[Milton-L] Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom

Alan Rudrum rudrum at shaw.ca
Wed Aug 2 19:57:07 EDT 2006

Diane McColley wrote:
> Yes, the foreknower in the analogies is not omnipotent, and if s/he 
> could have stopped the accident and didn't would be irresponsible. 
> They can be useful in the classroom to define a crux to be 
> examined--one has to start somewhere.
> On Aug 2, 2006, at 3:44 PM, Carrol Cox wrote:
>> These various analogies might past muster if they are regarded
>> _strictly_ as glosses on the poem. But if they are intended to have any
>> extra-literary grip on reality -- they merely horrify.
Carol Barton's "analogy" was posted in response to this from me:

The following from p. 132 of Telushkin’s /Jewish Literacy/ might pique 
the interest of members of this list: “Finally, (the Pharisees) believed 
in the somewhat paradoxical notion that human beings have full freedom 
of moral choice even though God knows every detail of the future.”


>> I did not respond to Carol Barton (heat-wave, many other pressing 
>> concerns) but it seemed to me that an analogy which contained no 
>> equivalent for God's omnipotence was inadequate. It grieves me to 
>> disagree with Diane McColley, but it seems to me that the only 
>> usefulness of such an analogy in the classroom would be to occasion 
>> an examination of its uselessness.
Reconciling God's omnipotence, omniscience, benevolence and so on has 
surely always been the most intractable of theological problems, and the 
best we can say about Milton is that he does no worse a job than many 
others. I re-read the entire poem recently while teaching a Seniors 
Course and found much in it to delight me, even in those parts often 
thought of as arid. I also find much intellectual delight in Rowan 
Williams's /Christian Theology/,while noting that even his more 
accessible works are regarded as too difficult to be discussed in 
churches! Nevertheless, while I find the remembering of the Crucifixion 
preferable to the unending mass slaughter that went on in the Temple, 
Empsonian objections to the scheme of redemption which prevailed for 
centuries and is still enshrined in the liturgy are not easily 
dismissed. Terrible things happen in this world, and God's "smile" at 
the point where, in Milton's rendering, it all began (5.718) elicits no 
answering smile from me.

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