[Milton-L] Abdiel

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Thu Jun 26 15:42:25 EDT 2008

Here is what the Christian Doctrine (1.11) has to say about sins of thought
(insert standard caveat).

1. Sin is ³transgression of the law² but the law includes the ³rule of
conscience² as well as the ³special command² not to eat of the tree (Works
vol. 15, 179-80). [I suppose, for Milton, the rule of conscience is the same
as right reason, ³our reason is our law.² It dictates, among other things,
gratitude and obedience toward God. Anyway, the prohibition of the tree is
not the only rule.]

2.  Sin consists of two parts, ³whether we term them gradations, divisions,
or modes of sin, or whether we consider them in the light of cause and
effect; namely, evil concupiscence, or the desire of sinning, and in the act
of sin itself.² ³Evil concupiscence is that of which our original parents
were first guilty. .  .² (193). ³. . . Actual Sin. This may be  incurred,
not only by actions commonly so called, but also by words and thoughts, and
even by the omissions of good actions² (199).

Milton¹s scheme of psychology/morality is highly rationalistic. ³Evil in the
mind may come² through various processes, but the faculty of reason is
supposed to examine thoughts and sort them into right and wrong. Wrong
thoughts, if ³unapproved,² are not sin; if embraced past a certain point,
they are sin. Again, I think Satan¹s coupling with his daughter nicely
expresses the idea of ³approval.² Abdiel receives wrong ideas from Satan,
processes then correctly, and rejects them. Adam is aware that his reverence
for Eve is excessive, and brackets these ideas (³she seems. . .²) so that
they aren¹t quite fully ³approved.² Thus Millicent Bell may go too far in
characterizing them as sinful or fallen. It is only when he finally decides
to choose Eve over God that his thought becomes sinful. But I think he does
sin before he eats. In the speech he makes to Eve after his decision, his
reason seems already corrupted to rationalizing.

Even unfallen reason can err, and Eve¹s reason is overpowered and misled by
Satan¹s rhetoric. She may actually believe that she is choosing rightly
according to the rule of conscience or reason. But she deliberately disobeys
the other part of the law, the ³special command.² And she ³approves² Satan¹s
characterization of God as a tyrant. So I think she also sins before she
eats. That¹s why I suggested earlier that Eve¹s and Adam¹s monologues
express a condition of ³falling² as opposed to unfallen or fallen.

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