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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Milton Alluded to Calvin’s Four “Guerre, Irreconciliable” References

on Tuesday, I’ve had the chance to follow up on my claim that Milton’s War, Irreconcileable”  not only had the 1643 Westminster Confession of Silence as a significant source, but even more so, also John Calvin’s writings a century earlier, in 1536.

I now have dug a little deeper, and determined that Calvin used this phrase “war, irreconcileable” not once, not twice, but four times in his religious writings – and all of them relating to the perpetual battle between God and Satan.

And apropos spelling and word order, please note two other facts that fit perfectly with the Calvin allusion being primary for Milton:

In French -- the language into which the French-speaking Calvin’s original Latin was, I assume, first translated -- the noun “guerre” precedes the verb “irreconciliable”, just as with Milton’s “war, irreconcileable”; and

Also in French, the word “irreconciliable” was, in the 16th century, and still is today, spelled with that vowel “i” after the “l”; again, that is just as with Milton’s manuscript’s vowel “e” after the “l”.

With that background, here, then, are Calvin’s four usages, in context – most important, as I noted above, all of them relate to the war between God and Satan, that Calvin was so perpetually focused on, and which is obviously the central setting of Satan’s first speech in Paradise Lost, in media res, as he awakens, stunned but unbowed, in the depths of Hell:

We may with more successful HOPE resolve
To wage by force or guile ETERNAL WAR,
Who now triumphs, and in th' excess of joy
Sole reigning holds the tyranny of Heaven."

FIRST: Calvin’s Commentary on Psalms 92:9:

Psalms 92:9 For lo, thine ENEMIES, O Lord: for lo, thine ENEMIES shall perish: all the workers of INIQUITY shall be destroyed.

Calvin: “…When staggered in our own faith at any time by the prosperity of the WICKED, we should learn by his example to rise in our contemplations to a God in heaven, and the conviction will immediately follow in our minds that his ENEMIES cannot long continue to triumph. The Psalmist tells us who they are that are GOD’S ENEMIES. God HATES none without a cause; nay, so far as men are the workmanship of his hand, he embraces them in his fatherly love.
But as nothing is more opposed to his nature than SIN, he [God] proclaims IRRECONCILABLE WAR with the WICKED. It contributes in no small degree to the comfort of the Lord's people, to know that the reason why the WICKED are DESTROYED is, their being necessarily the objects of GOD'S HATRED, so that he can no more fail to punish them than deny himself.

Same passage, in Calvin’s French: Car il ne hait personne sans cause, mais plustost d'autant que les hommes sont ses créatures, il leur porte une amour paternelle. Mais pource qu'il n'y a rien tant contraire à sa nature qu'injustice, il dénonce UNE GUERRE IRRECONCILIABLE à tous meschans. Aussi les fidèles reçoyvent de là une consolation qui n'est pas petite, quand on leur allègue ceste cause de la perdition des meschans, qu'il faut nécessairement qu'ils soyent hays de Dieu, lequel ne se peut renoncer soy-mesme.

SECOND: Calvin’s Commentary on Psalms 139:22:

Psalms 139: 22 I hate them with an unfeigned HATRED, as they were mine utter ENEMIES.

Calvin: “On the other hand, it is a proof of our having a fervent zeal for God when we have the magnanimity to declare IRRECONCILABLE WAR with the WICKED and them who HATE GOD, rather than court their favor at the expense of alienating the divine layout. We are to observe, however, that the hatred of which the Psalmist speaks is directed to the sins rather than the persons of the wicked. We are, so far as lies in us, to study peace with all men; we are to seek the good of all, and, if possible, they are to be reclaimed by kindness and good offices: only so far as they are ENEMIES TO GOD we must strenuously CONFRONT their RESENTMENT.”

In Calvin’s original French: “…sinon que nous ayons ceste magnanimité de plustost choisir d'avoir UNE GUERRE IRRECONCILIABLE avec les meschans et contempteurs de Dieu…”

THIRD: Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion 1:15

1:15. One thing which ought to animate us to perpetual contest with the DEVIL is, that he is everywhere called both OUR ADVERSARY and the ADVERSARY OF GOD. For, if the GLORY of God is dear to us, as it ought to be, we ought to struggle with all our might against him who aims at the extinction of that GLORY. If we are animated with proper zeal to maintain the kingdom of Christ, we must WAGE PERPETUAL & IRRECONCILABLE WAR with him who conspires its ruin. Again, if we have any anxiety about our own salvation, we ought to make no peace nor truce with him who is continually laying schemes for its destruction.

In Calvin’s original French: “…Si nous sommes affectionez, comme nous le devons ester, a maintenir le Regne de Jesus-Christ en son entire, ne faut-il pas que nous ayions UNE GUERRE PERPETUELLE & IRRECONCILIABLE avec celuy qui s’efforce de le detruire?

Note in particular that in this commentary among the four, Calvin refers to an irreconcilable and perpetual war, which is why, I claim, Milton’s Satan vows “eternal war, irreconcileable,”.

FOURTH: Calvin’s Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists:

Mark 1:34  And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases: and he cast out many devils, and suffered not the devils to say that they knew him.

Calvin’s Commentary on Mark 1:34: He did not permit the devils to speak. There might be two reasons why he did not permit them: a general reason, because the time of the full revelation was not yet come; and a special reason, which we hinted at a little ago, that he refused to have, as heralds and witnesses of his divinity, those whose praise could have no other effect than to soil and injure his character. This latter reason is undoubtedly true: for he must have known, that the prince of death, and his agents, are in a state of IRRECONCILABLE war with the Author of eternal salvation and life.

In Calvin’s French: “Car il a falu qu'on sceult le discord et LA GUERRE IRRECONCILIABLE  qu'avoit l'autheur de salui éternel et de vie, avec le prince de la mort & ses supports.”


I don’t see any other plausible inference from the above than that Milton meant for his theologically knowledgeable readers to recognize, from the very start of Paradise Lost, that Calvin’s theology was his next most significant allusive source, second only to the Books of Genesis and Revelation.

In regard to the alpha and omega of the Christian Bible, I also learned yesterday that Calvin, for all his comprehensive Biblical commentaries, never wrote one about Revelation. Could it be that Milton noticed that, and decided he would fill that void, and not just write such a commentary, he would dramatize it on a massive scale!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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