[Milton-L] Abdiel, hypocrisy, temptation

Watt, James jwatt at butler.edu
Mon Jun 30 14:59:21 EDT 2008


Love your continuity in the argument about Abdiel and Jesus (and even The Lady!).  But remember that the rejection of sin is not EXCLUSIVELY the prerogative of reason.  In my own case (which is all I can generalize from) my feelings are much quicker to detect and reject evil than my reason.  Maybe this is just because I'm not the brightest bulb in the room.  But I doubt it.  I come from a long line of excellent test takers and always score high on the tests the bright boys and girls devise (my GRE's, for example, got me into U.N.C. Chapel Hill (I was in the 98th or 99th percentile; I honestly don't recall which.  But I DO recall that all of us in my entering class were in the same bracket.  And I KNOW I wasn't the dimmest in that gang.  My point is that I love reason.  I love playing games that involve reason.  But I don't trust my soul to it.

Jim Watt
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Michael Gillum [mgillum at unca.edu]
Sent: Friday, June 27, 2008 3:03 PM
To: milton-l
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Abdiel, hypocrisy, temptation

Patricia Stewart asks, “does being tempted itself denigrate the tempted?”

Aren’t there two meanings of “being tempted”? Jesus was externally tempted by Satan in PR, but I suppose he was not internally tempted. He was then not soiled or denigrated. I would return to the point about bad ideas or impulses needing to be judged and rejected by the reason. If they are not approved, as Adam says, there is no “spot or blame.” One might be made stronger by the experience, as opposed to maintaining a fugitive and cloistered virtue. In Comus, the Lady says, “Thou canst not touch the freedom of my mind” (663), freedom for Milton consisting in the exercise of right reason. So she is externally tempted but does not approve the wrong thought.

Patricia also refers to “soiling.” In the case of the Lady, it seems that she was soiled in some sense, in that Sabrina performs what looks like a ritual of purification. I take this to be an external soiling that does not impugn her moral purity. Perhaps it analogous (at a less intense level) to being raped. Obviously such an experience would alter a person, as Ann Coiro suggests Abdiel has been altered. It would not lower a person’s moral stature.


On 6/27/08 1:59 PM, "Patricia Stewart" <pstewart at uga.edu> wrote:

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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