Catalogue Entry: THEM00310

Book I: Chapter 10

Author: John Milton

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

[Normalized Text] [Diplomatic Text]


..... well thou know'st

God hath pronounc'd it death to taste that tree,

The only sign of our obedience left.

Paradise Lost, IV. 426.

..... lest the like befall

In Paradise to Adam or his race

Charg'd not to touch the interdicted tree,

If they transgress, and slight that sole command,

So easily obey'd amid the choice

Of all tastes else to please their appetite,

Though wand'ring. VII. 44.


So Bishop Taylor. 'I find in Scripture no mention made of any such covenant as is dreamt of about the matter of original sin: only the covenant of works God did make with all men till Christ came; but he did never exact it after Adam.' Works, IX. 399. And in his treatise on The Doctrine and Practice of Repentance, Gen. ii. 17. is quoted as the first of the texts to prove 'the old covenant, or the covenant of works.' VIII. 303.


'Were it merely natural, why was it here ordained more than the rest of moral law to man in his original rectitude, in whose breast all that was natural or moral was engraven without external constitutions and edicts?' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, II. 133.


'That some of the objects in Eden were of a sacramental nature we can hardly doubt, when we read of the tree of knowledge, and of the tree of life.' Bp. Horne's Sermon on the Garden of Eden. See also his two Sermons on the Tree of Knowledge and of Life.


'Perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evil, that is to say, of knowing good by evil.' Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing. Prose Works, I. 299.

..... the tree of knowledge grew fast by,

Knowledge of good bought dear by knowing ill.

Paradise Lost, IV. 222.


'The church began in innocency, and yet it began with a sacrament, the tree of life-.' Bp. Taylor. Works, I. 149.


See the passage quoted from our author's Tetrachordon, page 297, note.


..... from work

Now resting, bless'd and hallow'd the sev'nth day,

As resting on that day from all his work.

Paradise Lost, VII. 590.


SeeTetrachordon. 'It might be doubted, &c..... lost by her means.'

Prose Works, II. 121, 122. 'What an injury is it after wedlock..... to be contended with in point of house rule who shall be the head....."I suffer not," saith St. Paul, "the woman to usurp authority over the man." If the apostle would not suffer it, into what mould is he mortified that can?' Doctrine, &c. of Divorce, II. 36.

..... Was she made thy guide,

Superior, or but equal, that to her

Thou didst resign thy manhood, and the place

Wherein God set thee above her made of thee?

Paradise Lost, X. 146. See also XI. 291, 634-636.

Therefore God's universal law

Gave to the man despotic power

Over his female in due awe,

Nor from that right to part an hour,

Smile she or lower. Samson Agonistes, 1064.


Certain it is that whereas other nations used a liberty not unnatural, for one man to have many wives, the Britons altogether as licentious but more absurd and preposterous in their license, had one or many wives in common among ten or twelve husbands.' History of England. Prose Works, IV. 68. With the exception of this hint, I am not aware of any passage in Milton's printed works which contains a clew to his opinions respecting polygamy. His history was written just before he became Latin Secretary to the Council, about the year 1650; and it is observable that although, according to the above quotation, he appears to have been inclined in favour of the practice, he then admitted its licentiousness.


See the title to The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce; —'wherein also are set down the bad consequences of abolishing, or condemning of sin, that which the law of God allows, and Christ abolished not.' Prose Works, I. 332. 'In these opinions it would be more religion to advise well, lest we make ourselves juster than God, by censuring rashly that for sin, which his unspotted law without rebuke allows, and his people without being conscious of displeasing him have used.'Doctrine, &c . II. 32.


'But they were to look back to the first institution; nay rather why was not that individual institution brought out of Paradise, as was that of the Sabbath, and repeated in the body of the law, that man might have understood it to be a command?' Doctrine, &c. II. 29.


Though the words of this difficult clause are rendered very variously by the different commentators, yet, with the exception of Grotius, who explains the passage with reference to the origin of souls ex traduce from our natural parents, nearly all agree in considering it as an argument against polygamy. The interpretation which Milton seems to prefer, is suggested by Tirinus and Menochius. See Poole's Synopsis in loc.


