[Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

Stephen Fallon sfallon at nd.edu
Tue Jan 13 13:40:46 EST 2009


The free will defense embraces the postlapsarian as well as  
prelapsarian state.  Milton's Father speaks of the latter at 3.80 ff.  
and of the former at 3.168 ff.  It's odd to hear that the "poem  
seems . . .  to assume prelapsarian free will, rather than to argue  
it or attempt to explain it"; one way of looking at the narrative of  
the fall is to see it as an attempt to establish the plausibility of  
prelapsarian free will. despite the fact of the fall (which suggests  
to some, illogically, that the will could not have been free).   
Milton is adamant in DDC that the prelapsarian will is free, and in  
PL he devotes a great deal of energy to composing a narrative that  
might persuade readers that the fall was free, despite two serious  
obstacles: 1) all readers will know the outcome, and 2) readers of  
narrative expect actions to be motivated rather than random.
On Jan 13, 2009, at 1:04 AM, Kim Maxwell wrote:
> On the free will defense: it is easy to forget (I do so all the  
> time anyway) that the poem means prelapsarian free will, not free  
> will dogged by depravity and the absence, if it is absent, of right  
> reason following the fall.  There are theological issues here to be  
> sure (man’s contingency upon God and so on), but I don’t find them  
> in the poem.  Rather, the poem seems to me to assume prelapsarian  
> free will, rather than argue it or attempt to explain it.  (Calvin  
> did the same.)  The purpose is to exculpate God.  If God is  
> exculpated, and we are interested in “man’s first  
> disobedience . . . and all our woe,” that is, the nature of  
> original sin and with it the nature of contemporaneous sin, we do  
> not need any answers to the poem’s many theological interests in  
> postlapsarian man to proceed.
I don't see the same problems.  Whether the "me" refers to Father or  
Son is an interesting question, as regards character, but it is not a  
source of doctrinal confusion; the Son is the Father's "effectual  
might" and his subtantial expression.  "None but Me" does not imply  
that only God has an influence on the outcome.  Arminius and Milton  
are both clear and explicit in distancing themselves from the  
Pelagian heresy of sufficiency without grace.   While individuals can  
choose to accept or reject grace, without that freely offered grace  
no one can be saved.  "Some I have chosen of peculiar grace."  I  
think that Louis is right to suggest that Father does not necessarily  
claim here that those receiving this peculiar grace cannot refuse  
that grace.  Something like this happens, by the way, in DDC (I  
elaborate on this in Milton's Peculiar Grace).  It is not quite  
accurate to say that the Arminian position is that "God's atonement  
is unlimited, but perseverance is not"; there's a bit of apples and  
oranges there.  The atonement is universal, i.e. Christ died for all  
as opposed to a limited group of elect, but individuals are free to  
reject the grace that enables the faith that is the precondition of  
salvation.  For Arminius and Milton, unlike Calvin, one is able to  
fall away after believing, so one must both believe and persist in  
belief to be saved.

> 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)?

There is no smell of Pelagius in God's "install[ing] 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.”    The "rest" who hear God call are all  
given sufficient grace (as Arminius and the Milton of DDC insist:  
"for I will clear their senses dark, / What may suffice, and soften  
stony hearts [think of the beginning of PL 11] / To pray, repent, and  
bring obedience due. . . ."  Those who will save arrive, "to the end  
persisting" (the conditional points to the Arminian and Miltonic  
doctrine that the believer can fall away from belief, as opposed to  
the Calvinist position that non-perseverance is impossible for the  
elect) are those who freely choose to accept the grace offered to all.

There is a moment of apparent Calvinism in 3.183-184.  I think that  
I've demonstrated in Milton's Peculiar Grace that this apparent  
wavering toward Calvin from Arminius has parallels not only in DDC  
but in Arminius himself.  Milton writes in DDC I.4 that "God does not  
consider everyone worthy of equal grace, and the cause of this is his  
supreme will.  But he considers all worthy of sufficient grace, and  
the cause is his justice."  The first sentence in this translation  
stipulates that some receive more grace than others; the second  
insists that all receive sufficient grace to enable them to choose to  
believe and be saved.  This is enough to separate Milton's  
acknowledgment of different levels of grace from the Calvinist binary  
of irresistible grace given to some and grace withheld from others.

Arminius addresses this topic in his Review of Perkins:  "You will  
say that, if he [the elect individual] has apprehended the offered  
grace by the aid of peculiar grace [peculiaris gratiæ], it is, then,  
evident that God has manifested greater love towards him than towards  
another to whom he has applied only common grace, and has denied  
peculiar grace.  I admit it."  Having made this acknowledgment,  
Arminius continues with a surmise--to the best of my knowledge unique  
in his writings--in which he hints at the kind of hybrid that Milton  
toys with in the Father’s speech: "I admit it, and perhaps the theory  
[Arminius’s own theory of general and resistible grace], which you  
oppose, will not deny it.  But it will assert that peculiar grace is  
to be so explained as to be consistent with free-will [ita peculiarem  
illam gratiam explicandam esse, vt cum libero arbitrio consistere  
possit], and that common grace is to be so described, that a man may  
be held worthy of condemnation by its rejection, and that God may be  
shown to be free from injustice."

There is nothing in the Father's position at 3.183 ff that  
necessarily clashes with Arminius' position here.  Given the  
pervasive soteriological parallels between Milton and Arminius  
elsewhere, it seem likely that Milton has something like what he says  
in DDC I.4 and what Arminius says in the Review of Perkins when he  
puts words in the Father's mouth.

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