[Milton-L] Poslapsarian Liberty

Margaret Thickstun mthickst at hamilton.edu
Sat Nov 26 13:04:05 EST 2005

Carl's post approaches the crux of Puritan theology in mid-century: 
in a strictly Calvinist interpretation of salvation, grace, not human 
effort, effects regeneration and provokes that experimental or deeply 
felt conviction that seventeenth-century protestants differentiate 
from notional, or purely intellectual, knowledge.  But English 
Puritanism, by the Interregnum, had moved far beyond Calvin's 
original articulation of God's sovereignty and absolute autonomy 
toward a covenantal theology that provided believers and clergy or 
educators with a more workable model.   In this modified Calvinist 
system, clergymen identified stages of conversion-- conviction of sin 
produces repentance, regeneration, and, finally, sanctification--and 
worked to produce the first in order to prepare for the later stages. 
As N. Ray Hiner points out, "conversion, the Puritan's overriding 
educational objective, was essentially affective in nature, but 
Puritan pedagogy, or preparation for conversion, was largely 
cognitive" (17).  The Puritan curriculum and pedagogical project 
moves toward what he aptly characterizes as the "rigorous 'final 
examination'" (Hiner 5) of conversion, a moment that tests the 
quality of the instruction as much as it does the student.  This 
educational practice recognizes instruction as an "efficient cause," 
even if "the final cause" is God (P. Miller, "Marrow" 93).

So Adam and Eve, through their repentance, work toward being ready to 
receive grace, even though they can't make God give it to them.  Of 
course, God plans to give it to them because he fore-knows that they 
will be repentant.  Milton thus is able to preserve God's sovereignty 
and his reasonableness.

Here are various useful sources: N. Ray Hiner, "The Cry of Sodom 
Enquired Into: Educational Analysis in Seventeenth-Century New 
England."  History of Education Quarterly (1973).  3-22, Perry 
Miller, "The Marrow of Puritan Divinity" 60-63, Charles Lloyd Cohen, 
God's caress : the psychology of Puritan religious experience (Oxford 
University Press, 1986), and Edmund Morgan, Visible Saints: The 
History of a Puritan Idea (Cornell University Press, 1963); the 
section of De Doctrina Christiana titled "Of Renovation and also of 
Vocation," which, in distinguishing penitence from faith, and 
temporary and historical faith from saving faith (CPW, 6:458-60), 
implies human activity in responding to God's call, and "Of the 
Visible Church," which addresses the role of ministers, who act as 
God's agents, although their activity "is not able to confer grace by 
itself" (CPW, 6:569).

Most of this is excerpted from a piece I published on Raphael in MQ 
in 2001.--Margie

>Jeffery Hodges asks:
>>When, exactly, do Milton's Adam and Eve receive "prevenient grace"?
>Why do you want an "exact" moment?
>I would say they receive it at 10.1100-1101 at the phrase, "and both 
>confess'd humbly thir faults." This is just four lines previous to 
>the 11.1-8 passage you provided.  The passage at 10.220-223 which 
>you also provided, is about the gift of a covering, both outward 
>and, yes, inward, but nevertheless simply a sheild between the 
>sinner and the "Father's sight."  The radical heart surgery takes 
>place "exactly" when they confess. Of course the language at 10.1100 
>describing their confession, language whose source is Milton's 
>narrative voice, is an almost exact duplicate --for five lines 
>running-- of language Adam proposes a few lines earlier, 10.1087 ff, 
>when he suggests to Eve his plan of action. This duplication perhaps 
>may provoke another question of regression [cf your query on the pun 
>of "Eve-ill"]: how could Adam plan his confession in such precise 
>and apparently appropriate terms if some sort of grace had not 
>already been at work. But then, work in the mind --seeing the 
>benefit of confession and planning to confess-- is not the same as 
>work in the heart, and the prevenient grace described at 11.1-8 is 
>work in the heart: the stony heart, and the heart of flesh.

Margaret Thickstun
Elizabeth J. McCormack Professor of English
Hamilton College
198 College Hill Rd
Clinton, NY 13323
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