[Milton-L] Abdiel (thought-sins)

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 30 19:05:58 EDT 2008

If Michael Gillum's position is the minority one, then I'm also in a minority in thinking that Eve and Adam fall into sin before they eat of the 'apple' (or, rather, fruit) of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Here's my argument concerning Adam in my article "When Did Adam Fall in Paradise Lost?" (MEMES 17.2 11/2007, 363-381):

Conclusion: "Evil . . . [not] unapprov'd . . . [but] consented to" 
As we have seen, Adam had been "fondly overcome with femal charm" (PL 9.999) for some time prior to accepting the apple that Eve offered him. He had even admitted to having such feelings about her in his talk with the angel Raphael, who had warned him against elevating Eve above himself for reasons of physical love alone. And Milton as narrator had long voiced disdain at the excesses of courtly love in its motif of the unrequited lover pining for the love his proud beauty (PL 4.769-70), for therein lay the risk of idolatry, also hinted at in Adam's desire to crown Eve his "Harvest Queen" (PL 9.838-42). Milton as exegete tells us elsewhere that Adam had sinned in being "uxorious" through his excessive love for Eve (Milton, Christian Doctrine, 383). But when did he become culpable for his unwarranted feelings? Let us recall Adam's words of comfort to Eve in Book 5 after her nightmare about being enticed into nearly eating of the forbidden fruit: 
Evil into the mind of God or Man 
May come and go, so unapprov'd, and leave 
No spot or blame behind: (PL 5.117-9) 
No blame incurs if the evil remains unapproved, but Adam's logic implicitly entails that if one does "consent to do" that evil (PL 5.121), then blame would logically follow. Adam's consent occurs in the moment when he inwardly affirms the silently performative promise to Eve: "with thee / Certain my resolution is to Die" (9.906-7). Adam's mind had already been falling, as we have seen above, but prior to the moment in which he approved the evil act, Adam remained inculpable though already being "fondly overcome with femal charm" (PL 9.999). From that consenting moment, however, he is culpable, and his thinking falls yet further as he comes to distrust God more and more in justifying his decision to disobey, a process that continues until his "compleating of the mortal Sin / Original" (PL 9.1003-4) by accepting and eating the apple offered by Eve, the moment in which he directly breaks God's "sole command" (cf. PL 3.94-95). For Milton, therefore, the fall
 of man was a process, but a process divisible into three stages: preparation, confirmation, and completion. In other words, this fall was prepared for by Adam's overloving elevation of Eve to a status above his own (i.e., preparation), was made inevitable from the moment that he consented to the evil already present within his mind (i.e., confirmation), and was completed through his unfaithful act in breaking God's only prohibition by accepting and eating fruit offered from the hand of Eve (i.e., completion).

At Adam's moment of consent, evil has already left its "spot" or "blame" -- following Adam's logic.
Jeffery Hodges

--- On Mon, 6/30/08, Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu> wrote:

From: Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Abdiel (thought-sins)
To: "milton-l" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Date: Monday, June 30, 2008, 5:04 PM

Clearly I’m in the minority here in thinking that Adam and Eve sin before they eat the fruit. Maybe I’m wrong. So let me reiterate the points I’ve made and invite rebuttals to the position I’ve stumbled into.

A&E are bound not only by the prohibition of the tree — a so-called “positive” law that gains its force only from the authority of the legislator — but also by the “rule of conscience” (DDC 1.11). This latter is the obligation to follow reason in accordance with natural law; as Eve says, “our reason is our law.” According to DDC, transgression of this law is sin. 
Natural law and reason dictate that A&E maintain, as the first principle of life, a stance of grateful obedience toward their creator. Since the prohibition is arbitrary, reason doesn’t tell them to avoid a particular tree. However, reason does tell them to follow God’s commandment, not only from fear of punishment, but because they are morally obliged to serve God. The Father’s statements make clear that he intends the prohibition as a test of grateful obedience. 
Therefore, just deciding to break the commandment — as a confirmed or “approved” thought -- is a sin against God and natural law according to the “rule of conscience.” It marks the failure of grateful obedience; it is already disobedience of the law. 
DDC says “our original parents were first guilty [n.b.]” of “evil concupiscence” or desiring to sin. (This I take it would need to be something more than a passing thought.) DDC also says thoughts may constitute “actual sin.” 
Adam says that evil thoughts may come and go without “spot or blame” provided they are “unapproved.” This statement implies that evil thoughts, if approved, entail spot or blame. I take “approval” to entail conscious endorsement or confirmation. 

In his interior monologue, Adam mentions “forbiddance” and transgression in reference to Eve’s act and wonders how it could have happened (9.900-905), but, in reference to his own decision, he doesn’t think at all of ethics, God or law, nor does he reason at all. He just decides, solely on the basis of his feelings, to disobey and die (906-07).  Then he compellingly describes these feelings (908-17). He never consults the “rule of conscience.” Because Adam has already corrupted himself with this decision, his subsequent speech to Eve is corrupt.


On 6/29/08 6:11 PM, "Sara van den Berg" <vandens at slu.edu> wrote:

In traditional theology, there are three conditions that must be met for an action to be a sin:  (1) serious matter; (2) sufficient reflection; and (3) full consent of the will.  The interdiction makes Eve and Adam's eating serious matter.  The monologues are not themselves sinful, but meet the condition of "sufficient reflection." 

Eve meets all three conditions. Eve knows the act would be serious(IX.652).  The first part of her soliloquy is a set of questions of reflection (IX.758-779).  Then she acts: "she pluck't, she ate" (IX.780).  Her second sin is to involve Adam, and her soliloquy turns her from tempted to tempter.  She introduces a set of non-rhetorical questions (as she wonders whether or not to tell Adam) mixed with one rhetorical question ("for inferior who is free?).  She then declares full consent of her will to tempt Adam: "Confirm'd then I resolve,/ Adam shall share with me in bliss or woe" (IX.830-31). When she sees him, she acts.
Adam's soliloquy indicates similar reflection.  He knows Eve has fallen.  He considers what he should do, and confirms his decision: "for with thee / Certain my resolution is to die."  Finally, when he eats, he does so very deliberately: "he scrupl'd not to eat / Against his better knowledge, not deceav'd. . ." (IX.998-999).

The soliloquies are not themselves a "sin," but fulfill a condition that is necessary if the act of eating is to be a sin.  

Sara van den Berg

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