[Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

Campbell, W. Gardner Gardner_Campbell at baylor.edu
Tue Jan 13 13:57:37 EST 2009



You're right about pre- and postlapsarian free will in the poem, of course, but it's always seemed to me (and I'm currently trying to explore more fully) the peculiar *conditions* in which prelapsarian free will exists, and must exist for the word "free" to have any ethical force (i.e., any meaning). It's the peculiarity of God's garden as a laboratory of choice, or choosing, and of Milton's embrace of those conditions as something other than a booby-trap, that makes Milton's argument so bold, at least in my view.


Weighty matters indeed!




From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Stephen Fallon
Sent: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 12:41 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana




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.


-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://lists.richmond.edu/pipermail/milton-l/attachments/20090113/db98d5bd/attachment.html

More information about the Milton-L mailing list