[Milton-L] Free Will, Forgiveness

dl02 dl02 at txstate.edu
Thu Jul 27 16:20:43 EDT 2006

Scott Grunow¹s mention of scapegoating in reference to Christianity and
Milton brings to mind a complex but (to me) fascinating passage on the
nature of ritual sacrifice and its potential for transformation to
non-violence, as in the passion and redemption, in Roberto Calasso¹s The
Ruins of Kasch (sorry for the length):

If we place ourselves (as Hugo did [in saying that ³the gospel makes God a
shepherd. The Trappists make him a butcher²]) outside sacrifice, no
criticism of sacrifice can assail the compulsion to kill.  So the compulsion
will remain powerful, though tacit. Only certain Altaic peoples, shepherds
and herdsmen who once practiced sacrifice, managed to develop, in the form
of a ceremony, the most radical criticism of sacrifice.  [Citing the German
anthropologist U. Harva, Calasso continues] ³The Tatars of the Minussink
region used to sacrifice a living white horse to the god of thunder.  After
praying on the sacrificial spot, they would remove the horse¹s bridle and
let the animal run away.  From that moment on, the horse was free and
untouchable.  The Buriats also put a bowl of milk on the back of the animal
consecrated to thunder.  The priest who officiates at the sacrifice
sprinkles milk on the animal¹s back and at the same time toward the four
cardinal points of the compass. Then he envelops the horse in fumes, burning
some herbs and the bark of a resinous tree.  Then he ties some ribbons to
its mane, and finally the horse is sent out into freedom.  At the place
where the bowl of milk falls from the horse¹s back, all pray for health and
prosperity.  An animal thus consecrated is never again used to serve
humankind.  When the animal dies, its mane and tail are cut off and tied to
another horse, which replaces the previous one.²  This undoing of the knot
of life, which takes place with the killing of the adorned sacrificial
victim, can be opposed with equal strength by only one other undoing: that
of the bridle of the captive horse, which releases life in life.  But this
gesture, which is the only fitting opposition to sacrifice, is born from
within the sacrifice itself; it treads the same ground, wears the same
ribbons, repeats its actions to the end.  Then the hands that were about to
come together for the sake of strangling are joined in the act of undoing
the bridle.  The horse disappears into the taiga or continues to follow the
herd; but the animal is treated as if it were invisible, since no one can
touch it, much less use it....That white horse is the Double of all horses,
which by the power of grace we are allowed to glimpse next to all the
others,  But the Double cannot be used‹it can only be released....But there
is one last dizzying gesture in which the ceremony of the consecrated horse
corresponds to the metaphysics of sacrifice: when the liberated horse dies,
its mane and tail are cut off and are attached to the horse that replaces
it.  Here we reach the heart of sacrifice: substitution.  And this deadly
machinery [of sacrificial slaughter] is reversed in a pledge of perennial
life.  As the white horses replace one another in sequence throughout the
generations, they become like a single horse that never dies.  This is the
extreme point of the reversal of sacrifice‹achieved in a remote age, in an
area of central Asia still retaining vestiges of shamanism, where white
horses are consecrated to thunder.  The next step has never been taken.  No
man has ever felt another man¹s hand undoing the invisible bridle that is
around his neck.  Nobody has ever been totally freed from being used by
other men.  And the practice of being ³used to serve humankind² is steeped
in the venom of exchange, which slowly‹or sometimes abruptly‹kills. (217-18)

If I understand Calasso rightly here, one might extrapolate that a figure
like Jesus, who  transforms his mythic/religious world, would employ the
very gestures and language of the world to-be-transformed so that the
difference of the new (peace rather than violence, liberty rather than use,
life rather than death) may be visible.  Perhaps the gestures and language
of Milton¹s God (and of Milton¹s Satan) may be seen to emerge out of one
another in a similar way, such that, first, the radical transformation may
become visible and, second, one version may be seen and felt to cancel the
other, symbolically as well as theologically.

Dan Lochman
Department of English
Texas State University-San Marcos

On 7/27/06 1:04 PM, "cobelli at aol.com" <cobelli at aol.com> wrote:

> According to Rene Girard, the passion of Christ breaks the scapegoating
> mechanism of a religious system based on an dynamic between the sacred and the
> violent (based to some degree on vengeance). See his tome, Things Hidden Since
> the Foundation of the World, especially chapter four.
> Scott Grunow
> Department of English
> University of Illinois at Chicago
> -----Original Message-----
> From: dmccolley at earthlink.net
> To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
> Sent: Thu, 27 Jul 2006 12:59 PM
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Free Will, Forgiveness
> Seems to me--maybe I'm being simple-minded--that "Love thine enemy" and "turn
> the other cheek" are part of a teaching that aims to break the cycle of
> revenge (as Aristophanes also aimed)--with what success we have current grisly
> evidence--and that "O God, to whom vengeance belongeth" (Psalm 94) and
> "vengeance is mine, I will repay saith the Lord" (Romans 12.19) suggest that
> human beings should not take revenge, but rather "if thine enemy hunger, feed
> him; if he thirst, give him drink." I wonder (naively, I admit) what the world
> would be like if powerful leaders who claim to be Christians behaved that way.
> So Milton's God's casting Satan out of heaven (but not, it seems, inhibiting
> his travels and activity) is an act of justice that does not shut down the
> freedom of the tempter or the tempted but does restore a peaceable kingdom
> (Milton being opposed to human kings but not "Heaven's King") where ! the
> cycle of revenge is not practiced by created beings.
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