The Rituals of Presence in Paradise Regained
Ken Simpson
University College of the Cariboo

Simpson, Ken. "The Rituals of Presence in Paradise Regained." Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 7 (May, 2001): 14.1-33 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/si-07/simpson.htm>.

  1. Throughout his career, Milton participated in a "revolution in ritual theory" that profoundly changed public forms of worship both inside and outside the protestant church.[1] Beginning with the objections of figures like Wycliff and Erasmus to clerical and lay abuses of sacramental rites and continuing in the detailed sacramental theologies of Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, this revolution found one of its most ardent expressions in the biblicism of various English puritan communities of the seventeenth century and had as one of its underlying causes a "semiotic crisis" which would redefine the relationship between the sacred and the material world.[2] However important ritual signs and actions were in constituting the identities of medieval men and women and informing their magic and medicine as well as their religion, by the seventeenth century the assumption that signs conveyed presence -- that by enacting a rite the thing signified by the sign was brought into being -- could no longer be accepted by most protestants as an explanation of the nature of rituals. Instead, a "hermeneutic conception of ritual" was developed by both reformers and humanists in which rituals consisted not of communal experiences that "created presences and enacted being" but of signs that communicated meanings existing independently of the signs that conveyed them.[3] The relationship between the sacred and the material world was constructed on a communicative model, restricting the appearance of the sacred to the Word and the forms of worship found in Scripture.[4]

  2. A paradigm of this change in perspective can be found in the sacramental theology of Zwingli, a sign theory that clearly resembles Milton's: rather than identifying the bread and wine of the eucharist with the body and blood of Jesus, the "is" of the words of institution simply means "signifies" or "stands for."[5] Thus, "this is my body," means "this bread stands for my body," the metonymy encouraging participants to remember and live by Christ's sacrifice, an event already presented in Scripture. This shift from presence to representation, flesh and blood to signs, from ritual to reading made it necessary for English puritans and nonconformists to examine all details of worship and ritual, from gestures to music and ornaments, for their biblical meaning and significance. Far from being "adiaphora" or indifferent to salvation and, therefore, subject to the authority of the church as they were for Anglicans, rituals were symbolic means by which God communicated with believers and believers communicated with God.

  3. The hermeneutic approach to ritual led to a broad spectrum of ritual practices in the puritan tradition, from the liturgical conservatism of Richard Baxter's "Savoy Liturgy" (1660) and the Westminster Directory (1645) to silent waiting for the Spirit in Quaker worship, but in all cases the rich texture of symbols and symbolic actions that united church and society one hundred years earlier was extremely threadbare by the time Charles II was restored and Milton completed his great poems. Not only did the Bible become the sole criterion for public worship, but the ante-communion service, or liturgy of the Word, with its emphasis on readings and the sermon, became the normative order of service in those churches that still maintained an interest in liturgical forms. In the "fractured religious culture of Restoration England," individuals could also read Scripture, pray, and increasingly receive the sacraments in small, family gatherings or simply avoid the sacraments completely.[6] If the ritual revolution led to fragmentation in worship, however, it also encouraged diversity and experimentation.

  4. The legacy of puritan iconoclasm in controversies about the sign of the cross in baptism, the symbol of the ring in marriage, the posture of communicants during the Lord's Supper, as well as in the rejection of, many other ritual symbols and rites has been well documented in studies of Milton's prose and, more generally, in histories of theology and worship in seventeenth-century England.[7] What scholars are now beginning to discover, however, is the extent to which "the method of reform was often to substitute one ritual for another."[8] Above and beyond the liturgical diversity that developed in England between 1645 and 1662, when Presbyterians failed to replace the Book of Common Prayer with the Westminster Directory as a source of common worship, iconoclasm itself is now understood as a purification ritual, while the Word, both read and heard, became "virtually a third sacrament alongside Baptism and the Lord's Supper," conveying grace in a ritual of verbal presence both in the sacred space of the church and in the sacred space of the reader's or listener's heart, the real "house and church of the living God," according to Milton (CD, YP VI: 589).[9]

  5. The decline in the force of traditional ritual theory, then, encouraged innovations in liturgy and opened a "space for ritual invention" in literature as well as the church, especially literature that was religious but not specifically liturgical. According to Thomas Greene, texts by Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch, Erasmus, Rabelais, and Shakespeare "suggest that the questioning of ceremony during the Renaissance left open a space for creative play with ceremonial symbols."[10] A. B. Chambers has provided a more thorough taxonomy of "transfigured rites" in seventeenth-century English verse, from liturgical parodies and formal parallels to evocations of a "sacramental view of the world" and uses of the Christian calendar. Chambers brilliantly analyzes the contrast between chronological time and kairos, or time fulfilled and made meaningful by divine events, in Paradise Regained, but downplays "the heterodoxy of Milton's personal views" during the period when the poem was written.[11] It is true that the contrast between time schemes is "entirely traditional," but Milton's association of kairos with a hero whose activities consist of debate, silent waiting, and free choice based on Scripture suggest a view of worship that is anything but traditional. Jesus models true worship throughout the poem, the universal form of which is good works, those actions performed "when the Spirit of God works within us through true faith, to God's glory, the certain hope of our salvation, and the instruction of our neighbor" (CD, YP VI: 638). What is absent, of course, is the church and set forms of liturgy, but this does not mean that Milton ignores ritual in Paradise Regained; rather, he transforms it to show the true source of authentic worship in the ritual of presence associated with the encounter with Scripture and acts of "substantial liberty" consecrated to God. In Paradise Regained Milton models a "spontaneous liturgy" of the kind P. G. Stanwood finds in the hymns of Paradise Lost in which "the poet does not deliberately set out to write in a liturgical environment or in obedience to any liturgical form, yet in avoiding the form comes inevitably to have it."[12] I would only add that Milton sets out to foreground worship in Paradise Regained, and in the process of demonstrating true worship without liturgy offers an act of worship to his God that also alludes to and transforms various rituals in his Restoration context.

