|JOHN MILTON ON MARRIAGE AND POLYGAMY|
The following bibliographical material is an amalgum of various texts about Milton available on the web.
"John Milton was one of the greatest poets of the English language, best known for his epic poem PARADISE LOST (1667), which tells a biblical story of Adam and Eve, God and Lucifer (Satan), creating a powerful characterization of Lucifer.
He was a contemporary of, and met, jurist and theologian Hugo Grotius and astronomer Galileo Galilei. He served as the secretary for foreign languages in Oliver Cromwell's government and, after the death of Charles I, published THE TENURE OF KINGS AND MAGISTRATES (1649) supporting the view that the people had the right to depose and punish tyrants.
In 1651 Milton became blind, and after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 he was arrested as a noted defender of the Commonwealth, but was soon released, and later died in 1674.. Though Milton was Puritan, morally austere and conscientious, some of his religious beliefs were unconventional to the point of heresy, and came into conflict with the official Puritan stand."
DE DOCTRINA CHRISTIANA, 1825
"Milton's theological treatise is the product of a lifetime studying the Bible and analyzing theological issues in terms of that text, as he understood it. He was working toward this treatise for many years, but apparently did most of the writing during the time that he was at work on Paradise Lost (probably 1658-65). It could not be published in England in the repressive religious climate after the Restoration because many of the positions Milton argues for were seen as dangerously heretical. The treatise disappeared soon after Milton's death and was only rediscovered in 1823. The manuscript of De Doctrina Christiana was discovered in November 1823 by Robert Lemon, Sr., Deputy Keeper of His Majesty's State Papers, in a "press" (that is, a large cupboard) in the Old State Paper Office in the Middle Treasury Gallery in Whitehall. The text was translated by Charles Sumner on the orders of the King and published in 1825."
Excerpts from the Introduction (pages 5-8)
"Nor do I see how the Church can be more disturbed by the investigation of truth, than were the Gentiles by the first promulgation of the gospel; since so far from recommending or imposing my own authority, it is my particular advice that every one should suspend his opinion on whatever points he may not feel himself fully satisfied, till the evidence of Scripture prevail, and persuade his reason into assent and faith."
"It has also been my object to make it appear from the opinions I shall be found to have advanced, whether new or old, of how much consequence to the Christian religion is the liberty not only of winnowing and sifting every doctrine, but also of thinking and even writing respecting it, according to our individual faith and persuasion; an inference which will be stronger in proportion to the weight and importance of those opinions, or rather in proportion to the authority of Scripture, on the abundant testimony of which they rest. Without this liberty there is neither religion nor gospel - force alone prevails,- by which it is disgraceful for the Christian religion to be supported. Without this liberty we are still enslaved, not indeed, as formerly, under the divine law, but, what is worst of all, under the law of man, or to speak more truly, under a barbarous tyranny. But I do not expect from candid and judicious readers a conduct so unworthy of them,- that like certain unjust and foolish men, they should stamp with the invidious name of heretic or heresy whatever appears to them to differ from the received opinions, without trying the doctrine by a comparison with Scripture testimonies. According to their notions, to have branded any one at random with this opprobrious mark, is to have refuted him without any trouble, by a single word. By the simple imputation of the name of heretic, they think that they have despatched their man at one blow. To men of this kind I answer, that in the time of the apostles, ere the New Testament was written, whenever the charge of heresy was applied as a term of reproach, that alone was considered as heresy which was at variance with their doctrine orally delivered, - and that those were only looked upon as heretics, who according to Rom. xvi. 17, 18. caused divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine of the apostles......serving not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly. By parity of reasoning therefore, since the compilation of the New Testament, I maintain that nothing but what is in contradiction to it can properly be called heresy."
"For my own part, I adhere to the holy Scriptures alone - I follow no other heresy or sect. I had not even read any of the works of heretics, so called, when the mistakes of those who are reckoned for orthodox, and their incautious handling of Scripture, first taught me to agree with their opponents whenever those opponents agreed with Scripture. If this is heresy, I confess with St. Paul, Acts xxiv. 14. that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets - to which I add, whatever is written in the New Testament. Any other judges or chief interpreters of the Christian belief, together with all implicit faith, as it is called, I, in common with the whole Protestant Church, refuse to recognise."
