[Milton-L] Abdiel (thought-sins)

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Thu Jul 3 16:36:12 EDT 2008

Jim R,

Yes, I think JM's concept of reason is similar to the stoics', but he
wouldn't think divine and human reason are identical, the human version
being perhaps a greatly limited subset and not so strong as to avoid all
error. Obviously JM thought reason could and should "dictate" to the human
will for the fallen and unfallen alike.

I take it that the difference between reason #1 (stoic-inflected) and #2
("simply a human capacity") would turn on whether there is an objective
right/wrong (natural law) apart from God's explicit commandments and
accessible to a human reason that is itself attuned to law. Jeffery, Harold
Skulsky, and I think JM thought so. It's not clear to me whether you think

As Harold said, the substantial concordance between unfallen human reason
and divine reason (as embodied in natural law) seems apparent in almost
every unfallen conversation. In the discussion about needing a mate, God
tests Adam's reasoning abilities and commends them. Newborn Adam's first
thoughts form a logical sequence which leads him to the "chief good," which
is recognition of his duty to God (grateful obedience). In the first
exchange we hear between A&E, he rehearses this argument as a context for
obeying the apple command: not out of fear, but because it is right to obey
(see 4.411-39). Eve transfers this argument to her own ontological position
and, quite rationally, agrees: "O thou for whom / And from whom I was
formed. . . /. . . my guide / And head, what thou has said is just and
right, / For we to him indeed all praises owe, / And daily thanks. . ."
(4.440-45). These ideas reflect an understanding of the objectively right
order of things that is external to the humans' judgments but accessible to
them through reason.

I'm not sure how antinomianism (or which of the many variations) would apply
here. So, subject to correction -- A&E are supposed to do what they think
best, provided they have thought rationally about what is best. Christian
antinomians should do what they think best, provided they are in the Spirit
or have consulted the Inner Light. In either case there seems to be an
external norm, which is conformity to God's will -- available to A&E as
logos or reason/law.

You propose an interesting reading: "our reason is OUR law," meaning what we
have instead of law. Certainly feasible, but meter would suggest otherwise
(not militate absolutely, though). Also, lacking strong indication to the
contrary, we tend not to stress one of two repeated elements, "our-our," but
rather the contrasting elements.

Thanks for a stimulating post. I have thoughts about the unfallen knowledge
of evil, but this is enough! or too much. I bow to you on Kierkegaard and
Luther, where I'm over my head.


On 7/3/08 2:13 PM, "James Rovira" <jamesrovira at gmail.com> wrote:

> Jeffery -- I still need to read your article, but briefly, I'm not
> sure that "reason" in the speech in question is necessarily as you
> describe it.  I think there are at least a couple ways to understand
> "reason" here --
> 1. In, say, Epictetus's sense, in which reason is that which man has
> in common with the gods, so that reason "dictates" and serves as
> something simultaneously external and internal, like conscience.  I
> think you and Michael understand it in this sense.
> 2. In a more personal sense, as simply a human capacity.  I read the
> line "our reason is our law" with an emphasis on the "our" -- nothing
> is forbidden but the single fruit, so Adam and Eve are free to be
> guided by their own thought processes and rational capacity, being
> unfallen.  The preceding line, "we live law to ourselves" supports
> this reading.  Adam and Eve, being unfallen, can be trusted to make
> their own rules.  Yes, the emphasis here is on antinomianism as at
> least an ideal.
> The command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good
> and evil is not arbitrary -- the fruit contains (or is associated
> with) what is itself forbidden to Adam and Eve: knowledge of good and
> evil.  You can say that the location of this knowledge in a fruit is
> arbitrary, but once it has been located in the fruit the fruit is
> necessarily that which is forbidden.  I agree that it could be a
> forbidden cabbage or a forbidden kumquat or a prohibition from
> spending the night on fixed land (as in a C.S. Lewis novel), but once
> this knowledge is associated with the object through the command, the
> command is no longer arbitrary.  Knowledge of good and evil is clearly
> what is forbidden in all cases.
> I'll try to respond in more detail after I read your article, though.
> Thanks for posting.
> Michael --
> Funny, I see Kierkegaard as a critic of the Lutheran tradition from a
> Christian humanist perspective, hence the use of pseudonymous authors
> engaged in a vast Socratic dialog, indirect communication serving a
> purpose similar to the one stated by Plato in the seventh letter, a
> line in Concept of Anxiety saying that we should understand
> subjectivity as the Greeks did, or would have had they been
> Christians, Either/Or being the product of disordered manuscripts
> assembled by an editor who is named Victor Eremita, etc.
> I think a distinction between conceptual and experiential knowledge of
> evil is useful and certainly a propos to Milton as demonstrated from
> various quotations, but is there really such a thing as an innocent,
> conceptual knowledge of evil other than it is something to be avoided?
>  All knowledge of evil A and E are allowed and all knowledge that is
> possible for them is, "do not eat."  Again, all is wrapped up in the
> prohibition, which defines their entire understanding of evil before
> the fall.
> I think "knowledge of good and evil" in this context places emphasis
> on moral evil rather than just undesirable things happening, but
> clearly the latter is wrapped up in the former.
> Jim R
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