  6. Milton's Paradise Regained, then, illustrates a creative response to the revolution in ritual theory and the semiotic crisis that underlies many ritual experiments in the seventeenth century. Milton's is a decidedly plain, restrained form of worship, the result of a thorough critique of the sacramental signs and rituals that bound both "popular" and "official" religion before the Reformation. In the process of showing what is essential for worship, however, Milton goes where no clergyman would follow, even while he alludes to traditional ceremonies, for true worship does not depend on a visible church, but on reading and writing with the Holy Spirit. Thus, allusions to sacraments, liturgical forms, and frames of time engaged in worship do not validate a specific church; rather, by appropriating them, Milton validates his own worship, his own "minimal mysticism."[13] As well as representing true worship in Paradise Regained, Milton also re-creates and enacts it, attempting to unify readers in a ritual of presence through his re-creation of ritual time. Ritual time, according to Mircea Eliade, exists when chronological time is redeemed by the repetition of singular events in a god's life, uniting participants in the god's presence.[14] Although a real presence is impossible for Milton, the imaginative and visionary apprehension in literature of a frame of time beyond the chronological is the next best thing.


  7. Called by Parliament to reform the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England, the Westminster Assembly first met in July, 1643, and by October Parliament had passed an ordinance giving the Assembly the authority to create a liturgy to replace the Book of Common Prayer. The Assembly failed to produce a liturgy of set forms, however, because two Independent members on the subcommittee empowered to produce the liturgy -- Thomas Goodwin and Philip Nye -- refused to impose forms of prayers on the ministry. As the "dissenting Brethren" explained in their Apologetical Narration, "public Prayers in our Assemblies should be Framed by the meditation and study of our own Ministers, out of their own gifts, (the fruits of Christ's Ascension) as well as their Sermons use to be."[15] In the Independent church, according to John Cotton, prayers were offered to God "not in any prescribed forme of prayer, or Studied Liturgie, but in such a manner, as the Spirit of grace and prayer (who teacheth all the people of God, what and how to pray, (Rom. viii, 26, 27) helpeth our infirmities."[16] As Cotton's order of service for the Boston church and Goodwin's support of Baxter's "Savoy Liturgy" indicate, although Independents were against prescribed prayers, they were not against an ordered service in the church. More importantly, Cotton's suggestion that the Spirit teaches all people about what and how to pray contains the beginning of the ministry's end since the authority of the Spirit could supplant the authority of a human ministry. The logical outcome of the Independent emphasis on the Spirit in prayer is a ministry of believers; any believer with the gifts of the Spirit, regardless of whether he or she has been ordained, can pray and preach in public. This is exactly what many Quakers and Ranters did in the 1650s. Just to take one example, William Erbery claimed that

    if the Saints could stay a while, and wait for the Spirit . . . if men could be content with God alone, live in God onely, behold God dwelling in them and they in God: [then] they had not run so fast into the Church nor the Churches hastened to send forth their Ministers to baptize: these being not Gospel Order, nor Ordinance among them.[17]

    Initially sympathetic with the Independents but eventually alienated by the intolerance of their "hireling clergy," Milton became an independent Independent in his liturgical views in the years leading up to the Restoration, emphasizing like Erbery the importance of the Spirit in worship, but avoiding the irrationality that often characterized the English radical reformation in the 1650s.

  8. Milton's view of worship as it is expressed in De Doctrina Christiana and later woven into the narrative of Paradise Regained is best described as "liturgical congregationalism" in the free church tradition. Written liturgies were not used in free churches because "if God's word is clear to everyone who reads, each community can discern what is God's will by itself and must be free to act accordingly." This did not result in "liturgical chaos; indeed, the degree of predictability is usually almost as high as in other traditions of worship."[18]  Instead, the free churches became preoccupied with the origins of true expression in the Spirit and the Word of Scripture, and with the church as a voluntary gathering of individuals united by the Spirit and Word rather than by unscriptural traditions or prescribed prayers in which "imitation seem'd to vie with the Original" (Eikon, YP III: 361). Repetition and ritual did exist in this tradition, but only in a ritual of presence and a repetition of the original Spirit in the words, prayers, and motions of worship. Milton's vivid, sometimes brutal attack on "the repetition of that which is prescribed" (RCG, YP I: 752) in the Anglican liturgy is well known and does not need to be reiterated here.[19] The theological basis of the attack does need to be mentioned, however. The liturgy, whether Anglican, Presbyterian, or Independent stifles the gifts of the Spirit in prayer and makes idolatrous additions to the supreme liturgical handbook -- the Word of God. Although Milton may have worshipped only with his family during the Restoration, he was not a "church of one" in worship or ecclesiology. His reliance on the Word and Spirit and the ritual of presence in reading and prayer clearly place him in a varied and innovative free church tradition whether he would have acknowledged it or not.

