In his book Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity, Stephen Toulmin argues that the great intellectual works of the 17th century were not the result of a spontaneous generation of new ideas at the dawn of the new century, but need to be understood as responses to the challenges of the intellectual skepticism of the 16th century. This skepticism was itself a response to the theological debates of the Reformation which resulted in challenges to traditional criteria of truth. The uncertainty caused by this revival of skepticism was so great that several 17th century intellectuals, living under strained social, economic, and religious circumstances, sought to create a certainty of knowledge
in every field possible.
Although the 17th century search for the certainty of knowledge focused primarily on the sciences and philosophy, a desire for certain knowledge in theology also existed. The doctrine of creation developed by John Milton in Paradise Lost and On the Christian Religion fits the pattern of intellectual development posited by Toulmin. The doctrine of creation advocated by Milton does appear to be an effort to produce an interpretation of the Genesis account that is easier to defend rationally, than the traditional doctrine of creation out of nothing.
To gain a fuller appreciation of the success of failure of the attempt by Milton to create a certainty of knowledge in the field of creation, it will be helpful to look at th thought of Thomas Aquinas, whose work offers a sophisticated exposition of the doctrine of creation. By analyzing these doctrines of creation and comparing them to each other, we can evaluate the degree to which Milton was successful in his enterprise.
There is no question that Milton was a consummate poet, but does he succeed as a theologian?
Joseph Rompala, ’01 Menomonie, WI
Sponsor: Dr. William Carroll