"For the rest, brethren, cultivate truth with brotherly love. Judge of my present undertaking according to the admonishing of the Spirit of God - and neither adopt my sentiments, nor reject them, unless every doubt has been removed from your belief by the clear testimony of revelation. Finally, live in the faith of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Farewell."
Excerpt from Chap. X "of the Special Government Of Man Before the Fall, including The Institutions of the Sabbath and of Marriage" (pages 230-243)
With regard to marriage, it is clear that it was instituted, if not commanded, at the creation, and that it consisted in the mutual love, society, help, and comfort of the husband and wife, though with a reservation of superior rights to the husband. Gen. ii. 18. it is not good that man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. 1 Cor. xi. 7-9. for a man....is the image of the glory of God, but the woman is the glory of the man: for the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man; neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man. The power of the husband was even increased after the fall. Gen. iii. 16. thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. Therefore the word [Strongs 0113 adown] in the Hebrew signifies both husband and lord. Thus Sarah is represented as calling her husband Abraham lord, 1 Pet. iii. 6. 1 Tim. ii. 12-14. I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence: for Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, was in the transgression.
Marriage, therefore, is a most intimate connection of man with woman, ordained by God, for the purpose either of the procreation of children, or of the relief and solace of life. Hence it is said, Gen. ii. 24. therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh. This is neither a law nor a commandment, but an effect or natural consequence of that most intimate union which would have existed between them in the perfect state of man; nor is the passage intended to serve any other purpose, than to account for the origin of families.
In the definition which I have given, I have not said, in compliance with the common opinion, of one man with one woman, lest I should by implication charge the holy patriarchs and pillars of our faith, Abraham, and the others who had more than one wife at the same time, with habitual fornication and adultery; and lest I should be forced to exclude from the sanctuary of God as spurious, the holy offspring which sprang from them, yea, the whole of the sons of Israel, for whom the sanctuary itself was made. For it is said, Deut. xxiii.2. a bastard shall not enter into the congregation of Jehovah, even to his tenth generation. Either therefore polygamy is a true marriage, or all children born in that state are spurious; which would include the whole race of Jacob, the twelve holy tribes chosen by God. But as such an assertion would be absurd in the extreme, not to say impious, and as it is the height of injustice, as well as an example of most dangerous tendency in religion, to account as sin what is not such in reality; it appears to me, that, so far from the question respecting the lawfulness of polygamy being a trivial, it is of the highest importance that it should be decided.
Those who deny its lawfulness, attempt to prove their position from Gen. ii. 24. a man shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh, compared with Matt. xix. 5. they twain shall be one flesh. A man shall cleave, they say, to his wife, not to his wives, and they twain, and no more, shall be one flesh. This is particularly ingenious; and I therefore subjoin the passage in Exod. xx. 17. thou shalt not covet they neighbour's house, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass: whence it would follow that no one had more than a single house, a single man-servant, a single maid-servant, a single ox or ass. It would be ridiculous to argue, that it is not said houses, but house, not man-servants, but man-servant, not even neighbours, but neighbour; as if it were not the general custom, in laying down commandments of this kind, to use the singular number, not in a numerical sense, but as designating the species of the thing intended. With regard to the phrase, they twain, and not more, shall be one flesh, it is to be observed, first, that the context refers to the husband and that wife only whom he was seeking to divorce, without intending any allusion to the number of his wives, whether one or more. Secondly, marriage is in the nature of a relation; and to one relation there can be no more than two parties. In the same sense therefore as if a man has many sons, his paternal relation towards them all is manifold, but towards each individually is single and complete in itself; by parity of reasoning, if a man has many wives, the relation which he bears to each will not be less perfect in itself, nor will the husband be less one flesh with each of them, than if he had only one wife. Thus it might properly be said of Abraham, with regard to Sarah and Hagar respectively, these twain were one flesh. And with good reason; for whoever consorts with harlots, however many in number, is still said to be one flesh with each; 1 Cor. vi. 16. what, know ye not, that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. The expression may therefore be applied as properly to the husband who has many wives, as to him who has only one. Hence it follows that the commandment in question (though in fact it is no commandment at all, as has been shown) contains nothing against polygamy, either in the way of direct prohibition or implied censure; unless we are to suppose that the law of God, as delivered by Moses, was at variance with his prior declarations; or that, though the passage in question had been frequently inspected by a multitude of priests, and levites, and prophets, men of all ranks, of holiest lives and most acceptable to God, the fury of their passions was such as to hurry them by a blind impulse into habitual fornication; for to this supposition are we reduced, if there be anything in the present precept which renders polygamy incompatible with lawful marriage.
