[Milton-L] The irrelevance of Satan's character

Richard Strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Thu Jul 20 22:21:51 EDT 2006


The interesting question is not Satan's moral character, but God's. 
That is the difference between being a Blakean (which I am not), and 
being a Shelleyan (which I am).  Blake thought Satan admirable; I 
think Satan deeply problematic, and agree that he is proud, 
ambitious, envious, etc.  But Shelley's point is that it is Milton's 
great achievement to have made -- despite his conscious intentions -- 
his God equally morally problematic.  Shelley thinks that both M's 
God and his devil are morally repulsive.  So talk about Satan's bad 
character is irrelevant (and mostly uninteresting, since it is not 
these qualities that make Milton's Satan so memorable, but his 
eloquence, indomitableness, daring, etc).

And on the question of forgiveness, Satan's character is, again, 
irrelevant, if one believes that the deepest notion of forgiveness -- 
the most distinctively Christian notion -- is that it does not 
require merit -- or anything at all -- on the part of the 
recipient(s) of it.  If one takes that view seriously, the question 
of why Milton's God does not forgive Satan becomes totally and only a 
matter of his God's character.

On persons in the period who praised Origen -- aside from Thomas 
Browne, who admits to an early attraction to his views (in Religio 
Medici)-- see D. W. Walker, The Decline of Hell -- a wonderful book. 
And Origen's view on universal salvation was no more heretical than 
things that Milton believed-- like anti-Trinitarianism and mortalism 
(and matter turning into spirit).  Given Milton's independence of 
mind, and awareness of neoplatonism, materialism, etc, there is no 
historical or inherent reason why he couldn't have adopted the view. 
He was not faint of heart, and had no trouble disagreeing with 
Luther, Calvin, Bellarmine, etc. when he felt like it.
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