  9. The suggestion that Milton has anything to do with the church or with ritual, even of the reduced kind that was typical in the free church tradition, is bound to be met with skepticism by Milton critics. The failure to acknowledge the imperative of worship in Milton's prose and poetry may have its origin in Samuel Johnson's claim that Milton "grew old without any visible worship [and] omitting public prayers, he omitted all."[20] As with much of Johnson's criticism of Milton, there is some truth in this, but not enough. Writing over one hundred years after the poet's death, Johnson was probably repeating the speculation of John Toland who, in 1698, attached his biography to the first collected edition of Milton's prose. According to Toland, "in the latter part of his Life, he [Milton] was not a profest Member of any particular Sect among Christians, he frequented none of their Assemblies, nor made use of their Rites in his Family" in spite of evidence that not only his third wife, Elizabeth Minshul, but also his daughters attended church.[21] Toland does not comment on why Milton failed to worship in a particular, visible church, but this omission also casts doubt on his account, for if he knew what he claimed to know about Milton's devotional life, he likely would have had an explanation for Milton's avoidance of public worship as well. In addition, despite following the previous four biographies of Milton closely in most other respects, Toland clearly adds this detail on his own. Neither John nor Edward Phillips in their independent biographies mention anything about their uncle's patterns of worship, a curious omission if there were anything irregular or unusual about Milton's worship, or lack of it. More than likely, Toland found in Milton a kindred spirit and amplified into fact what was at best unverifiable, for Toland's portrait of Milton is more like Toland than Milton. The deist author of Christianity not Mysterious illustrates his own thesis that a disinterested and rational Christianity is possible without the church by carefully selecting and embroidering details from Milton's life, but especially by emphasizing his disinterested search for Truth and his avoidance of all sects and parties. Thus, although we cannot conclude from the evidence of the early biographies that Milton worshipped in a particular church or followed a particular rite, neither can we conclude that Milton "grew old without any visible worship."

  10. More serious evidence of Milton's rejection of visible church worship comes from his own works, but this testimony must also be treated carefully. In De Doctrina Christiana he claims to "follow no . . . heresy or sect," but this refers to his reliance on Scripture alone rather than his abandonment of the visible church (CD, YP VI: 123). Milton also argues that people who cannot join a properly constituted church "conveniently, or with good conscience" are not destitute of the blessings bestowed upon the churches (YP VI: 568), but this is a common argument advanced by orthodox theologians such as William Ames, who also admits that silent prayer is sufficient for God and that it is a sin to participate in worship against one's conscience.[22] Finally, Milton's belief that the church exists wherever there is charity and that inward worship is sufficient for God (YP VI: 565, 668) has led some critics to conclude that, for Milton, all earthly churches pervert the true church of the Spirit.[23] Even in Book XII of Paradise Lost, however, where Milton describes the progressive degeneration of the church, he also celebrates the eventual triumph of those "who in the worship persevere / Of Spirit and Truth" (XII: 532-33) which is consistent with the free church tradition. In his "religion of the Spirit," then, Milton does not exclude public worship or the church, but neither does he adopt traditional forms of worship or ecclesiology without adapting them to suit what he finds in Scripture. Although Milton likely did not worship in a particular church in the conventional sense after the Restoration, this does not mean that he rejected public worship altogether or that forms of worship did not influence his poetry. Solitary, family, and nonconformist worship of various kinds were viable alternatives to the Presbyterian, Independent, or Anglican forms of worship that would have offended his conscience.

  11. With the free church tradition, then, whether he actually worshipped regularly in a particular church or not, Milton shares an emphasis on the Word and Spirit in worship. "True Religion," Milton declares, "is the true Worship and Service of God, learnt and believed from the Word of God only" (TR, YP VIII: 419). The Word of God, however, is less authoritative than "the Spirit, which is internal, and the individual possession of each man," making the ordained priesthood, predetermined times and places of worship, and prescribed liturgies all superfluous (CD, YP VI: 587). Disagreements need not cause schisms in the church as long as they are based on Scripture. What is important is that a community worship together and tolerate differences in theological opinion:

    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 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 of Faith.  (TR, YP VIII: 422)

    This broad desire for protestant unity based on the Word and Spirit rather than liturgies or canons informs Milton's works for most of his career and continued to inform Paradise Regained after the Restoration, a poem enacting a ritual of presence in Jesus' response to the Spirit.

  12. In addition to Scripture reading, good works, the only essential expressions of true worship, also depend on the Spirit, for good works "are those which we do when the Spirit of God works within us." Milton's whole discussion of worship in De Doctrina Christiana hinges on this notion that the origin of true worship, and the universal form of good action, is the Holy Spirit, "the secret agent" of Paradise Regained, according to Georgia Christopher.[24] Virtues or "good habits" are the immediate causes of good works, and those special virtues related to God are internal and external worship. Internal worship consists of love, humility, patience, and obedience toward God and confidence in him, a virtue contrasted with distrust, presumption, "trust in the flesh," and idolatry (CD, YP VI: 658). All of these virtues lead to good works and all are prompted by the Holy Spirit. Ethics and right action, then, are forms of ritual and worship, for believers bring glory and praise to God when they act in obedience to his will, returning again and again to Scripture and waiting patiently to discern what the Spirit illuminates there.

  13. Even though internal worship is sufficient for God, external worship is not; it must be accompanied by true sincerity and faith. Before discussing external worship as it is outlined in De Doctrina Christiana, however, it is necessary to mention briefly the role of the clergy and the nature of the sacraments. In keeping with his emphasis on the Word and Spirit, Milton divests the ordained clergy of all authority in interpretation, prophecy, and administration. Any man -- he doesn't mention women -- who has the gift of the Spirit may lead the community in prayer, preaching, and prophecy, or teaching; in addition, he can also administer the sacraments since they are only signs of the grace promised in Scripture. Milton's hermeneutic approach to the sacraments is clear in his discussion of baptism: because external signs, like baptism in a moving stream, refer to biblical precedents, recipients of baptism must be adults, for "how can infants, who do not understand a word be purified by the word?" (YP VI: 544-45). He also makes a clear distinction between "the symbol and the thing symbolized," eliminating any potential confusion between the symbols of the bread and wine and the real presence of Christ's body and blood (YP VI: 555).