Another text from which the unlawfulness of polygamy is maintained, is Lev. xviii. 18. neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time. Here Junius translates the passage mulierem ad sororem suam, in order that from this forced and inadmissible interpretation he may elicit an argument against polygamy. In drawing up a law, as in composing a definition, it is necessary that the most exact and appropriate words should be used, and that they should be interpreted not in their metaphoirical, but in their proper signification. He says, indeed, that the same words are found in the same sense in other passages. This is true; but it is only where the context precludes the possibility of any ambiguity, as in Gen. xxvi. 31. juraverunt vir fratri suo, that is, alteri, they sware one to another. No one would infer from this passage that Isaac was the brother of Abimelech; nor would any one, on the other hand, entertain a doubt that the passage in Leviticus was intended as a prohibition against taking a wife to her sister; particularly as the preceeding verses of this chapter treat of the degrees of affinity to which intermarriage is forbidden.
Moreover, this would be to uncover her nakedness, the evil against which the law in question was intended to guard; whereas the caution would be unnecessary in the case of taking another wife not related or allied to the former; for no nakedness would be thereby uncovered. Lastly, why is the clause in her life time added? For there could be no doubt of its being lawful after her death to marry another who was neither related nor allied to her, though it might be questionnable whether it were lawful to marry a wife's sister. It is objected, that marriage with a wife's sister is forbidden by analogy in the sixteenth verse, and that therefore a second prohibition was unnecessary. I answer, first, that there is in reality no analogy between the two passages; for that by marrying a brother's wife, the brother's nakedness is uncovered; whereas by marrying a wife's sister, it is not a sister's nakedness, but only that of a kinswoman by marriage, which is uncovered. Besides, if nothing were to be prohibited which had been before prohibited by analogy, why is marriage with a mother forbidden, when marriage with a father had already been declared unlawful? or why marriage with a mother's sister, when marriage with a father's sister had been prohibited? If this reasoning be allowed, it follows that more than half the laws relating to incest are unnecessary. Lastly, wheras the prevention of enmity is alleged as the principal motive for the law before us, it is obvious, that if the intention had been to condemn polygamy, reasons of a much stronger kind might have been urged from the nature of the original institution, as was done in the ordinance of the Sabbath.
A third passage which is advanced, Deut. xvii. 17. is so far from condemning polygamy, either in a king, or in any one else, that it expressly allows it; and only imposes the same restraints upon this condition which are laid upon the multiplication of horses, or the accumulation of treasure; as will appear from the seventeenth and eighteenth verses.
