Richard W. Amero
There are many approaches to the study of Milton. Biographers discuss
his life, thinkers
his thought, artists his art. Each approach is valuable, yet each is so limited that complete
understanding is impossible. Scholars are forever
discovering new aspects of Milton's
personality and thought. Ideally, the end product of this research should not be obscurity,
but an increase in knowledge.
The Milton who will appear in these pages is a man in a historical period
and an idea
which came to the surface during that period and has been in existence since then. To
show this Milton, my study of him will be counterbalanced with another of Dostoyevsky
who, though he may seem to be incongruous in Milton's company, felt the impact of the
ideas that Milton dealt with and reconciled these ideas in his own way.
The comparison of these two men, so widely separated in time and place,
differences as men and suggests reasons for their differences. Through the use of this
comparative approach an awareness of the meaning and value of their works should
A contrast between Milton and Dostoyevsky is not simply a contrast between
artists occupied with the shaping of their crafts, it is a contrast between two periods, two
worlds, and two areas of thought which have perplexed and tormented people since time
immemorial. To consider these men in this manner is not to obscure them as persons or
their art as literature. Rather, it is to deepen our understanding of their thoughts and
First, a word should be said about the environments in which Milton
Milton's England was an England of revolution during a time when the Puritan middle class,
conscious of the strength of its numbers and the
force of its religious beliefs, arose to a
dominant position in society. In their attempt to correct the abuses of royal privilege,
Puritans beheaded a king and took into their own hands the government of England.
The most important thing to remember about the Puritans, and the most
thing to remember about Milton, as a dissenter revolving in the Puritan orbit, is the
prominence that the ideal of freedom held in their speculations.
There were differences among the Puritans who overthrew Charles I. The
difference constituted the point of agreement in their ascent to power, and, when that
power was obtained, the cause of their weakness and the dissolution of their government.
The commonality among Puritans --- whether they were Presbyterians,
Congregationalists, Independents, Anabaptists, or Levelers --- was their belief in freedom.
This was the banner under which they fought for liberation from Stuart autocracy and
Many people overemphasize the religious causes of the rebellion. While
shaped the difference between groups and created demands for change, they
represented the ideological justification of a hitherto restricted middle class thirsting for
power. Religious beliefs of the middle class in England exerted the same pressure upon
them that rationalistic concepts exerted upon French middle classes during the French
Revolution, that deistic concepts of American aristocrats exerted upon them during the
American Revolution, and that belief in the brotherhood of the proletariat exerted upon
Communists during the Russian Revolution.
History books tend to countenance the English Revolution by showing
the royal abuses
that goaded it into being. They paint up the wanton excesses of the English Church and
aristocracy and show how the English parliament was driven about for the benefit of its
shearers. While the monarchy exploited many of its subjects, it was also venerated by
supporters who fought the Puritan middle classes to keep it alive. Landholding gentry,
peasants, artisans, and landless and unemployed people supported Charles I.
Archbishop Laud's theory of paternal monarchy struck these people as being part of the
natural order of things. The king was supposed to look after their interests. Like Puritans,
these people called God to their aid, but their God was one of benevolent authority who
furthered order and security in the land.
As a propagandist for the Puritan cause, Milton never came to grips
with the theory of
paternal monarchy. He considered it to be a vestige of Roman Catholic subordination
of laymen to clergy, but in his defense of Cromwell and of regicide, he showed not that
society was better off without kings, but that in this instance society was better off
without Charles I, who had desecrated the feudal ideal of hierarchical benevolence.
The Revolution failed in its ends. After the trouble of getting rid
of one monarch,
another was invited in to take his place. In this sense, the Revolution fell short of its
goals. Nevertheless, in that for the first time individual freedom became a right more
jealously to be guarded than the security of the State, the Revolution achieved its
The monarchy came back to England, but the country was not governed
as it had
been before. The concept of benevolent royal autocracy would survive as an idea of interest
to antiquarians, romantics, and dictators. Latter-day Puritans broadened their advocacy of
freedom to worship as they chose to legitimize their pursuit of whatever work they chose.
Emancipated individuals could explore the world and establish a new order of the machine.
Religion and work were so intertwined that believers regarded the goods they amassed
through their work as testaments to the state of their souls.
Dostoyevsky's mid-nineteenth century Russia and Milton's seventeenth
England are dissimilar. Yet, they show points of contact. A feudal monarchy that was
becoming aware of its antiquated and unworkable character governed Russia under
Nicholas I and Alexander II and England under James I and Charles I. In theory, both
monarchies were benevolent. Up to this time, in both countries, orders came from above
To alleviate discontent, England, under Elizabeth I, received the Poor Laws which the
not-so kindly Puritan allowed to languish. In Russia, Alexander II liberated the serfs
In the eyes of rulers in Stuart England and Romanov Russia, subjects
to obey orders, conform to standards, and believe in a religion favored by rulers,
though, in the eyes of some subjects, these orders, standards and beliefs stood in the way of
the promotion of their own interests. In Russia, people were afraid to express their
discontent. In England, a growing middle class opposed the king's will and expressed their
discontent openly. In Russia the middle class was small and easily cowed.
Russian peasants hated the gentry more than they hated the czar. From
the time of
Catherine, the czar stood between peasants and nobles. In 1861, through the efforts of
Alexander II and his liberal advisors and against aristocratic opposition, serfs were
European nations, such as England, France, Germany, and Austria-Hungary,
considered Russia to be a backward country. Russia possessed a unique foundation as
the two-fold product of Viking conquerors and the Russian Orthodox Church. No
matter how tyrannical czars and nobles might be, peasants obeyed their commands while
disgruntled members of the intelligentsia and effete gentry muttered their disapproval.
Adherents of these groups were psychological misfits. Many wanted to bring Russia up
to European standards of "enlightenment." They wanted to acquire the superficial aspects
of European civilization, that is to display the fashions and demonstrate the manners
popular in upper class European society. Up-to-date Russians smelled of eau d'cologne,
flattered one another, wasted their time at cards, and cultivated an air of dignified futility.
The enlightenment they sought went no farther than their finger tips.
Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Tolstoy and Turgenev portray bored Russian
intellectuals with varying degrees of sympathy and contempt. Members of the gentry and
intellectual classes opposed things Russian without possessing the faintest notion how
to change them. They spent enormous sums acquiring European ideas and habits while
the estates they owned became insolvent and the land unproductive.
In trying to redress the backward character of their country, forward-thinking
became radicals. They embraced ideals of personal and political freedom. As with Milton,
these intellectuals placed a greater value on their rights than on institutional loyalty.
Attainment of personal freedom would presage attainment of political freedom.
Unfortunately for intellectuals, Russian peasants and workers were not receptive to
such topsy-turvy ideas. Split into many disparate materialist, atheist, nihilist, socialist,
anarchist and constitutionalist factions, intellectuals passed their time arguing with one
another instead of planning a strategy against the upper class they scorned.
The libertarian ideals of the French Revolution, the uprisings following
of Vienna, and the radical teachings of Fourier, Proudhon, Kant, Fichte, Schelling
and Hegel stoked the intellectual's discontent with antiquated and tyrannical
conditions in their own country. Though their ineffectual actions distressed the Czar, he
had little to fear from intellectual malcontents. They had so many ideas to assimilate and so
much divisiveness to overcome, they were incapable of overthrowing the Czar and
setting up a new regime.
Intellectual dissatisfactions, disagreements and hopes fueled the immature
Dostoyevsky. Though he never became a member of a radical group, he was sufficiently
aroused to protest political and social inequalities. His attendance at a utopian socialist
meeting resulted in a four-year imprisonment, beginning in 1849, that was followed by
four years of compulsory service as a soldier.
The hardships Dostoyevsky endured during his incarceration were aggravated
epilepsy. His pains, poverty, complex nature, unjust punishments, and lack of public
understanding intensified his sense of suffering, and, paradoxically, became the source for
his spiritual liberation.
But Dostoyevsky's tortured mentality was not his alone. It existed among
thinkers. Dissatisfied with life in Russia and aware of the gap between themselves and
uneducated masses, Russian cognoscenti anguished over their lack of clear purpose.
