[Milton-L] Absolute Freedom

Matthew Stallard stallard at ohio.edu
Wed Apr 15 18:02:34 EDT 2009


T. Ross Leasure writes: "If an immutable God, of internal necessity, can 
only do good, is he
not limited in his freedom since he cannot will evil?  How can God's
incapacity to will evil be "consistent with absolute freedom of
action" in other words?  Or could God will evil, but chooses not to?
Wouldn't that change the essential nature of Milton's good God?"



Ross, I think that it depends on what you mean by "evil" here. Renaissance 
writers, generally, do not consistently or necessarily use "evil" as the 
corresponding opposite of good. Evil can be morally neutral or ambivalent.

That is to say, by "evil" are we talking about "wickedness" or are we 
talking about "calamity"?

To take "evil" as calamity, the God of the Old Testament can will evil and 
performs it when it suits his purpose. "Now therefore beholde, the Lord 
hathe put a lying spirit in the mouthe of all these thy prophetes, and the 
Lord hathe appointed euil against thee" (1Kings 22.23, Geneva Bible 1560). 
"Therefore as all good things are come vpon you, which the Lord your God 
promised you, so shal the Lord bring vpon you euerie euil thing, vntil he 
haue destroyed you out of this good land, which the Lord your God hathe 
giuen you" (Joshua 23.15, Geneva 1560). There are literally dozens of these 
in all of the English Bibles of the period. This "good God" is capable of 
unleashing serious "evil."

Best to all,
Matthew


_________________________________
Matthew Stallard, Ph.D.
Ohio University
Department of English
305 Ellis Hall
Athens, OH 45701
stallard at ohio.edu



--On Wednesday, April 15, 2009 1:14 PM -0400 Ross Leasure 
<trleasure at gmail.com> wrote:

> Dear mentors and colleagues,
>
> I write humbly to ask for some guidance (as I plow through excerpts of
> De Doctrina Christiana from the recently published Modern Library
> edition) in preparation for teaching tomorrow's class.  I'm sure I'm
> missing something, my own feeble faculties insufficient to comprehend
> Milton's logic.  My particular difficulty is in wrapping my mind
> around what seems to me a problematic contradition presented briefly
> in the following to passages:
>
> "In God a certain immutable internal necessity to do good, independent
> of all outside influences, can be consistent with absolute freedom of
> action" (c. 3; p. 1155).
>
> "God always acts with absolute freedom, working out his own purpose
> and volition" (c. 5; p. 1174).
>
> If an immutable God, of internal necessity, can only do good, is he
> not limited in his freedom since he cannot will evil?  How can God's
> incapacity to will evil be "consistent with absolute freedom of
> action" in other words?  Or could God will evil, but chooses not to?
> Wouldn't that change the essential nature of Milton's good God?
>
> I'm anticipating that some of my students might ask similar questions,
> and I don't yet have sufficient understanding to untie what seems to
> me a indissoluable logical knot.  I look forward to reading whatever
> correction or redirection will be forthcoming regarding my inquiry.
> Thank you in advance for your assistance and consideration.
>
> --
> T. Ross Leasure
> Dept. of English
> Salisbury University
> Salisbury MD 21801
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