[Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Tue Jan 13 10:54:47 EST 2009

Jeffery --

This will be an attempt to create a visual image of the conception of time
Harold Skulsky has been presenting.  Milton may have been working with a
conception of time in which, if time is a line drawn on a chalkboard, God
would be the chalkboard, so that every moment in time is equally "present"
to God, as opposed to time for someone on the line, which may be thought of
/ experienced as a succession of moments. I don't recall the patristic
source for this idea offhand. Anselm?  Not sure.

God's "appearance" in time in this view of time is not problematic, as God
is ever present within time, all time simultaneously.


Much appreciation for the clarity of your posts and thought.

It could be that God's election in the passages you cite is not "individual"
but "general."  God may have generally decreed that those who respond in
faith are foreordained to salvation, while those do not are foreordained to
damnation, without decreeing that any specific individual would be saved or
damned.  So as individuals we choose to respond in faith or not, and choose
freely ("freely" in this context is a complex term that still winds up with
the individual agent being responsible for his/her choices), but once we
have chosen, our fate is determined.

A number of external agents may influence our choice, God being one of them,
but we make the choice.  "Free" does not necessarily mean "unmotivated" in
this context.

Jim R

On Tue, Jan 13, 2009 at 1:04 AM, Kim Maxwell <kmaxwell at stanford.edu> wrote:

> On the difficulties of narration:  I am not sure I see the difficulty.  God
> is narrated in many works, some only as an allegorical figure.  That he
> appears in time only matters if the narration suggests that such appearance
> renders his efforts at transhistorical statements ironic.  This may happen
> in PL, but I don't see it is a necessary outcome  of the fact of
> representation, or poetic form for that matter.  Indeed, at the risk of
> another distinction, those who want the poem to be doctrinal take God's
> words at what they see as face value, and those who see it otherwise decide
> that God's general character as mean or tyrannical requires an ironic
> treatment, so that God's self-testaments to his own nature and mercy can be
> acquitted of truth.  What I am trying to argue, however, has something to
> do with God's words, but not as inflected by his character.  God says the
> following things: "To me owe all his deliverance, and to none but me"
> (3.181-2); "Some I have chosen of peculiar grace / Elect above the rest: so
> is my will" (3.183-4); the rest shall hear me call . . . (3.185 ff).  I
> find problems here.  Does "me" include the son, who after all actually
> performs the judgment?  Does "none but me" imply that only God has any
> influence on the outcome, the most obvious reading, which is unlimited
> election.  "Some I have chosen of peculiar grace, elect above the rest"  This
> is another form of unlimited election.  Why does he do this, and then
> proceed to what I think is called limited election, that God can elect but
> man can refuse (the Arminian position as I understand it, that is, God's
> atonement is unlimited, but perseverance is not)?  But then God installs
> his umpire conscience in those not elected, suggesting that if they work
> hard, "light after light well used they shall attain, and to the end
> persisting, safe arrive."  This has the smell of Pelagius, of no election
> at all.  God of course knows who does and who doesn't, but his stand on
> predestination, a clear one I think, means that he causes none of it.  It
> seems to me that Milton did not need to have God say these things if he
> wanted the poem to be capable of producing on its own terms a coherent
> doctrine.  These are the core problems between Calvinists and Arminians as
> decided in favor of Calvin by the Synod of Dort―they are not dark secrets or
> unexplored territory.  I cannot think of any theologian who argued that
> God elects some unconditionally and then requires of the rest persistent
> trial, with those who succeed being admitted to heaven.  Yet the poem
> seems very clear―"some" and "the rest."  This seems to be me to more that
> just having Calvinist leanings; it seems perversely inconsistent.
> Kim Maxwell
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James Rovira
Tiffin University
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