Except the three passages which are thus irrelevantly adduced, not a trace appears of their interdiction of polygamy throughout the whole law; nor even in any of the prophets, who were at once the rigid interpreters of the law, and the habitual reprovers of the vices of the people. The only shadow of an exception occurs in a passage of Malachi, the last of the prophets, which some consider as decisive against polygamy. It would be indeed a late and postliminous enactment, if that were for the first time prohibited after the Babylonish captivity which ought to have been prohibited many ages before. For if it had been really a sin, how could it have escaped the reprehension of so many prophets who preceeded him? we may safely conclude that if polygamy be not forbidden in the law, neither is it forbidden here; for Malachi was not the author of a new law. Let us however see the words themselves as translated by Junius, ii. 15. Nonne unum effecit? quamvis reliqui spiritus ipsi essent: quid qutem unum? It would be rash and unreasonable indeed, if, on the authority of so obscure a passage, and one which has been tortured and twisted by different interpreters into such a variety of meanings, we were to form a conclusion on so important a subject, and to impose it upon others as an article of faith. But whatever be the signification of the words nonne unum effecit, what do they prove? are we, for the sake of drawing an inference against polygamy, to understand the phrase thus - did not he make one woman? But the gender, and even the case, are at variance with this interpretation; for nearly all the other commentators render the words as follows: annon unus fecit? et residuum spiritus ipsi? et quid ille unus? We ought not therefore to draw any conclusion from a passage like the present in behalf of a doctrine which is either not mentioned elsewhere, or only in doubtful terms; but rather conclude that the prophet's design was to reprove a practice which the whole of Scripture concurs in reproving, and which forms the principal subject of the very chapter in question, v. 11-16. namely, marriage with the daughter of a strange god; a corruption very prevalent among the Jews of that time, as we learn from Ezra and Nehemiah.
With regard to the words of Christ, Matt. v. 32. and xix. 5. the passage from Gen. ii. 24. is repeated not for the purpose of condemning polygamy, but of reproving the unrestrained liberty of divorce, which is a very different thing; nor can the words be made to apply to any other subject without evident violence to their meaning. For the argument which is deduced from Matt. v. 32. that if a man who married another after putting away his first wife, committeth adultery, much more must he commit adultery who retains the first and marries another, ought itself to be repudiated as an illegitimate conclusion. For in the first place, it is the divine precepts themselves that are obligatory, not the consequences deduced from them by human reasoning; for what appears a reasonable inference to one individual, may not be equally obvious to another of similar discernment. Secondly, he who puts away his wife and marries another, is not said to commit adultery because he marries another, but because in consequence of his marriage with another he does not retain his former wife, to whom also he owed the performance of conjugal duties; whence it is expressly said, Mark x. 11. he committeth adultery against her. That he is in a condition to perform his conjugal duties to the one, after having taken another to her, is shown by God himself, Exod. xxi. 10. if he take him another wife, her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage shall he not diminish. It cannot be supposed that the divine forethought intended to provide for adultery.
Nor is it allowable to argue, from 1 Cor. vii. 2. let every man have his own wife, that therefore none should have more than one; for the meaning of the precept is, that every man should have his own wife to himself, not that he should have but one wife. That bishops and elders should have no more than one wife is explicitly enjoined 1 Tim. iii. 2. and Tit. i. 6. he must be the husband of one wife, in order probably that they may discharge with greater diligence the ecclesiastical duties which they have undertaken. The command itself, however, is a sufficient proof that polygamy was not forbidden to the rest, and that it was common in the church at that time.
Lastly, in answer to what is urged from 1 Cor. vii. 4. likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife, it is easy to reply, as was done above, that the word wife in this passage is used with reference to the species, and not to the number. Nor can the power of the wife over the body of her husband be different now from what it was under the law, where it is called [Strongs 05772 ownah], Exod. xxi.10. and signifies her stated times, which St. Paul expresses in the present chapter by the phrase, her due benevolence. With regard to what is due, the Hebrew word is sufficiently explicit.
On the other hand, the following passages clearly admit the lawfulness of polygamy. Exod. xxi. 10. if he take him another wife, her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage shall he not diminish. Deut. xvii. 17. neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart not turn away. Would the law have been so loosely worded, if it had not been allowable to take more wives than one at the same time? Who would venture to subjoin as an inference from this language, therefore let him have one only? In such case, since it is said in the preceding verse, he shall not multiply horses to himself, it would be necessary to subjoin there also, therefore he shall have one horse only. Nor do we want any proof to assure us, that the first institution of marriage was intended to bind the prince equally with the people; if therefore it permits only one wife, it permits no more even to the prince. But the reason given for the law is this, that his heart turn not away; a danger which would arise if he were to marry many, and especially strange women, as Solomon afterwards did. Now if the present law had been intended merely as a confirmation and vindication of the primary institution of marriage, nothing could have been more appropriate that to have restricted the institution itself in this place, and not to have advanced that reason alone which has been mentioned.
