[Milton-L] Abdiel (thought-sins)

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Tue Jul 1 09:37:40 EDT 2008

Michael: I'm not sure you're in the minority, but I appreciate your
very clear thinking on the subject.  I especially appreciate the
arguments you make from the prose works about Milton's own opinion on
the matter.  I find it hard to argue with you on these points.

So in the following response I may be arguing more with Milton than
with you, but perhaps that will help me understand Milton's own
thinking a little more.

Don't you think a division between conscience, reason, and positive
moral law (in the form of the prohibition to eat from the tree) is a
bit artificial in the case of Adam and Eve?  For example, there's very
little that's new in the way of moral reasoning today.  Most of our
ways of thinking morally arose over the last 3500 years or so.  So
what we have today are moral principles and moral laws that we need to
apply to situations inconceivable to those who initially developed the
moral principles laws.

The NT represents an example of the problem of having to address new
circumstances with old laws in Paul's reasoning about divorce.  The
general principle is that two people, once married, should never get
divorced, and this principle is reaffirmed by Christ, but what happens
when only one partner is a Christian and the non-Christian wants to
leave?  Paul's answer -- using reason and conscience, because the
moral law did not cover this situation -- is that the Christian should
allow the non-Christian to leave the marriage in that circumstance and
the Christian is free to remarry another Christian, although it's
better for the Christian not to marry at all.

But in the case of Adam and Eve, there was only one prohibition: don't
eat from this one tree.  Reason, conscience, and positive law should
all be identical in this case -- there is no other conceivable content
for the law of conscience and the positive law is immediately relevant
to A&E's immediate circumstance.  If anything, reason is a weak link:
in Genesis, Eve reasons that the fruit is a good thing to make one
wise.  The problem here is that her reasoning follows the suggestions
of the snake rather than considers the law of God, but even here, the
fruit is desired as a good thing.  Adam probably chooses to sin with
his wife for similar reasons: she is a good thing given to him by God
and he should stay with her.

Reason could have, of course, told them that it's better to follow
God's command blindly than even listen to the snake at all, but God
wasn't there presenting his case.  A&E reasoned from the information
given to them immediately and could not conceive of the possibility of
a lie, being innocent.  Since A&E's options appear to have been blind
obedience vs. reasoned disobedience, it's no wonder the fruit is a
fruit of the tree of knowledge.

At least this is all the case in Genesis.  Milton seems to deviate
quite a bit here, having Raphael come and give warnings (not in the
Genesis account), and having Satan come to tempt Eve over a brief
period of time, even visiting her in her dreams (also not in the
Genesis account).  PL is far more dramatic than the Genesis account,
of course, but the impression I'm getting is that Milton has
Christianized Adam and Eve rather than remained true to prelapsarian

Now, my question -- is this a fault or a choice?  Is this part of
Milton's commentary?

Jim R

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