'It wrought so little disorder among the Jews, that from Moses till after the captivity, not one of the prophets thought it worth the rebuking; for that of Malachi well looked into will appear to be not against divorcing, but rather against keeping strange concubines, to the vexation of the Hebrew wives.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, II. 61. 'He that reads attentively will soon perceive, that God blames not here the Jews for putting away their wives, but for keeping strange concubines, to the profaning of Judah's holiness, and the vexation of their Hebrew wives, v. 11. and 14. Judah hath married the daughter of a strange god: and exhorts them rather to put away their wives whom they hate, as the law permitted, than to keep them under such affronts. And it is received, that this prophet lived in those times of Ezra and Nehemiah (nay by some it is thought to be Ezra himself) when the people were forced by these two worthies to put their strange wives away. So that what the story of those times, and the plain context of the 11th verse, from whence this rebuke begins, can give us to conjecture of the obscure and curt Ebraisms that follow, this prophet does not forbid putting away, but forbids keeping, and commands putting away according to God's law, which is the plainest interpreter both of what God will, and what he can best suffer.' Tetrachordon, II. 146.


The original of this sentence affords no satisfactory sense. 'Id ejusmodi est profecto, ut argumentum ipsum pro adulterio sit protinus repudiandum.' The fondness for that play upon words which is so characteristic of Milton, and of which, as has been already observed (see p. 17.) this treatise furnishes numerous examples, renders it not improbable that it was originally written pro adulterino; for which the amenuensis employed in transcribing this part of the manuscript, substituted the more common word adulterio.


..... Love's due rites, nuptial embraces sweet.

Paradise Lost, X. 994.


'Deinde, si valeret Ochini argumentum, profecto non tantum polygamiam sed etiam incestus probaret; si quidem consanguinei uxoris eodem gradu junguntur viro quo ipsi uxori. Itaque non magis licuit Davidi ducere uxoris suæ Michal novercas, quam suam ipsius novercam.' Beza De Polygamia.


'Sciunt enim qui labris aliquanto primoribus evangelium gustarunt, ecclesiæ gubernationem divinam esse totam ac spiritualem, non civilem.' Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio. Prose Works, V. 196.


..... where stood

Her temple on th'offensive mountain, built

By that uxorious king, whose heart, though large,

Beguil'd by fair idolatresses, fell

To idols foul. Paradise Lost, I. 442.

Women, when nothing else, beguil'd the heart

Of wisest Solomon, and made him build,

And made him bow to the gods of his wives.

Paradise Regained, II. 160.


'The 18th chapter (of Bucer's Kingdom of Christ) I only mention as determining a thing not here in question, that marriage without consent of parents ought not to be held good, yet with this qualification fit to be known,' &c. Prose Works, II. 81. 'It is generally held by reformed writers against the Papist, that..... the father not consenting, his main will without dispute shall dissolve all..... Because the general honour due to parents is great, they hold he may, and perhaps hold not amiss.' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, II. 136.


'There must be a joint consent and good liking on both sides.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, I. 366. 'This brings in the parties' consent; until which be, the marriage hath no true being.' Tetrachordon, II. 143.


'His drift, as was heard before, is plain; not to command our stay in marriage with an infidel; that had been a flat renouncing of the religious and moral law; but to inform the Corinthians, that the body of an unbeliever was not defiling, if his desire to live in Christian wedlock showed any likelihood that his heart was opening to the faith; and therefore advises to forbear departure so long till nothing have been neglected to set forward a conversion; this I say he advises-.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, I. 365. See also Tetrachordon: 'I cannot see by this golden dependence —not an endless servitude.' II. 123, 124. and pp. 206-218.


'What is not therefore among the causes constituting marriage, must not stay in the definition. Those causes are concluded to be matter, and, as the artist calls it,form..... First, therefore, the material cause of matrimony is man and woman; the author and efficient, God and their consent; the internal form and soul of this relation is conjugal love arising from a mutual fitness to the final causes of wedlock, help and society in religious, civil, and domestic conversation, which includes as an inferior end the fulfilling of natural desire, and specifical increase; these are the final causes both moving the efficient, and perfecting the form.' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, II. 140. See also p. 143. 'Marriage is a divine institution —common duty than matrimonial.'