Let us hear the words of God himself, the author of the law, and the best interpreter of his own will. 2 Sam. xii. 8. I gave thee thy master's wives into thy bosom....and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things. Here there can be no subterfuge; God gave him wives, he gave them to the man whom he loved, as one among a number of great benefits; he would have given him more, if these had not been enough. Besides, the very argument which God uses towards David, is of more force when applied to the gift of wives, than to any other, - thou oughtest at least to have abstained from the wife of another person, not so much because I had given thee thy master's house, or thy master's kingdom, as because I had given thee the wives of the king. Beza indeed objects, that David herein committed incest, namely, with the wives of his father-in-law. But he had forgotten what is indicated by Esther ii. 12, 13. that the kings of Israel had two houses for the women, one appointed for the virgins, the other for the concubines, and that it was the former and not the latter which were given to David. This appears also from 1 Kings i. 4. the king knew her not. Cantic. vi. 8. there are fourscore concubines, and virgins without number. At the same time, it might be said with perfect propriety that God had given him his master's wives, even supposing that he had only given him as many in number and of the same description, though not the very same; even as he gave him, not indeed the identical house and retinue of his master, but one equally magnificent and royal.
It is not wonderful, therefore, that what the authority of the law, and the voice of God himself has sanctioned, should be alluded to by the holy prophets in their inspired hymns as a thing lawful and honourable. Psal. xlv. 9. (which is entitled A song of loves) king's daughters were among thy honourable women. v. 14. the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee. Nay, the words of this very song are quoted by the apostle to the Hebrews, i. 8. unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, &c. as the words wherein God the Father himself addresses the Son, and in which his divinity is asserted more clearly than in any other passage. Would it have been proper for God the Father to speak by the mouth of harlots, and to manifest his holy Son to mankind as God in the amatory songs of adultresses? Thus also in Cantic. vi. 8-10. the queens and concubines are evidently mentioned with honour, and are all without distinction considered worthy of celebrating the praises of the bride: there are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number ....the daughters saw her and blessed her; yea, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her. Nor must we omit 2 Chron. xxiv. 2,3. Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoida the priest: and Jehoida took for him two wives. For the two clauses are not placed in contrast, or disjoined from each other, but it is said in one and the same connection that under the guidance of Jehoida he did that which was right, and that by the authority of the same individual he married two wives. This is contrary to the usual practice in the eulogies of the kings, where, if to the general character anything blameable be subjoined, it is expressly excepted; 1 Kings xv. 5. save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. v. 11, 14. and Asa did that which was right.....but the high places were not removed: nevertheless Asa's heart was perfect. Since therefore the right conduct of Joash is mentioned in unqualified terms, in conjunction with his double marriage, it is evident that the latter was not considered matter of censure; for the sacred historian would not have neglected so suitable an opportunity of making the customary exception, if there had been anything which deserved disapprobation.
Moreover, God himself, in an allegorial fiction, Ezek. xxiii. 4. represents himself as having espoused two wives, Aholah and Aholibah; a mode of speaking which he would by no means have employed, especially at such length, even in a parable, nor indeed have taken on himself such a character at all, if the practice which it implied had been intrinsically dishonourable or shameful.
On what grounds, however, can a practice be considered dishonourable or shameful, which is prohibited to no one even under the gospel? for that dispensation annuls none of the merely civil regulations which existed previous to its introduction. It is only enjoined that elders and deacons should be chosen from such as were husbands of one wife, 1 Tim. iii. 2. and Tit. i. 6. This implies, not that to be the husband of more than one wife would be a sin, for in that case the restriction would have been equally imposed on all; but that, in proportion as they were less entangled in domestic affairs, they would be more at leisure for the business of the church. Since therefore polygamy is interdicted in this passage to the ministers of the church alone, and that not on account of any sinfulness in the practice, and since none of the other members are precluded from it either here or elsewhere, it follows that it was permitted, as abovesaid, to all the remaining members of the church, and that it was adopted by many without offence.