Such are the times and countries in which Milton and Dostoyevsky lived.
from different backgrounds, they shared many dilemmas that focused on the achievement
of personal and political freedoms.
Dostoyevsky possessed the contradictory character of several nineteenth
writers. Characters he created embody aspects of his ambivalent personality. Milton's
characters manifest a grand metaphysical design. Milton may seem disagreeable, but,
compared to Dostoyevsky, he was a tower of normality. Set off by his epilepsy, bad
habits, and quarrelsome temperament from what he imagined to be the happiness of
others, Dostoyevsky was convinced of his depravity. Milton was convinced of his virtue.
Milton and Dostoyevsky believed in Original Sin. Nonetheless,
they applied this belief
differently. Milton accepted the fact than people were "fallen"; however, he thought that
God elected a remnant of the "fallen" for his favors. God rewarded privileged "elect" in
this life and in the life to come. By believing in their salvation, Milton, and members
of the Puritan party, whose apologist he became, spared themselves doubt and
turmoil. By being industrious and virtuous --- words that were virtual synonyms--- they
rose above the "fallen" status of those who were their enemies.
To Dostoyevsky, the action of God's grace was not so simple. He knew
that because he
was not virtuous, he must be "fallen." He relished gambling, drinking and sensual desires.
Yet, in spite of his failings, he thought he could be saved through the intensity of his
sufferings and the compassion it aroused in him toward the sufferings of others. Unlike
Milton, Dostoyevsky took the long way around rather than the straight and narrow path.
And he approached his God by way of the Inferno.
Dostoyevsky and Milton were egoists. But Dostoyevsky's egoism was that
masochist. He regarded himself as the most afflicted of people. Milton lived in a world
of evil in which he was sure of his righteousness. He had periods of despondency, but his
doubts were easily reconciled by reading The Bible. He doubted the salvation of his
rivals, but never of his own. Such psychological insights as Milton had into human
nature --- as shown by his characterization of Satan and of Adam and Eve --- are filtered
through a theological lens.
If one were to draw psychological charts to show the difference between
Dostoyevsky, he would be struck by the dissimilarity. Milton's chart would be an even
line with occasional curves adhering to a common mean. Dostoyevsky's line would be
broken into peaks and depths with no position of balance and of rest.
Dostoyevsky possessed the tortured soul of a doubter or of a saint.
possessed the self-confident soul of a master of intellectual legerdemain. Milton's even
line is not the line of an explorer of the emotions or of the seeker for answers in a world
Milton had drive and emotion. He could not have been an artist and a
without them. His sonnets show depths of feeling. He hated vehemently and he loved
despairingly. The utilization of his services by the Commonwealth must have elated him
and spurred him to show his loyalty to his God and country. His faith exacted an onerous
cost and made of him a lonely man gifted with powers of denunciation. It is ironic that
Milton, who tried to make of his life an expression of orderliness, should in the end know
something of the hell which Dostoyevsky, like Milton's Satan, always carried with him.
The disparity between Milton and Dostoyevsky could not do otherwise
their works. For the purpose of this contrast, the student is fortunate to find that in one
instance both writers took as their theme the story of the temptation of Jesus which they
found in the New Testament According to St. Matthew, where it consists of little more
than ten lines. They expanded this story: Milton into six-hundred and forty lines in
Paradise Regained and Dostoyevsky into about seven-hundred lines in The Brothers
By comparing these versions of the same story with the few words in
and by fitting in ideas that prevailed in the times of Milton and Dostoyevsky, the
reader is awed by the skill with which the writers demonstrated their positions, even
though the positions were at odds. The comparison enables the reader to evaluate each
side's strengths and weaknesses..
In St. Matthew's account of the temptation, Jesus, after his baptism
by John, spent
forty days and nights fasting in the desert. At the end of this time the devil tempted him
three times, failed and left. In the first temptation, the devil asked Jesus to change stones
into bread to appease his hunger; in the second, he asked Jesus to prove he was the Son of
God by throwing himself from the top of the temple in Jerusalem; and in the third
temptation, he offered to give Jesus the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would worship
Milton made of this brief story a sequel to Paradise Lost, in
which Adam and Eve
lost Paradise by disobeying God's commandment. The first poem showed the
degeneration of man and the second poem showed in the person of Jesus the possibility of
his regeneration, if, like Jesus, people used their reason to defeat their passions. Milton's
additions to St. Matthew's story are the products of his scholarly interests and of his
desire to apply his views to the England of his day.
Milton identified the devil as Satan, chief of the fallen angels, who
wanted to corrupt
God's works and to inflict pain upon mankind. God sent Jesus into the desert so that
Satan could test him and thereby prove that he was worthy of the trust God had placed
Rather than turn stones into bread, Jesus responded to the first temptation
saying man lives not for bread only, but for every word that comes from the mouth of
God. This answer was the same as that given by St. Matthew. Jesus added that until he
came, people had listened to Satan's false oracles, but God
And sends his spirit of Truth henceforth to dwell
. . . . hath now sent his living oracle
Into the world, to teach his final will,
To all truth requisites for men to know.
(Paradise Regained, I: 460-464)
Milton meant here that people were now to have an inner way to know
observing whatever guides this "inward oracle" imposed, people would conform to God's
will and experience the confidence that this knowledge inspires. In living according to
the dictates of their "inward oracles," people would be able to avoid pain, which is the
consequence of falsehood or the devil.
Satan thought that the source of pain resided in the truth that Jesus
exalted. The "inward
oracle" is a taskmaster who imposes severe obligations on man. The way to truth is hard
and men are weak. To evade the struggle of pursuing truth, people depart from truth to
secure greater advantages to themselves.
Jesus must tolerate the smooth answers and flattering sophistries of
the "arch" and "subtle
Fiend" because Satan has obtained "Permission from above" (Paradise Regained, I, 495-496).
In other words, God, the Father, has foreordained the charade, to justify the workings of his
will. Though in the grand scheme of things, good will ultimately prevail, it can only prevail by
vanquishing its opposite.
Realizing that his first temptation had failed, Satan retired from the
field and summoned his
devils to discuss the stratagems he should use to corrupt Jesus. When Belial suggested that
Jesus might fall through the lust within him for women, Satan rebuked him as follows:
Belial, in much uneven scale thou weigs't
All others by thy self; because of old
Thou thy self doats't on womankind, admiring
Thir shape, thir colour, and attractive grace,
None are thou thinks't, but taken with such toys.
(Paradise Regained, II, 173-178)
Satan, whose chief attribute was pride, recognized that Belial had removed
himself from God
by drowning himself in the flesh. Lust, in people as in devils, effaces the love of God and
Having listened to and discarded the advice of his council, Satan decided
to give Jesus riches
to use in the performance of his noble deeds if Jesus would give him his virtue, valor and
wisdom. Seeing the absurdity of this offer, Jesus replied:
To gain dominion or to keep it gained.
Wealth without these three is impotent,
Through this interchange, Milton expressed the thought that people will not be happy in the
possession of wealth if the wealth becomes for them the object of their concentration.
While Jesus did not scorn "dominion," he preferred to put first things first and to live by the
dictates of his "inner oracle" In due time, Jesus believed that the wealth and power he
lacked would be given to him as a reward for his integrity. Though it appears ridiculous
that Jesus would --- with virtue or without virtue --- possess wealth, Milton intended for
the reader to derive a moral lesson from his interlocution with Satan. He was not really
reciting what Jesus said. Rather he was teaching his readers how the temptation pertained
to them. To Milton, Jesus was a stand-in for the human race.
During the second temptation, Jesus expressed a thought pertinent to
the Puritan political
situation. He said:
Golden in shew; is but a wreath of thorns,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . a Crown
(Milton defined the function of a king as the care of others.)
The passage is followed by a provision in keeping with the Puritan insistence
the primacy of the will:
Yet he who reigns within himself and rules
Passions, Desires, and Fears, is more a King;
And who attains, not, ill aspires to rule
Cities of men, or head-strong multitudes,
Subject himself to anarchy within
Or lawless passions in him which he serves.
