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

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Sun Jul 13 20:08:35 EDT 2008

Jeffery --

When I say that the word "evil" is nothing but a word in Adam and
Eve's vocabulary, that to me is equivalent to "conceptual knowledge of
evil."  Evil is a concept, an idea, a word -- so perhaps where we
differ is the extent to which we view this (or think Milton viewed
this) as "knowledge" in any meaningful sense.  "Evil is bad and to be
avoided" is a concept.  That does not mean the person who has this
concept has any meaningful knowledge of "evil."  If conceptual
knowledge of evil were enough, Eve would not have been deceived so
easily.  I think perhaps here we differ on emphasis.

I think we really differ on the Levitical system, though, but I
suspect that is in our use of the word "common."  When you say many
common objects are holy, you seem to mean "common" in the sense that
most things that exist are common, or think that I am using the word
in this way.  I don't mean "statistically common" but common in use
terms -- what is available for general use, and what is set aside for
special use.  People are very common, but only some of them are holy,
a very small minority.  What makes the "people" common or holy is not
some innate quality, but a purification process by which they are set
aside for use by God.

The sexual imagery associated with the people of God is consistent
with this view of holiness: the people of God are his bride or
betrothed, special and set aside only for him when they are faithful,
but when they are unfaithful they are described as prostitutes,
available for common use.  The imagery is very consistent here and has
nothing to do with the innate quality of the thing or its statistical
occurrence in nature.  This carries over into the NT: many are called,
few are chosen, etc.

I agree with you that some objects cannot be made holy in the
Levitical system (such as swine), but it is highly problematic to
consider these as being ontologically or morally deficient somehow,
and even worse to say that they were created by God this way.  All
common objects, pure or impure, as created are "good."  Not all "good"
objects are holy.  We can say swine are "tainted by impurity" if we
understand this to mean ritual impurity, but I don't think we can say
they were created by God to be morally impure.  I don't think that
would be consistent with any theology represented in either the Hebrew
scriptures or the New Testament.

When we move into the NT period, everything can potentially be made
holy (note Peter's dream about unclean animals and the command to
Rise, kill and eat -- which Peter learned is really about God's
acceptance of the Gentiles).  This is part of Milton's heritage and
has quite a long history before he came around.  What he did with it
is another matter, of course..

Jim R

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