[Milton-L] potestas ordinata, potestas absoluta, reason, and arbitratry commands

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Sun Jul 13 16:48:44 EDT 2008

Jeffery --

Yes, I think I agreed with you in a previous post that God's choice of
-that particular tree- to bear the fruit of the knowledge of good and
evil was arbitrary.  Or, for that matter, any particular tree, or the
act of eating itself, etc.

Now I would think that once the tree has been said to bear "the fruit
of the knowledge of good and evil," no explanation would be necessary.
 But, yes, as you point out -- there is the command to deal with.  Why
the command at all if the name is enough to associate the fruit with
evil?  My first inclination would be to think that Adam and Eve, being
innocent, have no knowledge of evil -- not having eaten the fruit --
so need to be told -evil- (not the fruit) is something bad and to be
avoided.  But this would mean they have no knowledge of good and evil
prior to the fall other than the existence of the word in their
vocabulary, which they cannot associate with anything else in their
experience, since evil is heterogeneous to creation.  To Adam and Eve
before the fall evil is, like free will in Martin Luther's _Bondage of
the Will_, a thing that exists in name only.

This leads to the point about swine: if evil is heterogeneous to
creation, then impure swine, in itself, is "good," because they have
been created by God.  Everything created by God is good -- if we're
going to use Augustine as a way in to Milton, this is his starting
point.  There cannot be any inherent defect in anything created by God
as it has been created by God.  If we don't accept this as a starting
point, there's no problem of evil and no need for a theodicy -- no
need to justify the ways of God to man.

So a swine is "impure" not because of any quality other than being
common, and the word "common" here is used in a very general sense to
mean nothing more than "that which is not set apart for special
purposes."  That which is set apart for special purposes is what is
"holy." The real distinction between the pure and impure, then, is
more like the difference between paper plates and fine china than the
difference between something morally evil and something morally good.
I think the latter is a later development, or a parallel development
that became conflated with notions of ritual or ceremonial purity
later on.

Jim R

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