But to guide nations in the way of truth
By saving Doctrine and from errour lead -
To know, and knowing worship God aright,
Is yet more kingly, this attracts the soul,
Governs the inner man, the nobler part,
That over o're the body only reigns,
And oft by force, which to a generous mind
So reigning can be no delight.
(Paradise Regained, II, 466-479)
Milton attached significance to self-discipline as the foundation of
By exercising self-surveillance, people became kings over themselves. Self-control
eliminated the need for external control. A free and regulated person can "guide nations,"
though Milton did not describe how he is to do this.
Self rule did not imply the exclusion of social cooperation, but merely
the lessening of
the need for external rules. Along with Puritans, Milton exalted self-discipline and
ignored the ideal of social responsibility. Since individuals who are obedient to the will
of God are free, they have no need for social restraints. Puritans agreed that moral control
was the foundation of all control. The difference in sentiment between the passage
describing the responsibilities of a king and the responsibilities of an individual show the
superiority of the individual, who is in charge of himself over the king whose official concern
is with the welfare of others. Ironically, the individual by following the example of Jesus
escaped the burden of social responsibility which Jesus assumed.
Resuming his temptation, Satan asked Jesus to seek an Empire. In this
manner, he can gain
the praise of his subjects and perpetuate his glory. Jesus replied in a strait-laced Puritan
And what the people, but a herd confus'd,
The people's praise, if always praise unmixt?
Jesus sounds like Shakespeare's Coriolanus, the Roman aristocrat who
plebeians. This was the speech of a nonconformist, of a person who believed in
individuality and the desirability of a mixed rather than a uniform society. Milton's Jesus
was a person who did not believe in the ideals of democracy. He hated the tyranny of
the despot and the masses alike and urged the importance of leading a "good" life.
Those who lead good lives are few, but as Milton added:
That who advance his glory, not thir own,
So much bounty is in God, such grace,
Milton shifted responsibility to the individual who is alone in a world
of evil but is capable
of battle and victory because God has chosen him.
Milton's Jesus did not love people as a whole or as an abstraction.
To Milton, the
individual was more important than the mass. But when Milton spoke of the individual,
he did not mean any individual. To be worthy of his approval, an individual must possess
attributes that make him "great." The great man lived according to the dictates of
wisdom, valor and virtue. This marvel resembled Plato's philosopher, Nietzsche's strong
man, and Carlyle's hero, since, like them, only the man who masters himself is entitled to
be the master of others. Milton saw in Oliver Cromwell, as well as in Jesus, an
exemplification of his ideal of individual superiority:
. . . . Nothing is more agreeable to the order of nature, or more to the
mankind, than that the less should yield to the greater, not in numbers, but in wisdom and
in virtue. (Defensio of 1654)
Aside from Jesus and the few military heroes in the Second Defensio
that Milton chose to
be "great men," the only other person that Milton included in this category was himself.
A factor that may have led to Milton's impatience with the masses is
the fear of
democracy he possessed as a result of his classical education. Up to this time, the masses
had not put in a good showing. Though reformers wanted to get rid of tyrants, few of
them dreamed of giving power to the ignorant and dissolute masses. God chose only a
few people to govern as these people would take pains to safeguard the freedoms of
conscience and of thought. Milton wanted the man who possessed maximum virtue to be
the head of the government. If Milton could find the man who led the most exemplary
life, then that man would be his choice to be the leader of the State.
The various temptations Milton described in his poem between the first
to turn stones into bread and the second to acquire an earthly kingdom were
additions to the St. Matthew account for which Milton was responsible. During the
second temptation, Satan offered Jesus arms to help him win an earthly throne. Jesus
replied, "My time is not yet come." He then went on to heap imprecations upon the
citizens of Rome, who were suffering under the oppression of the Emperor Tiberius.
Jesus said Roman citizens brought their misery upon themselves and refused to help
them. His words were:
These thus degenerate, by themselves enslaved,
What wise and valiant man would seek to free
Jesus declared that Roman citizens suffered because of their moral weaknesses.
To Puritans, this was a natural response. To non-Puritans it illustrates the Puritan belief
that sin produces misery. What would have happened to Christianity if St. Paul, the great
evangelist, had held similar views?
Satan's offer and Jesus' rejection of classical learning was unintentionally
Milton had leaned heavily on the Greek philosophers to explain his interpretation of Jesus.
Now he had Jesus decrying ancient learning. Jesus explained his rejection:
Light from above, from the fountain of light,
. . . . . . . . . . he who receives
The light that the "inner oracle" provided was all the illumination
to save themselves. Belying his own pronouncement, Milton, in his essay On Education,
showed that he did not believe in the sufficiency of the "inner oracle." In this essay he
claimed that for young people to be virtuous they had to be educated in theology and the
In the last temptation (in St. Matthew the second) --- that of
jumping from the
temple of Jerusalem --- Jesus refused without the usual parrying with Satan. Ironically, it
was Satan who fell from the tower while angels took Jesus to a green bank where they fed
him ambrosial food.
From this summary of Paradise Regained readers can grasp the
attached to the concept of freedom. To Milton freedom existed in each individual.
It is not clear how these free individuals were to behave in social and political situations.
Milton's free individuals must exercise rational judgment. It is the devil or the devil acting
through human appetites and emotions who corrupts rational judgments and enslaves
Milton got the idea that reason is opposed to passion from Edmund Spencer,
regarded as a greater teacher than Thomas Aquinas. Milton's early poems --- Comus,
Lycidas, Arcades, L'Allegro, and Il Penseroso --- are in style and subject matter
indebted to Spencer's examples.
Spencer taught Milton that poetry "teaches by delighting"
Its primary aim is to
teach people the importance of moderation. For it is only by being moderate, by
observing the golden mean that people can exercise their rational judgment.
Spencer did not call his moderate man who made discriminating choices free, but
Milton did. He grafted unto the notion of moderation that Spencer had inherited from
Aristotle, the notion of freedom he had derived from the teachings of Calvin. Spencer,
who lauded abstinence and sobriety, anticipated many of the severe aspects of
Puritanism, but Milton spoke with Puritanic zeal and confidence.
In emphasizing freedom as vigorously as he did, Milton expressed many
ideas that philosophers
were to use later to sanctify the "rights of man" In his prose works Of Reformation, Of
Prelatical Episcopacy, and Animadversions, Milton opposed prelatry and supported
religious liberty. In his essay The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce he opposed
incompatible marital unions that throttled the harmony of free souls. In The Tenure of Kings and
Magistrates and Eikonoklastes, he advocated freedom from tyranny. In The Ready and
Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth, he pleaded with the English people to
resist plans to restore the monarchy.
In Areopagitica Milton claimed a free people must be tolerant
of others with opposing views
and they must resist attempts by governments and institutions to control thought. In all his
writings, Milton insisted that a free people must be liberated from the shackles of an impure
church and an impure government.
Through his defense of freedom of conscience, Milton prepared the way
Locke who declared that truth was relative to the sense experience of the individual and
did not depend on supernatural interference. Thus Milton, a devout Puritan, laid the
foundation for the negation of the religious notion that each individual can know and obey
The reader has seen how Jesus' sublime self-confidence in resisting
Satan inspired Milton
to write Paradise Regained, now he shall see how thoughts of human frailty inspired
Dostoyevsky to write a diametrically different version of the temptation of Jesus in "The
Legend of the Grand Inquisitor" from The Brothers Karamazov.
Reasons for the difference in viewpoint between Milton and Dostoyevsky
suggested in the introduction to this essay. Others will show themselves after their versions
of the temptation are compared. One point that deserves additional comment is the
psychological difference between both writers.
At an early age Milton made up his mind about life. He had ceased to
doubt the verities.
He was an integrated person whose parts worked well. Milton was an objectivist,
Dostoyevsky a subjectivist. Milton was never insincere. The word "objective" indicates
rather a distance between Milton and his subjects which is noticeable in Paradise Lost
and in Paradise Regained where he retold stories known to most Christians in an ornate
language different from the pedestrian language people used in their everyday affairs.