  14. The time, place, and posture of worship are also dependent upon the Spirit since the Spirit acts in a voluntary manner, not only on Sundays in the church. In fact, to worship God "only one day in seven, is to disparage the Christian religion"; any time is appropriate for prayer, but "morning, midday, and evening are particularly suitable," presumably so that prayer can bring worshippers closer to God by being part of the natural cycle which God created (YP VI: 714, 704, 674). Prayer can be solitary or collective, silent or audible, for ourselves or for others, and can be delivered kneeling or standing in any place we choose not only because these practices are found in Scripture, but also because the internal disposition of the believer guided by the Holy Spirit determines where the church is not the quasi-sacramental nature of the church building itself. For the same reason, "tautological repetitiveness" such as occurs in litanies should be avoided, although repetiveness arising from holy zeal and a "vehement disturbance of the mind is not to be counted in vain" (YP VI: 673).

  15. There are two kinds of prayer prescribed in Scripture: invocations and the sanctification of God's name; and four kinds of invocations: petitions, thanksgivings, oaths, and casting lots. Because prayer occurs by "the instigation of the Holy Spirit" and by "divine helpers, not human" ones, there is "no need of a liturgy"; even the Lord's Prayer is a model "rather than a formula to be repeated" (YP VI: 670). Petitions take two forms -- the petition for good and the petition to take away evil -- while prayers of thanksgiving in which we give "thanks with a joyful heart for divine benefits" are often accompanied by songs and hymns (YP VI: 683). Making vows, taking oaths, cursing God's enemies and fasting are also forms of worship that have scriptural warrant and, therefore, can be used when circumstances demand them.

  16. The sanctification of God's name is the second genre of prayer discussed by Milton. It is often associated with zeal in defending God, promoting his glory and professing the faith, even in the face of death. God's name should be sanctified by deeds as well as words "in every circumstance of our life" and in "consecrating anything we use to his glory" (YP VI: 700). This form of worship takes us back to good works as the essential form of worship since both occur throughout life rather than within a specific sacred space. A life in which the image and Spirit of God are manifested in freely choosing to obey God's ways revealed in Scripture by the Spirit is the best way to sanctify objects and to worship God.

  17. Milton's participation in the revolution in ritual throughout the early modern period is consistent and thorough. Like Zwingli he empties the sacraments of real presence by revealing the flawed sign theory on which they are based and by appealing to the hermeneutic basis of God's communication with believers -- the Word of God. This reduces worship to writing, preaching, reading, and hearing the Word, receiving baptism and the Lord's Supper as scriptural seals, and praying and singing according to biblical models. Unlike Zwingli, however, Milton recognized the authority of the Holy Spirit as the possession of each individual. As a result, prescribed liturgies, ordained ministers, and sacred times and places of worship were unnecessary. Instead, a believer enacts the ritual of the Holy Spirit's presence in good works generally, but especially in encounters with the Word, including religious poetry. This encounter is paradigmatic of "a whole new kind of anti-liturgical ritual that emphasized the spiritual significance of mundane materiality within a religious world-view that had supposedly disenchanted material objects."[25] Indeed, hostile Anglicans often mocked the "canting motions" of puritans preaching by the Spirit, the stylized gestures and images suggesting the communal, repetitive, and formal nature of ritual. This, however, was not Milton's style in Paradise Regained, where the ritual of presence is manifested in patience, obedience, restraint and, above all, in searching Scripture and acting by the Spirit. As Georgia Christopher points out, "in this tradition the word becomes the sacramental reality when and only when the Holy Spirit moves the mind to understand and embrace the scriptural word."[26] As Milton's opening prayer to the Holy Spirit indicates, the rituals of presence are enacted as well as represented in Paradise Regained, where the prophetic poet re-creates a sense of ritual time for the reader through the narrative repetition of events in his hero's life.


  18. The importance of worship and ritual in Paradise Regained is evident in both the details and structure of the opening sequence depicting Jesus' baptism. The Holy Spirit, the source of good works and true worship, is especially prominent: the Spirit is called upon by the poet in the opening invocation, the Spirit is received in fullness by Jesus at his baptism, the Spirit is unacknowledged by Satan who sees only a dove, "whate'er it meant," and the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to begin "his great warfare." Jesus refers to "my Spirit" in his recollection of his youthful preparations, but the Spirit conferred now is much different. Whereas Jesus' youthful Spirit is admirable but limited by his political conception of his destiny, the Spirit conferred at his baptism is complete, for the baptism "conferred the gifts of the Spirit straight away" (CD, YP VI: 551). As the narrator suggests, it is the Spirit, silent and present, who "brought'st him Hence / By proof th'undoubted Son of God" (PR I: 10-11) not his own will. Underlying the ritual of reading in the poem, then, is Jesus' guidance by the Spirit.[27]

  19. The poem as a whole depicts a rite of passage as described by Victor Turner, but what is most noteworthy is how carefully Milton has appropriated the structure of the rite into his narrative, shaping the biblical materials to emphasize Christ's trial.[28] Jesus is briefly called and separated from the world, crosses a threshold into an extended liminal stage where everyday standards are suspended in spiritual combat, and then is briefly reincorporated into the community, renewed and strengthened in his identity at the end of the poem. That Milton should use this structure in his poem is no surprise since baptism itself is a specifically Christian rite of passage in its meaning -- symbolizing regeneration through the Spirit, the death and resurrection of Christ, and the inclusion of the believer into church -- as well as in its administration. In the baptismal rite described by Milton in De Doctrina Christiana, the believer is called out of the world and takes a vow or pledge of faith before being immersed in a flowing stream and welcomed into the church. In the poem, a similar structure is apparent, but Milton, following Scripture, alters the order of events to emphasize Jesus' "hermeneutic combat" with Satan: like all others who have come to the Jordan, Jesus is fully immersed in the flowing or "laving" stream, but he is separated from the world only through his naming by the Father, his reception of the Holy Spirit, and by his journey to the wilderness. This allows Milton to emphasize that the ritual trial by temptation is Jesus' initiation before he emerges fully prepared to enter and transform the human community when he leaves the wilderness. The falling and rising movement of baptism is also replicated in the way Jesus moves downward and inward before he moves upward to the spire of the temple and outward to his Galilean ministry. He communes with "deep thoughts" (PR I: 190) and "descends" into himself (PR II: 111), suggesting that this is a spiritual, visionary trial, but also that he has been purified by plunging into himself.

