton, the “ Samson Agonistes" abounds with noble sentiments, and with passages of great poetic force and beauty ; but a character of tame inefficacy attaches to every dramatic composition which is not adapted to the stage. In this instance, too, the irregularity of the ode interferes with the measured and progressive movement of the tragic muse; and, as a dramatic composition, the just decision of the literary world has pronounced it a failure,
MILTON PUBLISHES HIS TREATISE OF TRUE RELIGION, HERESY, SCHISM,
TOLERATION, ETC. -ANALYSIS OF THE WORK-MINOR PUBLICATIONS
In 1673, Milton, impressed with alarm at the rapid increase of Popery, and regarding its re-establishment in England as involving a retrogression from a pure and free religion, to superstition, infidelity, and spiritual despotism, put forth a tract entitled “ Of True Religion, Heresy, Schism, Toleration, and what Best Means may be used against the growth of Popery.” A few selections from this treatise will indicate the course of his argument: “True religion," he lays down at the outset, " is the true worship and service of God, learned and believed from the Word of God only.
With good and religious reason, therefore, all Protestant churches, with one consent, and particularly the Church of England, in her Thirty-nine Articles (Article 6th, 19th, 20th, 21st, and elsewhere), maintain these two points, as the main principles of true religion—that the rule of true religion is the Word of God only; and that their faith ought not to be an implicit faith, that is, to believe, though as the church believes, against or without express authority of Scripture. And if all Protestants, as universally as they hold these two principles, so attentively and religiously would observe them, they would avoid and cut off many debates and contentions, schisms and persecutions, which too oft have been among them, and more firmly unite against the common adversary. For hence it directly follows, that no true Protestant can persecute, or not tolerate, his fellow-Protestant, though dissenting from him in some opinions, but he must flatly deny and renounce these two his own main principles, whereon true religion is founded ; while he compels his brother from that which he believes as the manifest word of God, to an implicit faith (which he himself condemns), to the endangering of his brother's soul, whether by rash belief or outward conformity : for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.'
“I will now as briefly show what is false religion, or heresy, which will be done as easily; for of contraries the definitions must needs be contrary. Heresy, therefore, is a religion taken up and believed from the traditions of men, and additions to the Word of God.
Schism is a rent or division in the church, when it comes to the separating of congregations; and may also happen to a true church, as well as to a false ; yet in the true needs not tend to the breaking of communion, if they can agree in the right administration of that wherein they communicate, keeping their other opinions to themselves, not being destructive to faith. The Pharisees and Sadducees were two sects, yet both met together in their common worship of God at Jerusalem. But here the Papist will angrily demand, What! are Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists, Socinians, Arminians, no heretics ? I answer, All these may have some errors, but are no heretics. Heresy is in the will and choice professedly against Scripture; error is against the will, in misunderstanding the Scripture after all sincere endeavours to understand it rightly : hence it was said well by one of the ancients, ' Err I may, but heretic I will not bc.' It is a human frailty to err, and no man is infallible here on earth. But so long as all these profess to set the Word of God only before them as the rule of faith
and obedience; and use all diligence and sincerity of heart, by reading, by learning, by study, by prayer for illumination of the Holy Spirit, to understand the rule and obey it, they have done what man can do: God will assuredly pardon them, as he did the friends of Job; good and pious men, though much mistaken, as there it appears, in some points of doctrine.”
Referring next to the intolerance of the Papists, he says:
“ But he is wont to say, he enjoins only things indifferent. Let them be so still; who gave him authority to change their nature by enjoining them? If by his own principles, as is proved, he ought to tolerate controverted points of doctrine not slightly grounded on Scripture, much more ought he not impose things indifferent without Scripture. In religion nothing is indifferent; but if it come once to be imposed, is either a command or a prohibition, and so consequently an addition to the Word of God, which he professes to disallow. Besides, how unequal, how uncharitable must it needs be, to impose that which his conscience cannot urge him to impose, upon him whose conscience forbids him to obey! What can it be but love of contention for things not necessary to be done, to molest the conscience of his brother, who holds them necessary to be not done ?”+
Milton next comes to the question whether Popery should or should not be tolerated by a Christian government, and in this sole instance appears to have been swayed, at this period of his life, rather by an absorbing love of the truth, than by confidence in its self-sustaining power. He certainly condemns and deprecates the infliction of pains and penalties on Roman Catholics for what can properly be called the exercise of their religion ; but he considers that their political tenets place them without the boundary of toleration, and that their idolatrous use of images, &c., should be repressed as a public offence against Almighty
* Prose Works, vol. ii. pp. 510, 511. + Ibid. p. 513.
God, and as held by themselves as “not necessary to salvation, but only enjoined them by tradition.”
“ The next means," he says, “to hinder the growth of Popery will be, to read duly and diligently the Holy Scriptures, which, as St. Paul saith to Timothy, who had known them from a child, are able to make wise unto salvation.' And to the whole church of Colossi: · Let the word of Christ dwell in you plentifully, with all wisdom,' Col. iii. 16. The Papal Antichristian church permits not her laity to read the Bible in their own tongue: our church, on the contrary, hath proposed it to all men, and to this end translated it into English, with profitable notes on what is met with obscure, though what is most necessary to be known be still plainest; that all sorts and degrees of men, not understanding the original, may read it in their mother tongue. Neither let the countryman, the tradesman, the lawyer, the physician, the statesman, excuse himself his much business from the studious reading thereof.".
The treatise concludes with a powerful enforcement of the position, that “ The last means to avoid Popery is, to annend our lives. It is a general complaint, that this nation, of late years, is grown more numerously and excessively vicious than heretofore; pride, luxury, drunkenness, whoredom, cursing, swearing, bold and open atheism, everywhere abounding: where these grow, no wonder if Popery also grow apace. There is no man so wicked but sometimes his conscience will wring him with thoughts of another world, and the peril of his soul; the trouble and melancholy, which he conceives of true repentance and amendment, he endures not, but inclines rather to some carnal superstition, which may pacify and lull his conscience with some more pleasing doctrine. None more ready and officious to offer herself than the Romish, and opens wide her office, with all her faculties, to receive him ; easy confession, easy absolution, pardons, indulgences, masses for him both quick and dead,
* Prose Works, vol. č. p. 516.