[Milton-L] Strier, the Son's role and necessity

William Kolbrener kolbrew at mail.biu.ac.il
Tue Aug 1 21:00:10 EDT 2006

Re: [Milton-L] Strier, the Son's role and necessityThe issue which Richard Streir raises about God's announcement of salvation simply raises, in a different register, the question of free-will.  That is, how, given the providential narrative set forth in the first five lines of the poem, can any meaningful notion of free-will be attributed to not only the Son, but mankind in general?  A response to such a claim might hinge upon conceptions of temporality--that there are different conceptions of time, one divine, one human.  Milton's tendency towards Arianism, his assertion of the incommensurality between God and his meditiator, places Jesus in the realm of created beings who provides a priviliged mediation of the divine, but a mediation nonetheless (which reveals, as many on this list have already implied, Milton's strong discomfort with traditional notions of the conception of Satisfaction).  The opening lines of Book III (that is after the invocation) as well as the episode in which Jesus "volunteers," constantly move between such temporal perspectives (I would mention in passing that close study of such passages can provide great material for introducting students to the importance of Miltonic punctuation).  One would certainly be right to assert, from a philosophical perspective, that these temporal perspectives contradict one another.  But Milton was not a philosopher, and he uses shifts in narrative frames to represent different conceptions of the temporal--and the perspectives which they afford.  In this sense, Milton may represent a conception of divine time (what Kermode in A Sense of an Ending describes as kairos), but also the chronological realm of time (chronos) where created beings choose and act, rendering their lives meaningful through choices which though foreseen, are also entirely free.  So God's pronouncement may be understood to have been proclaimed from the perspective of kairos, and has reality in that framework.  Only, however, through the mediation of Jesus, and his choice, does that pronouncement, for Milton, become real in the realm of chronos.
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Richard Strier 
  To: John Milton Discussion List 
  Sent: Tuesday, August 01, 2006 6:12 PM
  Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Strier, the Son's role and necessity

  Thanks for asking for clarification, Mr. Gillum.

  The point is that the son's intervention is made superfluous by the Father's announcement of man's fall and salvation in the first speech.  Justice will not "die" without the Son's intervention, since the Father has already explained -- whether satisfactorily or not -- the "justice" of man being offered salvation and the fallen angels not (deceived vs. self-tempted).  "Die hee or justice must" is simply false in the poem.  The idea that the Father is "foreseeing" the Son's intervention has no basis in the text whatever, and makes nonsense of the speech-- which is meant to be a straightforward piece of moral reasoning.

  So, however one reads the business between the Father and the Son later in III, it is simply not true in the poem as we have it that the Son's intervention is responsible for human salvation.  "Maybe the Father is testing the Son and the non-fallen angels for some reason, but that is a different matter.

  My point is that the initial speech of the Father does away with normal Christian soteriology.  The whole business of the Son's intervention is an attempt to make the soteriology of the poem look traditional (and is also something else, having to do with M's theory of the constant need for moral testing of everyone).

  I hope that helps, since I'm off-line for a week now
Richard Strier
  Professor of English
  Frank L. Sulzberger Professor in the College
  Editor, Modern Philology
  The University of Chicago
  Department of English
  1115 East 58th Street
  Chicago, IL 60637
  773-702-8006/ 8536
  Fax:  773-702-2495


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