Milton’s View of Creation


Milton devotes the seventh chapter of his Treatise to discussing the Creation, both visible and invisible. He rejects outright the traditional doctrine that dates back to Origin: creatio ex nihilo. Instead, Milton argues from the Scripture that God, the Father, created all things from Himself: creatio ex Deo. He describes it thus:

Matter, like the form  and nature of the angels itself, proceeded incorruptible from God; and even since the fall it remains incorruptible as far as concerns its essence. (76)

Milton concludes from this doctrine that the Creation cannot be destroyed, only transformed. Indeed, his principle argument for the ex Deo theory is that the Hebrew word (bara’) the Authorized Version translates as “create” means “form.” If God formed Creation from pre-existent substance, then the substance must either be of God or independent of God. If the latter is true, then material substance is co-eternal with God. That would undermine the sovereignty of God, making God subject to a co-eternal substance. Therefore, Milton concludes that creation is derived from God. St. Paul writes

But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. (1 Cor. 8:6)

Creation proceeds from the Father (though in a different way than the Son and the Spirit). The Father then uses the Son to form the pre-existent matter.

Milton defends the process of Creation as follows:

For spirit being the more excellent substance, virtually and essentially contains within itself the inferior one; as the spiritual and rational faculty contains the corporeal, that is, sentient and vegetative faculty. (76)

The superior substance contains, but it not contained by the inferior. Therefore God contains all creation, and yet is unbounded by it. The rational order, the angelic beings, contain material substance but is not bounded by it. Human beings are the highest order of the corporeal creation because we have a rational soul.

Milton affirms that the unity of a human person consists of the body and the soul. A soul alone is not a human being, and neither is a body alone. In fact, Milton goes so far as to claim that the human soul is inseparable from the human body. He seems to be reacting to the common Platonic views of his contemporary divines. However, it is necessary to relate his view of the person to his materialism. The incorporeal substance is superior and contains all inferior substance. Therefore, it would not make sense in this paradigm that the soul is an independent substance from the body. The soul, for Milton, only signifies rational ability infused by God into Adam:

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Gen 2:7)

Milton acknowledges that all living creatures have souls, but no soul is said to be immortal. The difference between a human soul and an irrational soul or vegetable soul is the imago Dei (Gen 1:27) infused into the human being. The imago Dei doe not signify the divine nature, but the “inspiration of some divine virtue fitted for the exercise of life and reason” (79); and so man was created “a little lower than the angels” (Ps. 8:5). This doctrine implies that the soul dies with the body: “soul sleep.” The whole person awaits the resurrection of the dead when the whole being is reformed.

I find Milton’s doctrine of ex Deo incredibly interesting. It reminds me of Fr. Sergei Bulgakov’s Sophiology. I have never read Bulgakov’s work, but I am familiar with his teaching through a series of blog posts of his Bride of the Lamb (Eclectic Orthodoxy), a few talks I found online, and a critique from St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly. Bulgakov held that creation proceeded (hyposteisized) from the ousia of God: there is a created and uncreated ousia, which he terms the created and uncreated Sophia. The created Sophia is formed by God. It’s most perfect hypostasis is humanity; the imago Dei is the Sophia, which is hypostasized in humanity. For Milton, humanity is the fullest expression of corporeal creation. However, he does not emphasize the communal nature of humanity like Bulgakov. Each human inherits his being, body and soul, from his parents, and then exists independently. Man is united to the Godhead through personal belief in Christ. The body of Christ is a union of individuals in Christ but not with one another. Man is not the hypostasis of creation but merely the highest corporeal form. There is no yearning of creation for the creator described as of yet.

I am interested to see Milton’s understanding of the incarnation and the Eschaton, when God fills all in all. I suspect that what is corrupted will be cut off from God in Hell while the rest of Creation is recapitulated into the Godhead. The Son of God is generated from the Father thus containing the divine substance. The Son unites the Divine substance and the human substance in his Person Hypostasis. Milton, the hyper-individualist, cannot fathom a substance separate from the Person; in effect, Milton conceives of two persons united in one Hypostasis. The Son cannot assume human nature without assuming a human person. It is my understanding that because the Son assumed a human person who had no existence without the Son, and the human person is therefore the Son incarnate. It is sort of Nestorian, but it may be Orthodox. I will have to research this further. This doctrine no doubt has a profound impact in relationship between the Second Advent and the creation. How does it relate to the rational order? To the irrational and vegetable order? Can the creation recapitulate into the Godhead in Milton’s theological paradigm? If it does what happens to those rational beings who oppose the divine will? From Paradise Lost, Satan envies heaven and earth, but when he is there he despises it. The goodness that he lost incites jealousy in Satan; Satan experiences Hell even when he is not in the incorporeal Hell. If all creation recapitulates into the divine substance, then Satan will be experiencing absolute Goodness, which incites his own personal Hell. That is only my theory. I will have to continue reading to find out what theological perspective Milton takes.

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