[Milton-L] Abdiel

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Thu Jun 26 00:44:10 EDT 2008

Michael: I read that line as saying that evil thoughts can enter our
minds without us being guilty of sin -- the point here is that mere
thought itself is not necessarily sin, which was my point to begin
with.  However, you do seem to anticipate virtually every response I
could give, so be patient with me as I feed them back to you trying to
think them through.

As you point out there is an implication that we can "approve of" a
sinful thought, so the opposite appears can be the case too: that a
spot or blame is left behind in the mind of the speaker.  But this
does not, I think, address my point.  What is it that qualifies
something as sin in prelapsarian Eden?  You do ask if "spot or blame"
has to refer to sin, or if it refers to some other flaw that is not
sin?  I think it's probably safest to say that "spot or blame" does
refer to some notion of guilt or sin.   Adam allows for the
possibility of blame or spot -- sin -- when a thought is approved.  My
question: does the God of PL see things this way, or is one only
guilty of sin when one breaks the sole command: do not eat of the

You do anticipate the next possible response as well: that thought is
"approved" only when acted upon.  I don't think we need an OED
citation to justify this use of the word "approved" -- we can say
we're "resolved" to do anything, but our resolution is only
demonstrated when we follow through with action.  Think about it
another way: if someone were to say they were resolved to do some good
act, or some required act (say, repay a debt), and kept talking about
their resolution without ever acting on it, wouldn't you doubt their
words in favor of their actions eventually?   How often was Hamlet
"resolved" only to withdraw from carrying out his resolution?

Kierkegaard's handling of the case of Adam and Eve is quite deft --
yes, they needed to have an inherent weakness in order to be able to
sin (also per M. Bell), but we can't make this weakness or
vulnerability a flaw, otherwise God is responsible for human sin.  The
weakness according to K's Concept of Anxiety is anxiety -- since human
beings exist as a synthesis of mind, body, and spirit, these
components can be at odds with one another, and these conflicts can be
registered as anxiety.  Anxiety, in turns, motivates us to act to seek
relief from our anxiety.  This act is the grasping of something known
or finite in the case of the unknown (K's pseudonym defines innocence
as ignorance), the unknown itself provoking anxiety.  This is why the
fruit is the fruit of the tree of knowledge -- we grasp something
concrete, finite, and self-defining in response to anxiety, and this
grasping is usually something sinful but familiar.

However, ch. 5 of Concept of Anxiety is titled, "anxiety as saving by
faith," so sin is not the only option available as a response to
anxiety.  Our choices are between faith and knowledge.

While I agree with the sentiment that K's solution appears to be a
complex one for a relatively simple problem, I think we should
acknowledge that the problem is really not all that simple to begin
with.  The ground rules that K appears to be working with in Concept
of Anxiety is that God's creation must be without sin or flaw from the
beginning, that human actions must be free (though not necessarily
without pressure in a certain direction) for all human beings equally,
but that sin must be hereditary.  Representing these problems in
narrative form is one thing; puzzling them out conceptually so that
all ground rules are given equal weight is another.  The problem is
highly complex, so the solution may be as well.

I think the Satan--Sin--Death relationships are simple allegory for a
passage in James: "desire, when it is conceived, gives birth to sin,
and sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death."  Milton simply
illustrates this for us in his narrative.  Satan desired the place of
God; gave birth to Sin from his head, then Sin brought forth Death.
The sexual relationship between the sinner and sin in Milton probably
illustrates the need to "act upon" sin before it will bring forth
death, just as Satan had to make war in heaven before he was cast into
hell.  Satan was not cast out of heaven for bringing forth sin.  He
was cast out of heaven for making war with heaven.

Jim R

On Wed, Jun 25, 2008 at 1:10 PM, Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu> wrote:
> James Rovira suggests Adam and Eve could only sin by acting against the sole
> commandment, not by thinking. If we take Adam's statement as authoritative
> -- "Evil into the mind of god or man / May come and go, so unapproved, and
> leave / No spot or blame behind" -- doesn't that mean one could sin by
> approving a wrong thought? If so, Adam sins with the thought, "Certain my
> resolution is to die." Also, Satan gives birth to Sin before he takes overt
> action. Having sex with her would then be taking "approval" up a notch.
> I don't find any OED senses of "approve" that quite mean "act upon," though
> some are close.
> Could there be "spot or blame" short of the big fall and its consequences?
> As Millicent Bell says, Milton had to endow Eve and Adam with some degree of
> human weakness in order to motivate their actions, as God apparently did in
> order to leave them "free to fall."
> Michael

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