Catalogue Entry: THEM00350

Book II: Chapter 17

Author: John Milton

Source: A Treatise on Christian Doctrine, Compiled from the Holy Scriptures Alone, vol. 2 (Boston: 1825).

[Normalized Text] [Diplomatic Text]


Definiendo enim explicat, nequis errare et opiniones hinc stolidas aucupari possit, qui sint magistrate potestatis hujus ministri, et quam ob causam subjectos esse nos hortetur; 'Magistratus non sunt timori bonis operibus, sed malis; boni a potestale hac laudem adipiscentur; magistratus minister est Dei nostro bono dalus; non frustra gladium gerit, vindex ad iram ei qui malum facit.'' Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio. Prose Works, V. 87.


See on this and the following paragraph the treatise On Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes, throughout. Again, in the History of Britain: 'While they taught compulsion without convincement, which not long before they complained of as executed unchristianly against themselves, these intents are clear to have been no better than antichristian; setting up a spiritual tyranny by a secular power, to the advancing of their own authority above the magistrate, whom they would have made their executioner to punish church-delinquencies, whereof civil laws have no cognizance.' Prose Works, IV. 84. This was one of the paragraphs omitted for political reasons in all the early editions of the History of Britain. It appeared first in the collection of Milton's Works published in 2 vols. folio, 1733.


'Why did he lay restraints, and force enlargements upon our consciences in things for which we were to answer God only and the church.' God bids us be subject for conscience sake, that is, as to a magistrate, and in the laws, not usurping over spiritual things, as Lucifer beyond his sphere. Answer to Eikon Basilike. Prose Works, III. 34.


'Neither God nor nature put civil power into the hand's of any whomsoever, but to a lawful end, and commands our obedience to the authority of law only, not to the tyrannical force of any person.' Answer to Eikon Basilike. Prose Works, III. 52. 'Que autem potestas, qui magistratus, contraria his facit, neque ilia, neque hic, a Deo proprie ordinatus est. Unde neque tali vel potestati vel maeristratui subjectio debetur aut praecipitur, neque nos prudenter obsistere prohibemur.' Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio. V. 88.


This is a remarkable passage, considering the prominent part taken by the author not only against the monarchy, but against the monarch himself. It is evident that his experience of the miseries caused by the civil disturbances of those evil times had taught him that a regard to the general good might sometimes render a temporary sacrifice of abstract rights not inconsistent with the sincerest love of political or religious liberty.


For Milton's opinion of the value of the Scriptures as teachers of political wisdom, see Paradise Regained, IV. 353.

Their orators thou then extoll'st, as those,

The top of eloquence, statists indeed,

And lovers of their country, as may seem;

But herein to our prophets far beneath,

As men divinely taught, and better teaching

The solid rules of civil government

In their majestic unaffected style

Than all the oratory of Greece and Rome.

In them is plainest taught, and easiest learnt

What makes a nation happy, and keeps it so,

What ruins kingdoms, and lays cities flat;

These only with our law best form a king.

© 2020 The Newton Project

Professor Rob Iliffe
Director, AHRC Newton Papers Project

Scott Mandelbrote,
Fellow & Perne librarian, Peterhouse, Cambridge

Faculty of History, George Street, Oxford, OX1 2RL -

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