[Milton-L] theodicy and critique

Stephen Fallon fallon.1 at nd.edu
Fri Jul 28 14:11:40 EDT 2006

I don't think one needs to refute the ontological argument here. 
It's a closed system, irrefutable if one accepts its premises, but it 
doesn't govern Milton's thinking on divine justice (although, having 
said that, I need to find time to get back to the section on justice 
and mercy at the end of Anselm's Proslogion).

Professor Fleming's position is more congenial to Calvin than to 
Milton or Arminius.  Calvin assumes God's justice and insists that 
that justice is beyond our comprehension or explanation.  This is 
precisely where Milton and Arminius diverge from him.

If one defines theodicy as Professor Fleming  and Leibniz do, then 
Milton is not doing theodicy.  I don't think it necessary to define 
theodicy in that way, but we can agree to disagree on terminology, as 
that's not the central issue.

What Milton is doing is explaining and defending divine justice.  In 
doing so, he is purporting to understand divine justice, a claim that 
Calvin finds presumptuous and indefensible.  Professor Fleming's 
reference to the justificaton of sinners is intriguing.  The usage is 
quite different.  God justifies the sinner (fallen depravity makes 
that necessary), but one doesn't justify God in the same way when one 
defends the justice of his actions.  God is just regardless of our 
attempts to understand or communicate that justice.  The sinner is 
not justified until God, as Professor Fleming notes, "effects" the 
sinner's justness.  I need to know more about what is meant by "the 
divine _arbitraire_ that figures so largely even in Arminian 
soteriology."  I do know that Calvinists attacked Arminians precisely 
for what they saw as their attempts to "explain or rationally defend" 
divine justice.

It may be true that "we can explain God's justice even less than we 
can explain our own," but Milton, like Arminius, thought that he 
could.  Both accused Calvinists of making God the author of sin for a 
picture of divine justice so strikingly at odds with our sense of 

Steve Fallon

>Thanks to Professors Danielson and Fallon. Leibniz aside, I don't hear an
>answer to the paradox I tried to lay out at the end of my last post. A
>"theodicy" must be about God. But a being vulnerable to critique, surely, is
>not God. This is the point of the ontological argument -- which can perhaps
>be refuted, but not just dismissed. If we see M as critiquing God,
>therefore, we ought not to speak of him as drafting a theodicy. To respond
>"well, M is surely drafting a theodicy, because he indicates the possibility
>of critique of God" -- this is to beg the question I am trying to ask.
>Meanwhile, if M is critiquing a non-God -- a "character" called God, for
>example -- what's the point of that?
>Now, re: "justify." The word means "make just." This does not necessarily
>entail "explain." Consider the relevant context of the Protestant conversion
>narrative. Justification is not an occurence in which God _explains_ one's
>basic justness (to oneself or others). Quite the contrary: it is an
>occurence in which God _effects_ one's basic justness. By justification, one
>is made just. To suppose the possibility of explaining or rationally
>understanding this event -- for example, on the basis of some deserving --
>is to offend the divine _arbitraire_ that figures so largely even in
>Arminian soteriology.
>In short, I do not think that the possibility of critique of God (which
>would, in any case, not be theodicy) follows from the phrase "justify the
>ways of God to man." Frankly, if it does, we are in for a lot of special
>pleading, because M (on my reading) tends to _worsen_ theological and
>exegetic problems wherever he finds them, not seek to resolve or ameliorate
>them. _This_ technique, however, is consistent with theodicy. The challenge
>to poet and reader is precisely to understand, and/or to accept, the justice
>of what does not seem just. The challenge is to justify: to make just. But
>we can explain God's justice even less than we can explain our own. JDF

More information about the Milton-L mailing list