[Milton-L] Free Will, Forgiveness

Stephen Fallon fallon.1 at nd.edu
Thu Jul 27 15:01:33 EDT 2006

In response to Jeff Wilson: It's hard for me to imagine Milton 
attributing to his narrator an intention so grossly at odds with his 
own covert one.  What would be the percentage in that for him?

I think that Milton did intend to justify the ways of God to men, and 
further that that intention, taken seriously, rules out of court the 
response--dismissed by Peter Herman--that the God of the poem must be 
good because he is God.  For the anti-Arminian Calvinist, God's 
actions define the good, and one is damnably presumptuous in raising 
the question of whether God is just.  In this context, Milton's 
project of theodicy is oppositional.  Nevertheless, it strains 
credulity to suggest that Milton wanted us to conceive of God as 
mendacious and cruel.  Milton implicitly admitted the logical 
possibility of divine malfeasance in taking up the project of 
theodicy seriously in the first place.  But as I read the poem Milton 
concludes that God is just after all.  Maybe if his criteria for 
divine justice were different, he would have concluded differently 
(here I'm thinking of Richard Strier, with whom I reluctantly 
disagree here).  In any event, as Harold Skulsky suggested a moment 
ago, Peter Herman's reference to a "vast amount of evidence within PL 
that God is a deeply unsavory character," replaces argument with 

I know it's been argued that Milton's Father is morally dubious, but 
I think Peter Herman goes well beyond the evidence in implying that 
any attempt to defend the Father on moral grounds amounts to a kind 
of desperate saving of appearances motivated by a kind of 
quasi-Calvinist thinking (Milton's God must be good because we know 
that God is good, and that's that) that Milton himself rejects.

Whatever one thinks of the argument, Stanley Fish does offer one way 
of thinking about the appearance of moral dubiousness in Milton's 
Father.  And Dennis Danielson's Milton's Good God offers a still 
powerful argument in support of its title.

Steve Fallon

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