The Weapons of the "True Warfaring Christian": Right Reason and Free Will in Seventeenth-Century Literature
MetadataShow full item record
Milton writes in Areopagitica of the "true warfaring Christian" who can "apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better." Though many reformers saw both human nature and the faculty of reason as depraved after the fall, Milton and other radical writers in the period emphasized the role that reason can and should play in the experience of spiritual warfare. The dissertation therefore begins by considering the theological contexts within which writers of the English Reformation understood evil and human encounters with evil, especially in the form of temptations, but also in the form of disturbing dreams and satanic presences. It then considers some epistemological problems as related to the experience of such conflicts: reason, especially right reason; knowledge, conscience and memory; and free will. Focusing on the texts of John Milton, Aemilia Lanyer, Richard Norwood, and John Bunyan, this study shows that these radical religious writers refuse to conform to the general tendency in Reformation theology to discount the use of reason. Eve's dream in Milton's Paradise Lost reveals the proper use of right reason in spiritual warfare, while the actual temptation scenes in Paradise Lost and Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum point to a fundamental failure of reason in the fall. Norwood's Confessions, Milton's Comus, and Milton's Samson Agonistes portray the triumphs of human reason over evil and temptation, though there remains an awareness of the constraints placed upon reason by their fallen nature such that reason needs the aid of divine grace to function as right reason. Milton's Paradise Regained and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress point to the extraordinary victories gained by Christ and Christian through the use of right reason and memory to direct the will toward the highest goods. These texts offer a counter-voice to those who would dismiss the possibilities of the powers of right reason. Despite the awareness of the inherent limits of fallen reason, these radical reformists generally find reason an indispensable tool in spiritual battles that helps direct their wills to the highest good.
Bradley, Nancy R. (2009). The Weapons of the "True Warfaring Christian": Right Reason and Free Will in Seventeenth-Century Literature. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from