John Milton and the Philosophy of Christian Education Research Paper

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It was therefore understood as fairly self-evident why the government of a new nation which had just escaped from under the yoke of such a system would avoid things like the endorsement of any specific religious creed (or even God) in its official founding documents. Jefferson's point in the "Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge" is that those who are unaware of history are doomed to repeat it: that is why his legislative intent and emphasis is placed upon the knowledge of political systems, and how easily they may slip into tyrannical forms of social control due to the "ambition" of rulers.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Research Paper on John Milton and the Philosophy of Christian Education Assignment

It is at this point that we may turn our attention to John Milton. Milton's role in English history and government would have been a relatively recent memory for the generation of founding fathers in America -- as noted, Milton was actually close friends with the early Baptist leader of colonial America, Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island. But more to the point, Milton had a political role in a revolution a little over a hundred years before Jefferson was writing: in other words, Jefferson was closer in time to Milton than we are to Jefferson nowadays. And it is worth reviewing a little history about the English Revolution of the early seventeenth century, because to a certain extent it provides important context for the foundation of America and for the foundation of the American educational system. The English Revolution -- like the American Revolution a little over a hundred years later -- was a revolt against the tyranny of monarchy itself. In the case of the English Revolution, however, there was an added religious element: King Charles I of England was deemed to be insufficiently committed to separating the Church of England from the Church of Rome. Those who wished for a Christianity more fully purified of the Vatican's influence were known as "Puritans" -- Milton was one of their number, as were most of the early founders of colonial New England, who found it easier to pursue their own religious liberty on a different continent than to attempt to navigate the state control of religion under the English monarch. Thus it is worth noting that Milton was philosophically and doctrinally closely allied with the founders of colonial America -- and indeed was close friends with the founder of at least one American state. However, the course of the English Revolution was substantially more violent than the later American Revolution: it ended with the Puritan party executing King Charles I, and declaring an end to the English kingdom and the establishment of a "commonwealth," an explicitly non-monarchical form of representative government. This would have a substantial influence on the early United States as well -- of the thirteen original colonies, the three largest and most influential -- Massachussetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia -- are to this day not "states" of the United States, but "commonwealths." The term in each case was derived from the government of England after it had deposed and beheaded King Charles I, and established a "commonwealth" under Oliver Cromwell. In Cromwell's government, Milton held a high-ranking position as "foreign language secretary" -- a position not unlike that of a Secretary of State, except that Milton's role also entailed a substantial amount of written justification of the government and its policies. So we can see Milton's role in the English government in the seventeenth century as being not unlike that of Jefferson's or Madison's in the American government in the late eighteenth century -- Milton frequently published pamphlets on various subjects in the same way that the founding fathers issued the Federalist Papers and other such documents.

Once Milton is situated in this historical context, it becomes far easier to see what his relevance is to the philosophy of education -- and more specifically to a Christian philosophy of education. In its revolt against monarchical religious tyranny, the Commonwealth government of England was precisely similar to the later governmental system adopted in America by the Founding Fathers. The chief difference, however, was that Cromwell, Milton and the English Puritans were overall more explicitly Christian in their goals and intentions. However, Milton was also a profound and dedicated philosopher of education -- with explicitly Christian purposes. I think a closer examination of Milton's educational philosophy will help us to understand why Jefferson and the other early American thinkers implemented the sort of government they did, but will also show us that a true Christian philosophy of education -- of the sort that Milton developed -- might not look like what the twenty-first century might imagine it should look like. In other words, we still have a lot to learn from Milton.

For a start, it is worth noting that the most prominent living scholar of Milton's work, the Duke University scholar Stanley Fish, has argued that the purpose of all of Milton's writing is explicitly educational. Fish writes, in his legendary study of Milton Surprised by Sin, that "Milton's purpose is to educate the reader to an awareness of his position and responsibilities as a fallen man, and to a sense of the distance which separates him from the innocence once his" (Fish 1971, 1). In other words, Milton holds to a fairly standard Christian notion of original sin -- in works like Paradise Lost, Fish argues, Milton will allow his readers to make mistakes and misunderstand the meaning until they are corrected in the next line, as a way of underscoring to his readers that they inhabit a fallen world, and that true understanding will always be attained through struggle and error. Indeed, in Milton's 1644 treatise Of Education, he more or less explicitly links his educational philosophy to the notion of original sin, when he writes

The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection. (Milton 1644, Of Education)

Milton uses the word "end" here in the sense of "goal" or "purpose" -- the true purpose of education is to attempt to overcome the fallenness of humankind as a result of original sin, and to attempt to become closer to God through learning. This is more or less exactly the structure of Paradise Lost as Stanley Fish describes it in Surprised by Sin -- the goal is pious and conventionally Christian.

It is, I would argue, the means to that end -- the educational process which Milton wishes to expose us to, in the pursuit of that rather conventional Christian goal -- which may strike twenty-first century Christians as surprising. We noted earlier that the colonial American proposals for freedom of religion -- which had been advanced here by Milton's friend and colleague Roger Williams -- were published alongside Milton's legendary defense of the freedom of the press in Areopagitica. It is in this work, I think, that Milton provides the basis for a Christian philosophy of education which is sorely in need of revival in the Internet age. Milton's Areopagitica has more or less become enshrined in America under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: he wrote it while at work in the Commonwealth government, and it was essentially an argument for the freedom of thought, debate, expression, and the press. Milton was arguing the rationale whereby the new non-monarchical government should not do what the monarchy had done, and maintain oversight and censorship of everything that is published. In other words, Milton is arguing for the proliferation of argument and publication -- four hundred years before there was an Internet, he is calling for the kind of grand cacophony of opinion and argument that we see flourishing on the Internet today. And what Milton does is to offer an explicitly Christian rationale for the freedom of ideas and expression:

Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discerned, that…perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evil, that is to say of knowing good by evil. As therefore the state of man now is; what wisdom can there be to choose, what continence to forbear without the knowledge of evil? He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true wayfaring Christian. I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, & #8230;Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather: that which purifies us is trial, and trial… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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