Tuesday, June 12, 2007

John Owen vs John Milton, Round 1

Nineteenth century Congregational historian John Stoughton is one of my subjects. I just came across a comparison of John Owen and John Milton that I thought might be of benefit to some of the Owen-studiers in our contingent. This is the first part of a quotation comparing the two:

'The idiosyncrasies of individuals must be taken into account, since they always powerfully contribute to produce varieties of spiritual life. John Milton and John Owen were both Christians, both devout, both unceremonial, both advocating a wide liberty of conscience, both averse to Prelacy, and to all Presbyterian domination, both entertaining in general the same views of government, political and ecclesiastical; yet how unlike in many other respects! The one exhibiting in his religion the genius of a poet, the other the genius of a systematic theologian; the one soaring with outstretched wings into the loftiest regions of Divine contemplation, the other measuring every opinion by the standard of a remorseless logic, based upon Scripture; the one inspired with classic taste, chiselling the products of his intellect into forms of beauty, comparable to those of Phidias in the art of sculpture; the other careless respecting artistic style, and flinging out the treasures of his affluent mind after a fashion which is most excruciating to the aesthetical of this generation; the one a man of imagination, the other a man of reason; the one a Homer, the other an Aristotle amongst Puritans.'


(Ecclesiastical History, 1867, vol II, 431-2).

To be continued...

8 comments:

H.C. Ross said...

A great prompt for discussion, Susan, thanks.

I think this underlines the diversity of identities within puritanism, proving helpfully that the movement was not a monolith.

Just the other day I was reading the diary of a puritan minister, and the (modern) editor of the diary had written in a footnote, in reference to something the minister had written, "An evidence of the Puritan's interest in emotional display". To me it had the same tone as any comment Jane Goodall might have written while observing chimpanzees. Puritans were people: they may have shared a handful of important convictions and views, but those shared sentiments did not limit the uniqueness of their individual personalities, as I believe your quote helps demonstrate.

H.C. Ross said...

On a slightly less serious note, I see Owen beating Milton in a fist-fight, although Bunyan (another godly John) would probably be able to knock them both out, since he had some jail time under his belt. Just my opinion.

Mark Jones said...

Yes, Owen beating Milton. However, Owen did throw the javelin and rode his horse into battle. So, maybe he'd go the distance with Bunyan and a possible split decision.

H.C. Ross said...

Good point, Mark. This makes me think we need to ponder the question, 'Who was the toughest Puritan?' ... 'Who was the Mr. T of Post-Reformation English Protestantism?'

Hmmm ...

Mark Jones said...

Maybe there is scope for someone to change the trajectory of their research to: "Who was the toughest Puritan?" And propose either Bunyan or Owen. Or, perhaps, bring in some dark horse? V. interesting study and sure to excite scholars like David Ferguson and Susan H. Moore.

Philip A said...

Yeah, it'd be easy to beat Milton in a fistfight, what with him being blind and all....

John D. Chitty said...

I heard Carl Trueman quoting J.I. Packer that if you read Owen out loud to yourself, you'll begin to hear the rhythm of his writing and have a better time with it. He said Owen is so hard to read because he was so fluent in English and Latin that his English writing was filled with Latinizing tendencies.

Susan A said...

Yes; I love what Packer says about Owen being Elephantine. I think that will always stay in my head. I've recently read some of William Cowper's translations of Owen's epigrams, which hopefully I'll post on soon. The same volume of his poetic works has various translations from Milton's Latin...

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