Sunday, 24 June 2012

Milton's Areopagitica: A Work for Freedom and Trust of Truth

Areopagitica is one of Milton's non-fiction works, and the second Milton's non-fiction that I read. I am interested in Milton because, since I first read Paradise Lost, I have felt that he's a special being with interesting things in his mind. Another reason is the way he delivers his thoughts. Maybe it's just me, but I feel fire in his writings. Sometimes I feel rage, zeal, such a spirit that for him words could hardly serve his purpose. That, plus the boldness in his writings, make me love his works.

So let's continue to the book: Areopagitica. The copy that I got started with the edict that was issued at the time of Milton's life regarding the regulation and printing of books. Then it continues with Milton quoting Euripid, and then his treatise begins. First, I'd like to give a brief summary of the book, and then while doing so, I'll write what makes me think it's so interesting.

Firstly Milton stated that book licensing was first issued by the Catholic Inquisition (Milton himself was not a Catholic). The Greeks and Romans, fathers of philosophy, didn't know such idea. One sentence touched my heart more than the others.

“But that a book, in worse condition than a peccant soul, should be to stand before a jury ere it be born to the world, and undergo yet in darkness the judgment of Radamanth and his colleagues, ere it can pass the ferry backward into light, was never heard before.”

If a sinful man can freely be born into the world, why can't a book be freely born to it as well? If God does not judge a man based on what he might do, why should men judge a book based on what it may produce?

And on this Milton couldn't resist being so sarcastic. (How I love the man).

“Sometimes five Imprimaturs are seen together dialogue-wise in the piazza of one title-page, complimenting and ducking each to other with their shaven reverences, whether the author, who stands by in perplexity at the foot of his epistle, shall to the press or to the sponge.”

Next he stated that just because a book is bad, it doesn't mean that the book must necessarily be harmful. Even Moses, Daniel and Paul were educated in Egyptian, Chaldean, and Roman wisdom but it didn't automatically make them heretics or something alike. In fact, Paul quoted Greek literatures when he was in Athens, and by doing so helped the people there accepting the Bible.

He also wrote that even God himself never condemns reading of materials as sinful. He quoted the book of Thessalonians that says, “Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.” He argued that since God has given men wisdom and freewill, they should choose for themselves whether to read or not to read, and further whether to agree or disagree with what they read. Hence if anyone would burn a book out of hatred, let it be of his own voluntary act, not a forced act by government instituted decree.

On the statement that a bad book might harm less-educated men, Milton wrote:

“And again, if it be true that a wise man, like a good refiner, can gather gold out of the drossiest volume, and that a fool will be a fool with the best book, yea or without book; there is no reason that we should deprive a wise man of any advantage to his wisdom, while we seek to restrain from a fool, that which being restrained will be no hindrance to his folly.”

His next argument was that if the government wants to prevent corruption to the people by their decree, simply licensing books wouldn't be enough. There would still be music, dancing, and many other things that the law cannot regulate. And even if the law were to regulate them all, it would be nothing but folly, because, please, how could it?

“They are not skilful considerers of human things, who imagine to remove sin by removing the matter of sin”

The other thing that I really like is his argument that licensing would only hinder the Truth from coming to light. Then his former argument that licences would not prevent corruption of the mind and this argument proved to be a double blow for his readers. The government would not only fail to cast away darkness, it would also block the emerging light of Truth and science.

“For who knows not that Truth is strong, next to the Almighty? She needs no policies, nor stratagems, nor licensings to make her victorious... Give her but room, and do not bind her when she sleeps.

Milton also stated that the Truth might take “more shape than one”, and quoting Paul, he also showed that he appreciated the voice of conscience, when people who eat and who don't, who regard a day and who don't may do either for the Lord. The idea of respecting people's conscience I also find beautiful.

I know that I have already written so much. In fact, this might be my longest blog post so far. But let me ask a few more lines. After reading, I thought, why did he write this in such zeal and spirit? I don't doubt his good intention, but is there anything more than that? I found out that he had his own idea of things, some of them were not in line with either the government or the church. Was he afraid that his ideas couldn't be published, and thus covering the 'Truth' he believed in? Only Milton knew.


  1. I have often heard about Paradise Lost, but not this one. Just curious, in what century this book has been written?

    1. It was written in 1644. It's old, but good. :D

      Paradise Lost is good as well. It emphasizes human's free will and freedom of choice.