The failure of romantic poets to realize the distance between Milton
and his subject matter
in Paradise Lost has led them to conclude that Satan and not Michael or God is the
real hero of the epic poem.
Milton was an autobiographical writer. Even so he revealed his convictions
the intimacies of his life. Unlike Milton, Dostoyevsky never put himself in his novels
(yet he is there in every character), Milton expressed his opinions in his essays and
poems. After Jesus and Satan are through speaking in Paradise Lost and Paradise
Regained, Milton is there to praise or to castigate what they have said.
For all Milton's intrusions, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained are objective
poems. The reader has the feeling he is listening to people acting out moral lessons in the
style of a pageant. Bernard Shaw professed to despise Milton because of his tendency to
document and to explain. (As if Shaw never did the same thing!) It is easy to call
Milton's discursions defects. It would be fairer to say they portray great depths of
C. S. Lewis in his Preface to Paradise Lost has an interesting
comment to make
about the objective way in which the great epics are written:
Paradise Lost is a poem depicting the objective pattern of things.
at it from the outside. We are not invited to enjoy the religious life, but to
contemplate the whole pattern within which that life arises.
When Milton entered his work, it did not become emotional. In this sense,
it contrasts with
the religious poetry of John Donne, Richard Crashaw, and George Herbert. In the poems
of these men the reader feels the passion of the authors. Metaphysical fancy and logic
function in these poems to reveal spiritual experiences. In trying to find reasons for the
objective quality in Milton, the reader should consider a remark by H. J. C. Grierson in his
book Milton and Wordsworth. Grierson commented that the atonement, as presented in
Paradise Regained, resembles "a legal transaction, once carried through, by which the
debt incurred by Adam has been paid and man set free to serve God by the right use of his will."
The legalistic quality in Milton was also marked among Puritan ministers
seventeenth century New England colonies. It is the idea that life is arranged according
to contracts. Based on these contracts, everyone has rights and obligations. It was this
getting things down to the letter which accounted for the non-apparent emotion in Milton
and in the Puritan temperament.
Like Milton, Dostoyevsky condemned any philosophy that would reduce
conformity to intractable laws. Milton did not object to the commandments of God as he
rephrased them to his own liking, nor did he object to the laws of the State, as long as he
considered these laws to be just; but he did object to the concept of Predestination, the
idea that God had predetermined everything that human beings do. If everything had
been predetermined, then rational people could not decide to be good, which was contrary
to Milton's belief in freedom. Similarly, Dostoyevsky resisted the materialistic
determinism of his times that claimed people were puppets of natural laws or products
of their environment who, therefore, could not do otherwise than they did. Seeing
what he thought to be the results of rationalism in the thinking of determinists, Dostoyevsky
thought people would triumph over materialism and mechanism by cultivating the rational
qualities within their natures.
Milton is praised for his thought, Dostoyevsky for his feeling. Readers
Dostoyevsky's novels are invited to participate in the griefs and joys his characters
Milton's egoism and austerity were characteristics, also, of the Puritan
Unlike sparsely-educated Puritans, Milton's biblical and classical studies gave him a
background of facts he could use to defend his position from attack. He was not a mystic
who withdrew from the world. Instead, he was convinced his cause was right and he
worked industriously to promote that cause.
Dostoyevsky's compulsions and doubts kept him from achieving religious
or complacency. Milton could call upon Protestant theologians and Greek philosophers
to justify his resistance to authority. Dostoyevsky could not call on Protestant theologians
or Greek philosophers since he knew little about them. Instead of the Scholastic
philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church that Milton decried, Dostoyevsky contended
with the philosophy of the Enlightenment which sought to replace all religions with a
science based on inductive reasoning.
Dostoyevsky reacted with varying degrees of attraction and repulsion
rationalistic ideas that came to him from Western Europe. Basically, he was a Christian,
but his Christianity was based on his identification with the sufferings of Jesus rather than
on his understanding of logic or theology.
Dostoyevsky had seen how the freedom expounded by negativists and amoralists
had caused pain to himself and to his countrymen. He nourished his self-inflicted
suffering by rehearsing the arguments and counter-arguments of philosophers he
detested. Occasionally, he had insights into the social and philosophical causes of his
sufferings. The "Legend of the Grand Inquisitor" came from such insights.
In Chapter five of The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan, a freethinker and an atheist,
related the legend to Alyosha, who represented a man in love with life and with God.
Ivan was an intellectual, Alyosha a mystic. The two characters were parts of
Dostoyevsky's multiple nature.
Ivan said that when Jesus came to earth during the Spanish Inquisition,
Inquisitor, who was the Archbishop of Seville, seized and imprisoned him. While in
prison, the Grand Inquisitor visited Jesus to recount to him the story of his temptation by
the devil. The retelling of the story is closer to Milton's than to the story in St. Matthew.
Both writers agreed that Jesus intended to give people the gift of freedom. The difference
is that to Milton and his Jesus the gift was a blessing, to Dostoyevsky, in the person of
Ivan, it was a curse.
All that Milton extolled as freedom, Ivan attacked. All that Milton
authority, Ivan applauded. Even when he realized that his applause came from the devil
rather than from the angels, Ivan felt that the Grand Inquisitor's pact with the devil was
justified. Ivan thought that Jesus made a mistake and that the Grand Inquisitor must undo
the consequences of that mistake to relieve the world of suffering.
Dostoyevsky was not simply Ivan Karamazov or the Grand Inquisitor though
William Somerset Maugham, Albert Camus, and Colin Wilson considered him to be on
Ivan's side. "The chief question that will be pursued throughout this book," Dostoyevsky
wrote, "is the very one from which I have suffered consciously or unconsciously all life
long: the existence of God."
The Grand Inquisitor believed that God existed, but he opposed, nevertheless,
of freedom to human beings.
Through the Christ-like figures of Alyosha and Father Zosima, Dostoyevsky
to refute the Inquisitor's arguments. Nothing is simple in Dostoyevsky. His
inconsistencies were staggering. Even after his probing of the Grand Inquisitor's perverse
reasoning, Dostoyevsky advocated a theocracy for his own country. Milton thought the
Roman Catholic Church the Grand Inquisitor represented to be a source of wrongdoing.
In the twelfth book of Paradise Lost the angel Michael claimed that after Jesus had
ascended into heaven the Church of Rome would
His consort Liberties; what, but unbuild
But force the Spirit of Grace itself, and binde
Michael concluded by predicting that Jesus would return to the earth
and drive Satan
and his Church into hell while true believers would continue to live on earth as members
of the Kingdom of Jesus.
Dostoyevsky lacked Milton's belief that freedom was a blessing. Ivan
that Jesus gave freedom to people, but then he asked if people were equal to the gift, a
question that could not disturb Milton. Puritans were equal to freedom's demands for
reason and God dictated its pursuit.
Readers may ask if Alyosha's simple faith is not a satisfactory alternative
skepticism. The answer is no because Alyosha is naive. He existed as a passive observer
on the edges of the story. He had endearing qualities and he might have emerged as a
saint if the story were extended into a sequel of if Dostoyevsky were trying to prove a
single point of view.
The Grand Inquisitor told Jesus he had no business reappearing and adding
to what he
had said and done. When he ascended, Jesus gave authority to the Pope, therefore the
Pope is now the supreme authority. Jesus had said, "I will make you free," but because
he had entrusted this message to the Pope and to a Church, Jesus undid what he intended
to do. Carrying on in his stead, the Church had vanquished freedom and established itself
as the ultimate power.
Ivan called Satan "the spirit of self-destruction and nonexistence."
would have agreed that Satan is doomed to destruction and might well be nonexistent,
Ivan meant something else. The idea of self-destruction the Grand Inquisitor described in
his dialogue is derived from the Hegelian concept of self-abnegation or the giving up of
the individual self to the collective self which exists in the group, from which a higher
synthesis is evolved.