  20. Milton's critique of sacramental efficacy in De Doctrina Christiana is also explored in the contrast between how Jesus and Satan interpret the baptism. Satan claims sarcastically that the "Consecrated stream" (PR I: 72-3) washes away sin simply in the action of baptism, but this is precisely the confusion of the symbol with the thing symbolized that Milton identifies with Roman Catholic doctrines of sacramental efficacy. Nor has the consecration of the water any scriptural basis. Jesus, on the other hand, recalls the Spirit, but especially the Father's voice and immediately interprets the signs as pledges of the Father's words rather than as signs conveying purity in and of themselves. For Satan, the dove is literal and, lacking the Spirit, he is unable to understand its real meaning; for Jesus, the literal is the spiritual sense, for the Spirit descended "like a Dove" not in it. Jesus' response to and fulfillment of the Father's word through reflection on Scripture, personal recollection, and silent meditation is typical of how Jesus worships the Father through his acts throughout the poem.

  21. Milton extends the semiological critique of sacramental efficacy to his representations of the Lord's Supper in Paradise Regained as well. As I have discussed, in the free church tradition the central role of the sacraments in the liturgy was taken over by the Word itself; not only was the ante-communion service, or liturgy of the Word, more prevalent, but the Word revealed Christ's presence more directly than the "visible words" of the sacraments, turning the Bible and the sermon into the spiritual food which sustains the church until Christ comes again in the flesh.[29] In Paradise Regained, the Son's prophetic office as the Word is emphasized from the first temptation, where he is tempted to abandon "each Word / Proceeding from the mouth of God" (PR I: 349-50) for bread. The food/Word imagery continues throughout Paradise Regained, showing that Christ not only is the Word but speaks the Word in human terms, providing the means for his celebration.[30] It is not surprising, then, to find Satan associated with the ex opere operato theory of sacramental grace in which the sacrament is efficacious regardless of the priest's spiritual state. God lets impure ministers handle "holy things"; therefore, Satan argues, God should allow him access to the Son (PR I: 486-90). The culmination of sacramental imagery, however, occurs in the banquet scenes, the first a demonic feast served on a table "richly spread, in regal mode" (PR II: 340) like the communion tables of the Church of England, and the second, a celestial banquet, "A table of Celestial Food, Divine" (PR IV: 588) that prefigures the communion of saints after the apocalypse (Rev. xix, 7-9; Mat. viii, 11, xxii, 1-10, xxvi, 29). This is particularly important because in the liturgies of the free church tradition, the memory of Christ's death and resurrection and the hope of future union with Christ signified in the banquet were often emphasized rather than his real presence.[31] Between these two banquets and implied throughout the poem, however, is the figure of Christ, the word of God, the spiritual food of the church.

  22. Milton's conception of his own prophetic office of writing (CD, YP VI: 432, 570) parallels the emphasis on the Word in the free church tradition and in Paradise Regained. When the church is regarded in its universal rather than its particular dimension and when the media of the Word are expanded to include books as well as sermons, we can begin to appreciate Milton's prophetic vocation and what he meant when he said that those who have "the inspired gift of God . . . are of power beside the office of a pulpit, to inbreed and cherish in a great people the seeds of virtue and public civility" (RCG, YP I: 816). In his literary and prophetic vocation, Milton occupies a ministerial office, delivering his view of the Word to the church, not in sermons, but in a variety of forms of poetry and prose, and performs the liturgy of the Word in the act of writing.

  23. In addition to Milton's belief that, as a prophet, he addressed the church universal in his writing, an office similar to the ministry of the Word in the nonconformist tradition, the liturgy of the Word appears in two other ways in Paradise Regained: in structural features that the poem shares with other nonconformist liturgies and in his evocation of ritual time. For example, the overall structure of the ante-communion service is analogous to some features in Paradise Regained. As the liturgies of Zwingli, Calvin, Bucer, Knox, the Middleburg puritans, the Westminster Assembly, and Baxter show, the liturgy of the Word in the reformed tradition consists of four parts in the following order: the confession, the extempore prayer for illumination, the sermon, and the blessing before dismissal, in addition to readings and psalms which are sung at intervals throughout.[32] There are, of course, variations in form and content in each service, but this general structure is observable in each of the liturgies. There is no analogue of the confession at the beginning of Paradise Regained, an omission which indicates that Milton did not share the penitential tone of orthodox nonconformist devotion, but the opening invocation of Paradise Regained does parallel the "extempore" prayer for the illumination of the Holy Spirit that preceded the sermon in reformed liturgies. Milton asks for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit just as Calvin does, despite the contrast in genre and purpose: "let us beseech Him, in whom is all fullness of wisdom and light to vouchsafe to guide us by His Holy Spirit into the true understanding of His holy doctrine."[33] Moreover, just as the sermon, based on a scripture text, follows the prayer for illumination, so the narrator's exposition of the temptations follows his prayer, although his exposition takes the form of a literary "harmony of the gospels" rather than a word-by-word exegesis or the doctrine, reason, use pattern of the typical sermon.[34] The narrator laboriously gathers Scripture texts that do not appear in Matthew or Luke's accounts of the temptations, such as those from the Gospel of John (PR I: 35-40) referring to the disciples at the beginning of Book II, and weaves them together with invented material into a unified story, demonstrating how to read by the Spirit in order to move his audience more effectively and draw them closer to the same Spirit that works through him.