'If we speak of a command in the strictest definition, then marriage itself is no more a command than divorce; but only a free permission to him that cannot contain,' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, II. 13.


'Whatever hypocrites austerely talk

Of purity, and place, and innocence,

Defaming as impure what God declares

Pure, and commands to some, leaves free to all.

Our Maker bids increase; who bids abstain

But our Destroyer, foe to God and Man ?

Paradise Lost, IV. 744.


This is in direct opposition to the sentiments attributed to Adam in his original innocency.

..... to have thee by my side

Henceforth an individual solace dear.

Paradise Lost, IV 485.


The same comment upon the passage in Genesis occurs elsewhere, and is remarked by Newton as a beautiful climax.

For this cause he shall forego

Father and mother, and to his wife adhere;

And they shall be one flesh, one heart, one soul.

VIII. 497.

And again, Eve, replying to Adam, who had said, 'we are one flesh.'

Adam, from whose dear side I boast me sprung.

And gladly of our union hear thee speak,

One heart, one soul in both. IX. 965.


'Lastly, Christ himself tells who should not be put asunder, namely, those whom God hath joined. A plain solution of this great controversy, if men would but use their eyes; for when is it that God may be said to join?..... only then when the minds are fitly disposed and enabled to maintain a cheerful conversation, to the solace and love of each other, according as God intended and promised in the very first foundation of matrimony; "I will make him a help meet for him:" for surely what God intended and promised, that only can be thought to be his joining, and not the contrary.' Doctrine, &c. II. 39. 'But here the Christian prudence lies, to consider what God hath joined: shall we say that God hath joined error, fraud, unfitness, wrath, contention, perpetual loneliness, perpetual discord; whatever lust, or wine, or witchery, threat or enticement, avarice or ambition hath joined together, faithful and unfaithful, Christian with anti-christian, hate with hate, or hate with love, shall we say this is God's joining?' Tetrachordon, Prose Works, II. 178.


'It is error or some evil angel which either blindly or maliciously hath drawn together, in two persons ill embarked in wedlock, the sleeping discords and enmities of nature.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, I. 370. 'The rest whom either disproportion or deadness of spirit, or something distasteful and averse in the immutable bent of nature renders conjugal, error may have joined, but God never joined against the meaning of his own ordinance.' Ibid. II. 40. 'Charity and wisdom disjoins that which not God, but error and disaster joined.' Tetrachordon, II. 203.


Once join'd, the contrary she proves, a thorn

Intestine, far within defensive arms

A cleaving mischief. Samson Agonistes, 1036.


'The occasion which induced our Saviour to speak of divorce, was either to convince the extravagance of the Pharisees in that point, or to give a sharp and vehement answer to a tempting question.' Doctrine,

&c. Prose Works, II. 2.


'Now that many licentious and hard-hearted men took hold of this law to cloke their bad purposes, is nothing strange to believe, and these were they, not for whom Moses made the law, (God forbid) but whose hardness of heart taking ill advantage by this law he held it better to suffer as by accident, where it could not be detected, rather than good men should lose their just and lawful privilege of remedy; Christ therefore having to answer these tempting Pharisees, according as his custom was, not meaning to inform their proud ignorance what Moses did in the true intent of the law, which they had ill-cited, suppressing the true cause for which Moses gave it, and extending it to every slight matter, tells them their own, what Moses was forced to suffer by their abuse of his law.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, II. 21. See also p. 42. 'Moses had granted —contentious cause whatsoever.' Again; 'This was that hardness of heart, and abuse of a good law, which Moses was content to suffer, rather than good men should not have it at all to use needfully.' Ibid. p. 50. 'Why did God permit this to his people the Jews, but that the right and good which came directly thereby, was more in his esteem than the wrong and evil which came by accident?' Colasterion. Prose Works, II. 251.


Quandoquidem in iis tantum vitæ momentum vel beatæ vel miseræ positum esse judicavit; an expression which will be best illustrated by the author himself:

..... each on himself relied,

As only in his arm the moment lay

Of victory. Paradise Lost, VI. 237.


