Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Netzley, Ryan


How does one discuss action in John Milton's poetry? In Milton's Sonnet XIX, the concluding line reads, "They also serve who only stand and waite." Critics have examined Milton's writing and its relation to the theopolitical context of early modern England and have debated over the poet's political stance. Does "stand and wait" suggest a quietist approach? The poet's curious line indeed suggests a specific type of activity in the face of the theological and political turmoil of seventeenth century England. However, it advocates patient activity. The problem then revolves around what constitutes patience in action. Milton, in his last two published poems of 1671, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, rearticulates the nature of theopolitical action within his poetry. Paradise Regained does not deal with Christ's Passion as the event that ushers in salvation, but looks at the private temptations Jesus undergoes in the desert. Milton chooses to focus on the inward process of the Son of God - that which fosters the "great warfare" that will defeat Sin and Death: obedience. However, how does the Son obey a divine will he does not have access to? I maintain that it is through an intricate, inward process that involves reading scripture, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit on the heart, and checking the conscience for faith that one is obeying divine will. Faith and obedience work in tandem when actively serving God and the Son of God models the consummate virtue of faithful obedience. Samson Agonistes focuses on outward activity in the world. Samson is a servant of God who announces divine inspiration prospectively, and in that way, he attempts to carry out God's plan on his own accord. Ironically, Samson declares that his final act is "of my own accord," but the phrase is infused with patience. Tracking the language of intimation, the key event in Samson's progression occurs in the real time description of his present motivation as "rousing," and not divine. The act proceeds of his own accord, but not at the behest of God. Paradise Regained champions the hero of the consummate virtue of faithful obedience, while Samson Agonistes portrays that virtue in action. The Son of God shows that scripture will feed his mind "holy meditations" that grant the gift of the spirit on the heart. This "inner oracle" allows for proper reading and interpretation of scripture. This is important because the scripture is the word of God in accommodated form. It is the only source for the sanctions of a divine will. In this way, the conscience then communicates the human will with the divine will by checking action against the sanctions of divine will as gleaned from the Bible. However, this is not an absolute knowledge of God's will - nor assurance of activity in relation to Providence - but faith that one's action is adhering to divine will. The action accords with divine will when faith and obedience are in harmony within the conscience. In this way, the Son of God and Samson display patient activity in waiting for the consummation of God's will on God's terms, and not by trying to effectuate providential aims through their actions alone.




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