Gods and Devils in the 17th Century 

Dr. Michael Bryson

There are some people, however, who […] assert that God is, in himself, the cause and author of sin. […] If I should attempt to refute them, it would be like inventing a long argument to prove that God is not the Devil.  John Milton, De Doctrina Christiana  

Course Description
Who or what is God? Is God self-evidently good, or is it possible that God is evil? Seventeenth-century England (as well as the rest of Europe) was awash with controversies over how God was to be imagined. At one extreme were constructions of God as an authoritarian personal deity who predestines some human beings to salvation and others to eternal damnation. At the other extreme were “mystical” constructions of deity that dispensed with the idea of a personal God, imagining instead a “divine” light or presence waiting to be discovered within each man and woman. This class will consider drama, poetry and prose—by Marlowe, Vondel, Donne, Herbert, Herrick, Milton, and Vaughan—in the theological and political contexts of these controversies.

Each student will do three assignments. 

1) An in-class presentation taking approximately 5-10 minutes, selected from the options given below, or on a topic cleared with me in advance. Notes for this presentation will be prepared as an outline, and turned in to me after the presentation is made. 
2) A 5-6 page essay on either
Dr. Faustus or Paradise Lost, focusing in particular on the issue of predestination, due by 10 PM Friday of week 6. 
3) An 8-10 page paper, topic open, due by
10 PM Saturday of week 10 (research done for presentations may, of course, be included in this paper).

Weekly Preview

 Week 1: Introductions. 17th century theological/political disputes: God, Salvation, the Church, Kings and Kingship.

Class handout/reading: A brief outline of Calvinism and Arminianism.
Class handout/reading: An example of Calvinist and Arminian positions.

Week 2: Renaissance Demonology/Magic and Witchcraft.

Reading: John Calvin (selections from Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapters 21-24; Reginald Scot (The Discoverie of Witchcraft, Books 1 & 2),  King James VI/I—Daemonologie 1597 Marlowe—Dr. Faustus (compare the "A" and "B" texts online)

Student Report 1: The “historical” Faust. See "The Historie of the damnable life, and the deserved death of Doctor Iohn Faustus"

Week 3: “Of man’s first disobedience,” and Angelic Rebellion: “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven”—Why? Also, God as a King and/or Tyrant, the Son as Intercessor and/or Rebel.

Reading: Genesis 1-3, 18:20-33, Exodus 32:1-14 (find a Bible at home, in the library, or read it online), Milton—Paradise Lost Books 1-3.

Student report 2: Milton, Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649). 
Find library edition or look online at 

See also http://www.michaelbryson.net/miltonweb/tenureofkings.html

Student report 3: John Calvin (section of Institutes of the Christian Religion on Civil Authority, sections 22-32).

Week 4: Male and Female in the Garden of Eden—Is Adam and Eve’s a Companionate Marriage? Plus, War in Heaven—Rebellion Against a King.

Reading: Milton—Paradise Lost Books 4-6, see also two different versions of Psalm 2

Student report 4: Milton, Book 1 of Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce  
(2nd edition of 1644). Find library edition, or look online at   

See also the following:

Student report 5: Diane K. McColley, “Milton and the Sexes,” in The Cambridge Companion to Milton, Ed. Dennis Danielson, Cambridge UP, 1989, 147-166.

Student report 6: Stella Purce Revard, The War in Heaven (1980), Chapter 3.

Week 5: The Structure of the Universe—Milton’s Cosmology. Plus, The Fall—A Setup?

Reading: Milton—Paradise Lost Books 7-9

Student report 7: The Universe according to Ptolemy and Copernicus 
(a brief overview of the different models of the Solar system and their implications for the place/importance of human beings in the universe).      

Week 6: The Aftermath of Sin, and History of the World, Part One—A Paradise Within Thee, Happier Far.

Reading: Milton—Paradise Lost Books 10-12

Student report 8: Felix Culpa, or the Fortunate Fall. See the following:

·     Arthur O. Lovejoy, "Milton and the Paradox of the Fortunate Fall,” ELH 4 (1937), 161-179. (Fairly large PDF file)

Student report 9:

·     John C. Ulreich, “A Paradise Within: The Fortunate Fall in Paradise Lost,” JHI 32 (1971), 351-366. (Fairly large PDF file)

Student Report 10: The Inner Light, or God Within Each Believer. 

·     Alexander Parker. "A testimony of the Light within" London: printed for Giles Calvert at the Black spread-Eagle at the west end of Pauls, 1657. (Very large file).

Week 7: God Re-imagined, or Paradise Regained, part 1

Reading: Milton—Paradise Regained Books 1-2

Student Report 11: The Inner Light, or God Within Each Believer, part 2.

Week 8: God Re-imagined, or Paradise Regained, part 2

Reading: Milton—Paradise Regained Books 3-4

Student Report 12:  David Loewenstein, "The Kingdom Within: Radical Religious Culture and the Politics of Paradise Regained," in Literature and History Autumn 1994 (volume 3, number 2)—download this article as an Adobe PDF file. (Very large file)

Week 9: Satan’s Fall—Through Envy of God or Envy of Humans?

Reading: Genesis 4:1-16, Isaiah 14:12, Ezekiel 28:12-19 (find a Bible at home, in the library, or read it online), Vondel—Lucifer

Student report 13: Jeffrey Burton Russell, Satan: The Early Christian Tradition pp. 80-88 (section on Irenaeus, theologian of the 2nd century CE).

Student report 14: Jeffrey Burton Russell, Satan: The Early Christian Tradition pp. 88-101 (section on Tertullian, theologian of the 2nd century CE).

Student report 15: Jeffrey Burton Russell, Satan: The Early Christian Tradition pp.123-148  (section on Origen, a theologian of the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE).

Week 10: Where is God to be Found/How is God to be Imagined?  

Reading: Selected poetry by Donne, Herbert, Vaughan, and Herrickfind these poems here as an Adobe PDF file.

Student report 16: Donne, Sermon XXIII (from the Folio of 1640)—download this sermon as an Adobe PDF file.

Student report 17: Milton De Doctrina Christiana (Christian Doctrine), Book 1, Chapter 2 (The current best edition is from The Complete Prose Works of John Milton, vol. 6, Yale UP.)

(All books will be available either online or at the Campus Bookstore.)  

  1. Marlowe--Dr. Faustus, Paperback - 56 pages (October 1994), Dover Pubns; ISBN: 0486282082 
  2. Milton--The Major Works, Paperback - 1088 pages (April 2003), Oxford University Press; ISBN: 0140433635 
  3. Vondel--Lucifer, Paperback (August 1991), Theatre Communications Group; ISBN: 0948230371
  4. Reginald Scot--The Discoverie of Witchcraft, Paperback reissue edition (July 1989), Dover Pubns; ISBN: 0486260305 
  5. King James--Daemonologie 
  6. Calvin--The Institutes of Christian Religion [ABRIDGED], Baker Book House; ISBN: 0801025249