Catalogue Entry: THEM00306

Book I: Chapter 6

Author: John Milton

Source: A Treatise on Christian Doctrine, Compiled from the Holy Scriptures Alone, vol. 1 (Boston: 1825).

[Normalized Text] [Diplomatic Text]


This seems to be said in allusion to the controversies which arose between the Eastern and Western Churches on the subject of the spiration or procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son.


Sciunt, qui in Hebræis literis versati sunt, quam late pateat Spiritus nomen. Origine sua ventum significat; ob cujus subtilitatem, quæ visum fugit, ad alia transfertur; primum ad substantias; nam Deus, angeli boni malique, deinde ipse hominis animus eo vocabulo nuncupatur.' Grotius ad Luc. ix. 55. See also Glocester Ridley's First Sermon on the Divinity and Personality of the Holy Ghost, where he cautions against those grosser errors which arise from a confusion of kind.


Milton seems to allude to the Rabbinical interpretation of this passage, which, following the opinion of some of the Fathers, explains the Spirit of God to mean τὴν δύναμιν διαπλαστικὴν, or τὴν ενεργείαν ζωτικὴν, the creative or vivifying power. It seems extraordinary that Patrick should have chosen to adopt a mode of explanation nearly similar, and not less objectionable. 'This therefore we are to understand to be here meant; the infinite wisdom and power of God, which made a vehement commotion and mighty fermentation (by raising perhaps a great wind) upon the face of the waters.' So too Grotius.


The Spanish Jesuit Sanctius, and Pradus (In Ezechielem Explanationes, &c. Romæ 1596.) understand this passage in the sense attributed to it by Milton.


See an elaborate refutation of the opinion that this doctrine was unknown before the Christian Revelation, in Ridley's Second Sermon on the Holy Ghost.


..... In likeness of a dove

The Spirit descended, while the Father's voice

From Heav'n pronounc'd him his beloved Son.

Paradise Regained, I. 30.

In another part of the same book, Milton intimates an uncertainty respecting the real signification of the descent of the Holy Spirit, which is very consistent with the hesitating manner in which he comments on the passage in this treatise.

..... thence on his head

A perfect dove descend, (whate'er it meant,)

And out of Heav'n the sorran voice I heard, &c. 82.


Clarke, as might be expected, gives the same explanation of the passage, (Scripture Doctrine, Part I. Sect 2. No. 66.) also quoting 1 Thess. iv. 8. He supports his opinion on the authority of Athanasius. Ὥστε ὁ ψευσάμενος τῷ ἁγίῳ πνεύματι, τῷ Θεῷ ἐψεύσατο, τῷ κατοικοῦντι ἐν ἀνθρώποις διὰ τοῦ πνεύματος αὐτοῦ; ὅπου γάρ ἐστι τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ Θεου, ἐκεῖ ἐστιν ὁ Θέος. ἐν τούτῳ γὰρ, φησὶ, γινώσκομεν ὅτι ὁ Θέος ἐν ἡμῖν μένει ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος αὐτοῦ δέδωκεν ἡμῖν. De Incarnat. Verbi, et contra Arianos.


There is some error in this passage in the manuscript, where it is written thus: 'Quicquid incertum est annon hoc loco Spiritus Sanctus Deum Patrem significat: idem enim Petrus, &c.' Unless we suppose that some words have fallen out, the sentence may be corrected by a very slight alteration: —Quid, quod incertum est annon hoc loco Spiritus Sanctus Deum Patrem significet? idem, &c. I have followed this conjecture in the translation, as it is a form of sentence very frequently used in other parts of the treatise.


So Beza and Grotius explain the passage.


'Dei majestati adjungit suos stipatores, non tamen quasi illos ulla in parte Deo exæquet, vel cum Christo conferat, sicut etiam Paulus testes una citat Deum, Christum, et angelos, 1 Tim. v. 21. Nam quod septem hos spiritus nonnulli pro Spiritu Sancto acceperunt, cujus septiformis, ut loquuntur, sit gratia, manifeste refelli potest vel ex eo quod scribitur infra v. 5, 6. At ne quis hoc loco offendatur, quasi ad istos spiritus aliquid transferatur quod ad Deitatem tantum pertineat, vel quasi Christus istis spiritibus subjiciatur, considerentur divina elogia quæ paulo post tribuuntur Christo Unius enim Dei est, et quidem qui homo sit factus, sanguine suo abluere mundi peccata; neque usquam angelis gloria et robur æternum tribuitur, sed hoc ipsum est quod angeli Dei acclamant. Christus ergo ut Deus hic describitur; septem autem isti spiritus ut ministri ante thronum collocantur; ergo etiam coram Christo, ut qui Deo Patri assideat. Denique ut nemo de hoc possit ambigere, iidem isti septem Spiritus infra v. 5, 6. Agni cornua et oculi, id est, ministri, dicuntur.' Beza ad Apoc. i. 4.


According to the doctrine of the Socinians. 'Respondemus Spiritum Sanctum quidem per se, et, ut in scholis loquuntur, abstracte sumptum, qualitatem re vera esse, non substantiam.' Crellius, in answer to the question 'an Spiritus Sanctus substantia quædam sit, an vero mera tantum qualitas a Deo profecta.'


See page 125, note.

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