Lastly, I argue as follows from Heb. xiii. 4. Polygamy is either marriage, or fornication, or adultery; the apostle recognises no fourth state. Reverence for so many patriarchs who were polygamists will, I trust, deter any one from considering it as fornication or adultery; for whoremongers and adulterers God will judge; wheras the patriarchs were the objects of his especial favour, as he himself witnesses. If then polygamy be marriage properly so called, it is also lawful and honourable, according to the same apostle: marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled.
It appears to me sufficiently established by the above arguments that polygamy is allowed by the law of God; lest however any doubt should remain, I will subjoin abundant examples of men whose holiness renders them fit patterns for imitation, and who are among the lights of our faith. Foremost I place Abraham, the father of all the faithful, and of the holy seed, Gen. xvi. 1, &c. Jacob, chap. xxx. and if I mistake not, Moses, Numb. xii. 1. for he had married (a Cushite, Marginal Translation, or) an Ethiopian woman. It is not likely that the wife of Moses, who had been so often spoken of before by her proper name of Zipporah, should now be called by the new title of a Cushite; or that the anger of Aaron and Miriam should at this time be suddenly kindled, because Moses forty years before had married Zipporah; nor would they have acted thus scornfully towards one whom the whole house of Israel had gone out to meet on her arrival with the father Jethro. If then he married the Cushite during the lifetime of Zipporah, his conduct in this particular received the express approbation of God himself, who moreover punished with severity the unnatural opposition of Aaron and his sister. Next I place Gideon, that signal example of faith and piety, Judg. viii. 30, 31. and Elkanah, a rigid Levite, the father of Samuel; who was so far from believing himself less acceptable to God on account of his double marriage, that he took with him his two wives every year to the sacrifices and annual worship, into the immediate presence of God; nor was he therefore reproved, but went home blessed with Samuel, a child of excellent promise, 1 Sam. ii. 10.
Passing over several other examples, though illustrious, such as Caleb, 1 Chron. ii. 46, 48. vii, 1, 4. the sons of Issachar, in number six and thirty thousand men, for they had many wives and sons, contrary to the modern European practice, where in many places the land is suffered to remain uncultivated for want of population; and also Manasseh, the son of Joseph, 1 Chron. vii. 14. I come to the prophet David, whom God loved beyond all men, and who took two wives, besides Michal; and this not in a time of pride and prosperity, but when he was almost bowed down by adversity, and when, as we learn from many of the psalms, he was entirely occupied in the study of the word of God, and in the right regulation of his conduct. 1 Sam. xxv. 42, 43. and afterwards, 2 Sam. v. 12,13. David perceived that Jehovah had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for his people Israel's sake, and David took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem. Such were the motives, such the honourable and holy thoughts whereby he was influenced, namely, by the consideration of God's kindness towards him for his people's sake. His heavenly and prophetic understanding saw not in that primitive institution what we in our blindness fancy we discern so clearly; nor did he hesitate to proclaim in the supreme council of the nation the pure and honourable motives to which, as he trusted, his children born in polygamy owed their existence. 1 Chron. xxviii. 5 of all my sons, for Jehovah has given me many sons, he hath chosen, &c. I say nothing of Solomon, notwithstanding his wisdom, because he seems to have exceeded due bounds; although it is not objected to him that he had taken many wives, but that he had married strange women; 1 Kings xi. 1. Nehem. xiii. 26. his son Rehoboam desired many wives, not in the time of his iniquity, but during the three years in which he is said to have walked in the way of David, 2 Chron. xi. 17, 21, 23. Of Joash mention has already been made; who was induced to take two wives, not by licentious passion, or the wanton desires incident to uncontrolled power, but by the sanction and advice of a most wise and holy man, Jehoida the priest. Who can believe, either that so many men of the highest character should have sinned through ignorance for so many ages; or that their hearts should have been so hardened; or that God should have tolerated such conduct in his people? Let therefore the rule received among theologians have the same weight here as in other cases: "The practice of the saints is the best interpretation of the commandments."