  24. The songs occurring at significant intervals in the worship service, such as before the prayer for illumination, after the sermon, and before the final blessing, also occur in Paradise Regained as the angels break into "Hymns" following the Father's decree and "Heavenly Anthems" after Jesus' victory over Satan. We should include, too, the morning songs of the birds that refresh the Son after troubled nights of dreams, remembering that Milton approved of songs in worship and felt that even though no time is prescribed for prayer, morning, noon and evening were most suitable (PR II: 279-8, 290; IV: 434-38). Once again, however, it is not the content of the liturgy that is used by Milton, but its structure and feeling, as an event is solemnized by ritual song and poetry. In addition, the tone and structure of the blessing and dismissal are also incorporated by Milton into Paradise Regained. The closing angelic hymn, the return of Jesus to where he began in "his Mother's house private" (PR IV: 639), and the final four lines of the poem, written in perfectly melodic iambic pentameter, capture the peace and serenity offered by the closing prayer of the liturgy of the Word. Thus, although Milton condemned formal ritual and its rote repetition, he nevertheless adopted enough of its structures and strategies to enable "prompt eloquence" to emerge within a recognizable and repeated form.

  25. Milton also uses repetition at the textual and narrative levels to create an imaginative ritual through which the reader participates in ritual time, an order of time in which chronological time is suspended in the imaginative re-living and remembering of Christ's life. This is not a detached perspective in which "we watch, as we always watch in ritual acts, with God", as Jackson Cope suggests, because Jesus' temptations are Milton's readers' temptations too; as a result, readers participate in the rhythm of repetition and return throughout the poem.[35] Ashraf Rushdy, on the other hand, developing the insights of Mircea Eliade, captures the richness of Milton's treatment of time. Sacred time, inhabited by Jesus and inaccessible to Satan, is the "primordial mythical time made present" in the liturgy when the original moment of salvation is recreated.  "In Milton's poem that moment is part of the strategy of representing the renovation . . . of a culture."[36] By creating this unique temporal perspective for his readers, Milton recreates the temporal conditions of ritual and allows readers to participate in an imaginative ritual in the fullest sense.

  26. The formal characteristics of Christian ritual have been described concisely by Mirea Eliade. Eliade sees underlying most rites a desire for union with God through the creation of a sacred order of time symbolized by the cyclical, yearly and daily repetition of events in the life of a god. From the Christian point of view, this redemption of time occurs in the repetition of the Christian calendar throughout the sacred year and in the repetition of the eucharistic rite, not a temporal occasion at all, but an eternal present in which Christ's sacrifice not only makes chronological time meaningful, but suspends time by making Jesus present and incorporating the believer into God's body.[37] Eliade highlights the difference between sacred and profane time by adopting Nietzsche's phrase "the eternal return" to characterize the relationship between the redemptive repetition of the eucharist that incarnates Christ's body and blood and the compulsive repetitions of modernity, desperately hoping to reclaim lost moments through fruitless repetitive acts.

  27. Milton, of course, rejected any sense of real presence just as he rejected liturgical repetition when it was associated with the mindless reiteration of ritual acts that have no connection with commitment and faith. The Word, however, and to a lesser extent, texts written in response to it, are like sacraments, especially when the hermeneutical view of ritual shared by Milton and many reformers is considered. Like the eucharist, the Word, with the help of the Holy Spirit, is a vehicle of grace and unites believers, to the extent that it is possible, in a ritual of presence by returning readers to Christ in imagination. Above chronological time but below the real presence of sacred time, the ritual time of literature promises metaphors of presence.

  28. The repetition of the Word as part of a ritual of presence can be seen in some of the smallest details of Paradise Regained. The identification of Jesus as the Son of God by both John the Baptist and the Father is turned into a ritual of naming when Milton has Jesus use schemes of repetition to describe the baptism: the anaphoric repetition of " Mee him" in lines 275-6 of Book I and the epizeuxis in lines 284-5, where "me his" is repeated without intervening words, together transform the event into verbal ritual. Here the repetition is more of an accretion, a repetition with a difference: in the first "me his" the metrical emphasis falls on "his", that is, on the Father, while in the second the emphasis is on the Son, illustrating the divine but not equal status of the Son in the Trinity. The narrator's description of the disciples at the beginning of Book II is a further example of Milton's use of repetition to recreate the conditions of ritual in the return of the same events in Christ's life and in the words in which he chooses to deliver the Word. In this speech, the narrator recalls the circumstances of the disciples, conveys their doubt because of Christ's absence, and emphasizes their hope for the future when they will see their "joy return." The interrelationship between the past and future in ritual time is reflected in the disciples' attempt, in their present, to resolve the scriptural past with the promise of the Son's return in the future, a situation analogous to the eucharist itself, as the physically absent Son is present imaginatively in the ritual, inspiring hope for his return in the future. The transition words convey this convergence of time: "meanwhile" suggests ongoing, present time; "yet," "lately," and the past tense throughout the speech until line 54 convey the disciples' unrest as they search the past in order to make sense of the present; the future tense in lines 54-57 indicates their faithful resolution, but also the convergence of the past and future in the present. The speech is also highly patterned. The use of parallel phrases (II: 6), anadiplosis in conjunction with antithetical parallel phrases (II: 9-10), polyptoton (II: 11), and epizeuxsis (II: 12) all recreate the repetition of ritual on the verbal level of the text. Milton's use of rhetorical and verbal repetition, however, reinforces his repetition of larger units of discourse to the point where we soon realize that repetition itself and its relationship to time is a recurring concern in the poem.