While he did not endorse the Grand Inquisitor's views, Dostoyevsky allowed
free play. Previously he had transferred his own tendencies toward self-destruction to his
Underground Man. This was the superfluous and detached individual who was driven
into himself because he did not believe in God or feel sympathy toward people. Like the
Underground Man, Ivan and the Grand Inquisitor personified existential freedom or the
freedom to do without illusion.
Ivan agreed with St. Matthew and Milton that the first temptation was
bread; but to Ivan the offer of nourishment had a much broader implication than St.
Matthew or Milton gave it. To Ivan, Satan's offer of bread to Jesus was not so much an offer
of food to a hungry man as an offer of a tool that Jesus could use to obtain human
obedience to his commands. In refusing to accept this aid, Jesus said the food he offers is
available only to men who can do without the bribe of earthly bread.
The Grand Inquisitor commented:
thou know that the ages will pass, and humanity will proclaim by the
lips of their sages that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; there is only
He added that the gift of freedom Jesus offered is too difficult for
people to accept for
they have found that "freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together, for never,
never will they be able to share between them."
The idea that freedom and bread are irreconcilable is not one that Milton
have entertained. Milton was sure that if men were free, they would be able to lead better
lives. He was not a Utopian. He doubted that most people would use their freedom
wisely. He was aware that only the virtuous would take the responsibilities of freedom
seriously. For the benefit of the privileged few, Milton felt the sacrifice of others who
were too weak to obey the dictates of right reason was justified. As the morally weak
were responsible for whatever distressful situation they might be in, virtuous people were
under no obligation to help them. Superficially Milton's harsh attitude toward the fallen
resembled Dante's; but Dante in The Inferno showed a most untheological pity for the
victims of God's justice.
As uncharitable as Milton's attitude might be, it was part of the democratic
that individuals by pursuing their own rights do not jeopardize the rights of others. This
laissez faire attitude supports the notion that "God helps those who help themselves," a
notion that Puritans openly acknowledged while democrats pretended the conflict between
individual rights and social needs did not exist. Today the business man who opposes
giving relief to the poor consoles himself with the maxim that each individual should look
after himself. Only evil, weak and lazy people fail in the race to survive and prosper.
Through his spokesperson the Grand Inquisitor, Ivan intended to show
"liberty, equality and fraternity" are all ideals, they cannot exist for all men at the same
time. Liberty too often means the unlicensed freedom of the few at the expense of the
many. In realizing this discrepancy, Ivan and the Grand Inquisitor declared themselves to
be on the side of the many. Consequently, they were the helpers of slaves and drudges.
Taking an opposite tack, Milton declared he was on the side of the few and disdainful of
the needs of the many.
Christopher Marlowe, John Milton, and Charles Gounod carried along the
traditional idea of a bad devil who wanted to bring about destruction and disorder by
taking their consciences away from people. Pitted against this notion, Ivan described a
good devil who wanted to give people material and psychological security at the small
price of their freedom and conscience.
It would be well to remark here that the evidence available to readers
not show that Dostoyevsky shared Ivan's idealization of a totalitarian society. The critic
Berdyaev has seen in the Grand Inquisitor's arguments a foreshadowing of Socialism.
Ostensibly, the Grand Inquisitor is a Roman Catholic and the episode can be read as an
attack against the charitable activities of the Roman Catholic Church as opposed to the
Russian Orthodox Church, to which Dostoyevsky belonged, that boasted it had never
changed its doctrine and whose main concern was ritual rather than ethics or charity.
Dostoyevsky intended to include the nihilists and Socialists of his
day in his
indictment by showing to what lengths their humanitarianism could lead them. He did
not deny the love these people had for humanity, but regarded that love as misplaced.
Because nihilists and Socialists undervalued the achievements and integrity of
individuals, Dostoyevsky thought they hated people. In the sense that Dostoyevsky
believed professed humanitarians hid their contempt for people behind a mask of good
will, he was prophetic of developments in Russia.
Boris Pasternak was right in Doctor Zhivago when he saw in Dostoyevsky
spirit. The Communists were also right when they saw in him an opponent of their attempt
to transform people into automatons. Nevertheless, Dostoyevsky did not believe in
freedom as a birthright, but rather in freedom as a spiritual gift which people discover
through self-exploration and through the experience of pain. He was a reactionary, not
a revolutionary. He upheld the authority of the
Czar and of the Russian Church. Dostoyevsky
changed from a curious socialist to a staunch conservative after his appearance before a
firing squad at Saint Petersburg, only to be spared at the last minute, and after his
incarceration in Siberia. He converted his excruciatingly painful experiences into novels
whose harrowing prophecies have disrupted his readers' confidence in the proclaimed intentions
of their rulers. No matter how overpowering were other people's laws and
believed people had the right to say "NO!" As a nightmarish creature of his own mind, the
Grand Inquisitor repelled Dostoyevsky.
Joseph Goebbels, propaganda minister for the Nazis, acquired from Dostoyevsky
a feeling that people should live at the limit of their endurance. In his novel Michael he
propounded the view that "today we are all expressionists. Men who want to make the
world outside themselves take the form of their life within their selves." In saying this,
Goebbels revealed how profoundly he had misunderstood Dostoyevsky and also how
close he was to Milton's belief in an "inner oracle." When Goebbels identified his inner
will with the will of the Nazi party in Germany he helped to plunge the world into a
violent catalycism. No one can know if Milton or Dostoyevsky would have done the
same, though Milton's defense of regicide and Dostoyevsky's advocacy of a Messianic
mission for Imperial Russia leave room for doubt.
The Grand Inquisitor announced that the mission of the Church was to
those who are too weak to rule themselves." The knowledge that they are acting contrary
to the wishes of Jesus pained leaders of the Church, but it was a pain they imposed
upon themselves to assuage the suffering of others.
The Grand Inquisitor claimed people craved community of worship. In
satisfy this craving, Jesus lost many potential adherents to his cause. Dostoyevsky was
addressing the problem of the individual's feeling of alienation from others, a feeling with
which he was well acquainted and a feeling Milton experienced at the end of his life
when he wrote Samson Agonistes.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . O glorious strength
Put to the labour of a Beast, debas't
Lower then bondslave! Promise was that I
Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver;
Ask for this great Deliverer now, and find him
Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves,
Himself in bonds under Philistian yoke;
Yet stay, let me not rashly call in doubt
Divine Prediction; what if all foretold
Had been fulfill'd but through mine own default,
Whom have I to complain of but my self?
(Samson Agonistes, 36-46)
The Puritan insistence that the individual must choose between good
and evil had a
corroding effect on the personality of many adherents to Puritan churches. Nathaniel
Hawthorne, a descendant of Puritans, in The House of Seven Gables delineated how
the centripetal movements of Puritan individuals away from society clashed with the
centrifugal movement within these individuals that called them back to society.
Hawthorne and Dostoyevsky were both keenly aware of the debilitating effects of
human isolation. To Hawthorne in Ethan Brand and to Dostoyevsky in Crime and
Punishment the proud and aloof individual is guilty of the "unpardonable sin."
Hawthorne, in a world where Puritanism still existed, and Dostoyevsky, in a world where
Puritanism was never known, saw the dangers of self-glorification. To avoid the folly of
excessive pride, these two writers claimed people should believe in the heart. People
should look for their resemblances rather than their differences with others and they
should realize that all people are bound together by the errors they commit and the
sufferings they endure.
There is more to the resemblance between Hawthorne and Dostoyevsky than
distrust of the isolated individual indicates. Their generalized distrust stemmed from self-distrust.
But Dostoyevsky probed deeper into the ramifications of apartness than did Hawthorne.
His estranged characters, be they "light bearers" like Alyosha or "sons of darkness" like
Ivan, caused their own sufferings and increased those of others, but they also profited
from their experience. Love and conscience exist.
