[Milton-L] Abdiel (thought-sins)

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Tue Jul 1 11:02:05 EDT 2008

Jim Rovira, could you explain a bit more what you mean by Milton
Christianizing unfallen Adam and Eve? I'm not following.

You write, "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?"

I am saying that conscience and reason for Milton are the same or similar in
providing access to natural law, and that positive law is different, the
prohibition being arbitrary and justified only by God's ontological
superiority. Nevertheless, reason or conscience dictates that Adam should
follow the positive law because he owes grateful obedience to his creator.

A&E have a law of reason that governs their actions and aligns them with
natural law. Thus Adam understands he should not torture or sexually molest
the wombats in Paradise. If he were to do so, it would be a sin. Eve says
the law of prohibition is an exception to the law of reason, which it is,
except insofar as reason dictates grateful obedience to God. Reason alone
leads newborn Adam to conclude that he owes everything to "some great Maker"
whose power and wisdom are beyond his own. His obedience is therefore not
"blind," but justified by reason.


On 7/1/08 9:37 AM, "James Rovira" <jamesrovira at gmail.com> wrote:

[snip]> 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
> limitations.
> Now, my question -- is this a fault or a choice?  Is this part of
> Milton's commentary?
> Jim R
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