[Milton-L] The Failure of Milton's Theodicy

Mitchell M. Harris mmharris at mail.utexas.edu
Wed Feb 9 09:32:24 EST 2005


Mike-

We also should note that  to "justify the ways of God to man" is a 
fairly broad and loose statement--not necessitating the focus of 
Milton's theodicy on heroism or even goodness in general (as your 
e-mail seems to suggest). The role of the theodicy in Christian 
apologetics generally is defined by the desire to make sense of human 
suffering, which includes understanding the existence and ontology of 
evil and the nature of God's goodness and foreknowledge (the tripartite 
division of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence). Milton's 
expansive consideration of the Fall and Satan's role therein seems 
quite natural given such an understanding of the theodicy. How does 
evil come to exist? Satan. If God knew that Adam and Eve would fall, 
how could he allow Satan to tempt them (especially if he is all-loving 
and all-good)? Free will. Is God still good after all of this? Yes, 
because He allows the Son to come forward to redeem humankind--He 
doesn't abandon His project. Of course, many others will disagree (and 
have disagreed) with the stock answers I have provided. Peter Herman's 
e-mail suggests the very places you should begin to look in order to 
examine critical and scholarly readers who also come away from Paradise 
Lost feeling disappointed in Milton's ability to defend God. I hope 
that this is of some help.

As a side note in regard to your second message, I seem to be one of 
only a handful who believe Paradise Regain'd to be the better poem 
(extremely delightful, complex, compelling, exciting, etc., etc.), and 
one of few to view the Son as a much more complex and heroic character 
than Satan. I also believe that Milton's theodicy is not complete until 
this poem is written (and read), but enough of my proselytizing. Best 
of luck with the paper.

	Mitch Harris

Mitchell M. Harris
Assistant Instructor
Department of English
The University of Texas at Austin
mmharris at mail.utexas.edu
www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~harris

"Truth will easily defend itself, even
  if we absent ourselves."

				- Cicero


On Feb 8, 2005, at 10:57 PM, Michael Travis Streeter wrote:

> Dear Miltonists and Milton fanatics,
>
> I am endeavoring to transform an essay of mine into something more 
> scholarly and I could profit from everyone's consultation.
>
> William Blake once placed Milton with the devil's party and I am 
> inclined to agree with him.  Milton issues a sizable portion of his 
> theodicy to the character of Satan and leaves little room for any 
> other character to take the helm.  Yet it is precisely Milton's deep 
> investment in the devil that makes me hesitant to call his project a 
> theodicy - for a theodicy is motivated chiefly by faith to "justifie 
> the wayes of God to men" I.25.  Satan, as a perversion of the good, is 
> not motivated by _faith_ but instead by _doubt_ to _try_ the ways of 
> God to men (he even drifts so far as to doubt the entire act of 
> creation).  So, Milton's project seems to fail as a theodicy and 
> triumphs more as a critique.  And if I am wrong, is there any other 
> character who champions Milton's cause of theodicy other than Satan?  
> The only alternative I can contrive is a prelapsarian Adam and Eve who 
> exhibit the Christian humility and faith necessary to justify God's 
> ways.  But here again, even their the
> odicy fails after the fall.  That would only leave Gabriel, Abdiel or 
> Michael to vindicate God and they all seem to respond more to the 
> questions of theodicy rather than provoke them.
>
> Also, I have one minor question.  Was it Milton or Tennyson after him 
> who inaugurated the phrase "Nature, red in tooth and nail"?
>
> Thanks,
>
> Mike Streeter
> streetm at stthom.edu
>
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> Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
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>
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