[Milton-L] death in Eden.

Michael Bryson michael.bryson at csun.edu
Mon Nov 22 12:11:10 EST 2004

I don't know, Jameela. In teaching PL and PR this term, I 
was even more struck than ever before by what seems to me 
the remarkable evasiveness of Milton's "God" or "Father" 
character. The possibility you raise of "provide" being 
understandable as foresight (provideo) plays right into the 
central ambiguity of the Father's discourse in Book 3. Lines 
like 117-119 (if I foreknew, / Foreknowledge had no 
influence on their fault, / Which had no less prov'd certain 
unforeknown), which, while certainly susceptible to an 
interpretation that "acquits" the Father (especially given 
the interesting--and deliberately evasive--"if"), also lend 
themselves to darker interpretations against which ocean 
tides of critical ink have been loosed, notably from Lewis 
I suspect that the phrase "provided death" was meant by 
Milton to carry the weight of both foresight and 
forearrangement (something like the Calvinist sense 
that "God foreknew what end man was to have before he 
created him [...] because he so foreordained by his decree"--
Institutes 3.23.7). I don't think Milton is trying to get 
the Father off the hook quickly or neatly; quite the 
reverse, by leaving open the possibility of a "Calvinist" 
Father, I think he is trying to leave him dangling on the 
hook for as long as possible. Choosing the word "provided" 
works very nicely to that end precisely because it refuses 
the absolution of the Father that so many critics of Milton 
have tried to wrest from Paradise Lost (or to insist is 
obvious therein if only we remain on guard against our 
own "sin"). 

Leaving metrical considerations aside, "provided" (rather 
than either "foresaw" or "gave") keeps the question of the 
Father's responsibility open, and thus keeps open what I see 
as the significant thread of accusation that runs through 
the poem. (And despite the Father's insistence in Book 3 
that he cannot be "justly" accused, accusation is an 
important part of the project "to justify the ways of God to 

Michael Bryson

>Date: Mon, 22 Nov 2004 05:25:28 -0600
>From: Jameela Lares <Jameela.Lares at usm.edu>  
>Subject: Re: [Milton-L] death in Eden.  
>To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-
l at lists.richmond.edu>
>Interesting point, Michael.  To what extent is 
the "provide" a foreseeing
>(provideo) without associated responsibility?
>Quoting Michael Bryson <michael.bryson at csun.edu>:
>> Douglas,
>> Another thing to note, perhaps, is that at PL 11.61, the 
>> Father claims that he "provided death"--death may exist 
>> the "warped mind of Satan" (an old warhorse of an image 
>> Milton studies to be sure), but the Father seems to have 
>> difficulty regarding it and/or advertising it as his own 
>> rather strange gift, as line 60 seems to suggest that it 
>> provided to relieve humankind of "eternize[d] woe." 
>> Michael Bryson

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