Being conservatives, Hawthorne and Dostoyevsky distrusted people who
to be saviors of mankind; in Hawthorne's case the New England Transcendentalists, in
Dostoyevsky's the Grand Inquisitor. Both writers thought life was tragic, a fact that
saviors denied. To Milton tragedy consisted of separation from God rather than people,
though when he came to write Samson Agonistes he became aware of his estrangement
When he spoke of man's yearning to be among others, the Grand Inquisitor
expressing a powerful feeling present in Hawthorne and Dostoyevsky. He was making
tangible the catholic or collective yearnings in these writers as opposed to the protestant
feeling that animated Milton. Milton's Satan symbolized suffering. According to Ivan,
Jesus --- not Satan --- inflicted suffering on man by giving him the faculty of free choice,
which was a gift of confusion. In the Grand Inquisitor's words, Jesus intended:
place of the rigid, ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart
decide for himself what is good and what is evil.
Ivan asserted that the gift of reason had brought disillusionment and
the world. Part of Ivan's and Dostoyevsky's unrest stemmed from the effect of Charles
Darwin's theory of the origin of species that contradicted Biblical accounts of creation.
Dostoyevsky saw how this overwhelming theory had affected Western European
philosophers. Though tantalized by intellectual abstractions, he could not put into workable
form the iconoclastic ideas he borrowed from Western Europe.
To Milton freedom involved choice between alternatives of good and evil.
Dostoyevsky freedom also involved choice, but, due to the influence of scientific and
empirical methods of inquiry, he discovered that alternatives were no longer clearly
defined; hence his confusion in solving philosophical and moral problems.
Ivan used the same order for temptations he found in St. Matthew. In
second temptation, Satan asked Jesus to cast himself from the temple at Jerusalem.
Milton did not attach special significance to this episode, but Ivan regarded it as the offer
of miracle, mystery and authority to Jesus. By exercising these powers, Jesus could hold
captive the conscience of his followers. By rejecting this offer, Jesus seemed to say
people must do without miracles.
Though Milton did not suggest this idea in Paradise Regained,
he elaborated upon
the abuses of power in his prose works. He believed that the Roman Catholic, English
and Presbyterian churches exploited miracle, mystery and authority to foster ignorance
and to defeat the purposes of Jesus.
Because of the importance he attached to the irrational elements in
Ivan felt it was too much to ask them to give up miracles. Without their sense of the
miraculous, people would live according to the impersonal and exact laws of reason,
which Ivan claimed they could never do. The Grand Inquisitor replied:
didst crave for free love, but thou didst think too highly of man
therein, for they are slaves. By showing man so much respect, Thou didst,
as it were, cease to feel for him, for Thou didst ask too much from him.
The Grand Inquisitor went on that the Church had corrected the work
of Jesus and
given people those qualities of myth, mystery and authority which they demanded. The
result has been that:
rejoiced that they were again led like sheep, and that the terrible gift
that had brought them such suffering was at last lifted from their hearts.
Declaring that the actions of the Church have been directed toward people
their benefit, the Grand Inquisitor asked:
we right teaching them by this? Did we not love mankind, so
meekly acknowledging their feebleness, lovingly lightening their burden,
and permitting their weak nature even sin under our sanction?
Jesus did not answer the Grand Inquisitor. His silence implied there
answer. Perhaps Dostoyevsky felt that way, but Milton had different views. He
presented his verdict on the homogeneous society in his works. There he condemned the
Church for having led man into a second "Babylonian captivity" and found abhorrent the
assertion that this was done out of love for mankind.
The Grand Inquisitor said that in doing what it had done, the Church
itself of the devil's party, an opinion with which Milton would agree. The Inquisitor
added that in joining the devil, the Church acted out of a desire to promote the happiness
of people, an opinion with which Milton would disagree.
Jesus' last temptation was that of the sword of Caesar and the kingdoms
world. When Jesus spurned this offer in Milton's account, he did so because his
liberation was not a liberation from slavery. In rejecting the offer of worldly power, the
Grand Inquisitor said Jesus rejected "the last craving of man, the craving for universal
Throughout Ivan's story runs the Hegelian idea of surrender of the self
world-self. which to Hegel and to Ivan meant greater freedom. Ivan concluded the story
by summarizing the objective of the Church:
(the Pope) shall persuade man they can only be free when they
renounce their freedom and submit to us. Until men know the value of
complete submission they will be unhappy.
In explaining the story to Alyosha, Ivan declared the secret lies in
the words: "I
have left the proud and went back to the humble, for the happiness of the humble."
Staggered by the blasphemies he had heard, Alyosha responded, "Your inquisitor does not
believe in God --- that is his secret."
Alyosha's statement was penetrating. For the belief in God, while it
freedom, also implies surrender of the self to a higher will. Christians are right when they
say their kingdom is not of this world, or, as Alyosha remarked when asked if people
shall rise from the dead and see one another again, "Certainly we shall see one another
again, we shall joyfully tell one another everything that has happened." This is a belief in
which all Christians concur. It is a belief that Dostoyevsky would like to have believed
with Alyosha's childlike faith.
To Christians the belief in God is a corollary to leading a good life.
belief Christians think people would be capable of anything. Therefore Christians find it
easy to condemn the tyranny of Soviet Communism because of its atheistic foundations.
What Christians fail to realize is that Soviet Russia would be as tyrannical if the creed
were Russian Orthodox Christianity.
People may not be able to save their souls in the traditional sense
in a society
whose concern is the well beings of its subjects. Whether members of this society might
be incapable of leading good lives is something else. Non-Christians argue that they can
live according to the dictates of their better selves without believing in their immortality.
They even argue that the belief in immortality is itself immoral and point to the divisive
effects such beliefs have had upon man.
Milton and Dostoyevsky realized that institutional Christianity could
though they were partisans of their own forms of Christianity. They also believed that the
griefs they experienced in this life were the proving stages of a deliverance into the
kingdom of eternity.
Alyosha's identification of the Grand Inquisitor with atheism points
out an aspect
of Dostoyevsky that has been overshadowed by the intensity of his writing. The charge of
atheism raises the question, "Did Dostoyevsky believe in God?" Because his nature was
so complex, it is difficult to find an answer. He believed in too much of everything. He
had such volatile feelings that they rarely solidified into definite beliefs. His thoughts
were fluid. They were borne aloft on waves of feeling and carried forward. They never
gave him peace because they were in a state of agitation. Dostoyevsky never temporized.
He carried his logic to its most irreconcilable extremes. Consequently, there was a
negativistic part of his nature which recognized the difficulties of understanding God and
it was this part he portrayed in Ivan and the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov.
One other remark Alyosha made at the conclusion of his brother's story
attention; that is his statement: "Your story is in praise of God, not in blame of Him."
Measured against Alyosha's experience of timelessness at Father Zosima's coffin,
Ivan's atheism seems small. On the other hand, Ivan knew that a single person's
knowledge of ultimate being cannot change the world. By refusing to accept the needless
suffering of children, Ivan showed his compassion. He realized he must cope with evil
instead of reasoning it away or retreating into personal sanctification. Unlike Alyosha,
Ivan could not transform suffering into spiritual equivalents. He tried instead to efface
some of its causes. In doing so, Ivan is like Jesus who, among other things, sought to
save the world from sorrow.
Alyosha recognized that the love Jesus showed toward humanity inspires
brother as much as himself. But he did not understand that his experience of mystic
fulfillment has limitations in a finite world. He will be able to put his broad sympathies
for people to the test only when he becomes actively involved in the everyday world. The
example of the idealistic Prince Myshkin in The Idiot does not forebode well for Alyosha.