'Lastly, it gives place to the right of war, for a captive woman lawfully married, and afterwards not beloved, might be dismissed, only without ransom; Deut. xxi.' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, II. 156.


'Cleave to a wife, but let her be a wife, let her be a meet help, a solace, not a nothing, not an adversary, not a desertrice; can any law or command be so unreasonable, as to make men cleave to calamity, to ruin, to perdition?' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, II. 137.


'This law the Spirit of God by the mouth of Solomon, Prov. xxx. 21, 23. testifies to be a good and a necessary law, by granting it that a hated woman (for so the Hebrew word signifies rather than odious, though it come all to one) that a hated woman, when she is married, is a thing that the earth cannot bear.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, II. 21.


'If Solomon's advice be not overfrolic, live joyfully, saith he, with the wife whom thou lovest, all thy days, for that is thy portion..... Yea, God himself commands us in his law more than once, and by his prophet Malachi, as Calvin and the best translations read, that he who hates, let him divorce, that is, he who cannot love.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, I. 358. 'Although this place also hath been tampered with, as if it were to be thus rendered —The Lord God saith, that he hateth putting away. But this new interpretation rests only in the authority of Junius; for neither Calvin, nor Vatablus himself, nor any other known divine so interpreted before,' &c. Tetrachordon II. 146. Sibi odio esse dimissionem ait Jehova Deus Israelis. Junius. Si odio habueris, dimitte, ait Dominus Deus Israelis. Lat. Vulg. It appears from Poole's Synopsis that the version of Piscator is the only one which agrees with Junius.


'To retain still, and not be able to love, is to heap up more injury.' Doctrine, &c. of Divorce. Prose Works, I. 355. And again —'not to be beloved, and yet retained, is the greatest injury to a gentle spirit.' Ibid. 'Not he who after sober and cool experience, and long debate within himself, puts away whom, though he cannot love or suffer as a wife with that sincere affection that marriage requires, yet loves at least with that civility and goodness, as not to keep her under a neglected and unwelcome residence, when nothing can be hearty, and not being, it must needs be both unjoyous and injurious to any perceiving person so detained, and more injurious than to be freely and upon good terms dismissed.' Tetrachordon. II. 196.


'This command thus gospellized to us, hath the same force with that thereon Ezra grounded the pious necessity of divorcing. Neither had he other commission for what he did, than such a general command in Deuteronomy as this, nay not so direct, for he is bid there not to marry but not bid to divorce,' &c. Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, I. 362.


'"But," saith the lawyer, "that which ought not to have been done, once done, avails." I answer, this is but a crotchet of the law, but that brought against it is plain Scripture.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, 1. 365.


'The law of marriage gives place to the power of parents; for we hold that consent of parents not had may break the wedlock, though else accomplished. It gives place to masterly power, for the master might take away from a Hebrew servant the wife which he gave him, Exod. xxi,' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, II. 156.


'O perverseness ! that the law should be made more provident of peace-making than the gospel; that the gospel should be put to beg a most necessary help of mercy from the law, but must not have it!' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, I. 358. See also book II. chap. vii. 'But if those indulgences, &c. —work of our redemption.' II. 19. 20.


'From the beginning, that is to say, by the institution in Paradise, it was not intended that matrimony should dissolve for every trivial cause as you Pharisees accustom. But that it was not thus suffered from the beginning ever since the race of men corrupted, and laws were made, he who will affirm must have found out other antiquities than are yet known. Besides, we must consider now, what can be so as from the beginning, not only what should be so. In the beginning, had men continued perfect, it had been just that all things should have remained, as they began to Adam and Eve,' &c. Tetrachordon Prose Works, II. 192.


'For the language of Scripture signifies by fornication..... not only the trespass of body..... but signifies also any notable disobedience, or intractable carriage of the wife to the husband.' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, II. 198.


