[Milton-L] Why sin in Milton's creation?

David Ainsworth dbainswo at students.wisc.edu
Wed Jan 21 21:34:10 EST 2004

Part of the answer to that question depends on how you read Paradise Lost 
Book VIII's discussion between God and Adam prior to Eve's creation.

God's rather pointed question to Adam inviting this newly created man to 
speculate concerning His own condition leads Adam to respond:
"No need that thou/Shouldst propagate, already infinite;" (VIII, 419-20)

By comparing his own imperfect state, his own need to propagate, his need 
for a helpmeet, with God's perfect state, Adam generates a powerful 
argument for the creation of a companion out of God's question to him.

God's response addresses Adam's need, but says nothing concerning Adam's 
understanding of God's own state.

If one decides that Adam is correct in his perception of God, then Creation 
emerges from no need in God to create.  Then again, that doesn't mean he 
has no love for Creation, however imperfect it may be ("...well thou 
know'st how dear/To me are all my works" III, 276-7).  Stepping heavily on 
the paternal aspect of God the Father... a parent may not have a need for a 
child, but may desire a child not out of a sense of personal 
incompleteness, but out of a desire to share life and love.

But Milton leaves the point somewhat open, I think, perhaps because he 
wasn't quite sure.  God's reasons for creating everything are ultimately 
his own, and if he doesn't share them it would be sheer arrogance to claim 
to know his mind.  So the passage in Book VIII leaves some ambiguity, as 
Adam states that man, unlike God, "by number is to manifest/His single 
imperfection, and beget/Like of his like, his Image multipli'd" (VIII, 
422-4).  In approving Adam's argument, God notes that he has expressed 
"well the spirit within thee free,/My Image, not imparted to the Brute," 
(VIII, 440-1).  Given the context, Milton leaves open the question of why 
God, who is One, would pass on his Image.

At the moment I'd personally say that Milton sees free will as central to 
the Image of God.  Since Adam discusses how God holds power sufficient to 
raise up imperfect creation, God may have created free willed beings in the 
hope that he can elevate them through generosity (and grace) to a status 
not much inferior to himself.  But there are some major problems with that 
interpretation, and if you ask me to interpret this passage again in a few 
months I expect I'd have a somewhat different position.

If I were feeling puckishly Empsonian, I might answer this question instead 
by suggesting that God creates beings in his own Image so that they may 
have the great privilege and pleasure of loving him as much as he loves 
himself--purely for their own benefit, of course.


At 01:14 PM 1/20/2004 -0500, James Rovira wrote:
>Thanks to Cynthia and Deborah for the suggestions.
>I think the idea of "proliferation" works in general, but I wonder how 
>well it works for Milton?   I think any answer that related to some unmet 
>need on God's part wouldn't work for Milton, but I'm wondering how he 
>would have worked this out, since I'm not sure he was trinitarian.
>The traditional, trinitarian answer is that God doesn't need others to 
>love because God is a trinity to begin with -- God is both the subject and 
>object of his own love, self giving and self receiving.  Was this answer 
>possible for Milton?  If not, how did he work it out?
>gilliaca at jmu.edu wrote:
>>>>The question  I was asking was, "Why create people -at all-
>>>Perhaps a true artist needs to create, as well as to give?
>>See Dorothy Sayers' "The Mind of the Maker."
>>My take is God creates from love.  Love seeks a lover [it is too cold to 
>>say 'an object'].  The wonder of the creation of humanity is well 
>>expressed, to my mind, in the Collect for 2 Christmas, as found in the 
>>1979 BCP: "O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully 
>>respored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine 
>>life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus 
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