The stupidities and blunders of this saintly hero brought about Nastasya Filippovna's
destruction as surely as Ivan's rationalism brought about the murder of his father in The
Clearly the love of pure souls is no more adequate to meet the demands
of the world
than is the rationalistic determinism of free-thinking intellectuals. If man's chief object on
earth is to secure his redemption then he can regard the world as a trap prepared by the
devil to ensnare his soul or as a delusion that hides the eternal presence. Alyosha, who
leaned toward the first interpretation, enters the world to keep his brothers from evil. He
will show them through his example that love is the basis for everything. He accepted the
world as it is without judgment or reservation. The kiss Jesus bestowed on the Grand
Inquisitor is an act that John Milton would not be able to understand, but it is an act that
Alyosha could understand and that Dostoyevsky, for all his conflicting impulses, could
Dostoyevsky longed for the reconcilement of his conflicts. Alyosha represented
to him an individual who was happy to be in the world. It was a state of being that
Dostoyevsky admired. Men who are capable of great passions are often consumed by
their inner fires and never achieve tranquility. Shakespeare is an exception. He showed
he could mount to the summit of King Lear and subside to the valley represented by his
last works. Dostoyevsky could not let "the calmer spirit prevail." Alyosha was a moment
of respite. He reflected his maker's longing for simplicity. It is such a longing that
man of lofty mind and heart begins with the ideal of the Madonna and
ends with the ideal of Sodom. What's still more awful is that the man with
the ideal of Sodom in his soul does not renounce the ideal of the Madonna.
Man is too broad. I'd have him narrower.
John Milton represented the narrow man that Dimitri envisioned as an
hatch from his sensual desires. Milton would never concede that good and evil are mixed
in the heart of his Puritan-Christians as Dimitri thought they were within himself. To
Milton people were either good or evil. Once they had stepped across that inflexible line,
they deteriorated, like Satan, becoming uglier as they descended from light into darkness.
Milton's good man is narrower than Dostoyevsky's. He submits his thoughts
deeds to the supervision of his rational judgment and moderates whatever he does to
avoid becoming excessive. To Dostoyevsky, man's rationality was the surface beneath
which a caldron of emotions waited for their opportunity to engulf the rationality on top.
Satan might tell Belial that there are men who can't be seduced by women, but
Dostoyevsky and Dimitri knew that seeming appearances are belied by hidden realities.
Ivan, in the story of the Grand Inquisitor, proposed a solution to the world's ills
that he had suggested earlier to Father Zosima. He said:
Church ought to include the whole State, and not simply to occupy a
corner of it, and, if this is, for some reason, impossible at present, then it
ought, in reality to be set up as the direct and chief aim of the future
development of Christian society.
In advocating a theocracy, Ivan, the atheist, had similarities with
taught that his superman should be above morals, yet should also cure society of its bad
ways. Closer to home, Ivan had more in common with Bazarov in Turgenev's Father and
Sons who, though he believed in nothing, was anxious to knock the pegs from under the
Russian State so that it might be remodeled and improved.
Under the Russian Communist system, Commissars deprived people of their
freedom supposedly to provide them with food and work. The Commissars became the
victims of their idealism. As Boris Pasternak remarked, people must be free to love
others or to be loved by others. The lesson Pasternak learned from Dostoyevsky is that
without freedom the love for others becomes a lust for power at the expense of others.
People forfeit their integrity in the service of collective lies. The lesson the Puritans
demonstrated is that freedom can replace the love for others with the love for self. Unless
tempered by compassion, the idea of God can become a reflection of stiff-necked
people who believe in Him.
In advocating a theocracy that would control the world, Dostoyevsky,
through Ivan, called
a halt to the currents of his emotions and answered two questions omnipresent in his works:
Can man be good without religion?
If God did not exist, would it be necessary for man to invent Him?
Milton found the idea of theocracy to be repugnant. It was because of their aspirations
toward authoritarianism that he despised the Roman Catholic, English and Presbyterian
Churches. In placing religion within man, Milton cleansed it of its sacramental
the same time he contracted the territory in which the spirit of religion ran. By
identifying freedom with religion and by confining it within the individual, he left the
determination of truth and the regulation of conduct to each person's sense of
responsibility. To Milton the ideal of moderation included the moderation of wealth.
However, because he was a Puritan, he thought that those who labored industriously in
the Lord's vineyards where entitled to receive its fruits, a theory that would prove the
undoing of the principle of moderation.
In Religion and Capitalism R. H. Tawney showed how the Puritan
freedom affected the daily lives of the English people. He helped students understand
how Milton's thought worked itself out in society. Tawney differentiated between an
early stage of Puritanism and a later stage that began after the Restoration. He described
the social ills Puritanism produced in the wake of its progress. Early Puritanism was not
the rugged freedom it became. The hierarchical Presbyterian element acted as a brake
upon the freedom Puritans promoted.
Presbyterians wanted to replace arbitrary royal controls with standards
by church leaders. In other words, they wanted to create a theocracy. Realizing this,
Milton broke with the Presbyterians and moved toward the Independent position. This
represented a movement toward freedom of conscience and toleration of differences.
Presbyterians failed to accomplish their goal. Led by Oliver Cromwell,
over. They abhorred ecclesiastical or any other kind of societal discipline. In his three epic
poems, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes, Milton expressed
Independent ideas. What he did not anticipate was that
the Independents acted as a bridge
to the post-Commonwealth phase of Puritanism. In its second phase, Puritans supported the
Whig party in English politics. It is a period that reeked of ignominy to anyone who took the
Christian commandment of love seriously.
Milton's standard of good was derived from his interpretation of God.
Doctrine, he projected his standards into society by declaring himself in favor of
virtues he thought everyone should practice. As these virtues would benefit everyone,
Milton felt that it would be reasonable for everyone to practice them. His optimism
regarding the efficacy of his private virtues points to the fallacy on which they rested. As
his standards were the same as his personal judgments, he could not conceive of any harm
proceeding from their implementation.
As presented in Christian Doctrine, Milton's virtues represented
a plurality of
standards. They were not reducible to a standard of standards. If people observed all of
them, they would be assured of salvation. Because there were so many virtues, people
could practice one and ignore others while believing they were not straying from the spirit
of Christianity. In exalting one virtue over others, they were doing what Milton neglected
to do. In this manner, thrift came to be opposed to charity. And people became experts at
the rationalistic marriage of virtues and vices.
The godly-ungodly practices of latter-day Puritanism were allowable
Milton and others left unanswered the question:
is the ultimate standard upon which people must base their acts and
The Grand Inquisitor would have answered that philanthropy is the ultimate
standard by which all others must be evaluated. Even if the ideal of philanthropy is man-
made, it is valuable because of the power it exerts over people. Philanthropy may be
based on individual biases, may be controlled by reason, and may be organized by the
Church and State. Nevertheless, to the Grand Inquisitor, philanthropists want to create
conditions for the happiness of people.
Though he did not live in a capitalist country, Dostoyevsky realized
that a people
or a country geared to the production of material goods would corrupt its ideals and
deprive the laboring classes of the goods they helped to make. Dostoyevsky knew that
unharnessed individuals could disrupt relations between people and make one race,
class or nation the enemy of another.
Philosophers in the eighteenth century transformed the divine rights
of freedom of
thought, speech and the press that Milton in the seventeenth century defended into "the
natural rights of man." They claimed that natural and scientific laws, and not theological
dogmas, made human liberty inevitable.
In Puritanism and Democracy, Ralph Barton Perry discussed the
the post-Commonwealth period of transition. He considered Puritanism and the
Enlightenment to be parts of the same period. During this dynamic and exciting period,
the other-worldliness and collectivism of the medieval age gave way to the individualism
and democracy of the modern world.
As one of the luminaries in the period of transition, Milton was, in
a symbol of its development. He exemplified the confidence people were beginning to
have. Satan's sin was pride, or the wish to replace God's sovereignty with his own. Eve
succumbed to the same sin and the result was the fall of man. Milton thought
authoritarian governments and churches shared in Satan's and Eve's sin because they
attempted to rival God in power.
Unlike exponents of the divine right of kings who regarded the earthly
as a reflection of the heavenly, Milton thought the heavenly hierarchy was one thing and
governments another. He used the former to oppose the latter.
To Milton, liberty would make all things right. He did not think that
aggrandizing mechanisms of churches and governments could repeat themselves when
everyone became his own government and his own church. He knew that Satan was
perpetually at work, but his optimism kept him from foreseeing disaster.
As the movement toward giving individuals new freedoms accelerated,
people warned against giving people a too enormous or a too unprecedented power.
Thomas Hobbes was the chief exponent of protest. He held that individuals were
motivated by self-interest and not by social concerns.