See Book III. Chap. xxii. and xxvii. Selden is quoted again with approbation in the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. 'Let him hasten to be acquainted with that noble volume written by our learned Selden, "Of the Law of Nature and of Nations," a work more useful and more worthy to be perused by whosoever studies to be a great man in wisdom, equity, and justice,' &c. Prose Works, ii. 59. He calls him also in the Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing, 'the chief of learned men reported in this land.' I. 298. Again, in his Defensio Secunda pro Populo Anglicano, referring to the treatise here quoted, he says, 'quid item de excepta solum fornicatione sentiendum sit, et meam aliorumque sententiam exprompsi, et clarissimus vir Seldenus noster, in Uxore Hebræa plus minus biennio post edita, uberius demonstravit.' V. 234.


This is the only direct reference to any of Milton's printed works which this treatise contains. The allusion is to a passage in Tetrachordon, where the author explains the text, saving for the cause of fornication. Prose Works II. 197-201. It has been generally supposed that Milton's opinions on the subject of divorce were influenced by the well-known circumstances connected with his first marriage, and Warton says that he published Tetrachordon in consequence. Some probability seems to have been given to this conjecture by the passage quoted in the 2d note on page 327. But though Milton's attention may have been first directed to this subject by his own domestic unhappiness, it is evident from the work now published, that his sentiments respecting divorce were deliberately conceived, and that the treatises which he printed during his life time were not merely intended to serve a temporary purpose in which he was personally interested.


'Grotius shows also, that fornication is taken in Scripture for such a continual headstrong behaviour, as tends to plain contempt of the husband, and proves it out of Judg. xix. 2. where the Levite's wife is said to have played the whore against him ; which Josephus and the Septuagint, with the Chaldean, interpret only of stubbornness and rebellion against her husband..... Had it been whoredom, she would have chosen any other place to run to than to her father's house, it being so infamous for a Hebrew woman to play the harlot, and so opprobrious to the parents. Fornication then in this place of the Judges is understood for stubborn disobedience against the husband, and not for adultery.' Doctrine &c. II. 46.


See 1 Cor. vii. 15.


'St. Paul leaves us here the solution not of this case only, which little concerns us, but of such like cases which may occur to us.' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, II. 216.


'Having declared his opinion in one case, he leaves a further liberty for Christian prudence to determine in cases of like importance, using words so plain as not to be shifted off, that a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases, adding also that God hath called us to peace in marriage. Now if it be plain that a Christian may be brought into unworthy bondage, and his religious peace not only interrupted now and then, but perpetually and finally hindered in wedlock, by misyoking with a diversity of nature as well as of religion, the reasons of St. Paul cannot be made special to that one case of infidelity, but are of equal moment to a divorce wherever Christian liberty and peace are without fault equally obstructed.' Doctrine &c. II. 48.


'St.Paul here warrants us to seek peace rather than to remain in bondage. If God hath called us to peace, why should not we follow him? why should we miserably stay in perpetual discord under a servitude not required? Tetrachordan, II. 215


'But if it be thought that the disciples, offended at the rigour of Christ's answer, could yet obtain no mitigation of the former sentence pronounced to the Pharisees, it may be fully answered, that our Saviour continues the same reply to his disciples, as men leavened with the same customary license which the Pharisees maintained, and displeased at the removing of a traditional abuse, whereto they had so long not unwillingly been used.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, II. 25. 'Some may think, if this our Saviour's sentence be so fair, as not commanding aught that patience or nature cannot brook, why then did the disciples murmur and say, It is not good to marry? I answer, that the disciples had been longer bred up under the Pharisæan doctrine, than under that of Christ, and so no marvel though they yet retained the infection of loving old licentious customs; no marvel though they thought it hard they might not for any offence, that thoroughly angered them, divorce a wife, as well as put away a servant, since it was but giving her a bill, as they were taught.' Tetrachordon, II. 204.


'For although God in the first ordaining of marriage taught us to what end he did it, in words expressly implying the apt and chearful conversation of man with woman, to comfort and refresh him against the evil of solitary life, not mentioning the purpose of generation till afterwards, as being but a secondary end in dignity, though not in necessity,' &c. Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. Prose Works, I. 343.


'Thus much that the word fornication is to be understood as the language of Christ understands it, for a constant alienation and disaffection of mind, or for the continual practice of disobedience and crossness from the duties of love and peace.' Tetrachordon, II. 200.


'And also that there was no need our Saviour should grant divorce for adultery, it being death by law, and law then in force.' Ibid, II. 199.

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