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

Harold Skulsky hskulsky at email.smith.edu
Sat Jul 22 18:07:29 EDT 2006

                             REPLY TO JIM ROVIRA

 >>[Satan] seems to reason it out [in his soliloquy in PL 4.79-110] and
come to a decision -- so regardless of God's act, from Satan's point of
view he has chosen obduracy.

This doesn't follow. The question is not whether in PL 4 Satan decides
to embrace obduracy, but whether he could have decided otherwise. In
other words, the question is whether his decision is an exercise of free
will. The answer is that Satan's earlier decision--free decision--to
betray God  has already resulted in the obduracy and loss of free will
that afflict Satan in PL 4. Reminders of Satan's obduracy punctuate PL 1
and 2. In the chronology of his sin and its aftermath, the notion makes
its appearance straightaway, in Raphael's account of the war in hell in
PL 6. 

>> 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." 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.  

I was apparently unclear. There are no penitential  stirrings for God
to block. Remorse is not repentance (no time for a footnote here;
consult Schaff-Herzog, or Hastings Dictionary). Satan has already
forfeited the grace that would restore his free will and permit him to
repent; the name of this condition is "obduracy."  

(These implications of the concept of obduracy are commonplace, and
typically develop in the form of commentaries on the Pharaoh passage, in
which context there is emphatically no question of a pharaonic "good
soul" abandoned to its pitiful efforts.)

>>Pharaoh (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.

To elaborate on the first reply, Satan has already brought this
character (and its obduracy) on himself. The fact that his current
actions grow out of his character doesn't qualify them as free.
Spontaneity is not freedom. Actions caused by character--that is, by a
disposition to act in some specified way--are like any other causally
necessitated actions: they are unfree by definition. That is precisely
the point.

>>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) is
eternally lost and hardened against God.  At this point their individual
moral culpability is moot . . . . For "moot culpability," see
immediately below.

Milton's route, which is in question here, is to say that free will
(the ability to choose, without causal constraint, between alternatives)
is lost to a sinner by his own culpable act, to be restored to some
sinners by God's loving mercy. From this second chance to exercise free
will in repentance, Satan is excluded. 

>>. . . 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

The outstanding obligation of Milton's theodicy here is to find some
decent ground for God's refusal to allow fallen angels the grace he
allows to his fallen humans.  (I say "decent" and not "just" because
mercy is a free gift not required by justice.) Theodicy needs to show
that God is not only just but uncapriciously loving. 

The best Milton can do to meet this requirement is to argue that Satan,
unlike A&E, was self-tempted rather than tempted by somebody else. For
reasons I have no time to spell out here, this argument dismally fails,
partly by appealing to a moral distinction without a moral difference
(exogenous vs. endogenous temptation). Milton's God, just or not, stands
convicted by a standard to which Milton himself is committed. 

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