John Milton on how moral degeneracy leads to popery

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Puritan Board Freshman
This quote stood out to me while reading Milton's Prose, notwithstanding the fact that the man's theology is the subject of deep controversy. Many, pointing to De Doctrina Christiana, maintain that Milton was a heretical Arian. But the authenticity of the Arian section of that treatise, and really the treatise itself, is by no means certain, with serious scholars such as Grant Horner, David Urban and William Hunter having recently challenged the idea that Milton was an Arian. If Milton did write the Arian section of that treatise, it certainly contradicts Milton's clear and obvious Trinitarianism in "Of Reformation," "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity," and perhaps even Paradise Lost, wherein Milton describes the Son as equal to God in a manner that no Arian would do.

But, whatever Milton's beliefs were, he hit the nail on the head in his discussion of Popery as a judgment of God for rampant sinfulness, as well as in his logical connection that people in this immoral atmosphere find the papacy oddly attractive. For those who haven't read "Of True Religion, Heresy, and Error," Milton's call for moral repentance to stave off idolatrous popery comes after his exhortation to the English people to be constant in their Scriptural readings and studies, as that is in his view the very best way to preserve a Protestant culture. Also interesting is his fairly Calvinist-sounding use of Isaiah 44:18.

"The last means to avoid popery is, to amend our lives: it is a general complaint, that this nation of late years is grown more numerously and excessively vicious than heretofore; pride, luxury, drunkenness, whoredom, cursing, swearing, bold and open atheism every where abounding: where these grow, no wonder if popery also grow apace. There is no man so wicked, but at some times his conscience will wring him with thoughts of another world, and the peril of his soul; the trouble and melancholy, which he conceives of true repentance and amendment, he endures not, but inclines rather to some carnal superstition, which may pacify and lull his conscience with some more pleasing doctrine. None more ready and officious to offer herself than the Romish, and opens wide her office, with all her faculties, to receive him; easy confession, easy absolution, pardons, indulgences, masses for him both quick and dead, Agnus Dei’s, relics, and the like: and he, instead of “working out his salvation with fear and trembling,” straight thinks in his heart, (like another kind of fool than he in the Psalms,) to bribe God as a corrupt judge; and by his proctor, some priest, or friar, to buy out his peace with money, which he cannot with his repentance. For God, when men sin outrageously, and will not be admonished, gives over chastising them, perhaps by pestilence, fire, sword, or famine, which may all turn to their good, and takes up his severest punishments, hardness, besottedness of heart, and idolatry, to their final perdition. Idolatry brought the heathen to heinous transgressions, Rom. ii. And heinous transgressions ofttimes bring the slight professors of true religion to gross idolatry: 1 Thess. ii. 11, 12: “For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” And Isaiah xliv. 18, speaking of idolaters, “They have not known nor understood, for he hath shut their eyes that they cannot see, and their hearts that they cannot understand.” Let us, therefore, using this last means, last here spoken of, but first to be done, amend our lives with all speed; lest through impenitency we run into that stupidity which we now seek all means so warily to avoid, the worst of superstitions, and the heaviest of all God’s judgments, popery.”

In my own life, I see this passage and it reminds me of all the people whom I know that came from doctrinally-lax evangelical backgrounds and decided to jump to Roman Catholicism. They were all attracted to the the pseudo-ancient traditions that Rome lays claim too as an alternative to the emptiness and nihilism of modern life in liberal American society.

I really do think that the atheistic liberal state has greatly fueled this movement away from Protestantism. As in Milton's day, we too deal with rampant "pride, luxury, drunkenness, whoredom, cursing, swearing, bold and open atheism" and people—many of whom are political conservatives—become so alienated by moral licentiousness that they decide to reject Christian liberty altogether and crawl to the Roman Church which makes little pretense of loving it.
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