[Milton-L] "Traditional" attributes of God in PL

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Mon Jul 31 15:15:12 EDT 2006

The idea that "God, as he really is, is far beyond man's imagination,
let alone his understanding," is too a traditional notion of God.
Need to stress "as he really is" in this sentence, so that it
emphasizes the incommensurability of God's self-understanding with
human understanding.  Paul qualified human knowledge in the opening
chapters of Romans with the words, "what can be known of God."  The
ultimate incomprehensibility of God tends to be emphasized more in
Eastern Orthodoxy than in Catholicism or Protestantism, but this idea
is not incompatible with "traditional notions of God's existence" in
any major Christian tradition and is actually encompassed within them.
I think it is a very common error to think that those who hold to any
sort of dogma don't also hold to the ultimate incomprehensibility of

I think this is more a good explanation of the difficuty in
representing God in fiction or poetry than anything else.  Don't you
think there's a fundamental contradiction inherent in -representing-
an -incomprehensible- God?  Wouldn't it have been better, if that was
Milton's intent in PL, to leave God unrepresented, or only indirectly
represented -- a character that we only know through other characters
and what they say about them, rather than hearing any direct speech
from them?

My reading of Milton is that he doesn't have a problem with dogma per
se, but with those who hold to it without thinking.  I see this
attitude represented in the Areopagitica, where Milton complains about
those who are guilty of just this kind of thinking -- I'm afraid I
don't have my text with me so can't quote -- but the picture he paints
is of those who allow others to do their believing for them.
Kierkegaard explains this in terms of subjectivity and paradox --  so
that Christian belief does not exclude dogma, but rather that the
acceptance of dogma represents a "crucifixion of the understanding"
because the elements of Christian dogma are paradoxical.

Jim R

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