By refuting Hobbes, John Locke hoped to sanction the rights of the individual.
His position parallels Milton's in the latter's attempt to repudiate Salmasius. Locke
accredited human rights to natural law. To Milton these rights came from The Bible and
from God. The laws Locke proclaimed were still laws of God, but they could be
discovered by man in the same way that Isaac Newton, by applying his reason to nature,
discovered laws of gravitation.
Locke claimed that in a primitive time, people governed themselves by
natural law. This society was like Milton's paradise only there were more people in it.
Unfortunately for people, they fell under the sway of tyrants who stopped them from
using their reason. As a result of the Puritan and Glorious Revolutions, people in
England were again able to exercise their reason. Therefore, they could find out what
their rights were prior to the triumph of the tyrants and they could demand that these
rights be given to them.
Through his theory of "compact," Locke reconciled the sense of autonomy
individual derived from his knowledge of natural laws with government authority. In
doing so, he laid down the foundations for English and American democracy. Individuals
organized governments to protect their rights. They could call governments to account
and when these governments forgot why they were called into being, people could rebel
against them. By appointing a government to protect their rights, individuals were saved
from the trouble of being their brother's keeper. They came to feel that governments
would straighten things out and they felt released from the restraints of the earlier
Ivan came close to describing Milton in the story of the Grand Inquisitor.
the free man who attempted to lead the life Jesus had taught. In leading that life, Milton
was more decisive than Dostoyevsky. He did not experience the tug of conflicting
systems with which Dostoyevsky tortured himself. He was more egocentric than
ethnocentric. By enthroning religion in the individual soul, he forced it to abdicate from
society. He prepared the way for the free democrats described by John Locke who would
proclaim there were no obligations beyond the discharge of private duty.
All those things Milton hated, Ivan's Grand Inquisitor championed. By
on the ideal of homogeneity, Ivan defended the ideal of paternal monarchy, the ideal of a
Church-State, and the medieval ideal of a hierarchy in which ranks are tied together by
love, loyalty and service.
Dostoyevsky reflected the modern temper better than Milton. He mirrored
conflicts people today have come to think as characteristic of their times. He longed to
overcome the separation between himself and others by imposing upon himself the
burdens of his society. He dissected the catastrophic effects of isolation upon himself.
In Dostoyevsky, as in modern man, the authoritarian and the fanatic for liberty, the
socialist and the individualist, the Catholic and the Protestant, were at war. Modern
people also flounder in uncertainty. Perhaps in moments of insight, they too have a
Grand Inquisitor whispering to them of the world to come.
By considering that Milton is the symbol of individual rights and that
Ivan is the
symbol of group responsibility, the reader many gain a clear perspective regarding the
issues. The lesson to be derived from the extremes these men represent is a lesson
fraught with consequences.
The question Milton asked and answered affirmatively: "Is morality a
affair to be left to the choice of the individual?" must be asked again. Milton's answer
provided people with a solution that lasted through the end of the nineteenth century.
Now this question and answer are pitted against the question and answer of Ivan's Grand
Inquisitor: "Is morality a social affair that concerns the happiness of the world?"
When Adam and Eve sinned, the consequences affected all subsequent
generations. Eve sinned because of pride and vanity and Adam sinned because he loved
his own kind. The archetypal parents did not think of consequences. Their role as Mother
and Father of the race was not part of their decision. Jesus offered their descendants an
opportunity to regain Paradise through a trail of strength against temptation. But even Jesus
did not propose to save people; they must do that for themselves. This is the challenge that
confronts people today. Milton and Dostoyevksy show modern people the necessity for a
free choice between alternatives, though now the choice has widened for people must not
only save themselves, they must save others, or otherwise everyone will perish.
The question: "Must society be held responsible for its deeds?" has
by the Nuremberg trails in Germany. The answer is one that Ivan would have
appreciated. Individuals must remake the world for the benefit of all people in all places.
The choice of good and evil is no longer a personal choice relative to personal desires,
but a choice individuals must make for larger interests than their own. They must use
their reason to safeguard the rights and happiness of a whole world.
Dostoyevksy relished Ivan's scathing cynicism and, in part, he endorsed
But Dostoyevsky could never submit to the demands of reason. As Milton resisted the
doctrine of Predestination, so Dostoyevsky resisted Darwin's concept of evolution and
Hegel's ideas of dialectical progression because they seemed to reduce people to cogs in a
vast and mindless machine.
Milton thought that people by pursuing truth could know God and do right.
Dostoyevsky lacked this trust in Providence. At moments he doubted God's existence.
Like Ivan, he would not exchange his reasoning and creative abilities for Alyosha's naive
To Milton right reason could not lead people astray. In the Areopagitica,
that people by exercising their reason could resist the blandishments of vice:
that can apprehend and consider vices with all her baits and seeming
pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish and yet prefer that which is
truly better, he is the true warfaring Christian.
Milton added that through reason people can discern truth and refute falsehood:
though all the winds of doctrine were let loose upon the earth, so
Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to
misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew
Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?
To subdue the reason that would make him a particle in an evolutionary
dialectical process, Dostoyevsky waved the banner of irrationality. Thus Dostoyevsky's
vision is that of a poet, not that of a philosopher. He believed too much in his integrity
and in his ability --- like Satan --- to say NO! and to behave differently from others to
submit to a suffocating, all-engulfing Grand Inquisitorial system.
Dostoyevsky won through his ordeal for he achieved an intense spiritual
He knew the Son of God as intimately as Milton knew the Father of God. Despite the
chaotic frenzy, the monstrous, larger-then-life villains, and the excesses of depravity in
his novels, he offers readers glimpses into the human soul at its worse and at its potential
best. And for this he deserves their thanks.
However much Dostoyevsky may have made intellectually of the ideas of
man and man-god, he knew Jesus through his emotions not through his reason. Through
the characters of Alyosha and Prince Myshkin, Dostoyevsky conveyed Jesus as a human
being and not as a theological dogma.
The Grand Inquisitor spoke with the voice of reason and it is the voice
Dostoyevsky denied with every anguished atom of his being. Like Milton, Dostoyevsky
saw that the tempter would take from man his integrity. Though he could not refute
Ivan's arguments through reason, he knew intuitively that he was right. Inversely Milton
could refute Satan through reason but emotionally Satan, through his strength and dignity,
has gained the admiration of many writers and poets, including William Blake and James
It may be an easy solution to the dichotomy raised in this paper, but
I would like
to propose the possibility of a synthesis between Milton and Dostoyevsky, a merging of
reason with compassion. If such a synthesis be possible, people would not today be
confronted with the excesses of rampaging Communism and Capitalism. As Boris
Pasternak has indicated, Jesus, who lost his life in the service of humanity, is for him the
eternal symbol of the meaningfulness of human life.
If people can unite their reason with their sympathies while simultaneously
individual rights and the welfare of their communities, nations and world then democracy
will flourish. In such a Utopia, Milton and Dostoyevsky may lose something of their
prophetic character, but they will gain also for they will have taught mankind lessons of
freedom in which heart and mind are intimately related.
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Patterson, Frank Allan. The Student's Milton, Columbia University, 1933.
Smith, Logan Pearsall. Milton and His Modern Critics, Little Brown & Co.,
Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, translated
French by Justin O'Brien, Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, New
York, C. 1955.
Maugham, W. Somerset. The Art of Fiction, An Introduction to Ten Novels and
Their Authors, Garden City, New York, Doubleday, 1955.
Wilson, Colin. Beyond the Outsider: The Philosophy of the Future, Boston,
Houghton Mifflin, 1963.
Cheyney, Edward P. An Introduction to the Industrial and Social History
England, Macmillan Co., N.Y., 1920.
Pares, Bernard. History of Russia, 5th ed., Knopf, N.Y., 1948.
Perry, Ralph Barton. Puritanism and Democracy, Vanguard Press, 1944.
Spender, Stephen. European Witness, Reynall & Hitchcock, 1946.
Tawney, R. H. Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Harcourt & Brace, N.Y.,
Orginally written as a term paper at Bard College, 1949; Revised December, 1967.
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