[Milton-L] Abdiel, hypocrisy, temptation

Carol Barton cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Fri Jun 27 14:36:48 EDT 2008

Setting aside Alice's query for the moment because it will take longer to respond to--

I think _Areopagitica_, among other things, provides the answer to your question, Prof. Steward--and it's a resounding "no." As I said earlier, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by the devil--does that leave him "worse than wet," physically--from the storm--or spiritually--as a result of the fact that he has confronted evil? Of course we are going to be tempted, relentlessly, throughout our lives--but if we are not ourselves the sources of that temptation (because we embrace the evil) it has no effect on us. Eve is as complicit in her seduction as the serpent is: he makes suggestions, but they are suggestions she knows--and *admits*--are bad ("Serpent, we might have spared our coming hither . . .") and again, she and the Serpent repeat the prohibition against eating the fruit throughout the temptation scene. She's not the innocent child lured by a stranger with a piece of candy who has no idea that what she's about to do is wrong or dangerous: she is warned beforehand by Adam, warned by her own recollection of God's words (and the Serpent's echo of them) and capable of using the same right reason Jesus does to reject the temptation, but she doesn't--because she *wants* the thing that is prohibited more than she *wants* to obey the prohibition. (In this sense, she reminds me of the new bride taken to her husband's gothic mansion in the old horror movies, and instructed at length and in gravely foreboding tones not to go into that tower or open this door or enter some other forbidden place--who does so immediately as soon as the sound of hoof-beats disappears when the groom is suddenly called away on business.) She knows what she's doing--she knows she shouldn't do it--and she does it anyway. She is self-seduced by her own rationalizations--just as we are, when we say "just one piece of cake" or "just one drink" when dieting or fighting alcoholism. She's tainted, not by confrontation with evil, but by the absorption of it. Remember the vampire rule? If a vampire comes to your window, he can't hurt you unless you open it and let him in. The same is true of sin. You have to participate in it, to be guilty of it.

At least, that's how I see it (from a Miltonic perspective).

Best to all,

Carol Barton

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Patricia Stewart 
  To: John Milton Discussion List 
  Sent: Friday, June 27, 2008 1:59 PM
  Subject: [Milton-L] Abdiel, hypocrisy, temptation

  One of the givens in PL is the inability of all creatures, save God, to spot hypocrisy:
  For neither man nor angel can discern
  Hypocrisy, the only evil that walks
  Invisible, except to God alone,
  By his permissive will, through Heaven and Earth;
  And oft though Wisdom wake, Suspicion sleeps
  At Wisdom's gate, and to Simplicity
  Resigns her charge, while Goodness thinks no ill
  Where no ill seems:  . . . (3.682-689)
  Thus Abdiel accepts Satan's call to meet; Uriel, "sharpest-sighted spirit of all in Heaven" and sent to guard Earth from Satan, himself gives Satan directions to the new creation, and Eve fails to perceive the disguised evil in the Serpent  and its argument. 
  Since they can't see disguised Evil once it appears, all are destined to be tempted at some time.  That's how the Milton universe works.
  When tempted, are they soiled?  Adam says yes.  He wishes to shield Eve so that she might "avoid The Attempt itself, intended by our foe, /For he who tempts, though in vain, at least asperses [emphasis mine] /The tempted with dishonor foul. . ."(9.294-297)    Eve disagrees.
  So I come back to the question:  does being tempted itself denigrate the tempted?  Is Abdiel less pure after facing temptation and rejecting it? is Eve soiled simply by the act of visiting the tree and listening to the Serpent's argument? 

  Patricia Stewart, UGa retired


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