  29. A. B. Chambers has outlined the "double time scheme" in Paradise Regained and has linked it to liturgical time -- the convergence of kairos, consisting of unique events in which God has intervened, and cyclical time, consisting of the repetition of those unique events in the liturgical life of the church and through which participants are redeemed from chronos, the succession of events and moments which slip into the past and culminate in death.[38] Chambers' attempt to link the repetitions of the poem to Lent, however, is unconvincing. Instead, Milton's own sense of ritual -- the spontaneous, rather than prescribed, use of verbal repetition to redeem the present with reference to the past and future -- should be considered. We should first notice that Jesus, Satan, and the disciples each stand in a different relationship to time and repetition. Satan, in fear of the future due to lack of faith, views time as a meaningless, chronological succession of events, each following the other into oblivion, unless they can be used to maintain his power by destroying Jesus. The only source of the redemption of time is Satan's will to power, but this proves futile since it is grounded in despair and dread. The result of this view of time is self-destructive compulsion in which he is doomed to repeat the same actions over and over again without hope of completion or redemption.[39] The "circling hours" slip over his head like a noose; his "dreaded time" has "compast" or encircled him (PR I: 57). Satan experiences time not as a "datelesse and irrevoluble Circle of Eternity [which] shall clasp inseparable Hands with joy, and blisse" (Ref, YP I: 616), but as a meaningless, cyclical repetition of actions motivated by dread and desperation. Just as

    [Or] surging waves against a solid rock,
    Though all to shivers dash't, th' assault renew,
    Vain batt'ry, and in froth or bubbles end;
    So Satan, whom repulse upon repulse
    Met ever, and to shameful silence brought,
    Yet gives not o'er though desperate of success,
    And his vain importunity pursues.  (PR IV: 18-24)

  30. Because time is a succession of moments culminating in his downfall, Satan is doomed to compulsive repetition in a desperate attempt to reclaim the passage of time. Jesus, on the other hand, is a rock of patience since his faith allows him to await the "due season," or kairos which God has appointed for him, and to realize that he not only repeats but fulfills the experience of previous prophets such as Job and Elijah. In fact, Jesus is the "fullness of time" since all events, for a believer like Milton, begin and end in him. The passage of time in the present does not concern Jesus as much as Satan because of his unshakeable faith that God will reveal his purpose in the future, while repetition is meaningful since he is the Truth who fulfills previous incarnations of his presence.

  31. The experience of unredeemed chronological time by Satan and the experience of redeemed cyclical time by Christ is balanced by the experience of ritual time by the narrator -- the convergence of chronological and cyclical time in the creative repetition of events in Christ's life. Repeated references to Job, Elijah and other figures and events from the scriptural past show how the narrator re-creates the past in the present, creating meaning where it otherwise would have been absent, and providing for future creative acts. The baptism is repeated three times, once each by the narrator (I: 18-32), Satan (I: 170-85), and Christ (I: 270-86), while Jesus' appearance in the temple and the Incarnation are interpreted three times as well, once each by Christ (I: 211; I: 243-45), Mary (II: 96-99, 66-75), and Satan (IV: 216-17; I: 64-66). Speculation about the nature of Christ's kingdom is also repeated by the disciples (II: 30-48), Satan (II: 408; IV: 393), Mary (I: 234-41) and Christ (I: 265; II: 467-86; III: 146-53). Through these repetitions of the same event Milton reveals not only his hermeneutics but also his attitude toward worship. In the process of responding to the scriptural past creatively, each interpreter redeems the present by reliving the past and providing hope for the future. Except for Satan, who fails to respond creatively to the present because he has no faith in the future, each character succeeds in creatively repeating the past, not as a prescribed form of ritual, but as a voluntary act of love and faith. The ritual of presence, then, includes repetition but only as it is voluntarily performed by each individual creatively responding to God's revelation in the past in order to live the fullness of time in the present and future.

  32. Milton's view of worship as good works inspired by the Holy Spirit and revealed in free choice guided by Scripture and reason is especially forceful in his characterization of Jesus throughout the poem. The temptations themselves enact ritual time as the repetition of events in Christ's life: we know what is going to happen, and when the expectation is fulfilled three times in essentially the same way -- by the quotation and application of Scripture -- the Word is disclosed as the still centre of the turning world occupied by Satan.[40] Throughout the battle with Satan, Jesus is also tempted to abandon the ritual of presence which constitutes true worship. The temptation to turn stones to bread is a temptation to distrust providence; the temptation of the kingdoms is a temptation to worship idols; the temptation of the temple is a temptation to presume God's protection. Distrust, idolatry, and presumption are all cited in De Doctrina Christiana as the opposites of confidence "which is placed entirely in God, as an effect of love and a constituent of internal worship" (CD, YP VI: 657). Silent, internal worship is portrayed dramatically as a conquest of its opposite, Jesus' choice to continue internal worship grounded in the Word and Spirit emerging as the central rite in a church without walls.

  33. In Paradise Regained, through allusion, assimilated form, and imagery, but especially in the figure of Jesus, Milton continued to explore his interest in the renewal of worship that began in the 1640s. The need for liturgical reform that united the puritan party within the English church in 1640, however, had divided it by 1670 when persecution by the established church increased the isolation and fragmentation that puritans had already brought on themselves in the decade before the Restoration. In this context of divided and defeated nonconformity, Milton's representation and enactment of worship in Paradise Regained is both consolatory and visionary. The poem provides a model and theology of worship in the Spirit appropriate for persecuted and isolated nonconformists, but also plants seeds for the future, portraying a source of unity for a renewed religious culture. Literature, of course, plays a central role in forming and sustaining this community of imagination, for it creates an order of time in which passing moments are temporarily suspended in the shared experience of reading.



