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

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Fri Jul 21 17:19:41 EDT 2006

In response to Prof. Skulsky:

<<He is discovering his obduracy, not choosing it.  Obduration is an act
of God--the withholding of grace. From the time of his fall, Satan is
not a free agent. He is already damned irrevocably on his arrival in
hell. See the narrative asides from in PL 1 and 2.>>

I read the asides in PL 1 and 2 in the light of Satan's monologue when
he first sees earth, the sun, etc., and seriously contemplates to
himself alone the possibility of repentance.  He seems to reason it
out and come to a decision -- so regardless of God's act, from Satan's
point of view he has chosen obduracy.

The question is one of free will, of course.  If I read you correctly,
then the implication is that Satan might repent except for God's work
upon him that prevents him from doing so.  One is tempted to find a
parallel in the story of Moses: "God hardened Pharaoh's heart."

There are two ways to read this -- Pharaoh (or Satan) had a basically
good soul already inclined toward God and was willing to repent and
release the Israelites, except for God's work upon Pharaoh's (or
Satan's) heart to prevent him from following his otherwise good
nature.  This denies God's graciousness and makes Satan a victim of
God's caprice, as well as a fundamentally moral character.


Pharoah (or Satan), the cruel ruler and enslaver of millions, had such
a perverse character that any contact with the Divine would have the
effect of hardening his heart even further against the Divine.

The latter  seems much more plausible to me, of course, so therefore I
see Satan's monologue when he first sees the sun as a expression of
this kind of personality.

The other option is to go Luther's route, say that free will exists in
name only, and that by God's sovereign choice Pharaoh (or Satan) are
eternally lost and hardened against God.  At this point their
individual moral culpability is moot; as is any need for a theodicy
(or moral judgments) beyond the bare assertion of God's right to
determine what he does with his creatures.  I see Milton's argument in
PL along the lines of a justification of God's ways to man on the
basis of both human and Satanic freedom.

Now, Prof. Rumrich's quotation does absolutely destroy any hope I had
that Milton -by intent- collapsed the moral and the ontological into
tautological statements about God's existence.  It clearly seems to
represent the type of reasoning that would assert the "good" or
"right" is a standard existing independently of God, to which God must

I don't think a theodicy is dependent upon this type of thinking,
though, because a theodicy is Milton's (or any other Christian's..or
Jew's...or Muslim's) justification of God's ways to man, not God's
justification of himself, and is carried out for man's benefit, not
God's.  Man's judgment of God is relevant only to men as creatures
subject to God's judgment.  If we judge ourselves, we won't be judged.
 If we judge God, we will.  God isn't worried about what we think for
his sake, but for ours.

I'm curious if Milton reasoned this way consistently across both his
prose works and PL. I will say that my presentation is, first of all,
the only logically sound one given a God who is both the only
self-existent being and the sole creator of everything that is not God
(there is therefore no other possible source of value).   I will also
say my presentation has long currency across many Christian
orthodoxies that see nature, the moral law, the Scriptures, and Christ
himself as different expressions of the one Word of God.

Jim R

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