[Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

Schwartz, Louis lschwart at richmond.edu
Tue Jan 13 11:46:36 EST 2009

I haven’t been following this discussion as closely as I’d like-too much else to do!  But the following occurred to me while reading through Kim’s post (the question runs parallel to Jim’s response, below):

Kin wrote:  “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.”

My question is this:  are we sure that there’s anything in the speech that says that the “peculiar grace” given to the “elect” is a guarantor of their ultimate salvation?  Are we sure that conditions don’t apply?  Can’t grace-offered to these creatures more fully or clearly than to the others-be freely refused by them, and wouldn’t that put those who refused among those who are later in the passage “excluded?”  Indeed it would seem that they would be even more culpable and perhaps would find themselves unforgivable more immediately and irreversibly.  Not unlike the rebel Angels, in other words, who seem to have fallen once and for all, and undeceived, fully knowing what they were doing (at least according to what God says in Book III).


Louis Schwartz
Associate Professor of English
University of Richmond
Richmond, VA  23173
(804) 289-8315
lschwart at richmond.edu<mailto:lschwart at richmond.edu>

From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of James Rovira
Sent: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 10:55 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

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<mailto: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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