1. See Muir (7). On ritual in this period see also Bossy (Christianity in the West); Bossy ("Blood and Baptism: Kinship, Community and Christianity in Western Europe from the Fourteenth to the Seventeenth Centuries" 129-43); Burke ("The Repudiation of Ritual in Early Modern Europe" 223-38); Cressy (Birth, Marriage, and Death); Harper (The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century); Kertzer (Ritual, Politics, and Power); and Scribner (Popular Culture and Popular Movements in Reformation Germany).

By "ritual" I mean all forms of signification, both verbal and non-verbal, sacred and secular that unite a community in a common purpose through repetitive, formal symbols and symbolic actions. A "liturgy" is a form of public Christian ritual sanctioned by a specific church for the worship of God, while a "rite" is a specific liturgical ritual such as baptism. For ritual theory and the problem of definition see Bell (Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice); Grimes (Ritual Criticism: Case Studies in Its Practice, Essays on Its Theory); and Grimes (Beginnings in Ritual Studies).

2.  See Greene (195). See also Muir (186).

3.  See Muir (8).

4. For Mircea Eliade, religion consists of just this human response, in the form of rituals and sacred objects, to the manifestation of the sacred in the world. See Patterns of Comparative Religion (2).

5. See Milton (555-56). Hereafter, references to Milton's prose will be to this edition and will be cited in my text. References to the poetry will be to Merritt Y. Hughes, ed., John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose and will also appear in my text. I am assuming, of course, that De Doctrina Christiana is Milton's work.

6. See Cressy (182, 189).

7. See Davies (Worship and Theology in England: From Andrewes to Baxter and Fox, 1603-1690); Davies (The English Free Churches); Davies (The Worship of the English Puritans); Collinson (From Iconoclasm to Iconophobia: the Cultural Impact of the Second English Reformation); Spinks (Freedom or Order? The Eucharistic Liturgy in English Congregationalism, 1645-1980); Barker (Milton and the Puritan Dilemma); and Hill (Milton and the English Revolution).

8.  See Muir (181).

9. See Muir (187); Scribner (51). Scribner refers to the German reformation here, but a similar elevation of the Word can be seen in England much later as well.

10. See Greene (192).

11. See Chambers (3-5, 126).

12. See Stanwood (123, 106).

13. Christopher refers to Milton as a "minimal mystic" in "The Secret Agent in Paradise Regained.” Christopher refers, as I do, to the quiet but important role played by the Holy Spirit in Paradise Regained and distinguishes Milton's views from those of the Ranters and Quakers, on the one hand, and the Cambridge Platonists, on the other. Her study of the Word as a sacrament in Milton's work is important too. See Milton and the Science of the Saints.

14. See Eliade (The Myth of the Eternal Return 20-25, 35-36).

15. See Goodwin, et al. (12).

16. See Cotton (66).

17. See Erbery (272). According to Geoffrey Nuttall, the relationship between Word and Spirit dominated theological controversy in the 1650s as scriptural precedents were found for conflicting church polities and forms of worship. See (The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience 28, 66-73).

18. See White (81).

19. The most detailed study is Lana Cable's Carnal Rhetoric: Milton's Iconoclasm and the Poetics of Desire. See Simpson (313-325).

20. See Johnson (1.92).

21. See Toland (195). For evidence that Milton's family attended a particular church, see Parker (1.651; 2.1091).

22. See Ames (4.39, 7-8, 62).

23. See Miller (7-16).

24. See Christopher (134).

25.  See Muir (176).

26.  See Christopher (135-36).

27. For the poem as a hermeneutic "Battle of the Book" see the following: Christopher (131-50); Radzinowicz (99-107); Sims (187-215).

28. See Turner (The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure). See also Arnold van Gennep (The Rites of Passage).

29. See Davies (Worship and Theology, 138-39, 287); Nuttall (The Holy Spirit, 98, 21-22).

30. See Cox  (225-43).

31. According to Henry Ainsworth in the "seales of his Covenant . . . he inviteth all me[n] to his supper, his marriage feast." See A True Confession (1596), in Walker, ed., The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism (64-65). John Cotton defends sitting at the Lord's Table by claiming that it symbolizes how the Last Supper was administered and how the saints will sit "as cosessors with him at the last judgement." See The Way of the Churches of Christ in New England (68). Neither of these figures writes in the free church tradition, but there was broad agreement on the meaning of the sacrament across the spectrum of puritanism despite disagreement about polity and administration. For the eschatological dimension of the eucharist see Crockett (5-8, 206).

32. For the reformed liturgies, see Thompson (147-48, 197-202, 167-171, 245-300, 322-34, 356-67, 385-393). In the absence of guidelines for worship in the free church tradition, comparisons with this more conservative tradition should be made with caution, but considering that worship in the Spirit was often predictable, it is not impossible that Milton may have had some experience with a liturgy of this type. The liturgy of the Word could have been remembered from his worship in the Anglican church as well, or from occasional worship at St. Margaret's, the church of Parliament while he was Latin Secretary.

33.  See Thompson (209).

34. A "gospel harmony" attempts to resolve all conflicting textual details about an event which is narrated in more than one gospel. See Lightfoot (A Harmony of the Gospels [1654]).

35. See Cope (63).

36. See Rushdy (193-94) and Eliade (The Sacred and the Profane 68, 72).

37. See Eliade (Myth of Eternal Return 20-25, 35-36).

38. See Chambers (132, 134).

39. See Schwartz (6, 91-110).

40. For the view that there is no narrative progress in the poem see Fish (42). For the view that Jesus undergoes a process of self definition see Lewalski (162). I agree with Fish but not because Milton creates a text that consumes itself in order to disclose a neo-Platonic reality, but because repetition is meant to draw the reader into the ritual order of time.

Works Cited

    © 2001-, R.G. Siemens and Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).
    (RGS, LJ, WSH, 11 May, 2001 )