[Milton-L] Reply to Alice Crawford Berghof (Abdiel thread)

Kim Maxwell kmaxwell at stanford.edu
Mon Jul 7 18:29:23 EDT 2008

  Reply to Alice Crawford Berghof
  I should say that I do not believe a coherent theological position can be developed from Paradise Lost.  Among my pieces of evidence is the sequence from 3.170 to 3.216, where God seems to say, in order: (a) some will have their lapsed powers restored by grace alone (limited atonement); (b) some will be elect above the rest (unlimited election, irresistible grace); (c) the rest will be granted resistible grace (limited election); (d) those who resist will be damned forever; (e) “unless for him some other . . . pay the rigid satisfaction. . . and just the unjust to save.”  (sounds like unlimited atonement).   The first is puzzling in part because God will shortly declare, and repeat again with more venom in Book 10, that he only recognizes salvation at the end of time, when the need for man’s lapsed powers will no longer be necessary.  Otherwise, why must his curse precede?  
  (This passage was discussed today at the Milton conference in London, with its puzzles admitted, and resolutely unresolved.)
  My point about recognition and assurance relates more to the elect than those with conditional grace.  The elect presumably have to do nothing.  They may behave exactly as God wishes, but that would compromise free will (as Calvin notes), and God does not enter into any more detail.  As such, an individual under this scheme, as far as the poem gives it, cannot know into which group he fits.  Furthermore, I believe the developments of Book 9 and 10 after the fall suggest the incapacity for man to exactly distinguish in all cases between acts God would judge as good or evil.  Unless confessions are completely general (as we find at the beginning of the Catholic mass), an individual would not always know his faults (what Adam confesses to at the end of Book 10).  A general confession will take the form of ritual, something the poem and Milton seem to find offensive.
  Kim Maxwell

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