Books Promiscuously Read: Day 5

Areopagitica
John Milton

Well knows he who uses to consider, that our faith and knowledge thrives by exercise, as well as our limbs and complexion. Truth is compared in Scripture to a streaming fountain; if her waters flow not in a perpetual progression, they sicken into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition. A man may be a heretic in the truth; and if he believe things only because his pastor says so, or the Assembly so determines, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes his heresy.


What makes a book worthy of destruction?  Books have been banned and burned for one reason or another since they were first created.  Even Moses smashed his first edition copy of the Ten Commandments!  The burning of books was featured in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as a logical conclusion to selective information curation. Should we be free to read anything we choose?

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior wrote:

The next time my youth leaders had an overnighter at their home, the husband took us up to his attic—it wasn’t a real attic, mind you, but kind of a cubby hole built into the side of an upstairs room—and told us that he had taken all the albums from his youth that he had once stored there and burned them.

Should any book be destroyed because of its content? Is the same rule true for music?

Exodus 32:19

When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


John Milton and Areopagitica

John Milton

(1608–74), poet and controversialist. The son of a scrivener, he was educated at St Paul’s School, London, and at Christ’s College, Cambridge (1625–32), where he won a high reputation for his scholarship and literary gifts; his famous Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity (1629) belongs to this period. From 1632 to 1638 he lived on his father’s estate at Horton in Buckinghamshire. Having abandoned his original intention of taking orders because of the ‘tyranny’ that had invaded the Church under Abp. W. *Laud, he devoted himself entirely to scholarship and literature. Among his finest poems of this period are L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, which are sometimes taken as expressing the two sides of his nature, torn between the desire for pleasure and the love of meditation and silence. In ‘A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634’ [Comus] (pr. 1637), he sings the praises of chastity in a dramatic poem. In 1637 he wrote the monody Lycidas on the death of a friend, containing a sharp satiric allusion to the clergy, one of his main themes in later years. Next year he travelled in Italy, and after his return moved to London, where he spent many years in political and religious controversy. In 1641 he joined the *Presbyterians and took part in the famous ‘*Smectymnuus’ affair, and about the same time wrote The Reason of Church Government Urged against Prelacy, a fierce attack on episcopacy in which he saw only an instrument of tyranny. In 1643 he married Mary Powell, a member of a strongly royalist family. She left him shortly afterwards, and he returned once more to the question of the reform of the divorce laws, writing The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), in which he made a passionate appeal for the solubility of marriage on the grounds of incompatibility of character and declared the sanctity and sacramental character of marriage to be a clerical invention. The treatise, which roused a heated discussion, caused his break with the Presbyterians. Its publication without a licence from the censor led the case to be submitted to Parliament and drew from Milton his celebrated Areopagitica (1644) in defence of the freedom of the press.

 
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1095–1096.
 

Areopagitica: A Speech of Mr John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parliament of England, pamphlet by John Milton, published in 1644 to protest an order issued by Parliament the previous year requiring government approval and licensing of all published books. Four earlier pamphlets by the author concerning divorce had met with official disfavour and suppressive measures.

The title of the work derives from “Areopagus” (“Hill of Ares”), the name of the site from which the high court of Athens administered its jurisdiction and imposed a general censorship. In a prose style that draws heavily on Greek models, Milton argues that to mandate licensing is to follow the example of the detested papacy. He defends the free circulation of ideas as essential to moral and intellectual development. Furthermore, he asserts, to attempt to preclude falsehood is to underestimate the power of truth. While the immediate objective of the Areopagitica—repeal of licensing—was not obtained for another 50 years, the tract has earned a permanent place in the literature of human rights.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.