PUBLISHED IN STUDIES IN PHILOLOGY
During the English Revolution, Westminster divines Cornelius Burges and Stephen Marshall resurrected the practice of preaching in Parliament in an attempt to articulate, without repair to kingship or Catholicism, what it meant to be free, godly, and English.
Though scholars have acknowledged Areopagitica’s debt to the nation-forming biblical rhetoric of these sermons, I argue that Milton commandeers that rhetoric—especially the application of the figure of Israel to the would-be commonwealth—in order to renovate his own public image, so that he and the nation cannot be thought apart.
Stung by the appalled response to his divorce tracts, Milton projects an ethos that is at once representative and apostolic, Isocratean and Pauline. He alone is qualified to speak to the nation as an apostle and for the nation as a representative.
Meanwhile, he also reworks the sermons’ figural depictions of England’s divine election, covenant, and religious conformity, so that his nation could not exist without him. This imbrication of persona and patria reconciles contrasting theories about Milton’s self-understanding and extends our knowledge of Milton’s nationalism in a time of revolution and religious upheaval.
This article won the Louis Round Wilson Award for Best Article in Studies in Philology published in 2019, and the Albert C. Labriola Award for Distinguished Article on John Milton by a Graduate Student by the Milton Society of America.