Fleshly Tabernacles

Milton and the Incarnational Poetics of Revolutionary England

Bryan Adams Hampton

In Fleshly Tabernacles, Bryan Hampton examines John Milton’s imaginative engagement with, and theological passion for, the Incarnation. As aesthetic symbol, theological event, and narrative picture of humanity’s potential, the Incarnation profoundly governs the way Milton structures his 1645 Poems, ponders the holy office of the pulpit, reflects on the ends of speech and language, interprets sacred scripture or secular texts, and engages in the radical politics of the Civil War and Interregnum. Richly drawing upon the disciplines of historical and postmodern theology, philosophical hermeneutics, theological aesthetics, and literary theory, Fleshly Tabernacles pursues the wide-ranging implications of the heterodox, perfectionist strain in Milton’s Christology. Hampton illustrates how vibrant Christologies generated and shaped particular brands of anticlericalism, theories of reading and language, and political commitments of English nonconformist sects during the turbulent decades of the seventeenth century. Ranters and Seekers, Diggers and Quakers, Fifth monarchists and some Anabaptists—many of those identified with these radical groups proclaim that the Incarnation is primarily understood, not as a singular event of antiquity, but as a present eruption and charged manifestation within the life of the individual believer, such that faithful believers become “fleshly tabernacles” housing the Divine.

The perfectionist strain in Milton’s theology resonated in the works of the Independent preacher John Everard, the Digger Gerrard Winstanley, and the Quaker James Nayler. Fleshly Tabernacles intriguingly demonstrates how ideas of the incarnated Christ flourished in the world of revolutionary England, expressed in the notion that the regenerated human self could repair the ruins of church and state.

Bryan Adams Hampton is the Dorothy and James D. Kennedy Distinguished Teaching Associate Professor of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

“Fleshly Tabernacles is an important investigation of the Incarnation in Milton’s thought and works and in revolutionary England, especially in the 1640s and 1650s. This is a learned, often powerful, and conceptually rich study of an important topic in its broad cultural context. Bryan Adams Hampton makes an original contribution to the field of seventeenth-century literary and religious studies.” — David Loewenstein, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“In Fleshly Tabernacles Bryan Adams Hampton brings fresh attention to the critical topic of Milton’s heterodox Christology and its implications for his efforts as polemicist and poet. Hampton’s arguments are particularly illuminating as they concern the idiosyncratic doctrine of the incarnate word presented in Milton’s theological treatise in relation to his poetry. This original and thought-provoking book concludes with telling studies of heterodox incarnational theology as it shapes the writings of other radical seventeenth-century English religious writers such as Gerrard Winstanley and James Nayler.” — John Rumrich, University of Texas at Austin

“Bryan Hampton’s book makes an original and important contribution to the field of Milton studies, as well as to the study of seventeenth-century radical English religious thought. His work has further implications for the study of comparative hermeneutics, proposing provocative continuities and correlations between medieval and early modern approaches to interpretation on the one hand, and contemporary theories of language and meaning on the other. Exhaustively researched and meticulously annotated, Hampton’s readings of incarnational epistemologies offer a wealth of insights and suggestive parallels among early modern writers who are not often taken together.” — Jeffrey Spencer Shoulson, University of Miami


“By taking the Logos seriously as divinity and language, Fleshly Tabernacles finds new depths in seventeenth-century religious poetry, and adds a great deal to our understanding of Milton’s Christology. It develops a wide array of critical approaches, deftly synthesizing Patristic with postmodern theologians, with the historically specific discourses of early modern preachers and radicals, with language theorists such as Ricoeur and Wittgenstein, with Milton and Milton criticism.” —_Milton Quarterly_

“Hampton’s Fleshly Tabernacles is an interesting exposition of how Milton’s Christology shaped his reading, writing, and politics. It focuses on the Incarnation as a central preoccupation throughout Milton’s oeuvre and how Incarnational thinking was applied to such disparate realms as poetics, aesthetics, hermeneutics, and economics. . . . Hampton’s book can be praised for its boldness, and the requisite command of the Miltonic corpus required to sustain such a sweeping argument is impressive.” — Sixteenth Century Journal

“Fleshly Tabernacles is a clearly learned and meticulously researched piece of Milton scholarship, which students of intellectual and cultural history will find extremely useful.” — Renaissance Quarterly

“. . . anyone interested in Milton will want to engage Fleshly Tabernacles. Hampton’s scholarship here is certainly worthy of the common accolade offered in each of three back-cover blurbs from eminent Milton scholars (David Loewenstein, John Rumrich, Jeffrey Spencer Shoulson): this book makes an ‘original’ and ‘important’ (or ‘thought-provoking’) contribution to Milton studies. This I affirm and add only that Hampton does this in a lucid prose style that incarnates his superb reading of Milton’s texts in a more virtuous fashion.” — Modern Philology