On The New Forcers Of Conscience Under The Long Parliament Quotes

John Milton

"New Presbyter Is But Old Priest Writ Large"

Context: In November of 1640, Charles I of England called the Long Parliament, which was to sit until 1653. This parliament was split into two camps, Royalists and Parliamentarians. The latter began the religious and social revolution that was to plunge England into a terrible civil war and included the beheading of King Charles himself in 1649. The church-reform movement by the Parliamentarians led John Milton to identify himself with their cause, and he wrote a series of pamphlets for it. He was on his way to becoming the great spokesman for the Presbyterian branch of the Parliamentarians when, suddenly, he stopped his publication of the controversial pamphlets, though for a time he had seemed carried away by a vision that the expulsion of bishops would end all of England's theological troubles. In 1642, in the spring of the year, he wrote his last pro-Presbyterian pamphlet; in that same year he contracted his unhappy first marriage with Mary Powell. This marriage was so unhappy for Milton that in 1643 he published his The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, which was a plea for divorce based upon incompatability. His Doctrine was immediately attacked as blasphemous and shameful. The attackers included some of Milton's friends, who were also Presbyterian ministers. Their attacks so embittered Milton, who expressed his bitterness in two sonnets and in On the New Forcers of Conscience, that he broke with his former friends and their cause. In this poem he attacks the Presbyterian leaders for becoming forcers of thought and conscience as bad as Archbishop Laud and his fellow-prelates had been. Innocent men, ones to be "held in high esteem with Paul," are now branded, he says, as heretics; he expresses the hope that parliament will take care of them:

But we do hope to find out all your tricks,
Your plots and packing worse than those of Trent,
That so the Parliament
May with their wholesome and preventive shears
Clip your phylacteries, though balk your ears,
And succor our just fears
When they shall read this clearly in your charge:
New presbyter is but old priest writ large.